Relics and What to Do With Them

Growing up Catholic, I heard Saint names from time to time; one thing that we were never told about were how the Communion of Saints ‘works’ (why you shouldn’t just go to Jesus [like the Protestants always ask]). Even less were we ever told about relics. I think that it’s generally one of the aspects of the faith that appears “superstitious” from the outside, and non-catechized Catholics that have heard about them seem to tend to ignore them for the most part.

Recently, I sent a donation to the Fulton J. Sheen Foundation, because I’ve always liked listening to his talks. Along with the thank-you note which they sent, was included a 2nd Class relic of the late archbishop. Now, my point is this: What does one do to/with/for a relic?

I’ve called EWTN Open Line, Catholic Answers Live, etc., and they say “venerate them!,” “show them respect!,” “but make sure you don’t take it too far!” Very vague, very non-informative answers. I know that they have short windows to answer, and a radio call-in show isn’t the right place to get a run-down.

Now the CCC says:
" Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church’s sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc." ~1674

It goes on to say to make sure that we shouldn’t view these items of popular piety as a replacement for the sacred liturgy or the Sacraments. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t explain how one should venerate relics with any clarity. So I pose a number of questions to all of you out there in the forum-sphere:

  1. What constitutes a relic in the Catholic Church?
  2. What are the different classes of relics, what are some examples of each class?
  3. Is it okay to personally possess relics? If so, does it matter what class the relic in question is?
  4. What are the differences (both obvious and not) between private and public veneration?
  5. How can/does one venerate a relic—PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be specific?
  6. What are the benefits of venerating relics?
  7. If one has a “relic” from somebody who is not yet a Saint, but is on the road to beatification/canonization, is it beneficial to venerate the relic?
  8. Continuing from 7, if the individual (example Ven. Fulton Sheen, Ven. Margaret Bosco, etc.) later becomes a Saint, does the relic need to be verified before it is donated to a local Parish’s reliquary?
  9. What are some rules (written or otherwise) for storing/displaying a relic?
  10. While it expressly forbidden to buy/sell a relic, if one finds someone impiously selling a relic on eBay or at an estate sale, should/can a Catholic purchase the relic so that it may be venerated and respected properly?

Those are the basic ones, PAX!

I am not big into relics, but I will make one statement–it is incorrect to say we shouldn’t go directly to Jesus in prayer. That is not Church teaching, We can ask the Saints for intercession, but we most certainly can go directly to Jesus. Otherwise, it would be like asking a friend to pray for your intention without you praying to Jesus for your intention yourself. And no where in the Scriptures does it say we can’t ask Jesus directly–in fact, Jesus says quite the opposite.

Anyway the purpose of relics is to remind one of the Saint and their example of holiness, which we are to emulate. They are not an object of superstition. They should be treated with respect, but they don’t have any powers in themselves. The way to venerate them is to think of God’s working in the person they come from and try to imitate their virtues, or ask the saint for intercession, and thank God for that person’s life. It all has to go back to God. I don’t know all the technical details and regulations. The relics in our Church are on display in a glass case in the lobby and are in pretty cases.

I am a little squeamish when it comes to bodily relics because I don’t like the idea of cutting up the body to distribute little pieces of it around the world, but that is me. Others feel differently.

Thanks for your post, I need to also write away for a Fulton Sheen relic. I’m a big fan of his and am praying for his canonization.

For your specific questions: There have been a LOT of relic threads in the past on CAF forum. I really would suggest you Google and read the past threads. They answer a lot of what you posted and because there are already so many and some of the responses have been the subjects of arguments (like what constitutes a third class relic) I hesitate to start that debate up again.

As for what one does with relics, they’re mostly just to remind you of the saint and to feel more connected to them when you ask for their intercession or, in the case of those who are not yet canonized like Bishop Sheen, pray for their canonization cause.

The rosary I use was touched to the reliquary holding Padre Pio’s first class relic when it came through on tour. I know there are conflicting opinions about whether that makes it a relic or not because it only touched the reliquary and not the relic directly, so please don’t start that debate again as I’ve heard/ read it before. At the same time I feel like now when I pray on the rosary I am praying along with St. Padre Pio, and he is helping me, which is nice.

Having items associated with saints is just like if you would have a special photo or item from your dear friend or relative who had gone away or passed away. It’s a reminder and a help in prayer (since in this case the “dear friend” is certainly with God and can pray for you). You’re still praying directly to Jesus and any saint would not let you forget that for one minute. I was just reading about Rhoda Wise who is up for beatification and had a great devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, whom Rhoda said appeared to her along with Jesus. During one of the apparitions, Rhoda said that St. Therese told her she should “love her (St. Therese) less and Jesus more”. That is what all saints would likely say.

Nothing usurps the miracle that occurs at every Holy Mass. Relics do not do that. In fact, in most if not all parish churches there is a relic embedded in the Altar, usually a relic of whomever the church is named after (e.g., St. John, St. Thomas, etc.). “In all, relics remind us of the holiness of a saint and his cooperation in God’s work. At the same time, relics inspire us to ask for the prayers of that saint and to beg the grace of God to live the same kind of faith-filled live” says Father Saunders in his article, Why Do We Venerate Relics?

A relic is some portion of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial. To does venerate mean? Veneration (Latin veneratio or dulia, Greek δουλεία, douleia), is the act of honoring a Saint. The three angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are called “saints,” even though they are not human, because the Church honors them as personages to be venerated.

Relics of a Saint are collected from the body of the saint. The candidate for sainthood will have his body exhumed from the grave and examined. It is during this time that relics are collected. In the case of John-Paul, and any other Pope, even though the cause for their sainthood has not begun or even considered, I believe will have relics collected as a matter of course.

The existence and use of relics is found in the Bible and in the practice of the Church since the 1st Century (e.g., 2 Kings 2:9-14; 13:20-21; 19:11-12). In the New Testament we see the presence and use of relics also (e.g., Acts 5:15-16; 10:11-12).

Also refer to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on relics.

This is not superstition because is was a Biblical practice in both the Old and New Testaments and has been taught by the Church since the beginning. While some people may approach relics with superstitious minds or otherwise abuse relics, the Church condemns this.

An excerpt from the Encyclopedia:

The teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to the veneration of relics is summed up in a decree of the Council of Trent (Sess. XXV), which enjoins on bishops and other pastors to instruct their flocks that "the holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ—which bodies were the living members of Christ and ‘the temple of the Holy Ghost’ (1 Corinthians 6:19) and which are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men…

Further, the council insists that “in the invocation of saints the veneration of relics and the sacred use of images, every superstition shall be removed and all filthy lucre abolished.”

From Wikipedia:

First-Class Relics: items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.) or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, skull, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr’s relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints. Parts of the saint that were significant to that saint’s life are more prized relics. For instance, King St. Stephen of Hungary’s right forearm is especially important because of his status as a ruler. A famous theologian’s head may be his most important relic. (The head of St. Thomas Aquinas was removed by the monks at the Cistercian abbey at Fossanova where he died.) If a saint did a lot of traveling, then the bones of his feet may be prized. Catholic teaching prohibits relics to be divided up into small, unrecognizable parts if they are to be used in liturgy (i.e., as in an altar; see the rubrics listed in Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar).

Second-Class Relics: items that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, rosary, book, etc. Again, an item more important in the saint’s life is thus a more important relic. Sometimes a second-class relic is a part of an item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) and is known as ex indumentis (“from the clothing”).

Third-Class Relics: any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic [Source: The Catholic Source Book A Comprehensive Collection of Information about the Catholic Church]. Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth, though in the first millennium oil was popular; the Monza ampullae contained oil collected from lamps burning before the major sites of Christ’s life, and some reliquaries had holes for oil to be poured in and out again. Many people call the cloth touched to the bones of saints “ex brandea”. But ex brandea strictly refers to pieces of clothing that were touched to the body or tombs of the apostles. It is a term that is used only for such; it is not a synonym for a third-class relic.

Venerate relics by given them a place of honor in your home, like placing on a home prayer altar. Use the relic when praying to the saint of that relic. If under spiritual attack and you have a relic of one of the Saints of spiritual warfare, like St. Benedict, hold that relic while you pray.

If you are having a spiritual warfare problem, wearing a relic of St. Benedict, for example, may help.

Private persons should not have first class relics. Such relics should be donated to a parish. If it is kept there is and obligation to make the relic available for public veneration.

Thank you all so much for your input!

Concerning the FJS relic which I received. I remembered showing it to my 90 year old great aunt (a School Sister of St. Francis [full habit]) who remembered listening to Sheen as a youth. Their chapel at the convent has a number of relics (including a ‘Relic of the True Cross’) which they venerate regularly; she grabbed it, looked at it, and kissed it. Is that normal veneration? What does one DO when they venerate a relic?

Another thought; recently I read an article about a blind woman who had her sight restored after venerating the relics of St. Sharbel of Lebanon. Is this a normal occurrence? Are Catholics encouraged to venerate relics when they seek a healing or other miracle? It’s just a confusing topic for me.


The Church does not officially define classes of relics. You will find no Church documents on this.
Classes of relics have been determined by tradition only.

Traditionally there were only first and second class relics but the great demand for relics a third class was unofficially introduced but it involved a cloth or item touching a first class relic only. A third class relic is not achieved by touching a cloth or item to a second class relic. This is simply being watered down by the increasing demand for relics.

Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary:

RELIC. An object connected with a saint, e.g., part of the body or clothing or something the person had used or touched. Authentic relics are venerated with the Church’s warm approbation. They may not be bought or sold. Those of a martyr are placed in the altar stone at the consecration of an altar. Relics are of three classes: the first is part of the saint’s body and is the type placed in the altar stone; the second is part of the clothing or anything used during the saint’s life; and the third is any other object, such as a piece of cloth, that has been touched to a first-class relic. (Etym. Latin reliquiae, remains.)

Yes, kissing the relic/ reliquary can be normal veneration. At one of the churches I attend, the priest has a relic of St. Catherine Laboure (visionary saint who received the Miraculous Medal from Our Lady) and there is a weekday Mass where the Miraculous Medal devotion is also prayed. After the Mass and devotion, the priest holds the relic and we all get in line and kiss it (actually kiss the reliquary it is in). I remember doing similar things when I was a child. It’s an old time devotional practice for relics.

Other ways of venerating a relic would be to just look at it, hold it, or be in the presence of it when you say prayers.

If you get a chance to go to anywhere like a shrine that has saint relics or attend a “relic tour”, which happens regularly when the relics of a particular saint are taken to different parishes throughout the country/ world for veneration, you should go and then you can just watch what all the other people do to venerate relics - all different things.

Another thought; recently I read an article about a blind woman who had her sight restored after venerating the relics of St. Sharbel of Lebanon. Is this a normal occurrence? Are Catholics encouraged to venerate relics when they seek a healing or other miracle?

A miracle is not a “normal occurrence”. Catholics can venerate relics when seeking a healing or miracle but it’s not required or necessary, nor is it the main reason most people venerate relics. We venerate relics because we admire or want the help of the saint attached to the relic, or if it’s a relic of the True Cross or something else associated with Jesus, we’re seeking a better connection with Jesus. In terms of “wanting help”, we’re not always in need of a miracle - we might be praying for the saint to help us with something mundane, like controlling a fault or growing in love of Jesus or bearing troubles like the saint did during their own life or having something resolved like getting a job or working out marital trouble, etc.

Relics of saints are not all that different from medals of saints or statues of saints, except that the relic has the stronger connection to the actual saint. All the things people would do with a saint medal or saint statue, such as pray while looking at it, pray in the presence of it, pray touching it, give it a kiss, etc. you can do with the relic, for the same reasons. Many saint medals have a relic built into them.

      <------ I have told the my local bishop I have first class relics and he didn't order me to give them to my parish priest. That obligation does not exist unless you can show proof.

Canon Law:

Can. 1190 §1. It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics.

§2. Relics of great significance and other relics honored with great reverence by the people cannot be alienated validly in any manner or transferred permanently without the permission of the Apostolic See.

Did you get permission from the Vatican to possess the 1st Class Relic.

Cathy Caridi, from Canon Law Made Easy, reminds us:

In 1994, the Vatican issued new norms for the concession of relics (Notitiae 30/1994, 359-350). According to these norms, the Vatican does not give first- or second-class relics to private individuals…

Fr. Kenneth Dolye, from Catholic News Service answers this question:

Today, you can apply to the Vatican for a specific relic only with a letter of permission from your bishop and only if the relic will be used for a church altar or other public purpose. The private ownership, especially of first-class relics, is highly discouraged since it is seen as limiting the evangelizing effect of the saint’s memory.

You do not “own” a relic. You are a guardian of the relic. If this is a First Class relic in your possession there are several options:

  1. give the relic for public veneration to a parish or religious order
  2. loan the relic year-round to a parish or religious order
  3. make the relic available to a parish or religious order on the Feast day of the saint.

First class relics are for public veneration because…

“The private ownership, especially of first-class relics, is highly discouraged since It is seen as limiting the evangelizing effect of the saint’s memory.”

Here is a guide for guardians of relics

I don’t think you understand the role of a postulator. A postulator is a person who presents a case for the canonization or beatification of someone in the Roman Catholic Church. They are the one who distribute relics whether they be 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, class relics for people who are devoted to the person. With Can. 1190 §1, you implied that I did but a relic which I did not which is a simony also, I am sure the Vatican knows the postulators are distributing relics as the postulators are doing their jobs. In fact, they have a position in the Vatican so in a sense, yes I did obtain the Vatican’s permission. Also, since the postulators don’t expect the relics to be given for public or semi-public veneration, they didn’t come with the certificate of authenticity. If I do had a relic over to a priest, it would still be for private veneration in which Fr. Kenneth Dolye, who you quoted said, “The private ownership, especially of first-class relics, is highly discouraged since It is seen as limiting the evangelizing effect of the saint’s memory.”

You have a position in the Vatican? What position is this?

I know what a postulator does, but I am not sure you do. I am afraid you made a honest mistake, or your credibility is in question, when you say the postulalor distributes 3rd Class relics. That is not his role.

Before the eyes of the Church, the Postulator is responsible for the safekeeping and distribution of **first- and second-class relics **of saints and blesseds whose causes are under his supervision. Such a duty is of particular concern today because of the proliferation of unscrupulous individuals who had obtained relics for commercial purposes, financial gain, or personal collection.

This come from Missio Pastoralis: Postulatio Causadum Sanctorum

In your profile you boast of having 90+ relics. If those are third class there is no problem (except the mentality of collecting relics like baseball cards).

Collecting 1st and 2nd Class relics the Vatican highly frowns upon.

You keep on presuming that ALL 1st and 2nd class relics are for PUBLIC veneration. If it is for a church, yes they need proper documentation FOR PUBLIC VENERATION. If they DON’T have proper documentation it is FOR PRIVATE VENERATION.

You might as well hop on this thread and tell goforgoal the horrors she is doing by having 1st and 2nd class relics.

Calm down, son.

This was going very well, for a while anyways. I believe thatI have some good information to go with. I thank all of you for taking the time to respond (the search function on this website is very strange to me). Since it looks like this is a topic that is very near and personal for some, I would like to close it before any of us get into a harsh back and forth. God bless you all, and if you don’t mind, please pray for me.



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