As a non-Catholic who has been married to my Catholic wife for several years, I think I have a fairly firm grasp on many Catholic teachings and beliefs - at least the big ones. Occasionally, however, I find myself stumped by certain aspects of Catholicism. One of these occasions occured a few weeks ago when my wife, reading the newspaper, suddenly exclaimed, “Oh! The relics of Saint Maria Goretti will be at the cathedral next week. I’d like to go.” This was obviously a matter of importance to her, so I agreed to go with her. Since I was going to attend this event I decided to do a bit of research regarding this saint and her relics. Her story, while semi-inspirational, didn’t seem to me to be all that special. But what really struck me was that her body was supposedly “incorruptible.” By that, I assumed that her body had not decomposed, but had somehow been preserved due to her saintly nature.
Anyway, on the appointed day, we made our way to the cathedral. Apparently my wife was not the only one who recognized the importance of this occasion. So did a few hundred others. After standing in line for what seemed like an eternity, we finally got into the church, and as we got close, I got a close up view of these relics. Now, maybe my definition of “incorruptible” is different that the one the Church uses, but what I observed was not a body that had not decomposed, but rather a wax figure. Maybe it contained what was once her body…maybe not. But it certainly was not a naturally preserved body. Color me puzzled.
Anyway, to my point. I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but I have to ask: What’s the big deal? Why is this so important? Why is this wax figure being called an incorruptible body? Why are relics in general considered important? Is there a process by which these relics are certified to be genuine? (I recall talking to an acquaintance who, a few years ago, had returned from a pilgrimage site in Europe where he claimed to have seen a relic of “the true cross.” I tried to act impressed, but in my mind I was thinking, “Yeah, sure you did.”)
Again, not meaning any disrespect. I guess this is just one of those things that I just don’t get.