A reader asks me a stumper about relics and cremains

A reader asks me a stumper about relics and cremains November 29, 2017

Sez he:

I’d been meaning to contact you in light of your recent post about Bp. Barron & the teeth of St. Ambrose & how Catholicism is weird.  I tend to agree, though I’m a cradle Catholic.

This was just in our diocesan newspaper, because Fr. Solanus has some local connections.

So I can understand something about the desire to venerate relics, because we are these physical beings, and that physical connection resonates with us.  Sacramentality and all.

However, I am also in Pastoral Ministry, and have to occasionally tell grieving families how it is not okay for them to preserve something of their loved one’s remains. (Funeral homes now aggressively market little trinkets in which they will preserve some of your loved one’s cremains, for example.)

So… why is it okay for us to preserve relics of saints, but not keep a little bit of my mom close to my heart?

I know you may not have an answer ready to hand, but between the resources you know of, and your knowledgeable readers, I’d love to have a sound pastoral response.

Hey! Glad you asked! In answer, let me confidently assure you: I have *no* idea! 🙂

Like you, I get the theology of relics. But as for the nuts and bolts of it, I have no clue how to reconcile those two conflicting aspects of the Church’s teaching. I know that not a few relics have been gathered in loosey goosey ways (especially in antiquity when people literally rushed out into the arena to gather the bones of Polycarp or some other martyr while the embers were still cooling). And I know that, for instance, St. Maximilan Kolbe’s hair trimmings were squirreled away without his knowledge (he would have been very unhappy with it). And I can certainly see why the Church wants to discourage this sort of thing from a pastoral angle. It doesn’t do to have family members chopping up grandma or, as you say, passing around cremains.

And yet, the Church still venerates relics and, presumably, has relics of more recent saints. So how those two things get squared, I have not idea.

I will therefore ask the Combox Hivemind what it knows (adding, of course, all the prefatory remarks about trust the word the Combox Hivemind on anything). I will also suggest you ask somebody with a much more encyclopedic knowledge of such nitty gritty things, such as Jimmy Akin, Patrick Madrid, or the suitably named Patrick Coffin, all of whom are accessible via Facebook.

Sorry I’m so useless. Check the comboxes regularly for Hivemind input.

Browse Our Archives