The relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the beautiful “little flower” and Doctor of the Church, are currently being venerated by thousands of people in England, somewhat surprisingly given the vast secularism which has gripped that country in recent years. A blog has been set up to follow the relics around the country, with pictures from the various places they are traveling.
Venerating relics is probably one of the “weirdest” practices of the Church for modern non-Catholics (and even many Catholics). I remember as a Protestant looking with distaste at Catholics who would get excited about bones, for goodness’ sake. Aren’t we a bit beyond that?
But in fact, the veneration of the relics of saints is one of the deepest traditions of the Church. Christians would make great sacrifices in the Early Church to protect the remains of the saints and martyrs in order to venerate them. The Emperor Julian the Apostate complained that Christians had “filled the whole world with tombs and memorials to the dead.” St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote that “When the faithful look at the relics it is as though with the eyes, the mouth, the ears, indeed all the senses they embrace the living body itself still blooming with life. With tears of reverence and tender feeling they address prayers of intercession to the martyr as though he were actually present there before them.”
This veneration of the relics of the saints and martyrs is consistent with the incarnational nature of our faith. We believe that matter has been redeemed by Christ through his becoming man for our salvation, and thus the bodies of those who followed him faithfully are holy and will eventually be glorified on the Last Day. We venerate these precious relics and allow them to bring us closer to the saints.
May God bless England during this time of grace and may St. Thérèse pray for them!