Relics (from the Latin
"reliquiae", "remains") refer to parts of a saint's body (or the body as a
whole), clothing, and other items connected with a saint. They may be classified
as first class, second class, etc. depending upon the contact they had with the
saint (for example: 1st class – e.g. parts of bodies; second class – e.g.
garments; third class – e.g. items touched to first or second class relics).
Traditionally, all altars were required to have relics. This practice
corresponds with the practice of the early Church in which
Masses were said on the tombs of the saints, and with
Holy Scripture where the saints are seen to be under the altar (see Rv.
6:9). Note that relics have been associated with numerous miracles. We can see
in the Old Testament that contact with the bones of Elisha restored a man to
life (see 2 Kings 13:21). In the New Testament, we see that cloths which touched
St. Paul were associated with miracles (see Acts 19:11-12). In the early Church,
relics of the martyrs were highly prized and sought after and the practice of
building altars over their relics was common (including the basilica of
St. Peter over St. Peter's remains). Miracles often occurred as the result of the
intercession of these departed brothers and sisters. [Note: Of course, the
relics have no power of themselves, but they may be used by God as instruments,
as may be seen in Holy Scripture.]
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