The veneration of the relics of the saints goes back to Old Testament times. For example, containing in the Ark of the Covenant, besides the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and some of the manna, is also the staff of Aaron which wrought the miracles in Egypt. That rod was used by Aaron and Moses, and so is their relics, and God commanded it to be kept and venerated.
And in St. Paul’s time, it was reported in the Acts of the Apostles how people would touch St. Paul and be healed. But because not all could get to meet him, they would touch him with handkerchiefs and distribute them, and people would still get healed through touching these handkerchiefs.
And during the time the Church was persecuted, many of the martyrs were buried in the catacombs under Rome. Christians would visit them and venerate them. They would celebrate mass on top of their graves, and by befriending these saints through their relics, they received great graces and comfort to testify to their faith.
And throughout the last two thousand years, relics of the saints continue to be a source of heavenly blessings on the faithful. They are like physical icons of our heavenly siblings, which open up heaven’s power on those who entrust themselves to God through these saints. Relics are known to be great sources of miraculous healings and a key tool in exorcisms.
The veneration of relics therefore has a long and rich tradition in our Christian faith.
God made us an embodied spirit, not a body plus soul, so that we may participate in the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation. He gave us the identity as His own children, so that we can master and sanctify our flesh and His creation. Hence, Jesus by Incarnation came and made our flesh holy; He came and performed signs to reclaim the created world for God. So, too, that we as disciples, by following Christ, participate in the sanctifying of our body and the reordering of the physical world.
The body of a saintly person, how many sinners, infirmed or needy persons his body embraced, his hand provided comfort, his feet has travelled to visit, his words brought relief and encouragement! And the clothes he wore, the books and tools he daily relied on, the physical objects that he used to sanctify himself and others, these objects are reclaimed for God’s purposes!
We may not see them now, yet by God’s gratuitous gift, God ordains that their remains continue their work among us. Relics is God’s statement to us that these saints, though have died, are still alive, and their intercessions are active and powerful today.