A CONTEXT FOR APPRECIATING RELICS
Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Tomorrow is the feast of St. Agnes and next Sunday, January 24, is when our parish will observe this feast.
We are fortunate to have what is believed to be a relic of St. Agnes, a tiny particle of the body of this young woman who died for her faith at Rome in the year 304 and with the restoration of the St. Agnes altar, this relic has been placed under the altar stone.
The veneration of relics is a human reflex and an ancient Christian practice. A wholesome understanding of relics calls for an expansive view of the Body of Christ, in whom everything holds together (Colossians 1:17). When we gather in church, we encounter Christ’s Body in several distinctive ways. The assembled congregation is the Body of Christ. If the Eucharist is celebrated, Christ becomes present in the consecrated Bread and Wine. If the Eucharist is reserved in a tabernacle or aumbry, Christ is present in those Elements.
The church may be surrounded by a cemetery or include a columbarium. The mortal remains of departed Christians belong to Christ’s Body in yet another respect. In a manner beyond our ability to imagine; they await their resurrection.
A church may also contain relics of saints who are honored with feast days and other marks of public devotion. These exemplary believers are certainly one with Christ and with all members of Christ’s Body. Fragments of their human remains or articles of clothing, can remind us that as Christ’s holiness permeated their lives, including their bodies, so we are invited into a holiness that is no less comprehensive.
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The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington