THE PARISH ALTAR RELICS
As many people have noticed, our high altar has a number of reliquaries displayed. In the photo to the right you can see a large reliquary which contains a first-class relic of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes. Here follows a guide to all of the displayed relics.
At the base of the statue of Pope St. John Paul II there is a reliquary which contains several saints’ relics: St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Raymond Peñafort, and St. Albert the Great. The next three reliquaries, each in front of a candlestick, are: 1) Pope St. Pius X (who was the reigning Pope when this parish church of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes was dedicated), 2) St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr for the holy virtue of purity, and 3) St. Elizabeth Queen of Portugal, the namesake and grand-niece of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who was given special grace to re-establish peace where there had been division and of mitigating the fury of war.
On the other side of the tabernacle are another three reliquaries, each in front of a candlestick: 1) Padre Pio of Pietrelcina: the relic is piece of one of his bandages which would bleed from his stigmata whenever he said Mass. 2) St. Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes and 3) St. Catherine Labouré, who received the vision of Our Lady which has become the Miraculous Medal. Finally, at the base of St. Michael’s statue is another reliquary with several saints: St. Catherine of Siena, St. Rita of Cascia, St. Rose of Lima, St. Philomena, and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
Inside the altar stone itself are the relics placed there at the time of the altar’s consecration, symbolically buried inside the stone as if buried in a tomb. In this way the practice of the early Church of saying Mass over the tombs of its martyrs during the long ages of persecution by the Roman Empire is perpetuated. Unfortunately, there is nothing we have in our parish archives which tells us whose relics are inside our altar sepulchre. When the priest kisses the altar stone as he begins the offering of Mass it is very good for us to remember that he is not only reverencing the altar as it signifies Christ, but he is also venerating the tombs of the martyrs. The free-standing altar we use for most of our Novus Ordo Masses has an altar stone as well: it was taken from the original altar in the downstairs church, which now serves as our parish hall.
What is the purpose of giving such honor to the earthly relics of the Saints? One important reason is to increase our faith in the Resurrection to come. God will raise both their bodies and ours back to life on the Last Day. Another reason is to increase our faith in the power of the Saints’ intercession on our behalf, now that they share in Christ’s Victory in heaven. During Christ’s lifetime supernatural power went forth from His Sacred Humanity and healed those who approached Him. So too, the Saints who enjoy God in heaven share in something of that same supernatural power which went forth from Christ by their relics. Their bones, ashes, clothes, or other objects used by them—by divine permission these relics may (and do!) “work wonders on earth”. They “exorcise devils, heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, cleanse lepers, drive away temptations and bestow on all the excellent gifts which come from the Father of light” (Matins, Divine Office, Feast of the Holy Relics).