Following on from my comments earlier about relics, one of the things I would have hoped for from the visit of the Relics of S. Therese was that priests would have felt (and even been) encouraged to rummage in the presbytery attics, and find the boxes of relics which were put there in 1969, and put them back on display.
I don’t personally know whether that’s actually happened, though, simply because the churches I go to on the sort of days when you’d find reliquaries out didn’t actually put them away in 1969, so ‘no change’ sort of sums it up.
However, I’d be very interested to hear other people’s opinions and experiences about this.
What may be a telling indication was something I read the other day, namely that whereas for many years there was really only one shop in Rome where you could buy reliquaries, now practically everyone has them (Serpone’s catalogue, alone, has 44 – four of them specifically for relics of the True Cross !); so presumably there is something of a resurgence in the public display of relics - for which God be thanked !
The 1917 Code of Canon Law (c.1282 §2) allowed ‘non-important’* relics to be kept ‘even in private houses and carried about piously by the faithful’ (though S. Philip Neri had suggested many years earlier that they should not normally be carried about, for fear of irreverence). This provision is not replicated in the 1983 Code; but neither is there any proscription of the practice; so clearly there is nothing to stop the faithful Catholic from keeping relics at home if they are available to him.
However, in 1994 the Apostolic Sacristy published new norms, stating that ‘No relic from the Apostolic Sacristy will be given to individual faithful for private veneration’; so there will be no new relics coming from that source for the pious faithful – although, for example, Promoters of Causes, and other sources, may still be willing and able to make them available.
It should, of course, be noted that c.1190 §1 of the 1983 Code states unequivocally that ‘It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics’; and the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences and Relics on 21 December 1878 (Decr.Auth. n.443) forbade the purchase of relics ‘even for the good purpose of rescuing them from the hands of some storekeeper who exposes them for sale’, and directed that ‘If anyone notices that relics which seem to be genuine are for sale in some store, he should inform the local Ordinary that he may take steps to stop this insult to religion.’
As that latter decree was not perpetuated in the 1917 Code, still less the 1983 one, it would seem to be a moot point whether or not it is in fact permissible for a Catholic to buy a relic which is offered for sale; but as in any event the Decree did not forbid it under pain of sin, but merely on a disciplinary basis, my personal opinion (for what it may be worth) would be that if by doing so one can preserve a certainly genuine Relic (ie, one which has proper Letters) from profanation, then it may be appropriate to do so – but again, it may depend on cost, practicality, &c; and I certainly cannot find anything which suggests that one is under any obligation to do so.
Still, there are still a fair number of Relics available, even if only ex vestis, or Tertiary ones, which allow even the ordinary pious Catholic to have some slight connection with the Citizens of Heaven whose intercession we implore, and I do commend the practice.
I myself am lucky enough to have been given several relics over the years; and I find their presence in my home comforting and welcoming – and being able to say the Office of some Saint’s day in the presence of his or her relic is not only a great privilege, but gives one a tremendous sense of contact with her/him, which must increase one’s devotion.
Not everyone is, I quite understand, fortunate enough to have this privilege : but there must be few Churches which do not have at least one or two relics – and if they were brought out, and the faithful encouraged to venerate them the way they venerated the relics of S. Therese last year, I believe that the benefits would be enormous.
Omnes Sancti Dei, orate pro nobis.
* ‘Important’ relics are ‘the body, head, arm, forearm, heart, tongue, hand, leg, or other part of the body that suffered in a martyr, provided it is intact and not little’.