5 November 2016

Relics


I rejoice in the facility of offering the Holy Sacrifice on an Altar sealed with Relics; it is a relief to be able to be ecumenical, to conform to the consensus of the Latin West and the Byzantine East, that one should sacrifice over, as it were, the tombs of the martyrs. If a custom was good enough for the shell-shocked Church which in the fourth century emerged, metaphorically, from the catacombs with an overwhelming sense of being surrounded and supported by a great crowd of witnesses, martyres, then that custom is good enough for me. Even if the post-conciliar Church has gone a bit soggy on relics. I commend to those whose breviaries contain the old Appendix pro aliquibus locis the fine collect and the superb reading from S John Damascene they will find on November 5.

Not that the veneration of relics is as late as the fourth century. The contemporary account of the martyrdom of S Polycarp, the disciple of S John, embodied in the Encyclical which his Church at Smyrna sent to the  Catholic world in the middle of the second century, links the desire of the faithful for his relics with the doctrine of the Communio Sanctorum, the Communion of Saints: "they hoped to koinonesai* with his holy flesh". So, although the hatred of the local Jewish community drove the Romans to burn his body, his people gathered up even the ashes and placed them where they could meet for Mass annually on the genethlion* of his martyrion*, for a mneme* of those who had proathlekoton* and the askesis* and preparation of those who were going to bear witness.

Most immediately pre-conciliar local calendars made today, November 5, the Feast of the Holy Relics; according to Sarum it was on the Sunday after the Translation of S Thomas, i.e. in July; at Exeter on the Monday after Ascension Day.

Greek key: *share fellowship with; *birthday; *act of witness=martyrdom; *monument; *previously competed as athletes [a regular term for martyrdom]; *training. [I cannot restrain myself from two catty comments: that the current post-conciliar Roman regulations do not permit the use within altars of such relics as the tiny fragments gathered up by those who loved S Polycarp; and that, for sola Scriptura people, Acts 19:12 appears to encourage the use of Secondary Relics; and II Kings 13:21 the use of Primary Relics.]

2 comments:

Tee Pee Gee Eff said...

In March 1555 the Privy Council of Good Queen Mary was troubled that evangelicals took from the pyre of William Pygott, burnt for protestantism, fragments of bone which were taken around Suffolk to "shew the same to the people as reliques and perswade them to stande in their errour." (Duffy, Fires of Faith p.117, quoting the Acts of the PC).

The instinct to gather relics is very strong, even in quarters where one would think it might be lacking.

Stephen said...

I do hope you get this, as I'm not sure if my comments to this blog are making their way to you, and, given your enthusiasm for relics, you may want to consider adding to your bucket list a trip to Pittsburgh to vist St. Anthony's Chapel:
http://saintanthonyschapel.org/

an unbelievable treasure trove!