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Relics are placed into three classes:

First Class: items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.) or the bodily remains of a Saint (bone, hair, skull, skin, blood, a limb, etc.).

Second Class: items that the saint had meaningful interaction with or owned, for example, a crucifix, habit, rosary, book, etc. Sometimes a second-class relic is a part of an item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) and is known as ex indumentis (“from the clothing”); and

Third Class: any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic with the intention of creating a third class relic. Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth, though in the first millennium oil was popular.

Relics are an admittedly strange part of our Catholic faith, but what these physical things really mean, is that matter matters and ultimately that means that you matter too! We have five relics for public veneration at St. John’s. The following has been adapted from “Catholic Straight Answers”:
     The use of relics has a basis in Holy Scripture, for example in 2 Kings, the Prophet Elisha picked-up the mantle of Elijah, after he had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind; with it, Elisha struck the water of the Jordan, which then parted so that he could cross. In another passage in the same book, people hurriedly buried a dead man in the grave of Elisha, “but when the man came into contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet.” In the New Testament we’re told about a woman who was healed by touching the hem of our Lord’s garment. In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we read, “Meanwhile, God worked extraordinary miracles at the hands of Paul. When handkerchiefs or cloths which had touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases were cured and evil spirits departed from them”. In these passages, a reverence was given to the actual body or clothing of these holy men, and to our Lord’s own robe, which were used as God’s chosen instruments. 
      Miracles were connected with these “relics” — not that some magical power existed in them, but just as God’s work was done through the lives of these holy men, and through His own life, so did His work continue through these mortal remains and objects intimately associated with them.
The veneration of relics of the Saints is found in the early history of the Church.  A letter written by the faithful of the Church in Smyrna in the year 156 provides an account of the death of St. Polycarp, their bishop, who was burned at the stake.  The letter reads, “We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.” Other accounts attest that the faithful visited the burial places of the Saints and miracles occurred. Moreover, at this time, we see the development of “feast days” marking the death of the Saint, the celebration of Mass at the burial place, and a veneration of the remains.
      After the legalisation of the Church in 313, the tombs of saints were opened and the actual relics were venerated by the faithful. A bone or other bodily part was placed in a reliquary — a box, locket, and later a glass case — for veneration. This practice especially grew in the Eastern Church, while the practice of touching cloth to the remains of the saint was more common in the West. By the time of the Merovingian and Carolingian periods of the Middle Ages, the use of reliquaries was common throughout the whole Church.
The Church strived to keep the use of relics in perspective. In his Letter to Riparius, St. Jerome (d. 420) wrote in defense of relics: “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.”
      Here we need to pause for a moment. Perhaps in our technological age, the whole idea of relics may seem odd. Remember, all of us treasure things that have belonged to someone we love — a piece of clothing, another personal item, or a lock of hair. Those “relics” remind us of the love we continue to share with that person while he was still living and even after death. We are very proud to say, “This belongs to my mother,” for instance. Our hearts are torn when we think about disposing of the very personal things of a deceased loved one. With great reverence then, we treasure the relics of Saints, the holy instruments of God.
During the Middle Ages, the “translation of relics” grew, meaning the removal of relics from the tombs, their placement in reliquaries, and their dispersal. Sadly, abuses grew also. With various barbarian invasions, the conquests of the Crusades, the lack of means for verifying all relics, and less than reputable individuals who in their greed preyed on the ignorant and superstitious, abuses did occur. Even St. Augustine (d. 430) denounced impostors who dressed as monks selling spurious relics of saints. Pope St. Gregory (d. 604) forbade the selling of relics and the disruption of tombs in the catacombs. Unfortunately, the Popes or other religious authorities were powerless in trying to control the translation of relics or to prevent forgeries. Eventually, these abuses prompted the Protestant leaders to attack the idea of relics entirely. (Unfortunately, the abuses and the negative reaction surrounding relics has led many people to this day to be skeptical about them.)
In response, the Council of Trent (1563) defended invoking the prayers of the Saints, and venerating their relics and burial places: “The sacred bodies of the holy Martyrs and of the other Saints living with Christ, which have been living members of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and which are destined to be raised and glorified by Him unto life eternal, should also be venerated by the faithful.  Through them, many benefits are granted to men by God.”
     Since that time, the Church has taken stringent measures to insure the proper preservation and veneration of relics.  The Code of Canon Law (#1190) absolutely forbids the selling of sacred relics, and they cannot be “validly alienated or perpetually transferred” without permission of the Holy See. Moreover, any relic today would have proper documentation attesting to its authenticity. The Code also supports the proper place for relics in our Catholic practice: Canon 1237 states, “The ancient tradition of keeping the relics of martyrs and other Saints under a fixed altar is to be preserved according to the norms given in the liturgical books,” (a practice widespread since the fourth century). Many Churches also have relics of their patron Saints which the faithful venerate on appropriate occasions. And yes, reports of the Lord’s miracles and favours continue to be connected with the intercession of a Saint and the veneration of his relics. In all, relics remind us of the holiness of a Saint and his co-operation in God’s work; at the same time, relics inspire us to ask for the prayers of that saint and to beg the grace of God to live the same kind a faith-filled life.
      And ultimately, they remind us that God created all things, redeemed His creation by coming to us as one of us, and sanctifies all creation daily, which is to say that ‘matter matters’ and that holiness is all around and is not some etherial thing floating in the sky, but something that can be grasped and touched too.

     We have a number of relics at St. John‘s including St. John Henry Newman, Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, St. Jean de Brebeuf, and St. Aloysius Gonzaga.




We have a very rare first Class Relic of St. John Henry Newman. It comes from a single haircut, clipping that were kept in an archive at the Oratory. St. John Henry Newman was originally an Anglican clergyman who, in the 183os, helped launch the Oxford Movement that intended to return the Church of England to its Catholic roots. St. Newman was the movement’s chief promoter but became increasingly critical of Anglicanism and in 1845 he converted to Catholicism after making his confession to Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, a Passionist who felt called to help Anglicans return to the faith.
    Newman was ordained a Priest in Rome in 1847 and in 1851 became the Rector of the new Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin. He also brought the Oratory of St. Philip Neri (a unique form of priestly life) to England. Newman was ultimately elevated to the rank of Cardinal in 1879 and would died in 1890 at the age of 89 in Birmingham of pneumonia. 
    Newman’s autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, written to explain his religious thinking, is still in print and widely read today. His poetry, hymns, reflexions and theology have had a great influence on contemporary Christian thinking and spirituality.




Dominic Barberi was born to a poor family of Italian farmers in 1792. Orphaned at the tender age of eight, an uncle and aunt raised him in the town of Merlano. Young Dominic was not sent to school, but instead was taught to shepherd sheep. But the child always found time to pray as he tended the sheep, and he also diligently taught himself to read and write. 
      When Napoleon closed all the religious houses in Italy, Dominic became acquainted with several Passionists living in exile near his town. During this time, Dominic experienced a divine message to join the Passionists and one day go to England.
      In 1833, Dominic became a delegate to the General Chapter. In this capacity, he was able to plant the seed to send missionaries to England. By the time of the 1839 General Chapter, changes in the Congregation were afoot. The new General Superior was the charismatic Father Anthony Testa. By April of 1840, Father Testa decided that Dominic should go to England, though he worried for Dominic’s failing health. He sent him with three companions to Belgium to make a foundation in that country with the hope that from Belgium the mission to England could be realized. Dominic established the first Passionist monastery outside of Italy in 1840, at Ere in Belgium.
      Finally, the time came to establish the first Passionist residence in England. Father Dominic and a companion went to England and obtained a house at Aston Hall in Staffordshire. One of his first ministries was the celebration of the 1842 Holy Week services.
      Dominic felt blessed to receive the famous Anglican John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church. “What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet! All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event. I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great.” On the following Sunday, Newman and four companions went to the Catholic Chapel of St. Clement’s at Oxford for Mass. All England soon knew that they were now Roman Catholics.
      In August, 1849, Dominic was returning to Aston Hall from London. About five miles from Reading, Dominic got desperately sick. He was taken off the train to be attended by a doctor, but there was not a room for him at the small station of Pangbourne. Father Louis put him back on the train for Reading. He died there from a heart attack at 3:00 p.m., August 27, 1849.
      In the tradition of Blessed Dominic (he was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1963), Passionists would be aware that ecumenism is an essential part of their heritage. We pray that the first class relic at St. John’s will occasion the second miracle needed for Domini
c’s Canonisation! 

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