There are three classes of sacred relics. The first-class is a part of the saint’s body. (It is this type which is placed in an altar stone.) The second-class is a piece of the saints clothing or something used by the saint, while the third-class is an object which has been touched to a first-class relic.
Isn’t the veneration of relics optional for Catholics? Must the Catholic faithful really esteem the bodies of the saints? Once and for all, the Council of Trent (16th century) responded to the claims of the reformers that both the veneration of the saints and their relics is contrary to Sacred Scripture. The Council taught: “Also the holy bodies of the holy martyrs and of the others who dwell with Christ . . . are to be honored by the faithful.”
There are several scriptural passages that support the veneration of relics. For example, the Israelites took Joseph’s bones when they departed Egypt (Ex. 13:19). The bones of Elisha came in contact with a dead person who then was raised to life (2 Kings 13:21). The same Elisha took the mantle of Elijah and fashioned a miracle with it (2 Kings 2:13). The Christians of Ephesus, by using handkerchiefs and cloths touched to St. Paul’s skin, effected the healing of the sick (Acts 19:12).
To venerate the relics of the saints is a profession of belief in several doctrines of the Catholic faith: (1) the belief in everlasting life for those who have obediently witnessed to Christ and His Holy Gospel here on earth; (2) the truth of the resurrection of the body for all persons on the last day; (3) the doctrine of the splendor of the human body and the respect which all should show toward the bodies of both the living and the deceased; (4) the belief in the special intercessory power which the saints enjoy in heaven because of their intimate relationship with Christ the King; and (5) the truth of our closeness to the saints because of our connection in the communion of saints we as members of the Church militant or pilgrim Church, they as members of the Church triumphant.