Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Thursday, July 12

Relics of tradition

I had this email conversation with a Roman Catholic Priest:

My Question: I have heard it said (I forget where) that for a Roman Catholic Altar to be consecrated it must contain a relic of a saint. Is there any truth in this? 
As a side comment, I hear that this is vaguely linked to the origin of graveyards around churches - at the resurrection the saint will rise (from his relic) and lead the way for the others in the graveyard.

His answer: It is the custom , though I don't believe that it is absolutely required at present. Relics are never place in a movable altar, only in a fixed, or built in altar

Q: Thank you for a pretty much instantaneous answer!
What is the theology of this custom? Numbers 19:11-16 (especially 16) indicate that that a dead body would defile an altar. (compare also 1Ki 13:2). I know that is the Old Testament and that the New Testament heads in a differnt direction, but the NT is still built on the old and for such a radical 180 degree reversal from a body defiling an altar to being part of its consecration is surprising.

A: You are forgetting about the resurrection. It changed the way we look at the body. Yes it is a very ancient custom it was an early first century custom to offer mass on to of the tombs of the martyrs

My comment: Thanks again for your reply.  I remain staunchly protestant, although slightly more educated. I continue to have a fundamentally different view of the Lord's table from Rome, but within the premise of the Roman view your answer to my query is an intellectually tenable position that I can respect, while politely disagreeing.

His reply: Disagreeing is not a problem. I often disagree with myself! Thanks for the note.
So, what do you think?
My comments are along these lines: Caholicism seems to be much more rooted in physical things than Protestantism.  We feel that the Roman Catholic approach bordes on superstition and magic, and we feel that their faith has been displaced from Christ onto objects.  This would be idolatry, as explained eloquently in the book of Wisdom 14:15-21 which they would include as canonical scripture.  They feel that the fact of the incarnation means that God IS in touch with the physical world, and there are examples in the Bible - for example - of people being being healed by touching clothes or passing under a shadow.  We counter that we 'worship in spirit and in truth'.
In any case, it would seem rather weird and macabre if protestants started digging up their dead pastors, cutting up the bodies and distributing bits around the country and putting them under the table they use for communion.  Probably get arrested, or at least some negative media coverage! 
My friend's point about the resurrection changing the way we view a body is valid.  But I still think the whole thing is misplaced faith and distracting from our focus on Christ and turning people into idolators.
Sorry if this seems strong: I don't intend to offend, but that's the way I see it.

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