So you’ve got yourself a nice relic, say, some little crunchy bit of a martyred saint, but where do you keep it? Not in the sock drawer with the soft porn, no sir. The correct answer is you show it off in a monstrance.
Your proper monstrance is a display item in gold and/or silver, possibly encrusted with jewels, maybe featuring a sunburst and a cross. It’s valuable, even melted down with the saint-bit sieved out. Jesus, as you might recall, made kind of a big deal about wealth, for its own sake, being a deal-breaker for getting into heaven. Jesus was not impressed by riches. Fortunately, his word does not apply to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church will happily gild, bejewel, and slather-in-satin any building, object, or important personage in its purview. The Catholic Church is by some estimates worth 30 billion dollars, and that is all to its credit now that everyone is fed, clothed, and housed.
Nearly every Catholic church has a relic of some kind in its altar, although that has not been required since 1969. It’s hard to imagine how there was so much saint shrapnel to go around, but there you go. Starting back in the fourth century, once it was legal to be a Christian, people rifled through the tombs of saints for venerable booty and it got around. Simony, or the sale of relics, is condemned as a sin in the Code of Canon Law, but you can get around that by merely selling the golden monstrance and throwing in the relic for free. I am not kidding.
What are the relics good for? Well. You might want to venerate a relic to get relief from ailments. A lot of St. Sebastian is in one basilica in Italy and that’s the very spot where pilgrims from all over used to come together for protection from the plague. Although that, there, is asking an awful lot of poor Sebastian.
There are just a few Biblical references to the powers of dead holy men. In one, a man was buried in the grave of Elisha, but when he came into contact with Elisha’s bones, he came back to life. Which is exactly what I would have done if I’d been sleeping it off and someone threw me on top of a dead man.
But miracles are always being associated with these relics. The official Catholic position is that relics have no magical powers of their own. What’s really going on is that God’s work was done through the lives of the saints and His work naturally continued in their skeletal vicinity after their deaths. So, you know, that’s totally different from magic.
I can’t say I’m without superstition. There is something cool about important artifacts that belies their mere material composition. The original Declaration of Independence is not like a grocery list. Why do we venerate? I myself once kept a bar napkin signed by Captain Beefheart (“Love over Gold, D. Van Vliet”) and somewhere along the line someone wiped their mouth on it and threw it out. I’m over it now.
But if relics weren’t important, Dave and I wouldn’t have argued for so long over whose mommy our countertop meat grinder came from. Both our mommies had one, and apparently they were identical. Dave uses it to make hash. At some point we quit arguing over it. We have assigned it a general aura of Mommyness, because we are both fortunate enough to have had wonderful mommies, and you really don’t need much more grace than that.
But it does make you wonder: what would be your own best relic if you should turn out to be worthy of veneration? There would be no end of secondary relics for me just due to my lax housekeeping. I’ve touched everything in this house and rarely clean up after myself. With any luck there will be published novels to venerate. Knock yourself out with my bones. But the holiest relic of Murr would have to be Pootie. Whoever gets Pootie, take him to see the world. Let his fuzzy light shine.
Because, as Saint Patrick Swayze might have put it, nobody puts Pootie in the monstrance.