Relics, Holy Water, and Other “Stuff”
Many non-Catholics are scandalized by the physical nature of Catholic life. They view things like relics, holy water, and other sacramentals as either materialistic or superstitious. But Catholics know that from the beginning God looked upon the created world and saw that it was “good.” Since the beginning He has used created things and material rituals for our sanctification, and He has never stopped using them. (Leviticus 17:11, John 9:7) The immaterial uncreated God took flesh in a material and created body for our sakes. We become children of God through the water of baptism, and we are nourished with the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Catholics like to honor the bodies of saints. We like to pray near them, and even touch or kiss pieces of them. We honor them, because God will some day glorify them. (Philippians 3:21) A non-Catholic may object that these bones or even pieces of clothing can do nothing to save us, only God can. But God can and does act even through these things.
The Bones of Elisha
“And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.” 2 Kings 13:20-21
Handkerchiefs of Paul
“And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12)
The power of God raised a man from the dead through the bones of Elisha. God cured diseases and cast out demons through handkerchiefs and aprons which had touched Paul. Catholics use of relics from the saints is entirely biblical. We even have relics of the saints in our altars as an imitation of the Book of Revelation, where the souls of the martyrs cry out to God from underneath an altar. This was imagery taken from the catacombs of the early Church where mass was offered on the tombs of the martyrs.
Non-Catholics may object that Holy Water is a superstitious practice, but Christ did not condemn the Jews for their faith in the waters of Bethsaida. The New Testament even confirms that it was an angel which stirred the waters.
“Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”
If God can work miracles through the dead bodies and clothing of his holy people, or an angel stirring up water, how much more so can He work miracles and blessings through the decree of the Church? The Church uses its authority to bless objects such as holy water or other objects, so that the faithful might receive the blessing of the Church through them. This is why Paul ordered that the sick be anointed with oil.
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15)
None of this takes away from God’s glory, any more than the miracles wrought by Paul’s handkerchief took away from God’s glory. God is glorified when He works, even through material things.