Altar Stones Redux: Chinese Edition

From a friend:

2014-09-28 09.19.56-2Reading about altar stones, relics, and patient priests made me think to send you a couple more pictures from China.

I was let into a little locked up room with all sorts of Catholic treasures inculding an old altar stone (relic removed), several old prayer books (from the 1500-1600s!) and crucifixes that were buried (in order to not be destroyed) during the Cultural Revolution.

2014-09-28 09.20.30There was so many little treasures tucked away in this one little hidden away room. It was very cool.

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I like the “Imperial Yellow” fabric!

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And you can be thankful that you don’t have to type using this Chinese typewriter also found in that fantastic little room. The boxes to the right of the typewriter are filled with tiny little characters that one has to dig through to find the correct mirror image of the needed character and then place it in the appropriate slot on the base of the typewriter and then punch away. [Which brings to mind my post today regarding the technological advances of this Information Age!]

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While the West is arguably entering a post-Christian era, the faith is sweeping through China and the rest of Asia, soon to become an unstoppable force that will forever alter the landscape there. (Pun intended). What will China and rest of Asia look like once Christianity is freely permitted, and it flourishes without restraint there? The seeds have been planted (some as early at Seventh Century A.D.!). There are already countless churches, Christian communities, and “boots on the ground” for the New Evangelization. Pray for the Church in China! Our Lady of Sheshan, pray for us!

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A monument detailing some of the history of Nestorian Christianity in China, a branch which (according to the inscription) arrived in China in 635 A.D.

Inside a Chinese Catholic Church; note the large computer screen that partially obscures the crucifix in the sanctuary, and note the interesting various depictions of the overhead

Inside a Chinese Catholic Church; note the large computer screen that partially obscures the crucifix in the sanctuary, and note the interesting various depictions of the overhead

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On Altar Stones, Patient Priests, and Inquisitive Kids

At your parish, do you know which saint’s relics are contained in the main altar of your church?

Fr. A with my son, Thomas, attempting to remove the altar stone from the altar at our church

Fr. A with my son, Thomas, attempting to remove the altar stone from the altar at our church

Neither we nor our pastor knew the answer to this question until a recent weekday when my wife and our oldest son went to daily mass. After serving, our son (age 11) asked Fr. A about the altar stone in our church and whose relics were housed inside it.

Frequently, the church will be named after the saint whose relics are housed there. But, for example, in the case of St. Mary’s or Our Divine Savior or Immaculate Conception Parish, another saint’s relics will be needed, for obvious reasons. Our parish falls into this category.

Fr. A, a rather curious guy, long-suffering and patient priest that he is, never shirking from an opportunity to discover something new or walk the extra mile, obliged our son by uncovering the altar and removing the stone installed in it.

Fr. A and Thomas, examining the altar stone upon removal

Fr. A and Thomas, examining the altar stone upon removal

They discovered an inscription on the back on the altar stone, which reads, “This altar stone contains the relics of SS. Beatus and Lucidus, Martyrs.”

14782129915_d70967ed9f_o-2Nearly every Catholic church, as part of its consecration, contains the first-degree relic of at least one saint, which is placed within a “reliquary”, sometimes separate from or integrated with a literal stone that covers and protects the relic, and which is placed into the main altar.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Relics available at NewAdvent.org, a decree of the Council of Trent instructs that “the holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ — which bodies were the living members of Christ and ‘the temple of the Holy Ghost’ (1 Corinthians 6:19) and which are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified are to be venerated by the faithful…”

14781778512_aa20d1138c_o-2The veneration of relics is an ancient practice of the Church. For example, centuries of tradition brought many far-flung pilgrims to where the bones of St. Peter were buried near the place of his death, on Vatican hill, steps from the circus where he was martyred. After nearly two millennia of this tradition, in the last century archaelogical excavation confirmed the actual presence of the bones of St. Peter, precisely below the main altar of the Basilica.

Plan of Old St. Peter's Basilica (A) in relation to the Circus of Nero (C)

Plan of Old St. Peter’s Basilica (A) in relation to the Circus of Nero (C); The obelisk is

[SIDEBAR: do you know why there is an Egyptian obelisk in the center of the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica? Contrary to absurd “history” advanced by Dan Brown and his ilk, the obelisk decorated the center of Nero’s Circus (also on Vatican hill), where so many Christians were martyred, and it was likely one of the last things that St. Peter laid his eyes upon (upside-down) before his gruesome death by crucifixion. Early Christians and true historians would have understood the significance of moving the obelisk a few meters and making it the centerpiece of the square in front of the Basilica. With Rome as the center of Christendom in the West, it became a sign of the Church’s triumph over persecution.]

To venerate the relic of a saint is most certainly not a form of idolatry. For example, St. Jerome says: “We do not worship, we do not adore [non colimus, non adoramus], for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate [honoramus] the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.” (“Ad Riparium”, i, P.L., XXII, 907).

A relic is worthy of veneration because God makes the saint. A saint bears living witness here on earth to communion with God. A saint is so caught in the gaze of God that their holiness provides a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and the Resurrection of the Body: both body and soul become instruments of holiness.

There is also something foundational about venerating relics and placing them in our church’s altars. The relic becomes another tangible example of the faith being built upon the faith of those already in Heaven. Relics are not talismans or objects of superstition. Rather, they are proofs that God glorifies our bodies even while we live, at least in some part. On the altar, we place our Gifts upon these foundations, because these “foundations” have been blessed by Our Lord.

20140908_234445_Android[SIDEBAR: I recently shared that we are in the process of creating a chapel in our home that we use for prayer. In connection with our “home altar”, we acquired a relic of St. Benedict, now encased in a reliquary atop our altar.] 20140908_234404_Android

So perhaps, if you have an inquisitive son or daughter and the kind of priest who (like ours) will patiently answer questions (or better yet, put on his Indiana Jones hat), it might be worthwhile and interesting to learn a bit more about the relics present in your church!

 

Last Nag of the Old; First of the New

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This is a Public Service Nag:

January 1 is an Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord, and the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

It is a Holy Day of Obligation. (Translation: Faithful Catholics are Obliged to attend Mass today!)

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According to this illustration, St. Joseph circumcised our Lord.

Incidentally, the Basilica of St. Mary Major houses relics from the crib of Jesus in an ornate container made of gold and silver, which is shaped like a crib. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the relics were likely brought to Rome in the pontificate of Pope Theodore (640-649), who was a native of Palestine. The relics consist of five pieces of wood board taken from a Sycamore tree, “of which there are several varieties in the Holy Land.” These pieces might only have been “mere supports for the manger itself, which was probably made from the soft limestone of which the cave was formed.” The relics are exposed for veneration by the faithful every Christmas Eve. DSC_0029