A - Thanks for the questions. Here at St. Mary's we dedicated a new altar in 2008 and were blessed to receive a gift of two relics, one of St. Dominic (founder of the Order of Preachers - Dominicans) and one of St. Thomas Aquinas (patron of students). Both of these relics were placed in the altar before it's dedication by Archbishop Aymond.
Now, on to your question. Yes, the veneration of relics of the saints comes from the early church. In the early years of the Church in Rome, during the persecutions, the Christians would meet in the catacombs. These catacombs housed the tombs of the Christian martyrs and therefore Mass was celebrated on their tombs. This practice grew into a veneration (a reverence - not a worship) of the saints as a reminder that God worked through them and their deaths.
Thus, the practice of keeping a reminder of the saint was begun in keeping a relic of them. A relic is a physical reminder of a person. There are three types (or classes) of relics:
- A first class relic is a part of a Saint's body (e.g., hair, bone, etc)
- A second class relic is something the Saint owned or an instrument of torture that may have been used against them
- A third class relic is something that has touched a first or second class relic or a tomb of a Saint.
When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. - Rev 6:9I hope this helps.