Relics AGAIN

This week I, along with some very generous volunteers, have been putting in a few hours of manual labour, to create a chapel at our school. Our school's parish church is about  5km away and it has always been a dream of mine to have a little chapel on site. A place where our community can reflect and pray and a space for us to gather as a staff each week for prayer and for classes to use for prayer. 

We have been incredibly lucky to have had some very special taonga gifted to us over the past year as word got around that I was determined to create our own sacred space. We have an altar (complete with consecrated altar stone), a hand-carved tabernacle and a beautiful statue of Mary all given to us by the Mercy Sisters. We have a child sized lecturn and a presider's chair which have both come from our parish priest. We also have a stunning portrait of Catherine McAuley given to us by the local Catholic High School and a crucifix which came from a small local church that has since been sold. I've also been given a full set of Stations of the Cross. After humbly accepting all of these beautiful gifts it is exciting to finally have a special space to place them.

Today I've been googling some of the "rules" associated with chapels – things like what exactly can be called a chapel, whether it has to be blessed by the Bishop, where the blessed sacrament can be kept, why a wooden altar needs an altar stone. It's all very interesting stuff. 

One interesting thing I discovered is that all permanent altars need to have a stone (preferably marble) top and need to hold within that stone the relic of a saint, preferably a martyr, and the relic has to be recognisable as being part of a human body. There must be a lot of altars in NZ that have relics inside them and yet I don't know of any. My dad says he thinks he remembers when the altar of our childhood church was smashed up (yes terrible I know, but it was the height of the liberal 80s) that there was some soil from the catechums inside it. He doesn't know what happened to it. Doesn't bear thinking about now.

Do any of you know who's relics are inside your church's altars?

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    Comments: 5

    1. Don the Kiwi July 16, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      Back in the day prior to VII when the Catholic Church really was the Catholic Church ;-) , All altars had an altar stone. I recall as an altar boy back in the early '50's, that when i went with our PP to say Mass in a hall out in the country, he took with him an altar stone in a wooden frame which he would place on a tresle table then cover it with aan altar cloth, then a large corporal. There was a bump where the altar stone was, but he ensured that the bread and wine were consecrated on top of the altar stone.

      How often does this happen today? Many of the beautiful altars were vandalised by the trendy liberal bunch who took over and, in some cases, distorted our liturgy into near protestantism. Actually, I will check this week to see if our wooden "altar" table has a stone. Its a lovely table, but is it really an altar – 'mensa altaris' – in the true sence according to rubrics? I'll check it out this week..

    2. Teresina July 16, 2014 at 11:25 pm

      That is great news M&M, you really have done some great work for your pupils in helping them grow in the Faith and I am sure the chapel will bear much fruit. You must find that teaching in a Catholic school does have the advantage of not just the teaching side but an opportunity to pass on the Faith to little ones and that is a great blessing.

      I am not sure whose relics are in the altars where I attend Mass.  I was wondering if it is the saint who the Church is named after.  For instance, at St Peter Chanel parish in Hamilton they do have a relic of St Peter Chanel, apart from the altar stone, so I wonder if that is another relic of his.  Like Don I will try to find out.  I don't know if wooden altars have altar stones or not but the altar at St Peter Chanel is solid marble I think.

      I found this description about how altar stones came about, which shows that everything in the Mass is for a purpose:

      "Kissing the Altar:  You will notice that the priest kisses the altar upon entering and leaving the sanctuary.  This occurs because in ancient Rome, during the time of the persecutions, Catholics celebrated Mass in the catacombs, which were burial grounds (a network or maze of tunnels in which the great martyrs were buried).  They would celebrate Mass on the tombs of the martyrs; for these were the only altars they had.  The priest would kiss the altar as a greeting to the dead person.  Many of them were martyrs who were brutally killed because of their faith in Christ and their refusal to worship the gods of Rome.  The kiss was also a sign of reverence for the altar, that is, for the sacredness of the sacrificial table.

      Moreover, in all consecrated Churches, chapels, and oratories, any fixed altar in these sacred places requires that a relic be embedded inside the altar.  The relic is usually a piece of a saint’s bone, or a piece of his/her clothing, etc.,.  This recalls the altars of the catacombs which were tombs containing the bones of the martyrs."


    3. Rubyshine July 17, 2014 at 8:11 am

      I was about to say the same thing as Teresina about St Peter Chanel having a relic seperate from the altar, so it would make sense to me that they also have a relic in the altar stone. I was thinking though that I don't know when I last saw the relic at St Peter Chanel. When I was young, it was often on display.

      M&M the chapel you have created sounds wonderful. What a gift to the school.

    4. John Whyte July 17, 2014 at 9:56 am


      The cathedral has the name of the saint's relics on its opening plaque (by the entrance).  

      St Pius X definately has relics interred in it… but whose relics are unfortunately lost and a mystery to all.  Not for anything other than a lack of record keeping.  It's probably recorded within the altar, but the priest is not keen enough to dismantle it to find out.    

      For that let me encourage you to have the name of your altar relics recorded in many places.  Parish bullitiens (if your archivist stores them), plaques, etc. 

    5. Teresina July 23, 2014 at 9:16 pm

      I see Catholics are flocking to venerate relics of St John Paul The Great being venerated in