Vatican theologian: Veneration of relics risk superstition
FEB. 15, 2010 (www.timesonline.co.uk
) - A Vatican theologian said today that veneration of relics ran the risk of replacing authentic faith with irrational superstition.
The warning came as pilgrims began queuing to pray before the 13th-century remains of St Anthony of Padua, one of the Catholic world's most popular saints.
The skeleton of the saint, who is credited by many Catholics with miracle-working powers, went on display in a glass case at St Anthony's Basilica in Padua to mark the transfer of his remains to their final resting place in February 1350.
Today is also known as the Feast of the Tongue because when St Anthony's coffin was opened 30 years after his death his tongue was found to be miraculously incorrupt, seen as a divine tribute to his gift of preaching.
Monsignor Pietro Principe, a theologian whose Biblical commentaries are published by the Vatican, said that the "display of the mortal remains of saints and the cult of relics are part of our tradition. However we nowadays run the risk of crossing the boundary from popular devotion to superstition."
Monsignor Principe, an adviser to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals and former Vatican Secretary of State, said the veneration of relics stretched back to the origins of Christianity. But there was a temptation to "compensate for empty churches with a boom in religious happenings, substituting miracle-performing sensationalism for authentic faith", he told La Stampa.
He added: "To pray before the body of a saint or his relics means to thank God, who supported his path towards sainthood. The object of adoration, however, must remain God, not the saint". Relics were "not fundamental for belief, but they can help".
At his weekly audience last week Pope Benedict XVI said that St Anthony was "venerated not only in Padua, where a splendid basilica was built which houses his mortal remains, but in the whole world. Anthony contributed in a significant way to the development of Franciscan spirituality, with his outstanding gifts of intelligence, balance, apostolic zeal and, mainly, mystical fervour."
In his preaching St Anthony had shown that he "knew well the defects of human nature, the tendency to fall into sin", the Pope said. "That is why he constantly urges us to fight our inclination to covetousness, pride and impurity, and to practise the virtues of poverty and generosity, humility and obedience, chastity and purity."
The saint's concern for the poor remained relevant today, "when the financial crisis and serious economic imbalances are impoverishing not a few people and creating conditions of misery", Pope Benedict added.
Last autumn the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century French Carmelite nun, went on a month-long tour of Britain.