At his blog, Glosses from an Old Manse, Lutheran Pastor Mark Henderson writes in reaction to the report in The Telegraph that “blood taken from Pope John Paul II during his final hospitalization will be used as the official relic for veneration after he is beatified.”
Pastor Mark asks the question which only a Lutheran could ask:
What would Luther say?
No doubt something like this:
“the Word of God is the holy of holies; in fact, it is the only holy thing we Christians know and have. Even if we had the bones of all the saints and all holy, blessed objects heaped together, we would be none the better for the collection. All these relics are lifeless objects that can sanctify no-one. God’s Word, however, is the treasure that sanctifies everything. By it all the saints themselves were sanctified.” Martin Luther, The 3rd Commandment, The Large Catechism
Thank God for Martin Luther!
Well, Luther’s point, shorn of its polemic, is not actually an argument against the veneration of relics of the saints. We Catholics readily grant that all holiness has its source in God alone. It is useful to consult the new translation of Eucharistic Prayer II on this score. Before the consecration, the priest says:
You are indeed Holy, O Lord,
the fount of all holiness.
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,
by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,
so that they may become for us
the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
By the action of Christ in his Word and by the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Father consecrates the bread and wine to make them the “Holy Things” of the Sacrament. Apart from God’s Word and Spirit, they would be just bread and wine. Once God has sanctified the gifts, however, they become a source of sanctification for us too.
Now, I am not going to claim an exact parallel between the transformation of the bread and wine in the Eucharist and the transformation of the human body through the sanctifying power of God’s Word and Sacraments, but I think there IS an analogy to be made. After all, does not St Paul himself call the bodies of baptised Christians the “temple of the Holy Spirit”? (1 cor 6:19). That is a big statement. The Temple in Jerusalem, sanctified by the presence of God’s Holy Name, was where the Jews were told by Sacred Scripture to seek sanctification. By analogy, the bodies of the saints are likewise places where sanctifying power may be found. Granted, the holiness is not theirs by nature, but by gift. Yet unless we are to become spiritualist Gnostics, we must say that God sanctifies not only the souls but the bodies of his people.
I was struck by this soon after I became a Catholic, when the relics of St Therese of Liseux came to our parish here in Melbourne. As Director of Music at the time, I had the duty of preparing all music for all the services of that 24 hour period. I was therefore confronted directly with the very concrete devotion of Catholics to their saints. And I have come to see that it is a good thing, an expression of the sacramentality of our faith, and of the real and concrete hope of redemption, not only of our souls, but also of our bodies.
As Luther said in Pastor Mark’s quote: “God’s Word…sanctifies everything. By it all the saints themselves were sanctified.” And thus the mortal remains of the saints ARE, even by Luther’s own logic, sanctified. Anything that is sanctified by God’s Word can itself become a conduit for that sanctity. Hence the veneration of relics.
Well. That’s what Schütz has to say on the matter. As if anyone would care about that, either!