Relics of the Past

Bro. David Eubank, M.S., holds
one of his first-class relics
from his personal collection.

As the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro celebrates its 60th anniversary under the theme of “60 Years of Serving God’s People,” this year’s Festival of Lights will see the return of Father André “Pat” Patenaude and his Christmas concerts, Clopper “heehawing” every night next to the outdoor Nativity set, a new synchronized light display set to music — and for the first time, relics of saints will be on exhibit for the many faithful who make the shrine an annual visit during the Christmas season.

Collecting relics is a passion for La Salette Brother David Eubank, shrine publicist and young adult ministry coordinator, who says those who know of his collection of 102 first-, second- and third-class relics have jokingly referred to him as “Brother Relic.”

Some names of the blessed and the saints listed in his vast collection can be easily recognized: St. Bernadette Soubirous; St. Stanislaus Kostka; St. Vincent de Paul; St. Marguerite d’Youville; St. John Bosco; St. Dominic Savio; Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati; and Blessed John Paul II are just a few.

His collection also includes a gift from a vicar in Rome: a piece of the Holy Sepulchre, a piece of the crown of thorns (or something near to it, said Brother Eubank) and a piece of the scourging post; “Even though they’re things, anything from Jesus Christ is consider first-class, and I do have the certificate for that,” said Brother Eubank.

His collection began in the form of a couple of relics he received as gifts a few years ago, including a relic of Blessed Pier Giorgio. As Brother Eubank began to study his history, he got to know who Pier Giorgio was and who his patron saints were — SS. Peter and Paul. Upon inquiring through a friend, Brother Eubank was able to procure SS. Peter and Paul relics, and from there his collection has continued to grow.

Though it may seem that getting a relic is easy as asking someone, said Brother Eubank, procuring a relic is not that simple and can be a process that takes up to a year or two. Letters have to be written, inquiries are made that go all the way to Rome, and families of saints have a lot of say on who actually gets a relic.

A relic of St. Theresa of Lisieux (foreground)
and a stone from Avila, Spain (background)

“Rome has really put a stop to who gets the relics because there is such a bad link to eBay and Craigslist of selling relics,” said Brother Eubank, adding that though the sites use careful wording to get around the actual “sale” of relics, he warns, “You cannot sell relics — flat out; it’s in (the Catholic Church’s) Canon Law.”

Relics are not meant to be collected but shared, said Brother Eubank, who said that displaying the relics this year was something he had been thinking about since last year, but wanted to make sure the display cases were secure before putting the relics on exhibit.

“You have to be very cautious with relics because they’re Sacramental and precious,” he said.

The relic containers range from ornate reliquaries to simple prayer cards, and Brother Eubank helped explain the different classes of relics.

A piece of the Holy
Sepulchre in Jerusalem

“A first-class relic is part of the person’s body, whether it be bone, tissue, hair follicles — I’ve never seen toenails,” he said, smiling. “It’s more hair and bone fragments. A second-class relic is anything that belonged to them; whether it be a cassock they wore, a pencil they used; in regards to Pier Giorgio, it’s a piece of his sheet that he was on before he died. Third-class is anything that touches a first-class relic, normally the body; those usually come on a prayer card. Second-class relics are starting to come on prayer cards, too.”

And in order to make sure a relic is authentic; each relic may be housed in a “theca”; “They’re in these theca containers; if you take the back off, it has to be threaded in red thread or wiring, and it also has a wax seal of either the diocese, the postulator, the congregation or Vatican. First-class relics, if they’re going to be venerated in public, have to be accompanied by a document of authenticity, which is a certificate, normally in Latin, and describes the reliquary,” and what the theca holds, whether it be blood, bone or something else, said Brother Eubank.

This may be the first time the relics have been on display, but Brother Eubank has always allowed individuals to make arrangements to come and venerate a relic of a saint by setting it up in one of the chapels at the shrine. Some people have a personal connection with many of the saints, said Brother Eubank, and with Blessed Pope John Paul II canonization coming up in April, seeing the piece of the late-pope’s cassock on display may be a highlight of someone’s trip. Brother Eubank will continue to rotate out the relics on display with those stored in his office to keep the exhibit fresh and new to those visiting the shrine.

A relic of Blessed
Pope John Paul II

“For the faithful, it’s a devotion,” said Brother Eubank. “It does help people come closer to Christ through [the saint’s] life. I haven’t met a person who has a relic, who tells me they know nothing of that person. They, in some way and in some form, have read about that person’s life, and if it in someway brought them closer to God, I think there is an importance in these relics.”

He added, “I love the saints. We can learn so much from them and their lives. I started studying the saints years ago because I loved reading biographies, but now it’s become more of a passion. Each individual life is an inspiration to the faithful because we can learn so much from them. They were no different from us in this age; there could be holy saints among us that we don’t know. It’s how [the saints] dealt with life and how they turned their lives to God.”

(from The Anchor, November, 2013, by Becky Aubut, Anchor staff, originally entitled “Unspiring Relics Display add to La Salette Festival of Lights”. Used with permission. All photos by Becky Aubut.)

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