Catholic Order after episcopal law by Bishop Ralph Napierski

About Relics

In Christianity the adoration of relics is one of the oldest forms of devotion to saints and evidence is found already clearly in the mid-second century.
This is remarkable because in the pagan antiquity adoration of relics was not desirable and body parts of even saints were seen as impure.
The very existence and fame of great Catholic cathedrals of the Middle Ages were based on the devotion to saints and the adoration of their relics – like the Three Kings in the Dome of Cologne.

It is important to understand in this context that devotion is not worship of a saint or the relic but simply the appreciation and use of the contained healing power in the relics, which is a purely and ultimately a free gift of God.

We can read about the use of relics already in the bible (Acts 19:11-12):
“11And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:
12So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.”

In MARC 5, 21-34 (s. also Mt 9,20-22) we read about the Jesus relics:
25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31″You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”



FIRST CLASS: Relics of the first class are all body parts of the saint, especially particles their bones but also their hair, fingernails and, if preserved, also other remains, in more rare incidents also blood. Saints, whose bodies were burnt the ash also counts as relic of the first class.

SECOND CLASS: Relics of the second class, also called authentic contact relics, are objects that the saint has touched in their lifetime, especially objects of special biographical relevance.
That includes also the robes and garments of saintly priests and religious people, with martyrs their instruments of torture and weapons, through which they found their death.

THIRD CLASS: Relics of the third class or mediary contact relics are objects that have had contact with the relics of the first class. Sometimes people declare as third class relics, items that touched second class relics, but in fact these would be fourth class relics, but they are not categorized as such.

An exceptional position of this scheme hold the biblical relics, those objects that are connected to Jesus Christ and Mary directly. They are FIRST CLASS too.
Objects in this category are the cross relics, the passion relics, that played a role in the Passion of Christ in His last days of His life. These are f.ex. the Holy Lance of Longinus, particles of the cross nails i.e. the Iron Crown, particles of the Thorn Crown (Notre Dame Paris) and other martyr instruments; furthermore the Turin shroud, the sweatcloth of Veronica (in the Peter’s Dome in Rome) and the Holy Grail. In a similar way garments are adored that were worn by Jesus and Mary in their lives, f.ex. the Holy Skirt in Trier, the sandals of Jesus in Pruem as well as nappy and loin cloth of Jesus in Aachen and the gowns of Mary (veil, belt).

Warning: In the Middle Ages it has been very common to touch a relic of the true cross (1st class) with a piece of wood. This peace of wood became a 3rd class cross relic, like the crosses and medals that we spread as free gifts. Then they cut this piece of wood in many pieces and put it into a reliquary theca. So expect true cross relic that come without proper documents to be 3rd class.

About the documents of the relics:

Declarations used in the documents / certificates of authenticity :

arca mortuaria – mortuary box, container
arca sepulerali- coffin
breviario – breviary
coronse spinse D.N.J.C. – crown of thorns of Our Lord Jesus Christ
[cravio] corporis – body
de velo – from the veil
domini nostri jesu christi, D.N.J.C. – Our Lord Jesus Christ
domo – house
ex bireto – from the biretta
ex capillus – from the hair
ex carne – from the flesh
ex cineribus – from the ashes
ex indumento – from the clothing
ex ligneo pulvere, mixto pulveri corporis, quem residuum continebat prima capsa funeralis – from the remains of the wood, mixed with the dust of the body, the residue of which was contained in the first box, [or sarcophagus]
ex ossibus – from the bones
ex praecordis – from the stomach or intestines
ex praesepis – birthplace of D.N.J.C.
ex pelle – from the skin
ex pluviali – cope [ cloak wore for Benediction ]
ex sportula – from the little basket
ex stipite affixionis – probably means “from the whipping post”
ex strato – from the covering [ blanket ]
ex tela serica quae tetigit cor – from the silk cloth which touched the heart
ex tunica – from the tunic

If the document does not state the origin then there is a chance that it is a first class relic, but most likely it is second class. Always when it is not stated “ex ossibus / pelle / carne / capillus …” then it was not transmitted which type of relic it is and its most likly from a tool or rope that the saint did wear.
But it is possible too, that it is a 3rd class relic !
If you do not have any document then you should consider the relic to be a possible 3rd class relic.

Initials that follow the name of the saint:

AP. – Apostle
C. – Confessor
D. – Doctor of the Church
E. – Bishop
EV. – Evangelist
F. – Founder of Order
Lev. – Deacon
M. – Martyr
Poen. – Penitent
PP. – Pope
Reg. – King or Queen
V. – Virgin
Vid. – Widow

A typical text and structure used in the document of authenticity:


Universis et singulis praesentes litteras inspecturis fidem facimus ac testamur, quod Nos ad maiorem Omnipotentis Dei gloriam suorumque Sanctorum venerationem recognovimus sacra _A2_    particula __A2_


qua _A2__   ex authenticis locis extracta _A2__    ,

reverenter collocavimus in theca ___________A5_______________________

easque tradidimus cum facultate apud se retinendi, extra Urbem transmittendi et publicae fidelium venerationi exponendi.
In quorum fidem has litteras testimoniales a Nobis seu ab Vicesgerente subscriptas nostroque sigillo firmatas per infrascriptum Sacrarum Reliquiarum Custodem expediri mandavimus.

D ex Aedibus nostris die D1 mensis D2 Anni D3.



To all and each who will see these present letters we give our faithful assurance and we attest that, to the greater glory of Almighty God and the veneration of His Saints, we have recognized the sacred A2 particle A2  [A2 is detector for one relic (then it is written “-” )  or for more relics (then it is written “s” )]

A3 + A4  (What kind of relic it is and the name of the saint with initials) which A2, taken A2 out of their authentic places, we have gathered in a reliquary theca A5

and we have sent them with permission to keep them, to send them out of the City, and to expose them to the public veneration of the faithful.

In witness of those things we have ordered these testimonial letters, signed by us or by our Most Excellent Substitute, and sealed with our seal, to be sent by the undersigned Keeper of Sacred Relics.

At D (country, city or diocese), from our palace, day D1 month D2 year D3

Signature and stamped seal.

The round theca is designed to fit into a reliquary which is used to present the relic:On the theca you will find a wax seal:

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