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INSTRUCTION

Relics in the Church:

Authenticity and Preservation

 

INTRODUCTION

Relics in the Church have always received particular veneration and attention because the body of the Blesseds and of the Saints, destined for the resurrection, has been on earth the living temple of the Holy Spirit and the instrument of their holiness, recognized by the Apostolic See through beatification and canonization.[1] The relics of the Blesseds and of the Saints may not be displayed for the veneration of the faithful without a proper certificate of the ecclesiastical authority who guarantees their authenticity.

The body of the Blesseds and of the Saints or notable parts of the bodies themselves or the sum total of the ashes obtained by their cremation are traditionally considered significant relics. Diocesan Bishops, Eparchs, those equivalent to them in law and the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints reserve for these relics a special care and vigilance in order to assure their preservation and veneration and to avoid abuses. They are, therefore, preserved in properly sealed urns and are kept in places that guarantee their safety, respect their sacredness and encourage their cult.

Little fragments of the body of the Blesseds and of the Saints as well as objects that have come in direct contact with their person are considered non-significant relics. If possible, they must be preserved in sealed cases. They are, however, preserved and honored with a religious spirit, avoiding every type of superstition and illicit trade.

A similar discipline is applied also to the mortal remains (exuviae) of the Servants of God and the Venerables, whose Causes of beatification and canonization are in progress. Until they are elevated to the honors of the altars through beatification or canonization, their mortal remains may not enjoy any public cult nor those privileges which are reserved only to the body of someone who has been beatified or canonized.

The present Instruction substitutes the Appendix of the Instruction Sanctorum Mater[2] and is directed to diocesan Bishops, Eparchs and those who are equivalent to them in law, as well as to those who participate in the procedures regarding the relics of Blesseds and Saints and the mortal remains of Servants of God and Venerables, in order to facilitate the application of what is required in such a particular matter.

In this Instruction is presented the canonical procedure to follow in order to verify the authenticity of relics and mortal remains, to guarantee their preservation and to promote the veneration of relics through the possible specific procedures: canonical recognition, extraction of fragments and creation of relics, translation of the urn and alienation of relics. Furthermore, the requirements for obtaining the consent of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to perform such procedures and the procedure to follow for the pilgrimage of relics are laid out. 

PART I

Request of  the Consent  of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints

Article 1

The one competent to perform all the possible procedures on relics or on mortal remains is the Bishop of the diocese or of the eparchy where they are preserved, if he has obtained beforehand the consent of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

Article 2

§ 1.  Before undertaking any operation on relics or on mortal remains all that is prescribed by local civil law must be observed and, in conformity with such law, the consent of the heir must be obtained.

§ 2. Before the beatification of a Venerable Servant of God, the heir is to be invited by the competent Bishop to donate the mortal remains to the Church by means of an instrument that is juridically recognized by civil and ecclesiastical authorities, so that their preservation may be safeguarded.

Article 3

§ 1. The competent Bishop is to send to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints the written request with which he asks the consent of the Dicastery for the procedures which he intends to perform.

§ 2. In this request the Bishop is to specify the exact place where the relics or the mortal remains are preserved (city, name of the church, chapel, public or private cemetery, etc.) and to confirm that the prescription of Art. 2 § 1 of the present Instruction has already been fulfilled.

Article 4

§ 1. If the Bishop intends to perform the translation (that is, the permanent transfer) within the confines of the same diocese or eparchy, he is to specify to the Congregation the place of the new location of the relics or of the mortal remains (city, name of the church, chapel, public or private cemetery, etc.), and include the project.

§ 2. In the case of translation to another diocese or eparchy, the Bishop is to send to the Congregation, together with the project of the new location of the relics or of the mortal remains (city, name of the church, chapel, public or private cemetery, etc.), the written consent of the Bishop who will receive them.

Article 5

§ 1.  If the relics or the mortal remains are to be alienated (that is, permanent transfer of ownership) within the confines of the same diocese or eparchy, the competent Bishop, together with the request mentioned in Art. 3 § 1 of the present Instruction, is to send to the Congregation a copy of the written consent of the alienating party and of the future owner.

§ 2. If the relics or the mortal remains are to be alienated to another diocese or eparchy, the competent Bishop, together with the request mentioned in Art. 3 § 1 of the present Instruction, is to send to the Congregation a copy of the written consent of the Bishop who will receive them, the written consent of the alienating party and of the future owner, as well as the project of the new location.

§ 3. For the alienation of significant relics, icons and precious images of the Oriental Churches both the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and the Patriarch with the consent of the permanent Synod are competent.[3]

§ 4. If the relics of a Blessed or of a Saint are to be brought in pilgrimage (that is, temporarily transferred) in other dioceses or eparchies, the Bishop must obtain the written consent of each Bishop who will receive them and send a copy of the consent to the Congregation, together with the request mentioned in Art. 3 § 1 of the present Instruction.

PART II

Diocesan or Eparchial Phase of the Possible Specific Procedures to Perform 

Title I

Initial Acts

Article 6

After he has obtained the consent of the Congregation, granted by means of the proper Rescript, the Bishop can proceed by following this Instruction, scrupulously avoiding every sign of unlawful cult to a Servant of God or to a Venerable who is not yet beatified.

Article 7

The Bishop of the territory, where the relics or the mortal remains are located, can act personally or through a Priest who is his Delegate.

Article 8

The Bishop is to constitute a Tribunal, nominating by decree those who will perform the functions of Episcopal Delegate, Promoter of Justice and Notary.

Article 9

The Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate is to nominate a medical expert (anatomical pathologist, medical examiner or another specialized doctor) and, if necessary, an assistant medical expert (autopsy technician), as well as others charged with performing the technical aspects of the work.

Article 10

The Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate is to nominate as well at least two members of the faithful (priests, consecrated men/women, laymen/laywomen) with the task of signing the acts as witnesses.

Article 11

The Postulator and the Vice Postulator of the Cause have the right to be present.

Article 12

All those who take part in the procedures must first take an oath or promise to fulfill faithfully their task and to maintain the secret of office.

Title II

The Specific Procedures

Part I

Canonical Recognition

Article 13

§ 1. On a day and at an hour specifically established, the Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate and all those mentioned in Artt. 8-11 of the present Instruction, are to go to the place where the relics or the mortal remains are preserved.

§ 2. If the Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate consider it opportune, other persons may also be present at the recognition.

§ 3. Publicity regarding the event is to be avoided in every way.

Article 14

§ 1. Before removing the relics or the mortal remains from the place in which they are preserved, if there is an authentic document of the last burial, canonical recognition or translation, it is to be read aloud by the Notary so that it may be verified if what is written in the document coincides with that which is established at the present moment.

§ 2. Whenever there is no authentic document or if the urn or the seals attached to it appear to be broken, every possible care is to be taken to assure that these are truly the relics of the Blessed or of the Saint or the mortal remains of the Servant of God or of the Venerable, who is being identified.

Article 15

The relics or the mortal remains are to be placed upon a table, covered with a dignified draping, so that the anatomical experts can clean them of dust and other impurities.

Article 16

§ 1. When these procedures have been completed, the anatomical experts are to inspect carefully the relics of the Blessed or of the Saint or the mortal remains of the Servant of God or of the Venerable.

§ 2. Furthermore, they are to identify analytically all the parts of the body, to describe in a detailed manner their state, and they are to put their findings down in a Report signed by them and attached to the acts.

Article 17

Whenever the canonical recognition makes evident the necessity or the opportuneness of performing treatments for their preservation, after having obtained the consent of the Bishop, such treatments are to be performed by applying the most accredited techniques in that place and in the ways which the anatomical experts or other experts shall establish.

Article 18

If the canonical recognition cannot be concluded in one session, the place in which it is performed is to be put under lock and key and necessary precautions are to be taken so as to avoid any theft or danger of profanation. The key will be kept by the Bishop or by the Episcopal Delegate.

Article 19

§ 1. After that which is necessary to provide for the preservation of the relics or of the mortal remains, and the body has been recomposed, everything is to be eventually placed in a new urn.

§ 2. If the relics or the mortal remains are dressed in new clothes, these, as much as is possible, are to be of the same style as the previous ones.

§ 3. The Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate is to take care that no one takes anything out of the urn or places something in it.

§ 4. If possible, the old urn and everything which was found in it are to be religiously preserved; otherwise they are to be destroyed.

Article 20

The minutes of all that has been done are to be placed in a container, secured with the seal of the Bishop, and placed in the urn.

Part II

Extraction of Fragments and Creation of Relics

Article 21

§ 1. Whenever the canonization of a Blessed or the beatification of a Venerable Servant of God is imminent, or for other reasons justified in the request mentioned in Art. 3 § 1 of the present Instruction, one can proceed during a legitimate canonical recognition to the extraction of some little parts or fragments, which are already detached from the body, according to the indications of the anatomical expert.

§ 2. Such fragments are to be given by the Bishop or by the Episcopal Delegate to the Postulator or to the Vice Postulator of the Cause for the creation of relics.

Article 22

The Bishop, after he has heard the opinion of the Postulator of the Cause, is to decide the place for the custody of the extracted fragments.

Article 23

§ 1.  It is the right of the Postulator of the Cause to prepare and to sign the certificate of authenticity of the relics.

§ 2. In the absence of the Postulation, it is the right of the diocesan Bishop, of the Eparch, of the one equivalent to him in law, or of his Delegate, to prepare and to sign the certificate of authenticity of the relics.

Article 24

The dismembering of the body is not permitted unless the Bishop has obtained the consent of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints for the creation of significant relics.

Article 25

The commerce (that is, the exchange of a relic for something else or for money) and the sale of relics (that is, the cessation of ownership of a relic for a corresponding price), as well as their display in profane or unauthorized places, are absolutely prohibited.[4]

Part III

Translation of the Urn and Alienation of Relics

Article 26

§ 1. If the operation involves the translation of the mortal remains of a Servant of God or of a Venerable within the confines of the same diocese or eparchy, the urn is to be closed and bound with ribbons fixed with the seal of the Bishop and, without any solemnity, is to be put in the same place or in the new place of burial, avoiding every sign of unlawful cult according to the Decrees of Urban VIII on non-cult.[5]

§ 2. Whenever the relics of a Blessed or of a Saint are involved, possible signs of public cult are permitted according to liturgical norms presently in force.

Article 27

§ 1. If the relics or the mortal remains will be definitively transferred to another diocese or eparchy, after having observed the prescription mentioned in Art. 2 § 1 of the present Instruction, the Bishop of the diocese or eparchy where they are preserved is to nominate a member of the Christian Faithful (priest, consecrated man/woman, layman/laywoman) to act as Guardian-Porter.

§ 2. The Guardian-Porter is to accompany them to their definitive destination at the place established by the diocesan Bishop or Eparch who will receive the relics or the mortal remains, acting according to Art. 26 of the present Instruction.

Title III

Final Acts

Article 28

§ 1. The Notary is to record all the procedures performed in properly prepared minutes, signed by the Bishop or Episcopal Delegate, by the Promoter of Justice, by the anatomical experts and by the two witnesses mentioned in Artt. 9-10 of the present Instruction, as well as by the Notary, who authenticates the acts with his signature and seal.

§ 2. The Rescript of the consent of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints is to be attached to the minutes. 

Article 29

§ 1. The minutes of all the procedures performed, closed and stamped with the seal of the Bishop or of the Episcopal Delegate, are to be preserved in the diocesan or eparchial Chancery and a copy of the minutes is to be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

§ 2. Whenever photographs or the filming of the procedures performed are authorized, these are to be attached to the minutes and preserved, together with them, in the diocesan or eparchial Chancery.

Article 30

The images and information, taken from the anatomical treatments and all the procedures performed, must not be divulged or made public without the written authorization of the competent Bishop and that of the possible heir.

PART III

Pilgrimage of the Relics

Article 31

§ 1. The relics of a Blessed or of a Saint can be carried in pilgrimage to different places within the confines of the same diocese or eparchy. In such a case, the competent Bishop is to appoint a Guardian-Porter who is to accompany the relics to the different places. 

§ 2. For pilgrimages outside the diocese, the prescriptions of Artt. 5 § 4 and 32-38 of the present Instruction are to be observed.

Article 32

§ 1. The competent Bishop can preside at the procedures personally or through a Priest who is his Delegate, nominated ad hoc.

§ 2. The Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate is to nominate a Notary and others responsible for the technical aspects of the work.

Article 33

All those who take part in the procedures must first take an oath or promise to fulfill faithfully their task and to maintain the secret of office.

Article 34

§ 1. After having observed all that is mentioned in Art. 2 § 1 of the present Instruction, and having obtained the Rescript of the consent of the Congregation, the Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate, the Notary and those charged with the technical aspects of the work are to go to the place in which the relics are preserved.

§ 2. If the Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate consider it opportune, other persons may also be present at the occasion.

Article 35

§ 1. After having removed the urn, if there is an authentic document of the last canonical recognition or of the previous pilgrimage, it is to be read aloud by the Notary so that it may be verified that what is written in the document coincides with that which is established at the present moment.

§ 2. Whenever there is no authentic document of the burial, of the preceding canonical recognition or of the last pilgrimage, or if the urn or the required seals appear to be broken, every possible care is to be taken to be sure that these are truly the relics of the Blessed or of the Saint at hand.

Article 36

The Bishop or the Episcopal Delegate is to nominate a member of the Christian Faithful (priest, consecrated man/woman or layman/laywoman) as Guardian-Porter who will accompany the relics for the entire extent of the pilgrimage.

Article 37

In regard to the cult of a Blessed during the pilgrimage of the relics, the prescriptions in force must be followed: “On the occasion of the pilgrimage of significant relics of a Blessed [...], the possibility of liturgical celebrations in his honor is granted by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for the individual churches in which the relics are displayed for the veneration of the faithful and for the days on which they remain there. The request is presented by the one who organizes the pilgrimage”.[6]

Article 38

§ 1. When the pilgrimage is finished, the relics are to be returned to their original place.

§ 2. The minutes of all the procedures performed, drawn up by the Notary, closed and stamped with the seal of the Bishop or of the Episcopal Delegate, is to be preserved in the diocesan or eparchial Chancery and a copy of them is to be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

CONCLUSION

The resolution of any other questions is left to the judgment and prudence of the Bishop and of the Episcopal Delegate.

Given at Rome, by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, on the eighth day of December 2017, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Angelo CARDINAL Amato, SDB

Prefect

† Marcello Bartolucci

Titular Archbishop of Bevagna

Secretary

 

PONTIFICAL APPROVAL

The Supreme Pontiff on 5 December 2017 has approved this Instruction on Relics in the Church: Authenticity and Preservation, the text of which has been published in L’Osservatore Romano of 17 December 2017, entering immediately in force.

† Marcello Bartolucci

Titular Archbishop of Bevagna

Secretary

 


[1] “Saints are venerated in the Church, according to tradition, and their authentic relics and images are held in honor.” Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 4 December 1963, n. 111.

[2] Cf. AAS 99 (2007), 465-517.

[3] Cf. cann. 887 and 888 CCEO.

[4] Cf. can. 1190 § 1 CIC; can. 888 § 1 CCEO.

[5] For example, the following are prohibited: burial under an altar; images of the Servant of God or of the Venerable with rays of light or halo; their display on an altar; ex voto offerings at the tomb or images of the Servant of God or of the Venerable; etc.

[6] Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Notificazione circa la concessione di culto in occasione del pellegrinaggio di reliquie insigni di Beati, prot. N. 717/15 of 27 January 2016; Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, art. 69 

 

 

 


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