QUAERITUR: Can I buy a relic?

From a reader:

I wanted to know if it is permissible to buy relics. I know that Canon Law says that it is absolutely wrong to sell them. But what about buying them? Also, how do I go about confirming the authenticity of the relic. I feel that the documentation can be easily forged.

 

It is not permissible to sell relics, which is a terrible sin and sacrilege.  It is similarly sinful to traffic in relics by buying them for anything other than the motive of saving them from profanation.  It is permissible to buy a relic to "rescue" it from mistreatment or other unworthy purposes.

When a person seeks to obtain a relic, from an approved source such as the Vicariate of Rome of the HQ of a religious order or institute or, perhaps, a postulator of a cause, there can often be an expense involved.  The expense is not for the relic, but for the purchase of the reliquary, the preparation of the relic, a document, etc.

Again, buying and selling relics, trafficking in relics, is thoroughly wicked and deserves our deepest pity-filled contempt.

It is laudable, however, to "rescue" relics from mistreatment.

As far as documentation is concerned, it can be difficult today to obtain documents even from approved sources for relics.  This is especially the case with relics of saint from the distant past.  However, reliquaries when opened usually reveal a waxen seal, embossed by the entity that handled the relics.  It could be possible to hunt down the source of the relic, which can help to authenticate that it was prepared under the aegis of Church authority.

Some might argue that by "rescuing" a relic, you create a market for them, inspiring the unethical to do sacrilegious things for profit.

If you are in doubt, bring your concern to your local bishop and ask for advice.   If that does not produce swift results, you can write to the Congregation for Causes of Saints for advice, sending a copy of your correspondence.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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7 Responses to QUAERITUR: Can I buy a relic?

  1. cheekypinkgirl says:

    OK, so let me ask this:

    What if someone is selling a relic on Ebay? If I bid on and win that relic, am I not potentially rescuing that relic from an uncertain future, had someone else won it?

    I ask this because I know relics have been bought and sold on Ebay. Along with other religious items, some blessed, some perhaps not.

    I have purposely bought older Catholic items on Ebay because what I desire is generally not available anymore and/or the newer ones are of inferior quality and aesthetics. I know we’re supposedly(?) not supposed to buy blessed items, but I do.

  2. Jack007 says:

    The debate rages on.
    On the one hand you have the ICHR (of which I’ve been a member since the nineties) and their position condemning anything to do with the sale of relics. While I concur with their position theologically, the practical realm is somewhat grayer. I can attest personally to the idea of a “rescue”. Of the several thousand or so relics in my personal collection, the vast majority were destined for eventual destruction. The very idea that a “market” existed, saved them. Without a profit motive, they’d have been in a landfill.

    One thing which bears mention, especially for those considering rescuing (purchasing) a relic online, is the millennial scourge of counterfeiting. At any given time, there are plenty of counterfeit relics on eBay. I have people send me their relics from all over the world to authenticate, and it always pains me to have to tell them when one is a fake. Sad, especially when its some young pious Catholic soul who scraped together some funds and were all excited with their “holy treasure”.

    As far as buying blessed items…go right ahead. The key here is “public”. If it was on eBay, or in the antique shop window, its nice to have it reblessed. In the case of consecrated items, like chalices, they will need to be reconsecrated. ALWAYS inform a priest that may want to use it, FIRST!

    The Internet has completely changed the landscape. Twenty years ago, a friend had an antique shop in Chicago with gorgeous Roman vestments piled to the ceiling, shelves lined with monstrances, chalices, reliquaries etc…he relied on word of mouth and basically “gave” them away. Today, with the Internet, AND the resurgence in tradition, he’d have retired a rich man.

    Jack in KC

  3. cheekypinkgirl: I refer you to the answer in the top entry.

  4. Tim Ferguson says:

    I had thought that some time ago EBay forbade the sale of relics on it’s site, since there are laws against trafficking in human remains in most states. Now, obviously, that would not affect second- or third-class relics, but it would seem that anytime one saw a first-class relic on sale on EBay (or anywhere else), the civil authorities could be contacted.

  5. If buying a relic in order to preserve from desacration is acceptable, what’s the rule on stealing relics, supposedly to preserve them, as in the case of the relics of Saint Nicholas of Myra (in Turkey)?

  6. pewpew says:

    If the relics are actual body parts, buying them to save them kind of makes sense to me. If they’re just third or even second class relics, I don’t think they need “saving”. But I’m not even remotely an expert…

  7. GodsGadfly says:

    Isn’t the underlying principle simony?

    In one sense, it can be just as bad to buy an unblessed sacramental as a blessed one if the motive is wrong. The general rule about blessed objects is that they can’t be “bought” because then one would be “buying the blessing” that entails. Thus, the Church teaches that the blessing is removed when the object is sold.

    This leads to a problem in the case of relics, since the idea is the relic is blessed in a special way in virtue of its contact with (or having been a part of) a saint. If the blessing goes away when a blessed object is sold, wouldn’t that mean that, in essence, the sold relic ceases to be a relic?