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Relics of St Bernadette

Visit of the relics of St Bernadette of Lourdes to St Marys University on Tuesday 6th September 2022

Please find below answers to frequently asked questions that will help explain some aspects of the event.

What are relics?

‘Relics’ is the catholic church term used to describe the earthly remains of a follower of Jesus Christ, normally either a saint or a martyr for the faith. At the heart of the Christian faith is the belief that God became a human being in Jesus Christ. Thus, for the Christian, both following Jesus and eternal salvation are possible only through the body. Christianity is a way of bodily life as much as set of ideas. Thus, the mortal remains of either saint or martyr remind one of the struggles of their life and sometimes in death to follow Jesus.

Do Catholics worship relics?

The short answer is no. Two terms are used in regard to the rites and customs of the Catholic Church. Catholics adore Jesus Christ as He is the Son of God. By extension, because the bread and wine are changed within the ritual of Mass through the action of the priest, Catholics adore the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated host).

Relics are venerated not adored or worshipped. Veneration gives respect to the saint  as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, as represented in their mortal remains. In the past centuries when the veneration of relics and visits to saints’ shrines were more popular relics, were divided into different classes; the mortal remains themselves (Class 1) and those items associated with the saint’s life such as item of clothing (Class 2) and items tangentially related to the saint (Class 3).

Human nature being what it is, the Middle Ages saw a scramble for relics, the higher the class the better. Though obviously deficient the proper veneration of relics gives hope to those on their journey. Just like having a poster of an influential sportsperson might encourage us to excel in our chosen sport.

Who is St Bernadette?

St Bernadette was born in 1844, in a small village called Lourdes, one of nine children, to a miller and seamstress, Francois and Louise Soubirous. The family fell on hard times in the 1850s and lived in a one-room basement of the former town gaol. Bernadette’s fame rests on the visions she had of ‘that Lady’ (the Virgin Mary), at the age of 14. The first apparition took place on the 11th February 1858, at a cave outside the village. Over the course of three weeks she saw the apparition, eighteen times, and was told to build a chapel, organise processions, undertake penance and drink the water from the spring, common commands associated with apparitions of Our Lady throughout the Catholic world. What distinguishes these apparitions was ‘that Lady’ told Bernadette that ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’, or in her language Gascon Occitan (similar to Catalan) ‘Que soi era immaculado councepciou’, a recently defined doctrine of the church.

Later she left the village and entered the Convent of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, the sisters that taught her in school. Throughout her childhood she had suffered from illness and died at the early age of 36 in 1879.

Why St Marys University?

The Patronal Feast Day of the University is the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the same designation as Bernadette heard from ‘that Lady’. This teaching that finds its origins in the greeting the Angel Gabriel makes to the Virgin Mary, ‘Hail Mary Full of Grace’. Unlike any of us who experience fragmentation in our lives, competing claims on what we should or want to do, seemingly unreconciled conflicts, the gap between who we are and who we wish to become. None of this affected the Virgin Mary. She suffered no internal fragmentation because she was preserved from sin.

One way of looking at the Christian life is to see faith in Jesus Christ as healing the fragments of life and creating a continuous narrative of my life under the inspiration of God’s grace.

What will happen on Tuesday September 6th?

This day long pilgrimage will include all the elements called for by ‘that Lady’ and be for those who wish a way of seeking peace and mending the fragments of their lives.  Lighting candles, water rituals, confessions and spiritual conversations will be available throughout the day on the Priests’ Lawn.

Pilgrimage is good for everyone. It makes us take a step out of daily routine and think about the big issues of life, my life in particular.