Tangible reminders: The relics of St. Joseph

Reliquary of the cloak of Saint Joseph and the Veil of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sant’Anastasia, Rome.

Father Jordan Hainsey, Messenger Contributor

Holy relics are the physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with our Lord. First class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh. Second class relics are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book. Third class relics are those items that have been touched to a first, second or another third class relic. Relics are meant to be honored and venerated, never worshipped. By honoring the memory of the saints and martyrs, their bodies, and their belongings, we give thanks to God for their holy witness.

Of all the Church’s saints, the only two of whom the Church possesses no first class relics of are the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. The Church attributes the lack of bodily relics of the Virgin Mary to her Assumption into heaven, both body and soul — a dogma pronounced by Ven. Pope Pius XII in his 1950 apostolic constitution “Munificentissimus Deus.” Regarding St. Joseph, while there is no dogmatic proclamation about him being assumed into heaven after his death, many saints piously believed that the Lord did for him just as he had done for the Virgin Mary (Cf. the writings of St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Francis de Sales, and Pope St. John XXIII).

The Church and her tradition venerate several relics related to St. Joseph: the wedding ring given by him to the Virgin Mary (Perugia, Italy); his belt (Joinville, France); his staff (Camaldoli, Italy); and his cloak (Rome, Italy). The cloak relic of St. Joseph traveling to the parishes of the Diocese of Covington was obtained by Bishop William T. Mulloy, 6th Bishop of Covington, in 1950 and taken from Rome’s principal cloak relic.

Tradition holds that the cloak of St. Joseph was brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century. It was deposited in an altar niche in the Basilica of Sant’Anastasia where it has remained and been guarded for veneration.

Whether a relic is first, second, or third class, the purpose is the same: to be physical, tangible, concrete reminder that heaven is obtainable for us. In the presence of holy relics, and particularly the one of St. Joseph, we recall the saints’ holy lives and pray for the grace to achieve what they’ve achieved — eternity with God in heaven.