(Written by Veronica Nevard of Ryde)
In February of this year, 2017, Cardinal Nichols welcomed to Westminster Cathedral the National Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima. This statue was blessed by Pope Paul VI in Fatima in May 1967 and given to this country, by the Bishop of Fatima the following year. It was also blessed by Pope St. John Paul II when he visited England in 1982.
In celebration of the Centenary of the Apparitions of Our Lady to the three children in Fatima, the statue will visit Cathedrals and Abbeys in England and Wales until October. In a similar manner, we have in St. Mary’s Parish, a Pilgrim Statue depicting Our Lady showing her Immaculate Heart (the formal title of St Mary’s is The Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary), which travels to homes in the Parish at fortnightly intervals.
The National Pilgrim Statue is accompanied by relics of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, canonised in Fatima by the Pope on 13 May this year. These two seers of the Apparitions are the youngest (non-martyr) saints ever to be canonised. Francisco died in 1919 aged ten and Jacinta died in 1920 aged nine.
From the earliest days of the Church, Mass was celebrated in the Catacombs, on the tombs of the Martyrs: those who had shed their blood in the name of the Victim of Calvary, offered in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Later, in Rome, splendid churches were built as vast reliquaries to preserve the tombs of celebrated martyrs. The remains of those who had died for their Faith were placed under the High Altar of the Basilicas dedicated to them. The ancient practice of venerating the remains of saints persists. In the traditional rite for the dedication of an altar, an essential element is the translation of a reliquary, carried on a bier, in solemn procession to the Church where the relics are placed with due ceremony into the altar stone, prepared to receive them. In 1978, a document from the Liturgy Office of England and Wales affirmed that the tradition of placing relics of martyrs or other saints beneath the altar should be preserved:- ‘the relics should be of a size sufficient for them to be recognised as parts of human bodies and care must be taken to determine their authenticity’.
Many of us treasure frequently used personal possessions or even clothing that we keep because they belonged to a departed loved one. In the Church, these would be classed as second class relics. First class relics are parts of the actual body of the Saint, or in the case of martyrs, the instruments of their martyrdom. First class relics should be treated with especial reverence as is fitting for the body (or even the ashes, as we were recently reminded) of a dead person. First class relics will usually be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. Third class relics are something (often a small piece of cloth) that has been touched to a first or second class relic. These third class relics are sometimes found incorporated into a prayer card or picture of the saint.
Father Glaysher is known to be a collector of relics. In St. Mary’s Church it is not uncommon for the congregation, after the Feast Day Mass of a Saint, to be invited to venerate a relic of the Saint concerned. In the traditional calendar, the Feast of the Holy Relics is kept in many dioceses (Portsmouth being one of them), on 5 November. If Mass is being celebrated in the traditional Rite on that day Father Glaysher will bring into the church many of his reliquaries, some containing scores of relics. Some readers may remember the 2011 exhibition in the British Museum called Treasures of Heaven. The display of medieval reliquaries in a variety of shapes and sizes illustrated the remarkable art and craftsmanship, as well as the devotion, of the time.
In Portsmouth Cathedral there have been special opportunities to venerate relics in recent years. In September 2009 the relics of Saint Therese visited Britain, arriving from France, first in Portsmouth. Bishop Hollis remarked afterwards:
‘Over the years of the history of our diocese and our Cathedral in Portsmouth, we have witnessed many great events and occasions. But for sheer intensity of prayer and real devotion, I doubt whether any have matched what we have experienced during the hours of the visit to the Cathedral of the relics of Saint Therese’.
The casket containing her (leg) bones was in the Cathedral for 26 hours, during which time the Cathedral remained open and about 4,500 people came to pray.
In May 2015 the relics of Saint Therese’s parents: Blessed Louis and Blessed Zelie Martin visited the Cathedral.
On 26th and 27th August this year the (second class) relics of Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta will accompany the Pilgrim Statue to Portsmouth Cathedral. Many will surely want to visit the Cathedral on one of these days to pray to Our Lady of Fatima and to ask the intercession of these two young children for the youth in our families, in our parishes and schools and indeed the world. Our Blessed Lady asked the children (see picture – left) to pray to her Immaculate Heart for peace in the world. This was during World War One. We are still sorely in need of peace. After seeing Our Lady, they prayed and offered sacrifices for sinners but before any visions they had been in the habit of saying the Rosary together while they looked after the sheep. How many of the young children we know could be found saying the Rosary? Why not? Francisco and Jacinta were not particularly bright or educated (when a priest asked Jacinta to pray for the Pope she asked who the Pope was). The centenary of apparitions at Fatima can remind us to repeat often the prayer customarily said after each decade of the Rosary:
O Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.
Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.