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  • Writer's pictureArthur Bruso

Remember Me

The holiday season often amplifies the echoes of our losses. Images and objects that once belonged to loved ones who are no longer with us become more poignant as we endeavor to infuse light, warmth, and joy into these dark nights. This year, the contemplation of life, loss, and mortality resonates especially keenly. Following our personal difficulties with physical pain and suffering, and an all too real experience with the darkening shadow of death, we’ve found ourselves meditating on the fragile nature of our existence. With that, thoughts of what we leave behind, how each of us are remembered, and how we can reconnect to the spirit of those we have cherished is foremost in our minds.

As is our tradition, we’ve turned to our collection of Roman Catholic devotions to inform our annual Curious Matter holiday installation. This year we delve into the profound symbolism of relics — the sacred artifacts that bridge the earthly and the divine. In the spirit of universal love and shared humanity, we acknowledge that the traditions we hold dear may be viewed through different lenses. The failures of the institutional church are not our focus, but rather the most generous intentions within the stories we learned as children, the imagery, and icons. It’s from those we discovered our social and moral center which endures despite our more critical and ever-evolving relationship to the organized church and our own evolving spirituality. While our roots are in Roman Catholicism, our message transcends the confines of any specific faith. We extend the warmth of our reflections to all, with love, embracing those of various beliefs and perspectives. 

Gold filigree reliquary containing a piece from the body of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
Gold filigree reliquary containing a piece from the body of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

A piece of the habit worn by Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini secured in a silver medallion; a particle from the body of Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley, the widow Seton within a pendant of gold filigree; a piece of cloth touched to a holy relic of St. Therese within a miniature portfolio are among the items we’ve brought together. In the Roman Catholic tradition, relics stand as the corporeal reality of the divine on earth. By being in the presence of tangible evidence considered by believers to be individuals whose sanctity and blessed existence is venerated, we hope to be inspired by the spirit and be blessed ourselves. The Catholic Church recognizes three classes of relics.  

First-class relics are tangible remains of the bodies of saints, the holy blessed, or items from the life of Christ that bear witness to His presence on earth or His suffering. These occupy the highest echelon. From these, it is believed that the presence of their sanctity and God’s blessings continue to be an influence on the faithful. These relics bestow their grace and the power of their devotion to the spirit to those that ask for their intercession. 

Second-class relics are artifacts touched by or used by the saints and bear an earthlier connection. To believers, the power of faith and the emanation of holiness can be transferred to clothing worn and objects used by the sanctified and blessed. These corporeal objects serve as a reminder that there is value and reward for devotion and faith. 

Third-class relics are things that have been touched to a first-class or second-class relic. While first- and second-class relics are usually venerated in churches or holy shrines, third class relics are often distributed to the masses for personal meditation and devotions on the divine nature of the saint and God’s grace. 

All of us hold dear relics of various kinds to honor those we’ve loved — not saintly bones, but rather the mundane treasures of our departed dear. A photograph, a favorite book, a piece of clothing, or a recipe serve as tangible connections to the presence of those who once filled our lives. To look upon and hold these items can be as sacred an experience as being in the presence of the greatest of holy relics and shrines of any major faith. Just as the faithful commune in cathedrals to venerate relics, we, too, find solace in holding onto the relics of our beloved both lost and absent. During the winter’s solstice and beyond, as we gather to celebrate the coming of light and warmth, it becomes especially dear to bring notice to those who are not or cannot celebrate with us. These personal objects bring a real presence and reminder to those missing. They fill the void, however unsatisfactorily of those who are mourned.

Paper portfolio reliquary with a piece of cloth touched to the body of Saint Therese of Liseau.
Paper portfolio reliquary with a piece of cloth touched to the body of Saint Therese of Liseau.

In this quiet communion between the earthly and the ethereal, the relics of saints and the relics of loved ones intersect, providing a universal language of comfort and connection. As winter unfolds its chill and glittering beauty, we navigate the season with the solace of cherished memories and the enduring spirit of those we hold eternally in our hearts. We find strength and serenity during life’s profound losses and reflections. May these sacred artifacts and personal treasures guide us through our meditations on life, providing strength and serenity through the winter solstice and into the warmth and renewal of spring. 

Wishing you and yours all the happiness and fondest recollections this holiday season, we remain yours,

© 2023 Curious Matter, used with permission of Curious Matter

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