The Veneration of Relics
At Vatican II, the Church recalled that the “saints have been traditionally honored in the Church and their authentic relics and images held in veneration.” Similar to how we might keep a cherished possession of a deceased family member, the Church has always preserved the relics of the martyrs and saints. By venerating relics, we give thanks to God for the saints’ holy lives and pray for the grace to imitate them. We can also ask saints to pray to God for us, for others, and for our special intentions. However, the Church is quick to remind us that a relic is not magical. It is not the actual object of the relic itself that brings grace or causes a miracle. Grace and healing come from God alone.
How to Venerate a Relic
When venerating a relic it is appropriate to honor the saint by performing a simple exterior gesture. We can kiss or touch the glass case that houses the relic, or simply stand near the relic in a prayerful attitude while invoking the intercession of the saint. Whatever gesture a person chooses, it should not be done out of superstition, but out of love for the saint and for God. The Directory on Popular Piety explains that the veneration of a relic is meant to be an external expression of “one’s commitment to live the Christian life.” Please keep in mind that we should not genuflect before the relic in a way similar to genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament. Genuflection is a sign of adoring Christ who is truly present in the consecrated hosts which are kept inside the tabernacle.
What the Catholic Church Teaches About Popular Piety
1674. Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church)