We should show our esteem for the relics
of the saints by venerating them and praying to the saints.
We should praise visits to the Station Churches,
pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, crusade indults, the
lighting of candles in churches.
Catholic doctrine on the veneration of
the saints, their relics and images, was solemnly defined by
the Council of Trent. Among the reasons why saints should be
venerated is the fact that through them "salutary examples
are put before the eyes of the faithful, so that they
fashion their lives and actions in imitation of the saints".
In other words, it is intrinsic to Catholic piety to strive
after holiness not only by imitating Jesus Christ but also
by following the saints.
When St. Paul told the Corinthians to be
followers of him as he was of Christ, he intimated a
principle that lies deep in the psychology of sanctity. St.
Ignatius himself was converted by reflecting on the heroism
of Saints Dominic and Francis of Assisi.
Our relation to the saints, therefore, is
at least twofold: to beg their intercession for us before
the throne of God, and to venerate them by imitating their
imitation of Christ. The saints were mere creatures like
ourselves. Their virtues were perfections of a human spirit
whose actions, even the most heroic, were not essentially
different than our own. They drew their motive power and
inspiration from the person of Christ, giving us an example
of how to follow His example and proving by experience how
sanctifying this imitation can be. They lived in times and
circumstances that reflect our own, and suffered temptation
not only from the devil and the world, but also (except
Mary) from the flesh and their fallen nature. We see them as
our companions in tribulations, whose lives are at once a
mirror of the sanctity of Christ and a picture of our own
peculiar trials. What we share in common with them is a
finite personality striving for perfection; what we admire
and try to emulate is their transformation "through the
power and grace of Jesus Christ".
Perhaps in modern times indulgences do
not enjoy the dogmatic reputation they had in the sixteenth
century, but they are still ascetically important and,
should not be overlooked. When Luther was condemned for
teaching that "the treasures of the Church, from which the
Pope grants indulgences are not the merits of Christ and the
saints", the underlying error was not regarding the
character of indulgences but the nature of the Catholic
Church. The ultimate reason why the Church can confer
indulgences derives from her character as more than a human
society, however conceived, being the Mystical Body of
Christ which incorporates His own divine Spirit and of which
the Son of God is the Head.