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The altars in Roman Catholic churches must be consecrated with a saint's relic (preferably a martyred saint). These "relics" are body parts, usually a small bone fragment but sometimes what is referred to as a "major" relic is incorporated within or under the altar. A major relic could be an arm, a leg, or perhaps even an entire body. I have five questions pertaining to this method of consecration:

  1. Are altars with major relics more consecrated than others? If not, why use a whole leg?
  2. Does the relic play a role in transubstantiation?
  3. Is there a stockpile or inventory of body parts kept somewhere awaiting the consecration of new altars?
  4. In the event that a Roman Catholic church closes, is the relic recovered? Is it "retired" or returned to "inventory"?
  5. Is there a searchable database listing which relics are associated with each Church? Can we know how large a piece of saint is used or merely the saint's name?
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  • Generally speaking the site only permits one question at a time. This seems to be simply a one unified traditional question.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 23 at 3:52
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  1. No, size doesn't matter - grace matters.
  2. No, transubstantiation doesn't require an altar.
  3. No, it's not that organized.
  4. Depends, relics cannot be sold so they either have to be retired and buried or go to other homes. It would be up to the local Bishop to deal with storage of the altar relic. But Canon Law says the altar can lose its dedication

Can. 1212 Sacred places lose their dedication or blessing if they have been destroyed in large part, or have been turned over permanently to profane use by decree of the competent ordinary or in fact.

  1. No database and no correlation - the relics are not necessarily related to the saint of the Church (i.e. Our Lady and St. Joseph have no 1st degree relics, so they couldn't have churches dedicated to them if that were the case). If you want to find out whose relics are at an altar, you'd have to ask someone at a parish. I have no knowledge of any of the relics of any of the churches I go to, which is kind of sad, but might give you some indication of how important the relics are to average Catholics, it might be another "one of those things", so I wouldn't get hung up about it if I weren't a Catholic - we've got plenty of other weird stuff to worry about going on in the Church!

Also, the degrees of relics are:

  • 1st degree

    Any body part, hair or blood from the saint

  • 2nd degree

    Something that the saint touched or used during their lifetime. Saints like St. Maximillian Kolbe, who was cremated at Auschwitz, and St. Anthony of Egypt, who was buried in secret so his body wouldn't be fought over, only have 2nd degree relics.

  • 3rd degree

    Something touched to a saints grave or over their corpse.

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    4. An altar can be moved to a new church (and retain its own consecration). The altar loses its consecration if the sepulcher (where the relic is) is opened. 5. There's also no database
    – eques
    Jan 18 at 14:15
  • @eques thanks, I was looking for more info regarding #4. Is that in canon law?
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 18 at 15:18
  • Canon 1238 refers to 1212 (cited in your answer) for the conditions when the altar loses its dedication, but also notes that the altar does not lose its consecration if the Church is relegated to profane uses
    – eques
    Jan 18 at 15:24
  • The saint’s relics often does not correspond to the title of the actual local parish church. My parish church is dedicated to St. Anne the Mother of Mary. However the piece of bone in the altar is that St. Paul Miki! There is no database for relics, but one of the Offices within the Vatican will give any priest a relic for a genuine reason. Relics are never sold.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 18 at 16:57
  • Does consecration of an altar require a 1st degree relic? If celebrating the Eucharist is the high point of the Mass and does not require an altar what is the purpose of the altar or the consecration? Jan 19 at 1:01
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Five related questions regarding the relics which consecrate Roman Catholic altars?

Generally speaking only one question at a time is permitted on this site. However I can see how these 5 subcategories considered as one possible question.

  1. Are altars with major relics more consecrated than others? If not, why use a whole leg?

The size of a martyr’s relics are irrelevant as long as the portion of the body in question can be recognized as human, thus geting as they can be distinguished as humaman bone. This is why documents of authenticity are so important.

  1. Does the relic play a role in transubstantiation?

No, such Masses are considered valid yet illicit. In times of persecution priests have said the words of consecration without any table or altar available whatsoever. Nature always finds a way!

  1. Is there a stockpile or inventory of body parts kept somewhere awaiting the consecration of new altar?

No, there is no stockpile of relics. However, a priest while in Rome may ask about certain relics and be directed to where on May obtain relics for legitimat reasons.

  1. In the event that a Roman Catholic Church closes, is the relic recovered? Is it "retired" or returned to "inventory"?

There is no Roman database for such information. If an altar is deconsecrated the relics in the burial chamber are in the possession of the local bishop for future consecration of churches.

  1. Is there a searchable database listing which relics are associated with each Church? Can we know how large a piece of saint is used or merely the saint's name?

No! There is no known database for such information. In fact Rome is highly douubious of anything electronic!

As said, priests may obtain relics free of charge from a particular Congregession of the Vatican a relics of a saint for any valid saint, even if for personal interest.

Such information is held at the local level of each diocese and is considered of lesser importance as regards to the Local Church.

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