By Father KENNETH DOYLE
Q: I know there is an official procedure for churches that are (sadly) no longer used for Catholic worship. What happens to saints' relics in the altar if the church is sold or torn down? (southwest Indiana)
A: If the relics can be removed, it would be the responsibility of the local bishop to oversee their transfer to another place suitable for veneration. Often, they are moved to a church being newly built or to an existing worship site. Interestingly, Catholic churches currently being opened are encouraged, but not strictly required, to have relics of saints in the altar.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: "The practice of the deposition of relics of saints, even those not martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. However, care should be taken to ensure the authenticity of such relics" (No. 302).
Elaborating on that directive, the Ceremonial of Bishops says: "The tradition in the Roman liturgy of placing relics of martyrs or other saints beneath the altar should be preserved, if possible. But the following should be noted: The greatest care must be taken to determine whether the relics in question are authentic; it is better for an altar to be dedicated without relics than to have relics of doubtful authenticity placed beneath it" (No. 866).
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.