This Sunday, when Catholics across the world observe All Saints Day, Corpus Christi Parish will have hundreds of saints present at its 9:30 a.m. Mass. The Fillmore district church houses an elaborate reliquary with the relics of 365 saints and blesseds.
Laid out as a traditional relic calendar, this item shows the feasts of the General Roman Calendar before 1955. It is divided into 12 palms representing the 12 months with angels embroidered into them. In each portion are a series of relics neatly tagged and identified according to their feast day. The calendar features a splinter of wood from the True Cross in the center.
Scripture teaches that God acts through the relics of saints, especially with healing. The celebration of the saints’ feasts days help Catholics imitate the example given by the saints to help enter into the mysteries of Christ.
Although Corpus Christi receives many compliments for its artwork. The framed cloth that rests before a crucifix often goes unnoticed. When Father Michal Czyzewski, OSPPE, pastor, points out its significance, a line will form to view and pray in front of it. Above the frame are three relics of the Franciscan order – St. Francis, St. Anthony and St. Claire.
Little is known of the reliquary’s origins. It is believed to be handmade by a nun in Rome and given to the church by its founding pastor, Father Hyacinth Fudzinski, OFM Conv., who brought it over from Europe in the late 1800s. Whether it was custom made for him or dates back earlier is unknown.
“The first pastor who came here realized that not too many people attend daily Mass or regular Mass. He said, at least we have 360 saints present here who are part of the liturgy,” Father Czyzewski joked.
The fact that the historically valuable item still survived nearly 130 years in the church is quite surprising, especially considering that much traditional art was lost or destroyed during and attempt to modernize parishes after the Second Vatican Council.
“Many reliquaries and so much beautiful art, like confessionals and statues, were taken out of the churches. You can probably buy them on websites,” Father Czyzewski said. “I am glad the pastor who was here before me, and the fathers before him, kept this traditional art and traditional reliquary here. It was the trend to make things entirely different, something new. But still they keep this tradition and honor all the saints here.”
The cloth reliquary rested in the St. Anthony of Padua Altar to the left of the main altar for years. When that area was rechristened the Divine Mercy Chapel, the pastor placed the reliquary next to the ambo.
“Before it was too high. People did not realize it was a reliquary,” said Father Czyzewski. “Now people have easy access and make a special connection especially during November. We light the candles to remind people of the presence of the saints here in the south part of Buffalo.
Father Czyzewski hopes to keep this piece of history on display for the next generation as a testimony to the Franciscan fathers.
“I visited many churches in Europe, in America. When I went to many shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Mexico or Egypt or the Holy Land, I never saw something like this before. For me, it was something spectacular, something amazing,” he said.
Among the relics are several popes, martyrs and one archbishop of Canterbury.