Relics in the altar: do we still do them? Sure, but with important guidelines:
5. 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:
- a) Such relics should be of a size sufficient for them to be recognized as parts of human bodies. Hence excessively small relics of one or more saints must not be placed beneath the altar.
- b) 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.
- c) A reliquary must not be placed upon the altar or set into the table of the altar; it must be placed beneath the table of the altar, as the design of the altar permits.
5a would seem to be the dealbreaker for many places. We have two relics of St Thomas Aquinas at my parish, but they are fragments and not identifiable as any part of a body. Non-Catholics, and not a few Catholics themselves might find the “recognizable body part” to be indulgent to gruesome. Personally, I think a display set into a niche for devotional purposes is better, but the placement in an altar is traditional.
Some questions: Does your church have relics? Are some placed in the altar? If so, how has the design been accomplished? Are the others accessible for devotion? Are they verified?