Relics of canonized Saints and beatified Blesseds have traditionally been venerated in the Church, because the bodies of Saints and Blesseds were, during their lives on earth, living temples of the Holy Spirit and the instruments of their holy lives and heroic virtues. Authentic relics of Saints and Blesseds are preserved and venerated by the Church in a way which guarantees their safety, reflects their sacredness, and serves the devotion which is rightly given to Saints and Blesseds. Relics are also preserved in the case of a Servant of God, someone in the process of being considered for eventual beatification on the way to canonized sainthood. (The relics of a Servant of God, however, may not enjoy any public veneration until he or she has been elevated to the honor of the altar by beatification.)
Some years ago, Fr. Frank Sabatte, a priest, who is also an artist and directs Openings, an artistic ministry that seeks to connect creativity and transcendence, was studying Servant of God Isaac Hecker’s 1888 death mask. In the process of examining the mask closely and found a number of human hairs embedded in the plaster.
There is no doubt that these remnants are Isaac Hecker’s hairs! As Fr. Sabatte has explained it, the way that death masks were made required that the face be covered with an oil or grease like petroleum jelly. In Hecker’s case, one can see that they slathered some on his scalp as the hair is slicked back. Then plaster of paris was applied to the area to be cast and a negative mold made. It would be common for hairs to be caught in the plaster and pulled out and for the hairs in the mold to be transferred to the casting. There is simply no other explanation for the presence of these hairs as they are embedded in the plaster cast.
Hecker's hairs have been removed and preserved in a suitable container, which will serve as a reliquary, if and when Hecker is eventually beatified.
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