OK, “digging up dead people” sounds too mortifying. As Catholics, we exhume the bodies of the holy ones who have gone before us.
The Church does not allow for this until the person has been declared “Servant of God” which is when their local bishop, along with Rome approves the process which opens the cause for canonization! This is a very exciting, but long process.
Once the cause for sainthood moves forward, the church then has permission to exhume the body.
There are many reasons we do this. It can be beneficial to exhume the body of our holy heroes who have gone before us because we can then properly venerate the body and keep it safe and display it for pilgrims to visit. The body (bones), clothing, and even hair of these holy ones are turned into relics, which can be super powerful means to healings. These healings with relics are one of the main things that can prove that this person is in Heaven, doing the work of God before His throne!
It just so happens that sometimes when bodies are exhumed, they are also found to be incorrupt, which means they show no signs of decay.
For us as Catholics, this is a miraculous sign that their body was kept from decomposing, likely from the state of the purity and holiness of it. This does not always automatically mean that this holy one will be declared a saint, but it sure does help.
In my travels to Italy, I was thrilled to see some of these bodies firsthand. St. Clare was in a beautiful state of her incorrupt body, with beautiful color to her skin. St. Maria Goretti blew my mind when the little nun at her place of veneration explained to us that her hair and fingernails still grow and they cut them every month.
But what was most amazing to me was the story and incorrupt body parts of St. Catherine of Siena.
When I traveled to Siena, our tour guide, a consecrated woman of the Catholic Church, spent quite some time telling us of the beautiful life of St. Catherine. The story goes that St. Catherine and Jesus were so close that at one moment in time, He switched hearts with her! I was able to stand in this very spot! After their very intimate moment of grace and love, He then placed a crown on her head and a ring on her finger. He told her that she was His betrothed. Although there was a fight about who was able to keep her body, the people of Siena did smuggle her head and finger into their city and it is still currently on display in the Basilica of St. Dominic. What a sight to see!
So many other saints have incorrupt bodies or body parts.
It is so fascinating that St. Anthony, the great preacher, has an incorrupt tongue! Others who you can go venerate in their incorruptible state are St. Padre Pio, Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, and St. Francis Xavier.
May these precious bodies, which contained such steadfast holiness and faith, give us the grace to do the same so we may bring the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. The veil between us is so very thin.