Church of the Visitation
Why do Catholics worship saints?
I know, the subject line is
shocking - as anyone who understands their faith even slightly would know, Catholics don't worship saints! So why do we give them any special place, anyway?
Go into just about any Catholic church and the first thing you would likely notice (that is, unless you know that our faith is centered on the Eucharist, in which case it would be the
thing you'd notice) is that there are a lot of statues here! There are statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Francis, the Sacred Heart, etc. Are we worshipping these saints?
For many centuries, the term
meant showing respect or honor, and an example of this usage survives even today. British subjects refer to their judges as "Your Worship," although Americans would say "Your Honor." This doesn’t mean that British citizens worship their judges as gods (in fact, they may even despise the particular person they're addressing). It means they are giving them the honor appropriate to their office,
the honor appropriate to God.
To "worship", from the Latin word
, is to give to God alone the honor that is due to him (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Another Latin term,
(which is more closely translated as "honor" or "veneration")
came to refer to the honor that is due to human beings, especially those who lived and died in God’s friendship—in other words, the saints: those individuals who, due to their faith and the holiness of their lives, now enjoy the eternal presence of God in Heaven. These can be one of the thousands of
saints (those individuals whom the Church has determined through careful review, require that the faithful believe in certitude as an act of submission in the faith) or the unnumbered individuals who, although not with the same level of certainty as those who have been formally canonized, may now be in Heaven or undergoing that period of purifying in Purgatory as they complete their journey of sanctification.
By giving such individuals the honor of veneration, we are
worshipping them or expecting that they fulfill our prayer request directly but we
asking for their intercession as they approach God with that request, much like we would ask an individual whom we know well to seek a favor from an authority superior to either of us. They are not performing the act themselves, but they are asking God to do so on our behalf. They enjoy a much closer union and better communion with the Almighty than we currently have in this wounded existence, they are "much closer to God's ear" than we are. This is also why many Catholics turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary: they are not expecting that
is granting the request, but that she is turning to her Son and asking
on our behalf
(and what good son would refuse
reasonable request by his mother??)
So why the statues? Doesn't the second Commandment (
) say to have no graven images? Yes it does - but there's a problem. If we could not have any statues, even of supernatural beings, why does God command Moses in
to make a bronze serpent to put on a pole, telling anyone who has been bitten by a snake to look at it and be healed? Only five chapters later in the book of Exodus, why does God command, among the many very specific instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant which would contain the tablets of those very Commandments, include the images of two angels to be placed on its cover (
)? What the commandment is saying is that we are not to worship such images as gods - and no Catholic of any depth of faith would do so or risk committing the sin of idolatry!
Statues in churches serve the same purpose as the pictures in one's wallet (or its twenty-first Century equivalent, the cell phone) do. When we look at a photo, we are quite aware that these are not actually the persons themselves. However, the image helps us to focus our attention on them and on the feelings that we associate with them. Even when we may kiss a photo, or a statue, we are not worshipping it or the person it represents - we are simply performing an action that helps us sharpen our focus further by our act of affection.
By being mindful of the saints, both those canonized and our loved ones whom we pray are in Heaven, we are following a scriptural injunction, particularly that found in the New Testament book of Hebrews. In
we see many examples of the Old Testament saints for our imitation. It concludes with the famous exhortation which reminds us of their ongoing presence as well as their example (
) - the example the race that the saints have run before us. It is for that which we honor them and, through that honor, unite with them in worship of God, the only Being that it is appropriate and proper to worship.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.
Our FORMED Recommendation for the Week
Answering Common Objections: The Saints
As a former Protestant minister, Dr. Scott Hahn knows all too well the disputes between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians. In this series, he carefully examines the most widely held objections and explains how and why they have arisen. Dr. Hahn's powerful presentations will not only show you how to use the Bible to defend the truths of Catholic teaching, but will also give you an invaluable tool for sharing the Faith with others.
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Sent by Fr. Ed Blanchett on Friday, July 7 at 3:00PM