Do Catholics Worship Saints and Statues?

Why do Catholics do the things they do?

I began writing this little column in response to a woman who wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper which condemned many practices that were obviously Catholic. She tried to do this using Scripture, but she was misusing it since she did not fully understand the Scripture, Tradition, historical truth, and why Catholics do the things they do. At another time I will post the letter with which I responded to hers. For now, I will post about one of the most popular and incorrect criticisms of Catholics, idolatry.

Do Catholics worship statues and idols?

First, Catholics do not worship statues or idols, nor do they worship Mary or the saints; they never have and never will. It is against God’s commandments.

A statue or image (picture) of a saint is not an idol unless it is worshipped.  And Catholics don’t worship them; if they do, they are misguided.

In God’s first commandment he expressly forbids worshipping and bowing down to images or carved idols—we are to adore God alone. (Ex. 20:2-5).

This commandment does not mean that we are not to have carvings, pictures, or images of created things. If it did, God would have contradicted himself when he commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent for the Israelites to look upon in order to be healed of the seraph serpent bites (Nm. 21:4-9). He also required the Israelites to decorate the Ark of the Covenant with sculptured golden Cherubs (Ex. 25:18). What could he have meant?

In Deuteronomy 4:15-16 God commands that no idol be fashioned after any being to represent God because he did not show himself in any form at Mt. Horeb. But when God’s incarnation through Jesus Christ revealed a “form,” Christians appropriately could make an image of the Word Incarnate without acting corruptly. Therefore, now we can honor God by contemplating his image (Jesus) (CCC 1159).

By reading the Scriptures in context we also understand that God does not forbid honoring or venerating that which reminds us of him, nor does he prohibit carvings and statues of created beings. To honor or venerate is to show our regard for and to look upon with feelings of respect. This is very different from worship and adoration, which is reserved for God alone.

When Catholics pray before a statue, they are speaking in their heart to the saint the statue represents—asking them to intercede to Jesus, the one mediator. We ask for saints’ prayers just like we ask friends and relatives to pray for us. The saints are that great cloud of witnesses the Book of Hebrews speaks of (Heb 12:1).

The practice of honoring and venerating saints should always take our thoughts beyond the object to the saint itself, which in turn should bring our hearts and minds closer to God.

Images of saints should remind us of their holy, Christ-like lives and penetrate our being to imitate Christ, as they had. Their heroic examples, in light of their human weaknesses, should give us the hope that we too can become saints before God.

If you are questioned about Catholics’ use of images and statues, ask those who are questioning if they have photos of loved ones on their walls and if they look lovingly upon them, maybe even kissing their photo? Catholics are no different; we just include the saints as our Christian family members. Since we believe in the resurrection, we believe these saints are living with Jesus in heaven.

Remind those who question you that our nation uses statues to honor people and ideologies. Are those who visit and stand in awe before the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty worshiping them?

What about those who lovingly finger and kiss loved ones’ names carved on the Vietnam War Memorial? Or the practice of placing flowers on gravestones? These acts are signs of honor, respect, and remembering – not worship.

Many Protestant churches display nativity scenes during the Christmas holiday. Surely they do not worship these porcelain or plastic figures. They use them to call to mind the miraculous incarnation of God’s son for the salvation of mankind. Catholics merely use statues in devotions throughout the whole calendar year.

Further details may be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1159-1162 and 2129-2132.