Do Catholics worship Saints, statues, images– or Mary? Is it Catholic idolatry? I have this image to the left in my house painted on a piece of wood. Anti-Catholics think I pray to this piece of wood and worship it like it’s God. So, do Catholics worship statues?
(If you would like to watch the YouTube video on this same topic, click here).
The answer is of course not! Of course Catholics do not worship statues. Statues cannot hear us or talk to us… The fact that some Protestants and other religious persons assert that Catholics are idolaters and worship these images is pretty nonsensical, and utterly false. If you have read the catechism of the Catholic church which gives the beliefs of Catholics, (then you know we don’t worship statues and you need to be accurate about what you are speaking on. It clearly states that we worship God alone. Moreover, statues are made out of wood, plaster, and marble. In other words, they are dead, and no Catholic believes that some plaster or marble could hear them.
(See great resources at the bottom to help you defend and explain your faith)
As soon as you walk into my office, this is what you see: the St. Francis icon pictured above. It’s on my desk. This image is not for worship: it’s purpose is to recall to mind the life of Saint Francis. In a similar way,the first words of the national anthem “Oh say can you see”, immediately recall the rest of that song and its meaning to mind. So when I see this saint’s image on my desk, it reminds me of his story in the same way: that he was a rich Noble who God called to rebuild His church–how he left everything, exchanged his riches for rags, began preaching the word of Christ to others, and how he changed the world and reformed the church. The image is just a reminder of his life of holiness and how I’m also called to be holy and to follow Jesus in a similar way.
When we have a representation of Jesus, we know it’s not actually Jesus–including that it may not be an accurate reflection of Him, neither skin, hair, or eye color, etc. However, it is a reminder nonetheless. Looking at an image of the Divine Mercy (above); the red streak and white streak symbolize his unending Love and mercy of our Savior. So, every time I see the Divine Mercy image, its a visual reminder of Jesus’ Love & Mercy. I don’t need the images to know this of course, but they are a beautiful and helpful visual prompts. Every time I see the words that often come with this picture, “Jesus, I trust in You,” I am reminded to trust in Him alone..
Back in the day before the Bible was around, Bibles were extremely rare until the Printing Press, and people could not read. About 9 out of 10 people in the Roman Empire were illiterate. Since almost everyone was illiterate for well over a thousand years, do you really think that Jesus would start a Bible church? It wouldn’t make any sense. No. The images in the churches and in the stained glass windows recounted the stories of the Bible and the stories of Jesus for people who were illiterate. They were the stories of the Bible in picture form, so to speak, because most people could not read at the time or not crazy rich in order to afford a Bible which took three years to copy just one Bible. So, when we can gaze on an image, it’s only purpose is to encourage us to call to mind the whole story of the Bible and the stories of our Holy brothers and sisters who went before us and followed Jesus so faithfully.
Here’s one we all love as Christians: The Nativity. As Christians, we do not worship the statues of the Nativity, they’re just reminders of the Christmas story. Like pictures in our wallet or on our wall at home. You’re not worshiping the images, even if you take it out, hold it in your hands or kiss it. After all, if a husband takes a picture of his wife out of his wallet and kisses it, is he worshiping her? The kissing and a physical expression and symbolic gesture toward the person who it represents who is not around in person.
Some will quote Scripture saying, “There are no idols or graven images to be made,” as it states Exodus 20. True, but context is key! God was talking to the Israelites because they were around Pagan lands who all worshipped many gods and created false idols for the purpose of doing so. These pagans thought that trees and cows and many other things were all gods, and they build statues to represent that. The Israelites even fell into their pagan idolatry building a golden calf to worship.
Of course, God is a jealous God, and warned the Israelites that there is only one God and not to build idols and worship them! That was the catch. It’s not that statues could never be made, after all, five chapters later in Exodus chapter 25, God commanded that two huge statues be built and placed on the Ark of the Covenant. As we can see here, it’s possible that when used in the right way, statues can be used for the purposes of God. There were also many other carved images throughout the temple that God commanded for holy purposes. Likewise, in Numbers chapter 21, God commanded to have the golden serpent on the staff (a graven image) made in order to help the Israelites remove their diseases.
Throughout the Old Testament, God had images made for holy purposes. Likewise with the saints, these images are the pictures and representations of our friends and family who have gone before us and are alive in Heaven. People like St. Francis are models of holiness for us. The people in these images did extraordinary things and followed Christ passionately and unreservedly. And it is our hope to follow Christ just as passionately as they did.
They’re not Idols. They are examples for us.
Check out the links below for great books on defending the Catholic faith or just answering your questions. They will inspire you can help you in many ways as they have in my life.
Feel free to leave a comment below. Also feel free to let me know who your favorite saints are and why? Why do they inspire you and push you on to holiness? (If you would like to watch the YouTube video on this same topic, click here).
“Where is That in the Bible?” by Patrick Madrid (Where all major Catholic beliefs are found in Scripture) – https://goo.gl/auZ6bH
“Where is That in Tradition?” by Patrick Madrid (Catholic beliefs found in history and tradition) – https://goo.gl/HfGJgF
“Behold your Mother,” by Tim Staples: https://goo.gl/yTHxfs
5 CDs: “The Gospel Truth About Mary” (Part 1): https://goo.gl/s6edwk This 5 CD set explains everything about the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Bible.
5 CDS: Catholic Tim Staples Debate vs. Protestant Steve Gregg. It’s a must listen to debate for any Catholic serious about defending the faith or learning more. https://goo.gl/ntJZj1
The Case for Catholicism – Answers to classic and contemporary objections. (This is the most up-to-date, comprehensive, and thorough defense of the Catholic Church against Protestant objections in print). – https://goo.gl/RwtpWy
Catholicism and Fundamentalism: Attacks on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians.” (One of the BEST books on defending the Catholic faith against Protestants and anti-Catholics. A classic and must read). – https://goo.gl/fNxXuB
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