Veneration of the saints is not sinful

By Fr. John Girotti | Special to The Compass | May 30, 2018

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

If most of us were to look in our wallets or purses, we would see a number of cards, a driver’s license perhaps and, hopefully, some money as well. Perhaps another object that we might have in common among our wallets, purses or on our phones are photographs. For most of us, we carry around pictures of our loved ones to remind us of them. Whenever we get lonely, or want to be near them and remember them, we simply look at the picture of our loved one and we feel better. Pictures remind us that we are not alone.

In our Catholic faith, we have a similar practice. In order to remember those who have gone before us, especially our “heroes” in the faith – the saints, Catholics have adorned churches with images of those whose memory we cherish. These images – works of art really — have taken on many different forms throughout history. Sometimes statues were used, sometimes frescos, sometimes paintings, other times icons. These images have been used to help us remember our loved ones in the faith who followed Christ closely and who are now in heaven – the saints. It is interesting to note that the earliest example of Christian art is a primitive image of Mary. Images of Mary and the saints, as well as our Lord, have always been a part of Christian life and worship.

Throughout the history of the church, there have been times and places where religious images in churches have been criticized and even destroyed. It has been claimed that such images were, in fact, idolatrous and sinful. This reaction against liturgical images was especially strong in the 700s, and returned again in some strains of Protestantism in the 1500s.

Today, among certain groups of fundamentalist Protestants, there is a belief that Catholics worship statues and images in their churches and thus are idolaters. This is not true. No Catholic worships saints, statues or images. To do so would be to commit a great sin. We worship God alone! However, lighting a candle next to a statue or kneeling in prayer next to an image is not at all worshipping the image or the person it represents. Rather, it is asking the given saint to pray for us to the Lord our God.

Even in our veneration of Mary, we always ask her to pray for us. We never pray to her! Indeed, we pray to God alone, but there is nothing wrong in asking a saint to pray for us. After all, we do so when people are alive. Death does not, in reality, separate us spiritually from each other. So we ask the saints to pray for us and we admire images of them because they remind us that we are all called to be saints as well.

Ecumenically as Catholics, we must be aware of the concern many Christians have that we sometimes pay too much attention to Mary and the saints and not enough to our Lord Jesus. We must always put Jesus Christ front and center in our lives. He alone is our Lord and Savior. However, the veneration of the saints and gazing upon images of them is not sinful, but rather a very human way we can remember them and follow their example. Just like a picture of our loved one!

Fr. Girotti, who serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia, is author of “A Shepherd Tends His Flock.”

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