“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

June 15, 2010

Did you hear the one about how Catholics "worship" statues?

When I arrived one evening at a suburban Chicago parish to conduct an apologetics seminar, I noticed a life-sized statue of Our Lady of Fatima on the rectory lawn. Kneeling before that statue were three smaller statues of Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta – the children to whom Our Lady appeared. Their statues were kneeling in prayer, heads bowed before the larger statue.

Turning to my colleague in the car, I joked, “What a great religion Catholicism is. Not only can we worship statues, but our statues can worship statues.” We chuckled at the absurdity of the thought. Later, when I mentioned this incident during the seminar . . . (continue reading)


  1. Ah those pesky statues will burn in Hell for idolatry then! LOL!

    As usual Patrick you are both funny as informative. Thank you!

  2. Thank you! For the humor and the excellent analysis of statuary and the Bible. I really enjoyed this.

  3. My husband is really having a hard time with this. He is on the verge of converting but whenever he sees someone kneel before a statue or touch the feet of a statue it sets him back. The May crowning and procession of the statue of Mary just about killed all hope of his becoming Catholic.

    As a former protestant I can tell you that I was very ingrained with indoctrination that Catholics are idolaters. I was told frequently that they worship Mary and statues (never that they worship "bread" though hah.) It literally took an act of God to get me past all that so that I could fully convert.

    I don't know what to do about my husband but pray. Your article doesn't really address his issues. I tell him that they are not worshiping the image only using it as like a picture, but he brings up that true idolaters also did not believe that their idol was a god.

  4. Patrick: Your talk "Why I Am Catholic" is getting some rave reviews at our blog:
    Keep up the good work!!!

  5. Patrick, do you examine your comments for more serious questions, and answer the latter?

    I suppose I'm about to find out.

    I have two questions:

    1. How does a Catholic distinguish, in his own behavior, the difference between adoration and hyperdulia? How could an outside observer ever hope to make the distinction?

    Kneeling can be done in both; florid protestations of love can be done in both; hymns and consecrations and dedications and prayers are directed at both Christ and Mary. One does not offer the Mass to Mary but to God...but offerings of flowers are placed before Mary's image with reckless abandon.

    2. Given that human beings have limited time and energy in their lives, is it not simply factual that time spent venerating Mary is time subtracted from adoration of God?

    True: Mary is as glorious as she is only because of God's work in her. Very well: But is that not better expressed as a prayer to God expressing gratitude for what He did for her, rather than by the skin-crawlingly flowery and unctious words directed to Mary in the Hail Holy Queen?

    I suppose that last one is my greatest hurdle as a new convert. Coming from me, the Hail Holy Queen feels like adoration. In fact, I can't conceive of what more that I could say to Mary, that would make it adoration, so that I could then turn around and say, now that's adoration; therefore, the Hail Holy Queen is something somewhat less than adoration.

    Anyhow, to rephrase my two questions:

    1. What more than what the most Marian of Catholics already do can there be, to turn what they're calling "hyperdulia" into "adoration?" And if there really isn't anything more to be done, then isn't what they're doing actually already adoration?

    2. In the Rosary, the ratio of prayers addressed to God to prayers addressed to Mary is something like 1:6 (depending on whether you count the Sign of the Cross or the Creed as a prayer). If you add in the "O My Jesus" it's a bit more like 1:5. Is that not out-of-proportion? Put another way: Requests for the intercession of Mary probably outnumber requests for the intercession of all other saints by 10:1. Is that not out-of-proportion?

  6. Anon,

    I don’t mean to be insensitive or condescending so take my remarks in charity. I think the reason so many Protestants think Catholics are idolaters is because Protestants do not know what proper worship is.

    I use "worship" in a specific sense, adoration or latria. There is a specific act that has universally qualified as worship in the human experience of religion: sacrificing. Examples would include the Temple sacrifices as well as the one Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross that is re-presented in un-bloody form at the mass.

    There are other things that show reverence and should be done but don't in and of themselves alone reach to the level of latria. An example would be singing hymns and psalms of praise. If that did qualify as latria then at every baseball game we would be idolatrously worshipping the flag. There is a qualitative difference regarding the actions.

    Protestantism has abandoned the true and proper worship of God that He instituted in abandoning the Sacrifice of the Mass. Instead it has substituted pious acts that do not objectively qualify as acts of exclusive worship. If one does not know what actions constitute true and exclusive worship (latria) then how can one judge when reverence for something else has crossed the point into actions reserved exclusively to God? If a person believes that a bow (such as one makes in veneration) is latria and a gesture appropriate only to God then they would see any reverential bow not directed to God (say a formal Japanese greeting) as improper. Context is crucial to a proper understanding and so is knowing the proper definition of something. If one erroneously believes that something they do is latria, even if it doesn't objectively qualify as such, they will think that anyone else doing the same action is giving latria.

    To make sacrifice to is to give latria - that is why the early Christians could not sacrifice to the Emperor. The Temple sacrifices were acts of latria toward God. The immolation of children to Moloch or the human sacrifices of the Aztecs were acts of latria - latria directed towards demons. Singing psalms and hymns of praise is worship in the general sense (giving reverence) but not in the exclusive sense of something reserved to God alone. Those within the Church know that no creature could ever take the place of God. However, to those outside of the strictures of the Church who think that the honor they give God is worship (latria) proper then the veneration given by Catholics and Orthodox to things other than God seems like idolatry.

    I would also point out that your husband is making a presumptive statement in saying that “true idolaters did not believe their idol was a god.” I would argue that some of them certainly did. However, whether they thought the idol was a god or represented a god (the demons of 1 Cor 10:20) they were sacrificing (the pagans did sacrifice) to things other than God. Catholics most certainly do not sacrifice anything to our representations of the Saints and if one did then he would be an idolater and outside the Church.

    James G

  7. Anonymous, have your husband look into the Eastern Catholic tradition. They don't use status, they use icons (pictures) instead of statues.

    While it is true that they kiss the icons and venerate them, I'm sure that your husband has a picture of you in his wallet the he kisses, venerates, and speaks to when he's far away. He's not alone. Look at any war movie and you see exactly the same thing. It's a very human way of expressing love and it's nothing to be shamed of.

  8. Take a look at your wallet...do you have money in your wallet...does not money have images on them...why don't you toss those out....

  9. As a former protestant it always amazes me how many people bash Catholics about this issue. They all have their houses adorned with all sorts of symbols from figurines to mounted animal heads on their wall. Hopefully more will learn the full truth as taught by the Catholic Church. Patrick, I was at the Kansas City Catholic Home School Conference a couple of weeks ago and you gave an outstanding talk on moral relativism. Great job, I've shared your stories many times over with others since then.

  10. In 13th century Spain the then king, St. Ferdinand III, was betrayed by a very dear and hitherto loyal prince. The prince knew that appearing in person to implore for clemency from the king would only invoke anger and provoke greater retribution. Instead he approached Queen Berenguela, the king’s mother to plead for mercy from her. The queen subsequently obtained from her son that mercy for the repentant prince.

    Note: the prince did not ask the queen to speak to her son for him, for this would be to tell the queen what to do. He simply asked her for mercy directly knowing that what he could not obtain by his own merits, the queen could obtain for him by virtue of the love her son had for her.

    'Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.'

  11. Oscar, so true. You might be amused at this tough-in-cheek comparison between Baptists and Catholics:

    The reference to Mary is priceless.

  12. Anon,

    I would like to expound on my previous post. I still maintain that Protestantism is deficient in not giving to God the proper and exclusive act of latria that He commanded (the un-bloody Sacrifice of the Mass) through conscious or unconscious omission in the Evangelical flavor or through the loss of the priesthood in the “high-church” bent. However, I may have come across as implying that Protestants offer no worship to God and that was never my intent.

    My point was that the acts of worship Protestantism gives to God are externally indistinguishable from acts given to mere creatures in other contexts. It is internal disposition that makes all the difference but such a thing is unknowable to us mere humans. I have seen many a good Protestant kneeling in prayer to their Lord. That does not then make a man an idolater if he then kneels while proposing to his girl. Your husband was greatly disturbed by the crowning of Mary but the good Protestants of England were not idolaters when they crowned their good Protestant Queen, Elizabeth. Many a Catholic bride gives a bouquet of flowers to the Virgin Mary by laying them in front of a statue or icon of her but that does not constitute idolatry any more than giving flowers to one’s own mother does.

    Every act of a Catholic venerating statues and icons of the Saints and especially Our Lady that Protestants take as idolatry are perfectly valid and legitimate acts of honor when done to another living person. There is nothing in and of themselves that sets them apart as latria, the worship due exclusively to God. If an act is not per se latria then it can only be the internal motive that can distinguish between what is proper to a creature and what should be given only to God. Since no man can know the inner mind of another then we are in no position to judge the actions of others as being idolatrous if they are not of themselves an action that can be given only to God. The only action I know that is reserved exclusively to worship of God is sacrificing and that is what I spoke of in my last post.

    Catholics know what is due to God alone and what honor can legitimately be given to a creature. If your husband is concerned by an action then he should ask the motives of the person doing the act and not presume that an act of legitimate honor is idolatry. Until he sees a Catholic immolating a turtle-dove or other such act at a statue of Our Lady, then he has no objective evidence of idolatry, only prejudice.

    James G

  13. Since VII Catholics stopped worshiping statues; now we worship banners.

  14. Anon June 17....hahahaha! [yipes eyes]

  15. nice...i read the article quick and didn't see a reference to Deuteronomy 4: 15 which explains why he gave the 2nd commandment:

    [Since you saw no form] on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.

  16. I believe that I have a great deal of devotion and respect for Our Lady, who, with the exception of Jesus, is the holiest human ever to walk the earth. I do, however, think many Catholics overdo the honor given to her and the saints through statues and icons, thereby contributing to the notion that we "worship" statues and icons. There is nothing in doctrine that requires us to do so and I have often wondered why we do it. I have even been criticized for not showing enough respect for statues by not bowing my head or making the Sign of the Cross when passing the Nativity scene during Christmas or when the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary passes in procession. To me, those that do so are coming very close to bordering on idol worship. I have objected strenuously to many of the so called Vatican II reforms, such as the orientation of the priest, the removal of the Blessed Sacrament from the Altar, the adding of the protestant ending to the Our Father, the changing of the wording form "many" to "all" at the Consecration, the abandonment of centuries old interpretation of the Mass, etc, etc, etc. But it does seem to me that this is one area where the Church could relax a bit, e.g., the excessive veneration of statues and icons.

  17. Not to be a spoilsport or anything, but I first heard that joke about 40 years ago, from Gary Potter, I think, or one of the old "Triumph Magazine crowd. That's the problem with being old. But don't worry. Soon I'll have dementia, and all the old jokes will seem new to me again.

  18. Hi, John. I'm sure you heard some kind of joke along those lines, but I assure you that this really did happen to me exactly as I explained it here. While it's true that there's nothing new under the sun, it's also true that sometimes we discover things all on our own.

  19. Wait! I have my status in my house and car to protect me everywhere I go, are you telling me now they don't work? or have no powers? I'm confused.d

  20. lol, just kidding!



  21. Concerning giving honor to Mary, one can consider this:

    If I was having company over and people made sure that they spoke glowingly to me and that they loved me but ignored my mother, would I really be honored? What would my reaction be?
    (personally, I'd be ticked off)
    The mother of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, wasn't just any woman. She couldn't be. Her body had to house the Word Made Flesh. If the Ark in the Old Testament had to be so precise and so venerated, how could we expect anything less for the woman who would birth the Lord?

  22. "The Church of Rome is not idolatrous, unless Arianism is orthodoxy" - John Henry Cardinal Newman

    If the laudatory titles given to Christ by the Arians (which were much greater than those given by Catholics to Mary) were not sufficient to describe God Himself, then Catholics have nothing to worry about. Even the most extreme veneration given to Christ as the greatest creature of God still wasn't enough for the orthodox Fathers to accept that the Arians were truly worshiping Him, so even the highest titles given to Mary are not enough to accuse Catholics of idolatry.

    "The highest of creatures is leveled with the lowest in comparison of the One Creator Himself."

  23. Good on you Patrick, that was well done.

    When someone accuses us Catholics of 'worshipping' statues, it shows up something really serious - THEY do not know the meaning of true worship; AND if they call themselves Christian, THEY should start worrying!

    May God continue to bless you, and your work.