Posted November 11, 2009
Catholics are not taught to worship any creature, angels, saints, or even the Virgin Mary, for that would be a terrible sin against the first commandment of God commanding us to worship only him (Deuteronomy 6:13, quoted by Jesus in response to Satan’s temptation: Mt. 4:10; Lk. 4:8; see also 1 Sam.7:3). But veneration is not worship; honoring a person is not necessarily worshiping that person. We honor or venerate political heroes by having holidays in their honor (Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King), by naming streets after them, publishing stamps in their honor, etc., and no one objects; there is less reason to object to honoring religious heroes by naming cities after them (St. Paul, St. Louis, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, etc.). But an even better way of honoring them is by imitating their virtues, which leads us closer to Christ, the supreme example (l Pet.2:21). This form of veneration is quite biblical, since Paul asks us to be imitators of him – but only to the extent that he is an imitator of Christ (l Cor.11:1). In fact, Paul asks us to imitate his behavior in no less than seven places in the New Testament. St. James in his epistle (5:10) tells us to imitate the prophets in our acceptance of persecution.Hence, honoring by imitation of virtue does not detract from God, but leads us to him. That’s why many Protestant evangelists strive to imitate the prayerfulness and zeal of champions like John Wesley, or Finney, or other great Protestant luminaries. This is part of our fellowship with the saints, living or dead (Eph.3:15). Hebrews 11 speaks of inspiring examples of faith, and 12:1 speaks of being “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” that should inspire us.
St. John made the mistake of falling down to worship an angel (Rev. 19:10); the angel told him not to do it, but to worship God instead. Peter corrected Cornelius for a similar mistake (Acts 10:25-26). So the Bible, which commands veneration of humans and angels, also forbids worship of them. Vatican II reaffirmed this as a consistent Catholic teaching, in accordance with the Scripture.
“Glad You Asked” by Fr. John Hampsch, cmf