Dear Fr. Magiera:
The following is my question for your new feature article Ask Father.
With regard to the use of images in worship Catholics are often confronted with the objection that “this is idolatry” from our separated Protestant friends and family. How is a faithful Catholic to answer this objection? Are there any examples of the use of images in Worship in the Old or New Testament that were used by Godly people that might serve as types for those whose sole source of revelation is the Bible?
Simply stated, Catholics do not practice idolatry. We do not “worship” statues. We do not pray to pieces of wood or stone. Statues and pictures (ikons) stimulate our imagination and stir up fervor and a desire to pray to the saint depicted. Now, before I go on, any prayers directed to this or that saint, represented by a statue or image, are not prayers of “latria” (adoration/worship). Such prayers can only be directed to God Himself in His Triune Unity. No, prayers directed to the saints (NOT to the the statues or images) are prayers of “dulia” (reverence/veneration) and most often take the form of prayers for the saint’s intercession at the throne of God for some intention or request. For example, one could bet St. Peregrine’s intercession for a relative or dear friend to be cure of cancer. St. Peregrine is the patron saint of cancer patients. Prayers offered to Our Lady as depicted by statues of Her as Our Lady of Guadalupe or Our Lady of Fatima or Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, are prayers of “hyper-dulia” due to her exalted position as Queen of Heaven and Earth. This means that, though Our Lady was not and is not nor ever will be divine, she is elevated above all other saints and angels due to the grace given to her by God – at Her Immaculate Conception – in preparation for her role in bringing the Savior into the world and for cooperating with Him, in the economy of salvation, as “Co-Redemptorix.” Unless the statue or image be of Our Lord, in which case, the prayer of “latria” is directed to Him as adoration and worship, most probably accompanied by an intention or petition, any prayer before a statue is not directed to the statue, but to the saint which the statue represents. And, again, any such prayer would be an intercessory prayer for a particular request or intention.
The Church Herself has had to deal with this question many centuries prior to the arrival of Protestant Heretics who hurl stupid accusations against the Church and against Catholics. The heresy was known as “Iconoclasm.” The Church, i.e., the Church in both the east and west suffered from this heresy which hearkened back to the Old Testament prohibition against making “graven images.” It began in the east during the reign of Emperor Leo III in the eighth century. Leo supported this heresy and actually ordered the pope (Gregory II) to destroy images in the western Church. Gregory II had no intention of complying, even under the threat of invasion. His successor, Gregory III, continued to defend the veneration of images. The controversy continued until it was defeated and anathematized at the Second Council of Nicea in AD 787. Protestantism all over Europe resurrected iconoclasm to emphasize its loathing and hatred of the Catholic Church. It was particularly brutal in England as a protest against “popery.”
If Vatican II, to facilitate the deeper participation of the laity in the Church’s liturgy, urged the Mass in the vernacular with the priest facing us so we could see and understand what he is doing, why do we have the Latin Mass in our parish? Also we were led to believe that priests of the Latin Rite couldn’t do both forms (vernacular), yet the priest you had substituting for you did both. You can see how we wonder how you can be the pastor of all
of us if we have to obtain a priest to do our services in the vernacular.
If you have a question for Father Magiera please email him at email@example.com.