Two things Catholics are often criticized for are honoring saints and using images, statues and icons of saints.
Protestants claim that what we do is a violation of the First Commandment — that honoring Mary and the saints is tantamount to divination because we are praying to the dead.
But in reality, the First Commandment permits us to honor Mary and the saints. Sacred Scripture even encourages us to do so.
In speaking of the just ones who have passed from this life, Sirach writes that "their bodies are buried in peace, and their names live to all generations. Peoples will declare their wisdom, and the congregation proclaims their praise" (Sirach 44:14–15).
In her Magnificat, Mary made a prophetic statement, saying "For behold, henceforth, all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48).
What Protestants fail to understand is that there are three types of honor that can be given, known as latria, dulia and hyperdulia. Latria is adoration and is reserved for God alone. Dulia is the honor we give to the saints of the Church. In other words, this is the honor or veneration due to the Christians who are now saints in Heaven.
Finally, there is hyperdulia, which is the veneration reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary alone. Hyperdulia is given to Mary because she is the most special saint in human history. The Catholic Church has always paid special honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary because God honored her above all creatures, granting her the highest dignity He could confer — the divine maternity.
The Church honors the Mother of God in the liturgy and in various devotions. She encourages the faithful to know, imitate and pray to her in a special way. From the beginning of her Son's public ministry until today, she has been His chief evangelist — as she proved when she said, "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).
But we also honor the saints because they are God's special friends that, through His grace, led holy lives that reflected His virtues to a heroic degree. By honoring the saints, we honor God, Who created and blessed them. This should not seem unusual to Protestants, as giving honor to living people has always been common practice. We call ministers "reverend," judges "your honor," and refer to politicians as "honorable."
God Himself commands us to honor our mothers and fathers. Traditional wedding vows call upon the wife to love, honor and obey her husband.
Along these lines, Karl Keating writes in Catholicism and Fundamentalism:
If there can be nothing wrong with honoring the living (who still have an opportunity to ruin their lives through sin) or the uncanonized dead (about whose state of spiritual health we can only guess), certainly there can be no argument against giving honor to saints, whose lives are done and ended them in sanctity. If merit deserves to be honored wherever it is found, it surely should be honored among God's special friends.
Protestants also give us a hard time about our use of sacred images (such as holy cards, statues and crucifixes). They claim we are using "graven images," thus violating the First Commandment. Yet God's law allows for the use of images, provided they don't become objects of false worship.
God forbade the Jews to make graven images for the purpose of worshiping the images as Gods. Those who accuse Catholics of violating the First Commandment because of our use of images fail to properly interpret this commandment.
We know that the Jews didn't interpret this commandment as an absolute prohibition against images. God forbade idolatrous images in the First Commandment, yet He ordered them to make a bronze serpent — and also the golden cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant (Numbers 21:8–9; Exodus 25:18–20).
There were also the carved garlands of flowers, fruit, trees and lions that supported the king's throne (Numbers 8:4; 1 Kings 7:27–37).
In order for these critics to be honest, they'd have to forbid themselves the use of currency, sculptures, paintings and even television.
We're also accused of praying to images of Christ and the saints when we pray before statues and crucifixes. But such criticisms fail to recognize that we aren't praying to the images themselves but, rather, to the person represented by the image. Many of us carry photographs of our spouse or children, but we'd never mistake the photo for the actual spouse.
Because the images we use are sacred, they must be treated with respect. The abuse of any sacred person, place or thing is sacrilege, as you learned last week. The disrespect shown to the image is passed on to the saint represented by the image.
Next week, we will look at the Second Commandment, which says, "You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain." We'll be discussing, among other things, the differences between cursing, profanity and vulgar language. They're probably not what you'd think.
Want more things like this? Listen to the Catholic Bootcamp segment of The Cantankerous Catholic podcast.