May 22, 2010
Mary is Venerated as the Mother of Jesus - Pierre Mignard
It is a common misconception that Catholics worship saints instead of God. However, Marian and saintly devotions are based upon veneration, not adoration.
Catholic Christians are largely unique in their devotion to saints such as Mary, the mother of Jesus. While many protestant denominations believe that prayer should be focused on God and Jesus alone, Catholicism has a long tradition of prayer and veneration of saints. However, according to official Church teaching, this should not be misinterpreted as anything other than an extension of worship for God.
The Catholic Definition of Prayer and Worship
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Vatican borrows from St. John of Damascus when defining prayer. It says, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” This classical definition of prayer does not limit one to praying solely to God although all prayer should ultimately be focused on Him.
Although the Catechism does not formally define worship, it does discuss adoration. In defining adoration, the Church quotes Jesus’s citation of Deuteronomy, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
Elsewhere in the Catechism, devotion to Mary is specifically excluded as adoration. In referring to her title “Mother of God,” the Church explains, “This very special devotion…differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the Incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, which greatly fosters this adoration.”
Likewise, saints are revered as “masters of prayer” but excluded from the adoration that is reserved only for God. In the Catholic Encyclopedia, prayer to saints is listed as a degree of worship, but only in that it is dependent on God’s love and mercy.
Catholic Customs and Saintly Intercession
Modern Catholic customs often involve the veneration of Mary and saints. Again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically states that veneration is not to be confused with adoration. Although Catholics honor Mary and the saints, this should not imply that they believe these individuals have equal standing with God.
Protestant Christians often object to Catholic prayers of intercession to saints, in which an individual will ask a saint to grant them a certain favor. However, in Catholic custom, these prayers are considered no different than asking a friend or neighbor to extend prayers on someone’s behalf.
Since saints are believed to be in heaven, Catholics call on these individuals as people who are closest to God. The belief is not that the saint will grant the request him or herself, but that they will be able to intercede on the petitioner’s behalf to God. While critics argue that individuals can go directly to God with their concerns, many Catholics find comfort in speaking to someone with whom they can closely relate.
An analogy to this type of intercessor may be when someone needs to request a favor from another. If they are not sure how to go about approaching the person, they might seek out one of the person’s close friends and ask for assistance in the matter. So too is the relationship between humans, saintly intercessors and God.
Although the terms adoration, worship and veneration may be used interchangeably by lay people nowadays, the Catholic Church maintains a separate understanding of each. While Catholics do pray and venerate Mary and the saints, this type of worship is far different from the adoration afforded to God.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Cabrol, F. (1912). Christian Worship. In the Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved May 22, 2010 from New Advent