Do Catholics worship statues?
No. In fact, the Church has come out repeatedly against the worship of statues, in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the new Catechism, and so on.
As far as bowing to God while in the presence of statues of the saints, that’s no more worship than it is to kneel near another praying Christian, or a priest facing you. Nor are you worshipping the pages of your Bible if you kneel with it in your hand. I have knelt with statues of saints as I have asked the saints in heaven to pray for me, and the main thing on my mind is how together, humans that we are, we might glorify God. I also imagine the saint in heaven, and try to open myself to contact with his or her soul, in the way you might open yourself to a teacher who knows more than you.
Obviously there is nothing wrong with having teachers about Christ. “Why not go directly to Christ?” a well-meaning person might ask. I’d say for the same reason you listen to a preacher, or read an interesting book about the Bible (why not only read the Bible all the time?). As Christians, part of the way we learn from God is by learning from one another.
You see, unfortunately, there is an idea sometimes that goes like this: “If I will throw out all the art in my room, all the details, and just sit in the barest space possible so that I don’t have the slightest distraction, I will be better able to focus on God.” The truth of the matter, though, is that God gives various members of the Church different gifts, and some folks get the gift of creating art.
One man can sculpt like you wouldn’t believe, another lady has such a perfect sense of architecture that she can design a Church so that one room flows into another as it all flows upward like the soul aspiring toward God, another man has studied the stained glass windows of medieval Europe and had a religious experience, and he has brought that experience back to America to try to convey it to others as well as he can.
Once we see this reality, the Catholic says, “Let’s dive right in. Let’s make the church beautiful to all the senses. When you enter, you will feel the cold on the tip of your finger, as you touch the holy water. Later, you will smell the incense. You will hear people singing a psalm. You will see the stained glass windows of the church. You will taste the bread and wine of the Eucharist.”
When we turn to the dogma of the Communion of the Saints, we have the same visual fulfillment.
Some of the sculptures to aid in this meditation are astonishing. In the Renaissance, the sculptor Donatello produced a work in which the Virgin Mary gets visited by the Angel Gabriel, who announces that she will be the mother of the messiah. In the sculpture, Gabriel looks right at her, simply conveying the message, but her own posture conveys more. You see, her body is slightly turned away, but also turning back toward the angel. Somehow Donatello conveyed her reservations about this giant role put before her, the weighty responsibility, at the same time she is turning back toward the angel and leaning toward him as if to say that she really does want the responsibility after all. (The art historian Kenneth Clark pointed this out.)
Christ established a Church that would encourage the kindest, noblest aspects of the human being, and people gifted in the arts have contributed to the body of Christ.
– – – written by Christopher M. Butler
Many Evangelicals sing with their hands in the air. Sometimes they kneel while singing the music. If I would say “you are worshipping the music” they would quickly correct me and tell me that they are worshipping through music. The music is a vehicle of expression to bring out an inner feeling – to honour and glorify God. I would agree with them because I love singing praise music like Vineyard, Hosanna, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redmond, and Integrity music. And yup, my hands are sometimes in the air.
I think beautiful art such as a statue or a painting in a Catholic Church is used in the same way Evangelicals use beautiful music (which is also a form of art). We do not worship the art itself as is described in Psalms 97:7.
The art is a vehicle of expression to bring out an inner feeling – to honour and glorify God. Catholics worship Jesus through art just as faithful Evangelicals worship through music. This is not exalting foreign gods (Psm 97:7). It is reverencing the One True God. We don’t think we should hold disdain for visual art while having such respect of audio art (music).
The statue simply reminds us of the beauty of God and the magnitude of his suffering for us.
The condemnation of art in the Bible speaks about something quite distinct from what we find in Catholic Churches. Catholics emphatically agree that it is an abomination to create and worship pieces of art that are intended to represent false gods, or that the art is a god itself. Catholics believe neither of these are true in the case of statues and art which simply remind us of the One True God. The statue is just a reminder – like a good “honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker.
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