Many question our faith because they believe we are worshipping pictures and images of Jesus, Mama Mary, the angels and saints. But the truth is, we worship the Living God being represented by His pictures and images. We pay respect to Mama Mary, the angels and saints and not their picture and images. These just help remind us of the Being or person they are representing.
It's like the picture of your Mom or Dad, or your loved ones. When you dearly look at it, or touch it, or kiss it, you do not do that to the picture itself, but you intend to do that to the person being shown in the picture because you are reminded of him or her through it. The picture just helps you to remember your loved ones.
When we bow, kneel and pray before those pictures and carved images, that does not mean we worship and pray to them. Though bowing can be used as a posture in worship, not all bowing is worship. In Japan, people show respect by bowing in greeting (the equivalent of the Western handshake). Similarly, a person can kneel before a king without worshipping him as a god. In the same way, a Catholic who may kneel in front of a statue while praying isn’t worshipping the statue or even praying to it, any more than the Protestant who kneels with a Bible in his hands when praying is worshipping the Bible or praying to it. ( http://www.catholic.com/tracts/do-catholics-worship-statues )
But didn't God forbid carving images and worshiping them? It was written clearly in the Bible:
Exodus 20:3-4 (GNT) Worship no god but me. Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth.
Deuteronomy 4:16-17 (GNT) that you do not sin by making for yourselves an idol in any form at all—whether man or woman, animal or bird,
Acts 17:29 (GNT) Since we are God's children, we should not suppose that his nature is anything like an image of gold or silver or stone, shaped by human art and skill.
What God forbids are the pagan gods like the golden calf and the following:
From the Old Testament:
- Baal (1 Kings 18:16-40)
- Asherah (1 Kings 18:19)
- Molech (Leviticus 18:21)
- Dagon (Judges 16:23)
- Astarte (1 Kings 11:5)
- Chemosh (1 Kings 11:7)
- Sucoth-Benoth, Nerga, Ashima, Nibhaz, Tartak, Adrammalech and Anammelech (2 Kings 17:29-31)
From the New Testament:
- Molech and Rephan (Acts 7:43)
- Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:11-12)
- Artemis (Acts 19:27)
God Himself instructed Moses to carve images of angels:
Exodus 25:17-22 (GNT) Make a lid of pure gold, 45 inches long and 27 inches wide. Make two winged creatures of hammered gold, one for each end of the lid. Make them so that they form one piece with the lid. The winged creatures are to face each other across the lid, and their outspread wings are to cover it. Put the two stone tablets inside the Box and put the lid on top of it. I will meet you there, and from above the lid between the two winged creatures I will give you all my laws for the people of Israel.
Numbers 21:8 (GNT) Then the Lord told Moses to make a metal snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and be healed.
The pagans at that time were the ones forbidden by God to worship gods. It was a big business because some of their carved images were made up of gold, silver and bronze.
The teachings of the Catholic Church regarding images are stated as follows in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1159 The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new "economy" of images:
- Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God . . . and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled. (St. John Damascene)
1160 Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other:
- We declare that we preserve intact all the written and unwritten traditions of the Church which have been entrusted to us. One of these traditions consists in the production of representational artwork, which accords with the history of the preaching of the Gospel. For it confirms that the incarnation of the Word of God was real and not imaginary, and to our benefit as well, for realities that illustrate each other undoubtedly reflect each other's meaning. (Council of Nicea II)
1161 All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. They make manifest the "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrew 12:1) who continue to participate in the salvation of the world and to whom we are united, above all in sacramental celebrations. Through their icons, it is man "in the image of God," finally transfigured "into His likeness" (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2), who is revealed to our faith. So too are the angels, who also are recapitulated in Christ:
- Following the divinely inspired teaching of our holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church (for we know that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her) we rightly define with full certainty and correctness that, like the figure of the precious and life-giving cross, venerable and holy images of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God, and the venerated angels, all the saints and the just, whether painted or made of mosaic or another suitable material, are to be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and vestments, walls and panels, in houses and on streets. (Council of Nicaea II)
1162 "The beauty of the images moves me to contemplation, as a meadow delights the eyes and subtly infuses the soul with the glory of God" (St John Damascene). Similarly, the contemplation of sacred icons, united with meditation on the Word of God and the singing of liturgical hymns, enters into the harmony of the signs of celebration so that the mystery celebrated is imprinted in the heart's memory and is then expressed in the new life of the faithful.
So, do we worship the pictures and carved images themselves in our churches, altars, etc.? Of course not! They are just representations to remind us of our Living God and the holy people who points us to Him.
- Going by the Truth, Catholic Beliefs and Practices (Questions and Answers) by Sr. Ines Atendido Tan, FMM, pp. 19-21
- Catechism of the Catholic Church ( http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s1c2a1.htm#II )
- What is the Difference Between "Worship," "Adoration" and "Veneration"? http://iamacatholicbyheart.blogspot.com/2012/08/what-is-difference-between-worship.html
FOR MORE ABOUT THIS:
- Catholic Answers http://www.catholic.com/tracts/do-catholics-worship-statues
- Catholic Apologetics http://www.theworkofgod.org/Library/Apologtc/R_Haddad/Course/Book2A.htm#STATUES%20AND%20IMAGES
- Catholic Apologetics http://www.catholicapologetics.info/apologetics/general/images.htm