You might have witnessed Catholics kissing statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or even rosaries and sometimes the floor, especially when entering a church. For those not familiar with Catholic practices, these actions can appear puzzling, if not odd. However, this is a deeply rooted practice in the Catholic faith that is not merely about superstition or ritualism. Instead, it’s about veneration, reverence, and an intense love for God and His saints. Let’s delve into understanding this practice from the perspective of the Catholic faith.
Understanding Veneration vs. Worship
First, it’s crucial to clarify the difference between veneration and worship. In Catholicism, worship is due to God alone. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) clearly states: “To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God” (CCC 2096). Veneration, on the other hand, is the act of honoring the saints and the sacred. It is a sign of love and respect but does not equate to the worship reserved only for God.
Biblical Foundation for Veneration
The Old Testament provides examples where physical objects serve as reminders or conduits for reverence toward God. For instance, God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole so that anyone bitten by a snake could look at it and be healed (Numbers 21:8-9). The people were not worshiping the serpent; rather, it was an instrument through which God’s healing power was made manifest.
In the New Testament, we find instances where objects touched by the apostles were used for healing (Acts 19:11-12). These passages indicate that God can work through material things, not because these things have power in themselves, but because they lead us to God, the source of all power and grace.
Kissing as an Act of Veneration
In the Catholic tradition, kissing an object like a rosary, a statue, or an icon is a form of veneration. The act itself is a symbolic gesture, expressing love, respect, and devotion. Such physical gestures have their roots in Scripture. In the Gospel of Luke, a sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, and then kisses them (Luke 7:38). Her actions were a sign of her deep repentance and love for Jesus.
Theological Consistency: Universal Teaching vs. Theological Opinion
It’s important to note that the practice of venerating sacred objects and images is a universal teaching within the Catholic Church, deeply rooted in both Scripture and Tradition. This is not merely a theological opinion but a practice affirmed by the Church’s teaching authority.
The Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD) defended the veneration of icons and statues against the heresy of Iconoclasm, which sought to abolish such practices. The Council declared that the honor given to an image or statue passes on to the prototype—the person it represents. The Council clearly stated, “For the honor rendered to the image travels to the prototype, and whoever venerates the image venerates the person represented in that image.”
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You might also see some Catholics kiss the floor upon entering a church. This is a sign of reverence and humility, acknowledging that they are entering a sacred space. The act is reminiscent of Psalm 95:6, where it says, “Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the Lord who made us.” While this is not a universal teaching of the Church, it is a pious custom that many Catholics choose to observe.
Veneration in the Liturgy
The act of veneration is not limited to personal devotion; it is also a part of the liturgy. During the Mass, the priest will often kiss the altar, the book of the Gospels, and sometimes even the liturgical vestments. These acts of veneration remind us of the sacredness of the elements used in worship and point us toward God.
In summary, the practice of kissing images, rosaries, and sometimes even the floor is deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition. It serves as a means of showing reverence, love, and humility. This is not an act of idolatry or worship of the objects themselves. Rather, it’s a recognition of how God’s grace works through material things to draw us closer to Him.
When Catholics engage in these acts, they are participating in a long-standing tradition that honors the mystery and majesty of God and His saints, grounded in both Scripture and the teachings of the Church.
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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.