Venerating Icons and Statues: A Catholic Tradition


The veneration of icons and statues is a tradition deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. While this practice often confuses or even troubles some people from other Christian traditions or religions, it is important to clarify what it actually means within Catholic teaching. The primary goal of this article is to demystify the subject of venerating icons and statues in the Catholic Church, drawing upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Holy Scripture, and Tradition. We’ll explore what veneration is, its Biblical and historical foundations, and its place in modern Catholic practice.

What is Veneration?

Veneration, as understood by the Catholic Church, is a form of respect or honor shown to something or someone. It is not to be confused with worship, which is reserved for God alone. In the Catholic context, veneration of icons and statues is not a worship of those material objects but a means of lifting one’s mind to God or to the saints.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, ‘the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,’ and ‘whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.'” (CCC 2132)

The Biblical Foundations

Old Testament

Some might point to the Old Testament’s prohibition against making graven images as a reason to avoid statues and icons (Exodus 20:4-5). However, it is crucial to understand the context of this commandment. It was aimed at the Israelites, who were surrounded by pagan cultures that worshiped idols as gods. God did not want the Israelites to fall into this form of idolatry.

New Testament

The New Testament brings a paradigm shift in understanding God and His relationship with humanity. God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, thereby sanctifying matter and making it possible to represent the Divine through physical means. St. John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).

Historical Developments

Early Church Practices

The early Church was initially cautious about the use of images due to the surrounding pagan cultures. However, as Christianity gained more influence and separated itself clearly from pagan traditions, the role of images began to take shape. By the time of the 7th and 8th centuries, the veneration of icons, particularly in the Eastern Churches, was widespread.

Council of Nicaea II

The Second Council of Nicaea in 787 AD settled the issue definitively by declaring that icons could be venerated. This Council made a clear distinction between worship (latria), which is due to God alone, and veneration (dulia), which can be offered to saints and their images.

Modern Catholic Practice

The Purpose of Icons and Statues

In today’s Catholic practice, icons and statues serve multiple purposes: they are educational tools, aids to devotion, and links to the communion of saints. They are present in churches, homes, and even carried during processions.

Types of Veneration

The Church recognizes a special form of veneration called “hyperdulia,” reserved solely for the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. This is not worship, but a heightened form of veneration because of her unique role in the salvation history.

Liturgical Guidelines

The Church also provides guidelines on how to use images in a liturgical context. The Catechism states, “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” (CCC 1161).


Venerating icons and statues is not an act of idolatry but an acknowledgment of the spiritual realities they represent. They act as “windows to heaven,” providing a tangible way to contemplate the Divine and the saints. As the Catechism states, “Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons—of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints” (CCC 2131). In venerating icons and statues, Catholics engage in a practice deeply rooted in Scripture, affirmed by Tradition, and enriched by centuries of Christian art and theology.

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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.

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