Why Do Catholics Bow Before Images and Statues?

QUESTION:

Good evening Padre. I saw and read your reply about the usage of pictures and statues. But my concern is about the fact that we bow before them or even put them in front of us before praying. Amour, Benin

ANSWER:

Catholic have often been accused of worshiping Mary or her statue. However, this is false. Catholics have never claimed to worship Mary. Neither have they advocated for her worship! In fact, worship and adoration belongs to the Triune God alone, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity or person. The word has evolved but in our current context, we ascribe worship to God, who owns the universe, and to whom adoration is due. He alone has our total dependence!

A simple definition of “Reverence” is the honor or respect that is felt for or shown to (someone or something).

The sharp difference between what we offer God and the Saints is that adoration, which is the highest form of worship belongs to God alone, while veneration, reverence/honour goes to the Saints. God gets these as well but the saints do not get adoration!

In fact, most of those who have problems with the image or statue of Mary have pictures of themselves either framed or in albums. Could it be that they don’t know these pictures are images?

Sometimes we admire our pictures or those of our loved ones and even kiss them! Does it mean we are worshipping them?

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We bow before judges and dignitaries at court or functions. Does it mean we worship them when we do so? In some cultures people bow to each other in greeting and it is never taken for worship!

The same way in Catholic culture, when we adorn, bow to or kiss holy images, it is not to worship them. These objects are not the recipients of the honour but the people they remind us of, just the same way someone’s picture calls to mind the actual person. Therefore these simple acts of reverence do not amount to worship reserved for God!

What Catholics do is to honour and revere Mary, as well as the Saints. This is not the same as the worship due God! Bowing and kissing and so on do not necessarily connote worship just like the examples above.

But why should we honour and revere Mary? Is she not just a creature like other people?

We do because God himself honoured her first!

How did God honour her?

1. By choosing her to be the mother of our Saviour. God could not have come to dwell in an impure person. He would have carefully chosen, prepared and sanctified that person in order to have a fitting dwelling place. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…”(Luke 1:35,36)

2. Through the words of Angel Gabriel – “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you…” (Luke 1:28ff).

3. Through the words of Elizabeth, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”(Luke 1:41ff)

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4. Mary herself, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, “From now on, all generations shall call me blessed, for the mighty one has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:48,49).

5. Above all, Jesus gave her the honour of being our mother while he was on the cross, “Behold your son…. Behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27).

You cannot hate goat meat but enjoy goat meat soup. That is why I agree strongly with St. Maximilian Kolbe that, “If anybody does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother.” You can’t claim to love Christ and hate his mother!

Catholics are the best people to explain their faith, not non Catholics or people who are ignorant of it.

If someone, even a Catholic doesn’t understand an aspect of the faith and so deviates, it doesn’t make the faith flawed. It is the person who needs to be schooled in the right understanding!

God bless you.

By Padre Antonio

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