Mary Ann Collins
Catholic Canon Law says that “sacred images” should be displayed in Catholic churches for the veneration of the people. (The term “sacred images” refers to statues, paintings, crucifixes, mosaics, etc.) [Note 1]
Canon Law provides the legal basis for everything that the Roman Catholic Church does. The “Code of Canon Law” was thoroughly revised in 1983 and published by the authority of Pope John Paul II. The English translation was published in 1988. These are contemporary laws which demonstrate the spirit behind Roman Catholicism.
According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the purpose of venerating “sacred images” is to venerate the people represented by them (Jesus, Mary, saints, and angels). [Note 2]
So having “sacred images” in Catholic churches, to be venerated by the people, is not just a holdover from popular piety of the past. It is required by modern Canon Law and promoted by the modern “Catechism of the Catholic Church”.
However, there are three problems with this. In the first place, veneration is a form of worship. According to the Bible, only God should be worshiped. The Bible forbids us to worship people (including Mary and the saints).
In the second place, some Catholics venerate statues of Jesus as a baby. But Jesus is not a baby. He grew up nearly 2,000 years ago. It may be alright to have fond thoughts of Jesus as a baby. However, it is not appropriate to worship Him as a baby, or to pray to “baby Jesus.” The baby Jesus did not save us from our sins. Jesus was a grown man when He died for our sins and when He was resurrected from the dead. It is not a baby who is sitting at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us. On Judgment Day, people will not be judged by a baby.
In the third place, it is not always clear whether veneration is given to the people represented by the images or to the images themselves. Miracles have been attributed to some images. This can encourage people to venerate the images themselves. One example is the statue of the Infant of Prague. Another example is the painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa. [Note 3]
What does the Bible say about venerating “sacred images”? It says,
According to “Webster’s Dictionary,” an image is an “imitation or likeness of any person or thing, sculptured, drawn, painted, or the like” and the word “graven” means “sculptured”. So a graven image is a statue. We are not supposed to bow down before statues or serve them.
There are two questions regarding Catholic devotional practices involving “sacred images”. First, do they indicate a kind of devotion which should only be given to God alone? Are Catholics actually worshiping Mary and the saints? Second, do some of these practices cross a line so that the images themselves are venerated?
I will describe some ways of venerating statues and give links to pictures which show these practices. Please look at these pictures and judge for yourself.
Appendix A discusses some technical theological terms for different kinds of worship. But for the moment, let’s set the Latin terms aside and look to see what actually happens in real life. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. (Links to some pictures accompany the following text. Appendix B tells how to find other good pictures online.)
Following is a link to a picture of Pope John Paul II kneeling before a statue of the Virgin Mary. This picture was taken during a ceremony in which the Pope (accompanied by cardinals and bishops) consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Following is a link to a picture of a huge candlelight procession in Fatima, Portugal. There is a sea of people, a million pilgrims who have come from all over the world. Because it is night time, it is difficult to see the people. However, you can see the light from the candles which they are holding. There is a path through this sea of people. A statue of the Virgin Mary is carried on a litter, on men’s shoulders, with Catholic clergy going before it. The statue is easily seen because it is engulfed with light. The light also shows the clergymen who are walking in front of the statue.
On January 24, 1998, Pope John Paul II declared that the Virgin Mary is the Queen of Cuba. As part of this ceremony, he crowned a statue of Mary. Following is a link to an article with several pictures including: the statue wearing a crown and elaborate clothing; a procession with the statue; and the Pope placing a crown on the statue. (The liturgy of the Catholic Church includes an official ritual for crowning statues.)
It is traditional for Catholics to light candles in front of statues. Some statues of Mary are so large that they dominate the church or chapel in which they are placed. To see some good pictures, go to the following website and take their “virtual tour.”
Some statues of Mary wear clothing. In Saragossa, Spain, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary that is called Our Lady of the Pillar. It has a crown made of 25 pounds of gold and diamonds, with so many diamonds that you can hardly see the gold. In addition, it has six other crowns of gold, diamonds and emeralds. It has 365 mantles which are embroidered with gold and covered with roses of diamonds and other precious stones. It has 365 necklaces made of pearls and diamonds, and six chains of gold set with diamonds. There is a huge halo around the statue, made of gold and covered with so many diamonds and other jewels that you can barely see the gold. The wall behind the statue is covered with gold stars that are studded with jewels. [Note 4]
In Prague, Czechoslovakia, there is a statue of Jesus as a baby (the Infant of Prague). Miracles are attributed to this statue. It has over 70 sets of clothing. It also has a crown of gold set with diamonds, pearls, and other jewels. The statue is dressed and cared for by nuns. [Note 5]
There is an online video about apparitions of Mary. If you watch the video, you will see the Pope bow in front of a painting of Mary and cover the area with incense. You will see a million pilgrims walking in a procession, following a statue of Our Lady of Fatima and singing songs in her honor. You will see several million people in a procession following a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You will see people weeping and raising their arms towards Mary. You will see the largest assembly of bishops and cardinals since the Second Vatican Council, gathered together to join Pope John Paul II in solemnly consecrating the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. A link to the online video is below.
Some statues are said to be “miraculous.” These images draw large crowds of pilgrims. There are Catholic devotional books that give pictures of these statues, with information about them. [Note 6]
Some statues are said to weep tears, or to bleed, or to exude oil. For example, there is a “weeping” statue of the Virgin Mary in Akita, Japan. A nun hears it speak and has recorded its messages. In 1984 these phenomena (the statue weeping and speaking) were approved by the local bishop. In 1988 the Vatican declared that the supernatural phenomena and the messages from the statue are reliable and worthy of belief. [Note 7]
In Saint Peter’s Basilica, there is a life-sized statue of Saint Peter, sitting on a papal throne. On special occasions, papal vestments and the papal crown (tiara) are put on this statue. The art book “Treasures of the Vatican” has a photograph of this statue wearing vestments of gold and scarlet, and a gold crown that is covered with large jewels. One foot of the statue is extended. So many people have kissed that foot that the toes have been worn smooth. [Note 8]
I have described a number of Catholic devotional practices relating to “sacred images,” especially statues. Are they contrary to Scripture? Did you look at the pictures? What does it look like to you?
KINDS OF WORSHIP
Catholic theologians speak of three degrees of homage, which have Latin words. “Latria” is the kind of worship which is due to God alone. “Dulia” is appropriate for honoring the saints. “Hyperdulia” is appropriate for honoring Mary; it is higher than “dulia” but not “latria”. Therefore, Catholic theologians say that Catholics do not worship Mary and the saints.
However, in the practical, down-to-earth, real world, these theological distinctions don’t work. Most Catholics have never heard of these words. Of those who have, how many know how to apply them in practical ways?
FINDING GOOD PICTURES ONLINE
The Internet has many good pictures showing Catholic devotional practices. You can easily find them yourself. Google has a search engine just for pictures (images). Go to Google’s home page. You will see some words that are underlined. Click on “Images.”
You can also go directly to Google’s picture-finding search engine.
Once you find a picture that you like, click on it. You will go to the website where the picture is located. That picture may be buried in an article or a group of pictures, but there is an easy way to find it. On the top of your screen, towards the left, you will see the picture you are looking for. Click on it, and you will see the full-sized image.
I found some good pictures by doing searches for “Mary + statue” and for “Mary + statue + procession” and for “Mary + shrine” and for “statue + candles”. I also found some good pictures by doing a search for “Infant of Prague” and for “Infant Jesus of Prague”.
If you search for “Cambio + Peter” you will see a statue of the Apostle Peter, sitting on a throne, in the Sistine Chapel. (Cambio is the artist.) One foot is forward. Over the centuries, so many pilgrims have kissed that foot that is has lost much of its shape. (The top is smooth and you can no longer see Peter’s toes.) On the feast day of St. Peter, this statue is clothed in pontifical garments (the Pope’s vestments and tiara).
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has a “virtual tour” that will show you many chapels devoted to Mary. You can see large statues and mosaics. In the Upper Church, please look for Our Lady of Siluva. In the Lower Church, please look for Mary, Mother of Mankind. Sometimes a large statue of Mary is above a much smaller crucifix (a cross with Jesus on it). One statue has many rows of large candles in front of it. Go to the website below and look for “virtual tour” or “tour.” (If the link doesn’t work, then search for “National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception”.)
The following websites have some good pictures of the Infant of Prague. This is the convent in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where the statue is. Among other things, it shows pictures of the nuns taking care of the statue.
A website with a “photo album,” prayers and devotions, and the history of the devotion.
A webpage that has links to websites about the Infant of Prague in a number of languages. You can see the pictures even if you don’t understand the text.
USE OF THIS ARTICLE
I encourage you to put this article on your website or to link to it. I encourage you to quote from this article, to copy it, and to distribute copies of it.
1. “Code of Canon Law,” Latin-English Edition (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), Canons 1186 to 1190. The 1983 Code of Canon Law was translated into English in 1988.
2. “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Pararaphs 1161 and 1192. The “Catechism” is available in many languages and many editions. It has numbered paragraphs so you can locate things precisely, no matter what language it is in or what edition you are using.
3. The Infant of Prague -- Joan Carroll Cruz, “Miraculous Images of Our Lord: Famous Catholic Statues, Portraits and Crucifixes” ( (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1995), pages 1-10 (text with black-and-white pictures) and 112-1 (color picture).
Our Lady of Czestochowa -- Joan Carroll Cruz, “Miraculous Images of Our Lady: 100 Famous Catholic Portraits and Statues” (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1992), pages 380-385 (text with black-and-white pictures) and 238-20 (color picture).
4. Joan Carroll Cruz, “Miraculous Images of Our Lady,” pages 401-405 (text with black and white pictures), and pages 238-2 and 238-7 (color pictures, including a close-up of the jeweled halo). Dave Hunt, “A Woman Rides the Beast” (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1994), pages 239-240.
5. Ludvik Nemec, “The Infant Jesus of Prague” (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1978). “Devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague” (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1975). Joan Carroll Cruz, “Miraculous Images of Our Lord,” pages 1-10 (text with black-and-white pictures) and 112-1 (color picture).
6. Joan Carroll Cruz, “Miraculous Images of Our Lady.” Joan Carroll Cruz, “Miraculous Images of Our Lord.”
7. Peter Heintz, “A Guide to Apparitions of Our Blessed Virgin Mary,” Part I, 20th Century Apparitions (Sacramento, California: Gabriel Press), pages 308-319 . This Catholic devotional book is out of print but you can get it online. (Search for “Peter Heintz” + “Guide to Apparitions of Our Blessed Birgin Mary.”)
8. Albert Skira, “Treasures of the Vatican,” page 31. This shows a picture of the statue of Saint Peter wearing vestments of gold and scarlet, with a gold crown that is studded with jewels.
National Geographic, “Inside the Vatican,” pages 92-93. This shows a nun kissing the foot of the statue. It also shows a close-up of the foot that has been worn smooth from being kissed so much.