By JOSEPH W. MOLONEY
PEOPLE still make the ridiculous claim that “Catholics worship statues.”
In Exodus, God said: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5) and “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold” (Exodus 32:31).
Despite these warnings, Catholics have statues in our churches, seemingly in contravention to these passages.
First, it should be said that in Exodus, God both permits and commands the making of “graven images”, commanding Moses to make statues of angels: “thou shalt make two cherubim of gold” (Exodus 25:18) so that he could place them on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
Similarly, David gave Solomon instructions for the Temple that included the making of statues of “the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 28:19)
Ezekiel also describes graven (carved) images in the Temple in Jerusalem to be built which had images with the “carved likenesses of cherubim.”
Hence, from these examples we can see that God is clearly not forbidding the use of statues in their proper place – which is, adorning churches for our inspiration and as a reminder of heavenly things.
What God is warning the people in Exodus against is worshipping the physical statues themselves and attributing the wood and stone image as a god itself – which is certainly not what any Catholic does when we pray before a statue. No Catholic really thinks that the statues are alive in any way – much less a god.
Further, if we were to take literally the command against graven images, we would also have to burn any picture, painting, or movie as well.
Some people are also concerned that Catholics bow down to statues – but really, this is confusing what is in the heart of the believer and judging by outward appearances, because not all bowing is worship as we can see here in 1 Kings 2:19: “When Bathsheba went to King Solomon … the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne”.
As another striking example, kissing the feet of a newborn is not worship, hence neither is kissing the feet of a statue necessarily either.
Just as we keep pictures of deceased loved ones, so too we keep pictures and statues of God’s saints, which are a constant reminder of their virtuous and heroic lives and the blessings they received from God.
This does not mean that we adore or worship the saints or statues of them. Nor does it mean that we are praying to the saints to obtain favours from them – but instead asking the saints to pray with us to God for His graces and blessings.
Therefore, we can confidently respect and pray before the beautiful statues that adorn our Catholic churches while knowing that we reserve worship to God alone.