On Worship and Veneration

“Mary with Child, Angels and Saints” by Duccio di Buoninsegna


In the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes are its heart and soul. They give us the characteristic marks along the path to holiness. We are to choose the dispositions that characterize the first seven but the eighth, in Mathew 5:10-12, is done to us in consequence of our faithfulness. We are assured: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Not only are disciples of Christ reviled in this way, the entire Body if Christ is off-putting to the world because this vale of tears is under the tyrannical rule of the Prince of lies.

The Church has been attacked and persecuted from the beginning and Her saints all the more so for their faithful witness. If we are attentive, we can observe daily how our modern media, our schools, and our politicians attack the Catholic Church at its roots. Even our protestant brethren have a number of standards tropes meant to demean us, like referring to us as the “whore of Babylon” or disparaging our sacred sacramental tradition or having contempt for papal authority flowing from Apostolic succession grounded in the Bible. There are multitudes of invectives reserved for the Catholic Church, Her saints and Her teachings. One all too common accusation is the allegation that we worship Mary and the saints.

The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, tells us that although we cannot philosophically prove or demonstrate that all Catholic Teaching is true, we can in fact philosophically prove that allegations against Church teaching are false. Articles of faith require the assent of our wills, and those who submit to the will of the Father are granted understanding by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, when it comes to those who are skeptical or deny Catholic truth, it is by unaided reason alone that we can demonstrate the fallacies that accompany attacks on Church teaching. When it comes to the topic of worshipping Mary and the saints, we can easily demonstrate the right order of things and even explain why our detractors falsely claim that we worship them, for we do not.

 A Vital Distinction

This age of reductionism has taken many vital distinctions and collapsed them into a single category and this causes great confusion. For an example, the distinction between the idea and the concept has been reduced to the idea and the result on education is devastating. Male and female have been reduced to social constructs and the effects on society are demoralizing. The distinction between fine art and servile art has been collapsed and the effect on beauty has been disturbing. When it comes to how we admire, respect, esteem or appreciate, there are important distinctions to be made that have been collapsed by modern society. In Holy Mother Church, we have a vital distinction between who we worship and who we venerate.

Our Worship is and ought to be reserved for God alone. We adore God our Creator because He made us in His image. He gave us life, an immortal soul and He holds out the promise of salvation for those who love Him. He is the only source of life eternal and there is no other but Him. For these reasons, it is appropriate to know, love, worship and serve Him and Him alone.

It is the first commandment carried down by Moses from Mount Sanai that God brought us out of bondage and that we shall have no other gods before Him. In Christ’s first commandment He says, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” In Luke 4:8 when Jesus entered the desert and suffered the temptation by the Devil He responded to the second temptation with “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” It is impermissible to worship any but God, so the protestant claim that we worship Mary and the saints is serious indeed.

We do not worship Mary or the saints, it is impermissible and goes against Church teaching no matter what. We do however hold Mary and the saints in very high esteem. Our detractors deny or collapse the distinction between worship and a different kind of veneration, but not only does the distinction exist, it is vital to understand it in order to regard God, Mary, the saints and everything else in its proper order. Without this distinction, we are in danger of falling prey to error, even the error of which the protestants accuse us. There are two important terms to know in order to understand how we ought to regard God and all his saints, and those are “latria” and “dulia.”

Latria

The Latin word “latria” is derived from the Greek “latraia” which means to worship, and the Greek “latreuein,” which means to serve. Latria is a word that means worship and service and we righty use it to connote what we owe to God. To know, love and serve God is to worship him and to worship Him is the proper response of the creature towards his Creator.

The Catholic Dictionary helps us to more clearly understand latria as that special kind of veneration owed solely to God for his absolute perfection. As is explained of absolute latria, “it is given only to God, as the Trinity, or one of the Divine Persons, Christ as God and as man, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Holy Eucharist.” There are two kinds of latria we can consider, absolute latria described above and relative latria which is reserved for images of God.

There is a danger of idolatry associated with the image. We do not worship the image, but what the image points to, that is God Himself. The Old Testament prohibition against images still stands as a prohibition against idolatry. However, with the incarnation of Christ, we have the new Adam and the true God from which we can make proper images as an aid to worship Him, not the image itself. Although Latria is reserved of the Holy Trinity alone, there is another kind of veneration we must have for Mary and the saints called dulia.

Dulia

The etymology of dulia first comes from the Greek as “doulos” meaning slave. Further, in Greek “douleia” means servitude. Medieval Latin asserts the term dulia as denoting those things which command our service. In the Catholic Dictionary we learn that dulia is “reverence of a disciple for his master or of a servant for his lord. It is the honor given to the angels and saints as friends of God.” Dulia is a form of veneration distinct from worship.

We may admire the athletic prowess of a professional athlete and be impressed by his ability. We may even venerate him in a secular sense for his skill. This is a human veneration and distinctly different from the dulia that sees us recognize, not the human ability of the saint, but the way saints subject themselves to the will of God and in doing so imitate Christ. What we venerate in the saints is their reflection of Christ, not anything human.

There is a distinction to be made concerning dulia as well. There is the regular dulia which is the regard we have for the saints, but there is a special kind of vernation we reserve for the Blessed Virgin Mary. We reserve a special hyperdulia for our Holy Mother for her exclusive part in the mystery of redemption and for the exceptional grace from God she received by the immaculate conception. She is recognized preeminently among the saints as the most holy. This hyperdulia is not the same as worship, it is the highest veneration we can have for a saint and in her case, it flows from her “fiat” and the fact that she is the Christ bearer.

 All attacks are refutable

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is explicit in John 15:18-9 when he tells us “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” To be a disciple of Christ is to be hated by the world. Becoming a member of the Body of Christ is not for the timid. We are called to be vigilant by these truthful statements about our status in this world. The world is ruled over by the prince of lies and the world hates the Body of Christ

The world will always hate us and continue to propagate all manner of untruth about the Body of Christ. Let us know in our minds and hearts that all the lies told about the Catholic Church can be reasonably and clearly explained by the right use of reason. The particular untruth that we worship Mary and the Saints is easily refutable by the distinction between latria and dulia. Let us explain this to our protestant brethren next time they allege that we worship Mary and the Saints. Also, let us rest in the assurance that all allegations and detractions spoken against Holy Mother Church can be refuted is truth is our standard.


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About the Author

Steven Rummelsburg

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a Catholic convert, a catechist, a school teacher, a Catholic writer and speaker on matters of Faith, culture, and education. He holds a degree in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Steven is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative, a member of the Teacher Advisory Board and writer of curriculum at the Sophia Institute for Teachers, a contributor to Crisis Magazine, The Civilized Reader, The Standard Bearers, Catholic Exchange and a founding member of the Brinklings Literary Club.

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