"The Church: Militant, Triumphant, Suffering"
By Rene De Cramer
By Rene De Cramer
Is a Catholic expected to worship Mary and the rest of the Saints?
As usual, when you are talking to me, there are two answers to this question. There can never be one answer because we are talking about two different parties who use words in two different ways.
The first answer is:
If we are going by the accuser's common usage of the word worship, then the answer is a clear "no." Being as the accuser, in this case, defines worship as something that can only be appropriate when rendered to God.
The second answer is:
If we are going by the Catholic definition of the word worship, then I'm afraid that the answer is absolutely going to be "yes."
Here's why I can say that to you without feeling like I need to cower or apologize.
This may come as a shock to English speaking Bible readers, but the Bible wasn't written in English and the English word, worship, doesn't appear in it anywhere. The word that is often translated to worship in English Bibles is actually λατρεία (latreía) in the New Testament's original Greek. Worship is just an odd approximation in English. Because the English language is remarkably imprecise, the words don't really have the same meaning at all without hefty context. The Greek word, λατρεία, means the application of worth or value that is due only to God, whereas the English word worship originates from an Old English word: worthship. The word basically means "to declare the worth of something or someone." It automatically implies a scale of value, not an ultimate value.
Most people who speak English are conditioned to understand the word worship to mean something different than it actually does, which is a direct result of protestant culture embracing the use of the word to replace the Greek word latreía while also utterly rejecting the Christian Tradition that tells us how we are supposed to interpret the use of that word. It's difficult to visualize the problem from within that matrix. To make it easier, imagine if we used the word evaluation instead of worship. It's actually not that different in meaning from the word worship. So, imagine that we came across a passage in English that read, "evaluation shall be rendered to God alone." It's easy to see the problem here. Evaluation automatically implies a scale of value. To say that evaluation cannot be applied to anything other than God is to necessarily evaluate everything other than God as unworthy of evaluation. It's a self-refuting statement. Worship basically works the same way. To say that God is the only thing worthy of worship is to say that God must be attributed the lowest worth as well as the highest worth simultaneously. It also automatically applies worship to everything other than God as it defines its worth as unworthy of being defined. A self refuting statement. Another side effect could be that the statement could seem to imply that God can be judged, but Man cannot be judged, and I'm certain we don't want to get into that territory.
The Bible doesn't say any of that. It says that only λατρεία, the highest possible worth, may be attributed to God. Not all values of worth simultaneously. The reason the New Testament doesn't say that in English is because there isn't a word for it in English. You'd have to use a whole sentence to translate one word. People get really freaked out when you do that because they think you are adding words. They'd rather just use a word that doesn't mean the same thing. So you end up with worship.
So, without highly descriptive translations, it's all about context, really. If applying all worship to God is self refuting, then the English translation of the Bible must not mean that. There must be a contextual meaning that goes beyond the apparently self refuting statement. A statement that simply doesn't exist at all in the original Greek. It's literally just a problem that stems from the rejection of Tradition in favor of linguistic trends. To embrace the Tradition is to preserve the meaning. There is precedent for this even in the use of Greek to write the New Testament in the first century. The word we take for granted to mean "Holy Spirit" in English is actually παράκλητος or Paraclete in Greek, which means "lawyer." That means that even a Greek living in the time that the Gospels were written would not attach the meaning that we attach to the term Holy Spirit to the word used by Christians in his day to describe it. He would not know what they were talking about without the context of the Christian culture (referred to by Catholics as "Catholic Tradition") that was appropriating the language at the time. This is a similar problem we are dealing with today when it comes to the English word, worship. In the simplest terms, the word worship isn't used in Scripture at all, but with Traditional context, that shouldn't matter. Such things weren't a problem for first century Christians. They certainly weren't demanding that everyone abandon the use of the word paraclete when refering to anything other than the Holy Spirit. The word also meant "lawyer." They knew that. The Christians of that time understood the wordplay they were committing. Why should 21st century Christians be any different?
Hopefully, that gives you some idea of what a Catholic means when he thinks of the word worship. At least when he's speaking English. If he isn't, then he likely isn't having to have this conversation or maybe he's having some other version of it. A good way to sum it up would be to say that anytime a person says something about the worth of anything or anyone, he is actually committing an act of worship. If I say, "gee, that was a good apple," I've literally just worshiped an apple according to the real definition of the word. Catholics generally don't get too worked up about this since, for us, the problem isn't really whether we worshiped an apple, but whether or not we worshiped it rightly.
The real problem of idolatry would come into effect if the worth applied to the apple were equal to that which is due only to God. Or, to say it another way, if the apple was worshiped as the source of it's own goodness.
The Psalms offer a pretty definite form for what worship is. They simply state a bunch of things that only God can be or can do or has done. Therefore it is worship that is due only to God: latreía. Using the same form to declare what is good about an apple is clearly also a form of worship, but it takes nothing away from the worship that is only due to God because it never claims that the apple is God, nor does it claim that the apple can do or has done the things that God can do or has done. It is, definitively, not latreía. God is so quantitatively outside what it is to be an apple that no one would take my worship of an apple as worship of God. In fact, many non-Catholics would not take it as worship at all. Unfortunately, all this means is that they aren't using the word correctly.
The Catholic definitions of worship as a scale of value are roughly broken down like this (and these are official Catholic terms.)
This is a Latin word word that is a transliteration of the original Greek of the New Testament where it appears as λατρεία or latreía and is translated rather poorly into the word "worship" in most English Bibles, but that isn't really what the word means.
This is a specific kind of Worship that is addressed directly to God.
It is superior, absolute, supreme.
It is sovereign worship to God alone and if rendered to any creature it would become idolatry.
The term Latria is what our accusers would usually simply refer to as "worship."
This describes when worship is rendered only indirectly to God through the veneration of martyrs, angels or Saints. It is a subordinate worship that is dependent on and relative to Latria in that it honors the creatures of God through their peculiar relationship with Him. Dulia is a term that denotes servitude and implies that the service of the martyrs, the angels and the Saints is their title to our veneration. You are pretty much guilty of this form of worship any time the faith of others strengthens your own.
This describes a form of worship that is afforded only to Mary, the Mother of God, who has a separate and supereminent rank among the Saints. I'll explain why we believe this about Mary in another entry as it is a complex subject by itself.
It's unlikely that our accuser has ever heard any of these terms. In fact, it's even likely that he's heard a Catholic defend himself by insisting that he does not worship Mary or the Saints. The reason for this is that many Catholics feel the need to save time and simply skip to using his accuser's language to answer the accusation. So, in that way, they are totally telling the truth. By the definition of our accuser, we don't worship Mary. But I've always had a problem using that language. Because, in my language, we absolutely do.
So, really, this isn't always necessarily a problem with what the two parties are doing differently, but rather, the difference in how they interpret the word they use to describe what they are doing. Just for instance, your average Catholic and your average Protestant might both list off the qualities of a particular football player. They are both doing the same thing. The only difference is that the Catholic understands that this is a low form of worship, but doesn't have a problem with it because it is appropriate to it's subject. He is simply listing what he perceives to be the "worths" of this character, none of which come close to the worth of God. This is why, when I am accused by a football fanatic of worshiping Mary, I try to point out that, by the Catholic definition of worship, my accuser is as guilty of often the same level of worship toward a much less deserving subject. They are simply comforted in the fact that they do not call it "worship" as I am comforted in the fact that I don't feel like I need to be comforted.
Now, and I'm repeating myself if you've paid attention, none of this means that the worship of Mary or any of the other Saints is equal to the worship of God. All proper forms of worship are ultimately the worship of God. For instance, Dulia can never be construed as a worship of something over God because the good in a thing cannot be seperated from God. God is the good in all things, therefore, Dulia is actually an indirect worship of God. It is only when we attempt to worship a thing as the source of its own good that we commit idolatry. Conversely, when we attempt to worship God while refusing to recognize his greatness in those creations He has perfected, it becomes a contradiction. If the heavens and the earth have no worth, then God's act of creating them has no worth. Yet we commonly refer to the heavens and the earth as signs of God's limitless worth. If there is nothing spectacular about God becoming incarnate through a virgin birth, why do we insist that it is a sign of God's spectacular power. If the Saints, who are perfected by the uniting of their lives and deaths to the life and death of Christ, have no value, then how can their perfection be a marker of the value of God?
The misappropriation of words is a pervasive point of contention between Catholics and non-Catholics, but it is often an illusive cause of disagreements. A lot of us assume that we define the words in the same way which creates seemingly bizarre and unexpected conflicts. Virtually every word we use is misinterpreted by our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, usually at the cost of being able to understand us and our practices for generations. Words like excommunication, heresy, church, and pope, just to name a few. Take the word vocation, for example. While I think many non-Catholics still understand the root of this word, it is rarely used properly by anyone in secular culture. When I use the word as it is used in common Catholic language among non-Catholics, it usually generates a misunderstanding with at least one person, even though the meaning of the word, which is, "a calling" or "to call," is embedded in it's very pronunciation. I am always thrown off by the use of the word "vocational" to describe things having to do with trade schools or job fairs while others see it as the only proper use of the word. As silly as it sounds, it creates huge misunderstandings.
I would always argue that it's usually less a problem with the action than it is a problem with the description.
So, after reading all of that, it's possible that you might find yourself disagreeing with the Catholic practice of worship. If that is the case, I've done my job. I'd rather you disagreed with what I actually do than attribute to me some strange misinformation.
This article has a second part pertaining to the practice of asking Saints for intercessory prayers that can be read here.