"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.
These two wildly different definitions of the same word come from the aberrations that develop when you translate a teaching into English and then the majority of Christians in the world systematically adhere to the originally intended Traditional context regarding the use of a particular English word and the rest of the world refuses to adhere to the Tradition that preserves the original meaning of the teaching and, instead, bases their understanding of the teaching on changing trends in the English language. This may come as a shocker, but the Bible wasn't written in English and the word "worship" doesn't appear in it anywhere. That's just the closest approximation the English language has. In much the same way that the term we take for granted as "Holy Spirit" is actually "Paraclete" in Greek, which means "helper." 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 wouldn't 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."
The English word "worship" originates from an Old English word: "worthship."
The word basically means "to declare the worth of something or someone."
This is how a Catholic uses 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 Catholic 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 Catholic 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.
Take, for example, the Psalms. They 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. 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. 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 are roughly broken down like this (and these are official Catholic terms.)
This is 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. Obviously, as I've said, proper worship only attributes what can be attributed to it's subject. Since the titles, actions, natures and so forth that can only be applied to God are never applied to Mary, it cannot be said that we worship Mary as equal to God. And, if you have trouble seeing that by the observation of our worship, I'll simply tell you: We don't do that.
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.