By Hunter Weitzel, Creighton University
As a child, I was raised in a Protestant household. My family and I believed the common misconceptions that Catholics worshiped the Virgin Mary, the saints, and icons of them. When I was converting to Catholicism during my teenage years, I contested these teachings because in my world, Catholics were breaking the 1 st Commandment, “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” I was hesitant to join the Catholic Church because of these simple, yet extremely common, misconceptions.
However, the Church teaches that the saints are in communion with the Holy Spirit, interceding for us in Heaven. For this reason, we ask the saints for help. The point of calling and petitioning to the saints is because they have died and now have very close favor with God, since they are with Him in Heaven. We ask the saints to intercede for us, not to distract us from Jesus, but to lead us to Him, since they are with Christ forever. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 957). This is no different than asking a friend, family member, or loved one to pray for us. We have all asked for opinions, help, motivation, prayers, and much more from people we love. When we ask for help, we seek help from people who have experienced similar hardships, emotions, or life-experiences. Because the saints have persevered through suffering in their own lives, we ask them to pray for us so that they can sympathize with our struggles.
Exalted above all the saints is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary holds the title in the Catholic Church as “Mother of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 971). Being the “Mother of God” meant that she had found favor with God in this life, even as a young girl. God assigned this duty to Mary because only the most favorable and holy person could carry the Messiah; Mary was free was sin, even from the womb (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 491). Because Mary conceived and bore Jesus, the Son of God, Catholics highly respect Mary and believe that she holds the highest place in Heaven, after Jesus. For this reason, we especially ask her to intercede for us. Since she was chosen by God, we ask her to pray for us and help us in our weakness, just like the saints. Our loving Mother, she longs to bring us to her beloved Son. Another misconception, which is more surprising to me, is that Catholics worship statues. This belief walks hand-in-hand with the beliefs about Mary and the saints from Protestants. Catholics don’t worship statues of Jesus, let alone the saints and Mary. Idolatry refers to the worship of false gods and the divinizing of something other than God.
In the Jewish religion, it was against the law to have images of the Messiah, since there was danger that the people could worship the image. With Christianity however, the Old Law is now fulfilled. Now, imagery of Jesus is seen commonly because Jesus presented himself to us. The imagery we have of Jesus isn’t something we worship; it’s a visual aid to help us in our faith. It is something to remind us of Jesus throughout the day in order to strengthen our relationship with Him. Having images and statues of Mary and the saints is the same idea. We have pictures of our pets and family, but that doesn’t mean we worship them. They are visual aids to help us remember, appreciate, and think of them. In the same way, the statues and symbols that we wear as Christians remind us of our faith.
In conclusion, we Catholics do not worship Mary, the saints, or images and statues of them. We ask Mary and the saints to intercede for us on our behalf since they hold a spot in Heaven with God. It is similar to asking family and friends to pray for you because they know your emotions and can relate to what you are going through. As for images, we do not worship statues of Jesus, Mary, or the saints. Most Christians wear a cross or crucifix, or have one placed above the doorway. Nearly every Christian will agree that the cross is not what we worship, but rather a sign to constantly remind us of Jesus. The images are visual aids to help us grow in the faith and serve as a constant reminder of the One who reigns above. As a former Protestant, I can confirm that these misconceptions are truly alive and well. To a Catholic, it may seem like something small for a Protestant to overcome, but for me it was actually quite the opposite. I was hesitant to become a Catholic for these simple reasons, which turned out to be fallacious. Now that I have found the truth, my beliefs have been clarified and I hold these truths dear to my heart.
Edited by Christopher Centrella