By Rev. John J. Burke.
"Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them nor serve them" (Ex. xx. 4, 5).
THIS first commandment teaches us to adore God alone. It does not forbid the making of images, but it forbids the adoring of them, worshiping them as gods. This would be idolatry. If the making of images were forbidden, it would be improper to have images or pictures of our friends.
It has frequently been said that Catholics ate idolaters, because they have in their churches crucifixes, relics, and images of the saints, which they honor. Perhaps many of those who accuse us of idolatry, if asked, could not tell what idolatry is. Idolatry is giving to a creature (whether a crucifix, an image, or any created thing) that honor which belongs to God.
The honor we give those sacred things is a relative honor. We honor them on account of the relation they bear to God and His friends, the saints.
Every Catholic, even the child, is taught the difference between the idol of the pagan and a Catholic image. Pagans looked upon their idols as gods. They thought these senseless objects had power, intelligence, and other attributes of the Deity. They worshiped them as gods and thought they could assist them. Hence they were image-worshipers or idolaters.
Catholics know full well that images have no intelligence to understand, no power to assist them. They do not adore nor serve them. That would be idolatry. It would be breaking the first commandment. They do not say when praying before the crucifix or image of a saint, "I adore thee, O Crucifix"; nor "Help me, O Image," But they say, "I adore thee, O God, whose cruel death is represented by this crucifix," or "Pray for me, O saint represented by this image."
We have images, pictures, and relics of Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, and the saints, for the same reason that we have relics and portraits of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or of our relatives and friends. They remind us of the original. Who can look upon the crucifix or upon a picture of the Crucifixion without being reminded of all the sufferings of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
And who can seriously contemplate those sufferings, borne for us so patiently, without being moved to pity and to repentance? Such a person will be moved to say with the heart if not with the lips: "Oh, my God, I am sorry for having offended Thee and caused Thee such suffering. Grant that I may love Thee with my whole heart and never more offend Thee."
Catholics, as we have seen, adore God alone. They honor the Blessed Virgin and saints represented by images. They use these holy pictures and statues to beautify the house of God. These pictures are also a source of instruction. They are a profession of our faith. If you enter a house and see on one side of the room a picture of the Blessed Virgin, Cardinal Gibbons, or of Pope Leo XIII, and on the other a picture of Lincoln, Cleveland, or Washington, you will at once know the religious faith as well as the political belief or patriotism of the occupant.
By the aid of the relics of the martyrs we are reminded of all they suffered for the faith. By the use of religious pictures, our devotion is increased and we are stimulated to imitate the virtues of the saints represented.
If it is reasonable to have pictures of our martyred President and relics of our Revolutionary heroes that we may be reminded of their patriotism, it is none the less reasonable to have pictures and relics of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints, that we may be reminded of their virtues. By imitating their virtues here, we may be happy with them hereafter.
This is taken from Reasonableness of Catholic Ceremonies and Practices.
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