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The Dove and Rose - Chapter 8
On the proper worship of the Saints (a provocative title)
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La Fontaine: “When these saints came to you, did you make them a reverence by bending the knee or bowing?”
Joan of Arc: “Yes, and as much as I could I made them my reverence, for I know well that they are of those who are of the kingdom of paradise.”
La Fontaine: “Was the hope of being victorious founded on the standard or on yourself?”
Joan of Arc: “It was founded in our Lord and not elsewhere.” (Pernoud)
As I departed the Franciscan chapel that holds Our Lord in His Eucharist in perpetual adoration twenty-four hours a day, I slowly strolled over to the Virgin Mary statue on the grounds outside. Caring not that piety is out of vogue and even mocked these days, I made the only proper act for one to make in the presence of a sacred image. I bowed in reverence. It is appropriate to bow before statues and images of the blessed in Heaven, for they represent “those who are of the kingdom of paradise,” as St. Joan eloquently stated during her trial. In so doing that day, I was properly worshiping Mary. Furthermore, there is no doubt that it was the Holy Spirit Who inspired me to this act, for piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In addition, the worship of the saints, correctly understood, is appropriately directed to us by the Holy Spirit, and it is only in Catholic Dogma and Tradition that one fully understands the grandeur and majesty of this inspiration.
One usually receives two responses to such statements from those who care neither for piety nor the saints glorified in Heaven. These responses have to do with both piety and the worship of saints. Things can become confused in the minds of others when a poor soul like me wishes to bow and honor the Mother of God.
One response is to think that the pious person must believe himself to be holy and, therefore, better than everyone else. To that, whereas I cannot speak for the intentions of others, I can assure the potential cynic that there is no truth to that accusation concerning me. I am poignantly aware of how empty I am of virtue. My desire for God and His Kingdom and my desire to write of it far exceeds my ability to follow through with congruent, actionable demonstrations. Still, despite my apparent dearth of virtue along with other defective characteristics such as my frustrating inability to concentrate when I pray my rosary, the Lord has deigned to bless me with at least one of the beatitudes, to toss me one breadcrumb as a morsel, that of poverty of spirit.
I have come over the years to appreciate this beatitude significantly, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” for I have found that whereas, on the one hand, you experience in it your helplessness before Jesus Christ, you nevertheless, on the other hand, eventually begin to understand just how free you are through it. The Truth will set you free, He said. Freedom is a primary grace that stems from the beatitude of spiritual poverty. I have gratefully become, if nothing else, somewhat poor in spirit through Catholicism, just as Jesus prompted us to do; thus, I have become free. This mysterious and non-self-evident beatitude of His has been nurtured in me through the richness and wholeness of the Christian faith found only in the Dogma of the Catholic Church. This fullness is found nowhere else; try as you may.
What that poverty means, however, for those who may judge my piety as self-serving is that I feel no harm to myself when so judged. The more one is impoverished toward nothingness in Christ, that is, toward decreasing “so that He may increase,” the less of one there is to hurt. Therefore, one is not being hurt and has no need to feel offended. He is free of anger and resentment; he is now free to love. Being poor is truly a blessing.
The second response one receives to piety and the proper worship of saints is that of being accused of idolatry. The Lord God, through Sacred Scripture, could not be more explicit about not allowing the making of graven images or giving adoration to false gods. "Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in 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. I am the Lord thy God…" (Exodus 20:3-4) (Douay-Rheims). However, there I was bowing before a graven image in the specific "likeness of anything that is in heaven above," namely, the Mother of God. Still, though, it was that same God Who thundered those commandments from the clouds on Mount Sinai Who likewise inspired me to this pious act of giving reverence before an image representing the Queen of Heaven and in what I will explain below to be a form of worship to her and the saints, though in no way of the same substance as the adoration given to God.
This apparent contradiction is because, in today's world, the term "worship" regarding others outside of God is automatically confused with idolatry and disobedience to the first commandment. Unfortunately, we have lost an authentic understanding of so many English words through our poorly managed modern educational system. We no longer understand the root and derivation of specific keywords used in our great religious and philosophical debates. "Worship" is one such misunderstood English word.
When two of my books were being reviewed by an archdiocesan censor for their integrity to Church teachings, I remember being pleasantly surprised when the censor, having studied a section on honoring and praying to the saints, wrote back to me that I was making it sound as if "worship" were reserved for God alone! He suggested that I clarify, in fact, how proper it is to worship saints as a complete and appropriate understanding of the word in its root meaning would imply. He even suggested that in addition to Scripture and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, I use a source as ordinary as Webster's dictionary to help with this understanding. His direction was quite instructive and wise.
Let us refer, then, to our secular linguistic expert. Indeed, Webster has yet to lose the proper definition of the word “worship.” If you search, you will see at least two: 1) to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power; 2) to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.
Webster holds these two definitions for a reason. Webster knows languages. In the ancient Western world, where Latin was the primary language of the Church, “worship” was understood in two ways: “latria,” which is Webster’s definition (1) above and refers to the adoration proper to God alone (First Commandment), and “dulia” which is definition (2) and refers to the honor we attribute to people. Dulia is proper in varying degrees as when we honor our police force, fire department, military personnel, friends, Presidents, and indeed our mothers and fathers.
In addition, for the Mother of God, there is a designation only for her called hyper-dulia. It is the highest form of honor or dulia worship that one can give to a non-divine creature, purely human in nature. That one creature to receive it, and the only one in the history of the world to deserve it so, is the Mother of Jesus, Jesus being, of course, God Himself. Mary is properly worshiped, according to God’s distinction in the Ten Commandments and to a proper understanding of language, with that worship of hyper-dulia. Jesus, not only while on earth but still so in Heaven, honors His mother and His Father in the fullness of the spirit of the entire Ten Commandments. We undoubtedly must as well.
Modern English often uses one word for all of this. However, the Church and the Christian Faith were not developed in an English-speaking culture. It is most helpful to understand this word as the Latin-based Church has understood it through the centuries. No matter how much dulia is offered, it never becomes latria. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that these two forms of worship are different in substance, not just in degree (see Summa Theologica II-II 103:3). This distinction is clearly made in giving the Law. No one could think that honoring one’s mother and father (the worship of dulia), even to the highest degree possible, could ever be confused with adoration of God (the worship of latria). Nor should the highest degree of honor, the worship of hyper-dulia and dulia given to Mary and the saints, respectively, be so confused.
By following that hierarchical order and the whole intention of the Commandments through my reverence, my honor of hyper-dulia, indeed, my worship of Mary and the other saints such as Joan of Arc and Thérèse of Lisieux, I am drawn more closely to union with Jesus Christ Who is the Second Person of the very Trinity Who commands to be adored alone at the outset of giving the Law. Honoring, or worshiping as properly understood, the saints is part of adoring God; it is part of the proper understanding of the Divine Order, just as honoring your mother and father is to the appropriate degree.
The adoration given to God and the honor given to others, such as the saints, our parents, or our military personnel, may be rightfully called worship in English. However, these variations are clearly distinguished in substance in Latin and indeed by God in His Commandments. Moreover, the entire moral order can continue with a proper understanding of latria and dulia. Without it, everyone adores God but allows for no distinctive honoring of His glory, as revealed in His creatures, to not adore God at all. These distinctions were easily understood in Latin, but they are sometimes confused beyond repair in our native tongue.
In short, loving and paying honor to the Artist’s work is a remarkably satisfying way to adore the Artist. Instead, if you prefer, loving and honoring the other members of God’s family as is appropriate to their respective state of heavenly glory is a remarkably satisfying way to love and honor God.
Thus, it is honor to Mary and the saints, created beings glorified by God, in the worship of hyper-dulia and dulia that pleases God. There is a hierarchy to the Divine Order of worship. Only God may be adored with latria to please God. Yet, others, who are the glorified work of God, must be honored with dulia to please God fully. That is the Divine Will, and the seed of that teaching is found in the Decalogue. To worship the saints with that worship properly called dulia and the Mother of God with that worship properly called hyper-dulia is most pleasing to God. In fact, one can only expect to please Him fully with such worship.
Who is worthy of adoration other than God alone? None. Yet, who could be more deserving of honor than the saints in Heaven? None as well. They have merited Heaven through God’s grace. They are “like us” by nature but are now victoriously “more than us” in glory. That is God’s plan of salvation for us. “And whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) “Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt 13:43) (Douay-Rheims).
This lack of understanding of merit leading to glory truly drives the root cause of the dilemma. In the Protestant Revolution, those who violently hated the Church founded by Christ threw out the notion of merit based on our excellent cooperative works in sanctifying grace and then conveniently decided that a few hand-selected scripture verses out of context might save man’s neck without good works. Very clever. We will see if Christ is fooled on the Last Day.
Unfortunately, besides being wrong, eliminating good works is the most undesirable theological invention imaginable. Who would want to stop the very basis for glory? Who desires to throw out one of God’s greatest privileges given to us, that is, to merit glory condignly through sanctifying grace? What were Protestants thinking other than how to piece together the appropriate verses from the Bible to validate their newly formed views?
This new product of the Revolution painfully levels the landscape of the Kingdom of God such that most of her beauty is lost. If God were to allow Protestants their way, the richness and glory of the Kingdom of God would be entirely diminished. The magnificence that is the Kingdom of God becomes flat and colorless in the Protestant Heaven. There is no recognition of greatness in others brought about through Christ’s redemptive merits. There is no recognition of glory in others. That theology egregiously misunderstands God’s Justice and the magnificence of glory merited through cooperation with sanctifying grace.
Moreover, it seems to me in deeper reflection that Protestants do not so much condemn proper Catholic saint worship because they cannot grasp the notion of “latria” and “dulia,”; it seems more to be because they cannot get what makes a saint “so great.” They cannot grasp the great dignity God has bestowed on us to merit glory.
St. Thomas Aquinas illuminates this profound theology of the saints and of the Divine Order:
“It is God’s will that inferior beings should be helped by all those that are above them, wherefore we ought to pray not only to the higher but also to the lower saints; else we should have to implore the mercy of God alone. For the Divine Order is such that lower beings receive an overflow of the excellence of the higher, even as air receives the brightness of the sun.” (Summa Theologica Question 83, Article 11, “Whether we ought to pray to God alone?”)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds the following:
“The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, (Heb 12:1) especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him, and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.” (Mt 25:21) Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” (CCC paragraph 2683)
The beautiful, older Catechism of the Council of Trent, developed in the aftermath of the Protestant Revolution, states this truth with straightforward eloquence:
“We must also have recourse to the intercession of the Saints who are in glory. That the Saints are to be prayed to is a truth so firmly established in the Church of God, that no pious person can experience a shadow of doubt on the subject.” (Part IV: The Lord’s Prayer; section “To whom we should pray”; sub-section “To the Saints”)
It was a beautiful fall day when I stopped outside the Franciscan chapel to bow and worship Mary in the spirit of hyper-dulia before the statue that represents her. I had just finished adoring the real and substantial presence of Jesus Christ in His Eucharist consecrated by His Church. Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit inspired me to “make my reverence,” as Joan insists to Mary. There is furthermore no doubt that God the Father and the Son were pleased and that it was possibly the most I could have done that day to be receptive to God’s knowledge and understanding (two other gifts of the Holy Spirit) that the Ten Commandments are entirely positive, life-giving, and enlightening for those who seek the fullness of His astonishing, mystical, hierarchical Kingdom and not just a flat lot in it.
The Virgin Mary is far above every person (save for her Son) who has ever walked the face of the earth by the will of God. She alone was chosen to be the Mother of the Second Person of the Trinity and was prepared in God’s mind from all eternity for her vocation. Are we all the same? You may judge yourself in a comparative light to Mary as you wish. As for me, I will bow. Excuse me if I seem sentimentally pious. That mysterious, simple gift of spiritual poverty compels me to be so.