Why do Catholics honor the Saints, Mary and Jesus with statues & paintings?

By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

My sister Mary happens to own two beautiful paintings of Mother Teresa, painted by a friend and given to her many years ago. After a recent visit to her home, I mentioned that since Mother Teresa is now a daint, her paintings could become very valuable; I suggested she consider donating them to a hospital or a church. She made the comment that she loves her paintings because they give her a lot of comfort and solace when she looks at them. I can truly appreciate why she feels this way. In her paintings, Mother Teresa is grasping her rosary in her hands and wears a look of pure devotion to Jesus. For myself, I own several medals given to me as gifts from close friends who purchased them while visiting Rome, Ireland, Lourdes, and Fatima. I love wearing them and get comments all the time about their beauty.

Is it wrong that Catholics use paintings and other artistic devices to recall the person they depicted? Ok, let’s be candid here; Catholics are accused all the time of worshiping their statues and crucifixes; not honoring the persons they represent. Non Catholics believe that saintscrucifixes and statues are forbidden in Scripture: “You shall not make for yourself a saved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in earth beneath or that is water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Most non Catholic churches often only use empty crosses as their representation of Jesus’ resurrection. They are extremely critical of Catholics for their crosses with Jesus’ crucifixion and their depictions in churches.

I think this is an interesting dilemma between Christian churches. From the Catholic perspective we know that God promised us a Redeemer, one who died in a very physical way on the Cross. The crucifix is our representation of perfect love shown to us by God. With such an overwhelming expression of love, why not have a reminder present in church?

We do know that in Sunday schools non Catholics will show pictures of Jesus and teach about Jesus with representations however, apparently this is only because they are used as teaching devices.

To clarify more clearly the Catholic view of having statues and artifacts honoring the holiest of holy persons who made sacrifices themselves to honor Jesus, let’s look at an example.

In my home, I have many pictures of my parents as a reminder to me and my family of the contribution they made to our family and of course, the love they shared and taught us. Catholics who are honoring saints who have these images of them are doing so for the purpose of recalling the person they depict and the love they gave. When they kneel at church in front of these statues it is not meant to be a form of idolatry. It’s intended to allow someone the opportunity to ask for intercessory prayers for those saints who are now in heaven. This is not Catholics worshiping other gods. My point is, it doesn’t seem wrong to use images to deepen your love of God. When movies, plays, books and stories are viewed with messages of Jesus these are not images encouraging idolatry. They are only meant to remind us of the greatest love ever given each of us; that of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When you are driving by homes who have statues of the Virgin Mary or saints in their gardens, again let me stress these are not meant as idols for Catholics. They are simply a reminder of the love and sacrifice given to us all so one day we will all be together surrounded by the perfect love of Jesus.

Having just celebrated All Saints Day, let us appreciate all those men and women who have given us such wonderful examples of bringing God inside our souls and giving us grace that we can share with others.

rsz_1cathyCatherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education at the University of Nebraska majoring in Special Education and minoring in English Literature and now works in the insurance industry. A mother and a grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. A writer for Tuscany Press, she is also working on several longer writing projects.
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