Two Notions of Worship: Catholic vs. Fundamentalist | Karl Keating | From "The Usual
Suspects" | IgnatiusInsight.com
Two Notions of Worship: Catholic vs. Fundamentalist | Karl Keating | From
The Usual Suspects: Answering Anti-Catholic
Here is a pop quiz I give in parish seminars: "You recall that the
Israelites melted down their jewelry and made a golden calf. What was wrong
with making a golden calf?" Before anyone has a chance to embarrass
himself publicly, I give the answer: "Absolutely nothing."
When I ask that question and give that answer, most people are stunned.
"But we know making the golden calf was a sin", they say. "The
Israelites were condemned for it." Actually, my listeners know no such
thing. There was nothing at all wrong with fashioning a statue from jewelry.
What was wrong was that the Israelites then worshiped the nonexistent god the
calf represented. They committed the sin of idolatry. There never has been a
sin of statue-making.
"But God expressly forbids making statues", say many Fundamentalists.
They cite Exodus 20:4: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven
image", and a statue is certainly a "graven image"—that
is, an image made by human hands. When this verse is thrown at them, most
Catholics are stumped for a response. If they were more familiar with Exodus,
they could skip to chapter 25 and read the account of the ornamenting of the
Ark of the Covenant. The Lord commanded that the Ark, which held the tablets of
the Law, be topped by statues of two cherubim. The statues were to be made of
gold, and the wings of the cherubim were to be held over the Ark, as though
So here we have the Lord, in chapter 20, saying, "Don't make
statues", according to Fundamentalists, and in chapter 25 the Lord says,
"Make statues." The key to this apparent contradiction is, the
purpose behind the making of statues. In chapter 20 statues used in idol
worship were condemned; in chapter 25 statues used for a proper religious
purpose were praised. This brings us to statues in Catholic churches.
Fundamentalists see us kneel before statues of Mary and the saints and conclude
we are worshiping either the statues as such or at least the saints represented
by the statues. The fact that a Catholic kneels before a statue to pray does
not mean he is praying to the statue. A Fundamentalist may kneel with a Bible
in his hand, but no one thinks he is praying to a book. Statues and other
"graven images" are used to recall to the mind the person or thing
depicted. Just as it is easier to remember one's family by looking at a
photograph, so it is easier to remember the lives of the saints (and thus be
edified by them) by looking at representations of the saints.
"But you pray to saints, even if you don't pray to their statues",
say Fundamentalists. "That means you do worship them. At the least your
prayers to saints violate 1 Timothy 2:5, which says, 'There is one mediator
between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.'"
Prayers to saints, asking them to intercede with God for us, do not violate 1
Timothy 2:5. If they did, then every Christian would stand guilty of violating
that verse because every Christian prays for other people. After all, what is a
mediator? Merely a go-between. When we pray for others, we act as go-betweens,
passing their concerns to God. Fundamentalists regularly ask one another for
prayers. They are right to do this because our Lord commanded that we pray for
one another. No Fundamentalist will say to another, "No, I won't pray for
you. Pray to God straight!" Instead, he'll say, "I'll gladly pray for
you, and please pray for me." In so praying he becomes a mediator. This
does not violate 1 Timothy 2:5, which is really telling us that our prayers for
one another are effectual precisely because Christ is the one mediator. Without
his mediation, our prayers would be worthless.
If it is proper to ask imperfect Christians on earth to pray for us, why should
it be improper to ask perfected Christians in heaven to pray for us? Death does
not separate us from Christ or the Church. In fact, death brings us closer to
both. Keep in mind the metaphor of the vine and the branches. Christ is the
vine, and we are the branches. This is a singular vine: when a branch dies, it
does not break off and fall away. It blossoms. It is perfected. Through Christ
we remain in communion with other Christians on earth—and with Christians in
heaven (and in purgatory). On earth we can ask for our friends' prayers by
calling them on the phone, writing a letter, using sign language. The only way
we can communicate with the saints is through prayer. How can they hear us? We
do not know the mechanics of it, but then we do not know the mechanics of how
God hears prayers either. To say he hears prayers because he is omnipotent is
no answer. That still does not tell us how he does it. To claim that saints cannot
hear us opens us to the claim that God cannot hear us either, and no
Fundamentalist believes that.
What seems to be the real problem for Fundamentalists? Why do they get so
annoyed with Catholics praying to saints? Ultimately it is because they do not
have the Mass. The Mass is the highest form of worship possible—sacrifice. The
Protestant Reformers did away with the Mass, so all that Fundamentalists,
distant heirs of the Reformers, have to fall back on, as the highest form of
worship available to them, is straight prayer. Prayer to saints can be confused
with prayer to God if prayer to God is the best one can do. The result: the worship
of God may seem indistinguishable from conversation with saints.
Catholics do not have this problem. Yes, we pray to God, but we also, have the
Mass, which is radically unlike mere prayer and which is directed to God alone.
It is easier for Catholics to keep their "honoring"
compartmentalized. Despite hoary stories to the contrary, there have been
almost no Catholics who have confused honoring saints with adoring God. That
may be why, when Catholics see Fundamentalists kneeling with the Bible in their
hands, they never think the Fundamentalists are worshiping a book. The thought
just never occurs to them.
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Karl Keating is the founder and president of Catholic
He had been working as an attorney for several years when, on leaving Mass
one Sunday, he found anti-Catholic tracts on the windshields of the cars
in the church parking lot. He wrote his own tract in reply and distributed
copies of it at the Fundamentalist church responsible for the anti-Catholic
tract. That was the start of what has become the countrys largest
lay-run apologetics and evangelization organization.
Catholic Answers was incorporated in 1982, and in 1988 Karl left the practice
of law and went into apostolic work full time. That year marked the publication
of his Catholicism and Fundamentalism, the first book to deal extensively
with challenges posed by "Bible Christians." Other books followed:
What Catholics Really Believe, Nothing But the Truth, The Usual Suspects,
and Controversies. Read more about them on his Ignatius Insight author page.
For nine years Karl served as the editor of This Rock. He has been
a columnist for the National Catholic Register and the Canadian
Catholic Review and has written for many other publications. He appears regularly on "Catholic Answers Live." His avocations
include backpacking (his favorite locales are the High Sierra and the Grand
Canyon) and flying.
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