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Frequently Asked Questions...


Question: How can we get to heaven?
Answer: The Church teaches: CCC 1037. God predestines no one to go to hell;[618] for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":
Thus if we die repentant of our sins, we will not go to hell, but will end up in heaven eventually.
Unfortunately, there are many who are opposed to God and have contempt for God and His teachings. If they die with this contempt, they will end up in hell, of their own choice. Fr.Collins Akhigbe, O.P.



Question: Why do some Catholics kiss their fist?

Answer: Hi,

Even though they seem to be just kissing their fist, they are actually kissing a cross they make by placing their thumb perpendicularly accros their index finger.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.



Question: Dear Father,
We were married in the 1980s. I think NFP was discussed during our marriage preparation classes, but I remember very little of that discussion. At that time, everyone used birth control and I dismissed the idea of NFP as a non-realistic option. I used the birth control pill for the first 15 years of our marriage. As I began to grow in my faith, I came to understand the Church's teaching on birth control and struggled to share with my husband reasons why I could no longer use it. Together, we took instruction on NFP, yet we have never come to totally trust its effectiveness. How do you counsel couples who want to move from birth control to NFP yet do not feel called to have more children because of age (mid-40s)?

T.
Answer: Modern NFP methods are superior to current hormonal contraceptive methods, and your age dramatically decreases the chance of failure regardless. The failure rate of NFP is less than 3%. The method I personally teach, The Billings Ovulation Method, has a failure rate of 0.5% with usage data from 120 countries around the world, most impressively, China. Please take a course from a certified instructor (BOM has only 4 simple rules) and make your marriage truly open to God's plan for marriage. You only have potentially 96 hours of fertility per month and God gives us the technology to recognize those few hours if, after considering your resources and health, you and your husband choose not to use them.



Question: I am a sponsor for a candidate for confirmation with RCIA. My candidate has a former husband who is a Protestant and is refusing to go through the annulment process. Does this mean that she cannot obtain an annulment?
Answer: No. Either party can petition for an annulment. Canon 1510 specifically provides for a respondent who refuses to accept a legitimately served citation, and Canon 1592 §1 allows the judge (tribunal) "to declare the respondent absent from the trial and decree that the case is to proceed to the definitive sentence and its execution." You might ask the candidate to pick up a copy of Edward N. Peters’ book, Annulments and the Catholic Church: Straight Answers to Tough Questions.



Question: In what sense is the pope infallible? Does that mean that he is perfect or inerrant?
Answer: Papal infallibility means that the pope is protected from error when he "proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals" (CCC 891). This does not mean that he is impeccable (incapable of sin) or inerrant (incapable of error).



Question:
Q:“
Does having multiple priests consecrating the Eucharist mean anything or give additional special meaning to the Mass?


Answer: A:

When two or more priests or bishops celebrate Mass together this is called concelebration, and it is an expression of unity. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains that concelebration "appropriately expresses the unity of the priesthood, of the Sacrifice, and also of the whole people of God" (GIRM 199).



Question: When I tell my non-Catholic friends that baptism is necessary for salvation (John 3:5), they usually bring up the fact that there's nothing in the Bible indicating Jesus baptized anyone. How do I respond?
Answer: St. Augustine refers to John 19:34, where Christ’s side is pierced by the soldier’s sword and water and blood flowed out:

Here was opened wide the door of life, from which the sacraments of the Church have flowed out, without which there is no entering in unto life which is true life . . . Here the second Adam with bowed head slept upon the cross, that thence a wife might be formed of him, flowing from his side while he slept. O death, by which the dead come back to life! is there anything purer than this blood, any wound more healing!" (On the Gospel of John 120:2)

". . . The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus are types of baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments of new life. From then on, it is possible ‘to be born of water and the Spirit’ in order to enter the Kingdom of God" (CCC 1225).



Question: When I tell my non-Catholic friends that baptism is necessary for salvation (John 3:5), they usually bring up the fact that there's nothing in the Bible indicating Jesus baptized anyone. How do I respond?
Answer: St. Augustine refers to John 19:34, where Christ’s side is pierced by the soldier’s sword and water and blood flowed out:

Here was opened wide the door of life, from which the sacraments of the Church have flowed out, without which there is no entering in unto life which is true life . . . Here the second Adam with bowed head slept upon the cross, that thence a wife might be formed of him, flowing from his side while he slept. O death, by which the dead come back to life! is there anything purer than this blood, any wound more healing!" (On the Gospel of John 120:2)

". . . The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus are types of baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments of new life. From then on, it is possible ‘to be born of water and the Spirit’ in order to enter the Kingdom of God" (CCC 1225).



Question: How does the Catholic Church understand the meaning of "bind and loose" in Matthew 16:19, where Jesus says: "And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven"?
Answer: The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers these explanations:

* During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God’s forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God. (CCC 1443)
* In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins, the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head. (CCC 1444)
* The words bind and loose mean: Whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God. (CCC 1445)




Question: How should a Catholic reply to the question, "Have you been saved?"
Answer: This question is answered in our tract Assurance of Salvation? , which suggests the following reply:

As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5-8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9-10, 1 Cor. 3:12-15). Like the apostle Paul, I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11-13).



Question: Why do we bend the right knee when genuflecting?
Answer: According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, "A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil" (274).



Question:
I'm not sure I understand praying to angels for support. Unlike saints, who are part of the Body of Christ, angels have a different nature. Can you help me with the teachings on this and where they originated?

Answer: The angels are spiritual beings who have a free will and an intellect that is far superior to ours. The evil ones dwell in hell; the holy ones dwell in heaven and are therefore considered to be saints. Whoever is in heaven is a saint. God uses angels as messengers, guardians, and all-around helpers to us—as well as to reflect his glory. In Tobit 12:12, the Archangel Raphael said to Tobias, "So now when you and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought and read the record of your prayer before the glory of the Lord, and likewise whenever you would bury the dead." In Tobit 12:14-16, we read, "And at the same time God sent me to heal you and Sarah your daughter-in-law. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord. The two of them were shaken; they fell face down, for they were afraid." For more, see the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on angels at www.newadvent.org.




Question:
Why wasn't Jesus named "Emmanuel," as the angel told Joseph that he should be named?

Answer: The word Emmanuel translates to "God is with us." Matthew recalls the messianic prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 and states that its ultimate fulfillment is found in Mary’s Son: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (Matt. 1:23).

"Name," in this sense, does not refer to the actual name Joseph and Mary were to give to their Son (cf. Matt. 1:21, Luke 1:31); in this case, the word is used in the sense of "to call" (i.e., "they shall call his name Emmanuel," cf. Is. 7:14). Analogously, one could say of baseball legend, Babe Ruth, "They called him the Sultan of Swat," without intending to mean that "the Sultan of Swat" was George Herman Ruth Jr.’s given name. Just as Babe Ruth’s nickname was meant to indicate that Ruth was a great hitter, so Emmanuel indicates that the expected Messiah would be "God with us."

Emmanuel, "God is with us," also calls to mind the last verse in Matthew (28:20): "Behold, I [Jesus] am with you always, until the end of the age."




Question:
My husband had an affair with a co-worker and got her pregnant. We are trying to move on, but I am having a hard time forgiving and trusting him again. My priest told me to stop wallowing in self-pity and look at the pregnancy as a blessing. Now, I don't know where to turn for help.

Answer: The pregnancy is a blessing for the baby—but certainly not for you! Fortunately, there is a place to turn for help. I suggest that you turn to the crucifix and the Lord’s Passion. Our crucified Savior is the solution. He knows what it is like to be betrayed and has given you an opportunity to share in his Passion in this way. Not only did Judas betray him, Peter denied him three times and the rest of the Apostles abandoned him, leaving him quite alone before those who apprehended him. Have no doubt, Jesus is very aware of your plight and loves you. To have difficulty trusting a husband who betrayed you is not "wallowing in self-pity." It’s a very normal reaction.

While the inanimate sign of the crucifix can help to direct your attention to the Savior’s unlimited love for us, the Eucharist is the living sign of it. The sight of his blood separated from his body on the altar is enough to break one’s heart if one lets the reality sink in. Such will be your consolation. There simply is none greater! I encourage you to spend time each day going over his entire Passion in your mind and thanking him for each suffering. This will focus you and give you perspective. You will know his peace and the ability to forgive your husband—and the priest as well. You are in our prayers.




Question:
According to Scripture, Adam and Eve had three children, Cain, Able and Seth, who married and had children. Whom did they marry?
Answer: Adam and Eve had both sons and daughters (Gen. 5:4). Because there were no human beings except those born of Adam and Eve, sibling marriages were a necessity. St. Augustine says,

As, therefore, the human race, subsequently to the first marriage of the man who was made of dust, and his wife who was made out of his side, required the union of males and females in order that it might multiply, and as there were no human beings except those who had been born of these two, men took their sisters for wives,—an act which was as certainly dictated by necessity in these ancient days as afterwards it was condemned by the prohibitions of religion . . . and though it was quite allowable in the earliest ages of the human race to marry one’s sister, it is now abhorred as a thing which no circumstances could justify. (The City of God XV.16)



Question: Some of my close friends are either atheists or caught up in our materialistic, self-pleasing society. They tell me that Catholics are "too uptight." How can I possibly defend myself against people who have no real faith at all?
Answer: Could it be that your friends are uptight about the fact that Catholics consider themselves accountable to someone bigger than themselves—and what that might say about them? What if Catholics are right? This could make non-believers very uptight if they let themselves dwell on it much.



Question: Why can't women be ordained priests within the Catholic Church?
Answer: The Church does not have the authority to ordain women. In his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II declared "that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women" (4).

Some of the reasons cited include:

1. The example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men
2. The constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men
3. The Church’s living teaching authority has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.




Question: Where in the Bible does it say that abortion is wrong? My friend contends that the Bible can't be used to argue against abortion because nowhere in the Bible does it state that abortion is wrong and that life begins at conception. How do I respond?
Answer: Though we don’t find the word abortion mentioned in any biblical text, we can deduce from Scripture, not to mention natural law, reason, Church teaching, and patristic witness that abortion is intrinsically evil. On abortion, consider these Scripture passages: Job 10:8, Psalms 22:9-10, Psalms 139:13-15, Isaiah 44:2, and Luke 1:41.

In addition:

* Genesis 16:11: Behold, said he, thou art with child, and thou shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Ismael, because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.
* Genesis 25:21-22: And Isaac besought the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and he heard him, and made Rebecca to conceive. But the children struggled in her womb...
* Hosea 12:3: In the womb he supplanted his brother, and as a man he contended with God.
Romans 9:10-11: But when Rebecca also had conceived at once of Isaac our father. For when the children were not yet born, nor had done any good or evil (that the purpose of God according to election might stand) . . .

The truth that these verses tell is that life begins at conception. Rebekah conceived a child—not what would be or could be a child. Note James 2:26: ". . . a body apart from the spirit is dead. . ." Since the soul is the principle which gives life to the body, then a child carried in the womb of its mother has a soul because it is alive. To kill it is murder.




Question: Was grace given in the baptism of John?
Answer: No. The Council of Trent (Sess. VII, Canon I. on baptism) anathematized the teaching that the baptism of John had the same effect as the baptism of Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas also answered that

The whole teaching and work of John was in preparation for Christ: just as it is the duty of the servant and of the under-craftsman to prepare the matter for the form which is accomplished by the head-craftsman. Now grace was to be conferred on men through Christ, according to John 1:17: "Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Therefore the baptism of John did not confer grace, but only prepared the way for grace; and this in three ways: first, by John’s teaching, which led men to faith in Christ; secondly, by accustoming men to the rite of Christ’s baptism; thirdly, by penance, preparing men to receive the effect of Christ’s baptism. (Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, available at: www.newadvent.org)



Question: Is it OK for Catholics to have their marriage witnessed by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X?
Answer: According to the Code of Canon Law, Catholic marriages ordinarily must be witnessed by the local ordinary or the parish priest, or by a minister—usually a priest or deacon—delegated by them to do so (canon 1108 §1). Because SSPX priests do not have faculties from the Church to witness Catholic marriages, Catholics may not have their marriage witnessed by an SSPX priest.



Question: As a recent convert, how long must I wait before I pursue a calling to the priesthood?
Answer: How long a convert is required to wait depends on the individual. An Orthodox priest who entered the Church is already ordained and may have to wait a lesser time to be granted faculties to celebrate the Catholic sacraments. An Anglican or Lutheran clergyman may have to wait longer for a dispensation from celibacy, if married, and for ordination. A layman without a clerical background goes through much the same process as any other Catholic layman, although recent converts may be asked to live the Catholic life for several years first to make sure their conversions are not fleeting.

I recommend speaking with the vocations director of your diocese, or, if you are interested in becoming a religious order priest, of the order in which you are interested. The vocations director will let you know what requirements you are expected to meet.




Question: Can you answer a question about masturbation?
Before I began the question, it may be helpful for you to know that I am a young male catholic.

I have been struggling with the issue of masturbation in the past couple of months. I just came into the Catholic Church this Easter Vigil through the RCIA program that my parish began in September. I come from a Presbyterian tradition where masturbation isn't really an issue (of course if you commit it then you get instant forgiveness through prayer).

After doing some research, I discovered that masturbation has some medicinal benefits. Masturbation strengthens the immune system, reduces the chance of getting prostate cancer, raises self-esteem, and gives your body a work which boosts your cardiovascular system.

Obviously the church teaches that masturbation is a sin, mortal in most cases because of the lust issue.

So I am confused. I have medical science on the one side and the church on the other with opposite opinions on the subject.

I guess I have several questions. First is, "What is your opinion on masturbation?" Second, "Why is the church so hostile against sex?" Third, "Is there a plan for the Magisterium to review the sex rules anytime soon?"

Thank you for your time.
Answer: Re: A question about masturbation
Hi,
Even if the physical benefits to masturbation were substantial, which I doubt, they would not justify the negative results. Masturbation conflicts with the whole purpose of sexuality. The act of sexual intercourse is the physical expression of the marriage vows made at the altar. It is therefore an expression of Christian love, i.e. concern for the other. It is the most complete way of expressing the total self-donation of one person to another. Total means until death. It can’t be total for a week or a couple years.

With masturbation there is no self-donation to anybody. It consists of taking pleasure for oneself alone. There is no giving at all. We were created for more than that.

Nowhere will you find a higher understanding of sexuality than in the Catholic Church. I suggest that you get a hold of “Good News About Sex and Marriage” by Christopher West. You can order it through shop.catholic.com or by phone:
888 291 8000.



Question: Apart from abortion, are there other sins that incur automatic excommunication?
Answer: Yes. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC) eight other sins carry the penalty of automatic excommunication: apostasy, heresy, schism (CIC 1364:1), violating the sacred species (CIC 1367), physically attacking the pope (CIC 1370:1), sacramentally absolving an accomplice in a sexual sin (CIC 1378:1), consecrating a bishop without authorization (CIC 1382), and directly violating the seal of confession (1388:1).

Apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith. Heresy is the obstinate doubt or denial, after baptism, of a defined Catholic doctrine. Schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or the refusal to be in communion with members of the Church who are in communion with him (CIC 751).

Violation of the sacred species is the throwing away the consecrated species of Christ's body or blood or the taking or retaining of them for a sacrilegious purpose (CIC 1367).

Physically attacking the pope is self-explanatory, as are absolving an accomplice in a sexual sin and consecrating a bishop without authorization from the Vatican.

A direct violation of the seal of confession is one in which both the penitent and the penitent's sin can easily be determined by the confessor's words or behavior. Again, the penalty of automatic excommunication does not apply if no one perceives the disclosure (CIC 1330).

Automatic excommunication for abortion (CIC 1398) applies not only to the woman who has the abortion, but to "all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and [this] includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed" (Evangelium Vitae 62).

No one is automatically excommunicated for any offense if, without any fault of his own, he was unaware that he was violating a law (CIC 1323:2) or that a penalty was attached to the law (CIC 1324:1:9). The same applies if one was a minor, had the imperfect use of reason, was forced through grave or relatively grave fear, was forced through serious inconvenience, or in certain other circumstances (CIC 1324)



Question: My son is seeking an annulment through the Catholic Church. His ex-wife committed adultery. Why does the Church not see adultery as grounds for an annulment?
Answer: If your son’s marriage was valid on his wedding day, nothing that happened later in the marriage—not even adultery—nullified it. That said, adultery may be evidence that your son’s wife did not enter into the marriage with the proper commitment required for a valid marriage to come into existence. If such is the case, an annulment may be possible.

On the other hand, if your son’s marriage is determined to be valid, the reality of the situation may be that he is married to a woman who is, tragically, not a good wife. Separation and civil divorce can protect him, his children, and his assets, but it cannot free him to remarry.

Remarriage in such a case will only be possible after the death of his wife or, if your son’s marriage is not sacramental (i.e., one or both spouses are not baptized), it might be possible to have the marriage dissolved.



Question: If Onan was struck down for wasting his seed (cf. Gen. 38:9), why is it okay for a married couple practicing natural family planning to have relations during the wife's infertile time? Isn't that wasting the man's seed?
Answer: Onan spilled his semen on the ground for the purpose of making the act sterile. His sin was not the waste of semen—semen is often "wasted" in the sense that, during relations, its presence does not always result in pregnancy. Onan’s sin was acting in such a way that intentionally sterilized the act. This is very different from NFP, which never attempts to render an act sterile—every act remains open to the possibility of procreation. NFP simply seeks to regulate pregnancy by observing abstinence during the woman’s fertile period.



Question: What are some examples of venial sins?
Answer: The Catechism describes two main types of venial sin. First, one commits venial sin when "in a less serious matter [than mortal sin], he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law" (CCC 1862). In other words, if one does something immoral but the matter is not serious enough to be gravely immoral, he commits only venial sin.

For example, deliberate hatred can be venial sin or mortal sin depending on the seriousness of the hatred. The Catechism explains, "Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm" (CCC 2303).

Another example is abusive language. "Abusive language is forbidden by the fifth commandment but would be a grave offense only as a result of circumstances or the offender’s intention" (CCC 2073).

The second type of venial sin involves situations in which the matter is serious enough to be gravely immoral, but the offense lacks at least one of the other essential elements required for mortal sin. The Catechism explains that one commits only venial sin "when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter but without full knowledge or without complete consent" (CCC 1862).

An example of this could be masturbation. The Catechism explains:

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility [for masturbation] . . . one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that can lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability. (CCC 2352)



Question: My deacon said that if a person confessed a sin that was yet to be committed such as killing someone, then the priest was bound by law and conscience to report the uncommitted crime; otherwise he would have to live with a troubled conscience for not having attempted to prevent it. Is this true?
Answer: Under no circumstances is a priest allowed to use "knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent" (CIC 984). "The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason" (CIC 983).



Question: I am a homosexual. I am also a Catholic who loves my religion but feels that it is against me. Should I abandon my Catholic beliefs, since I will never be accepted within the Church?
Answer: First of all "homosexual" is not your identity. You are a Catholic who has same-sex attractions, and your Church is not "against" you.

Like every other human being, you have been blessed with existence not because you deserve it but because God in his generosity has given it to you. It is such a basic gift that most of us ordinarily don’t even think of it as such. If God wanted to take it back, he would not have to do anything; he would have to stop doing something. It’s a gift that he keeps giving, without which we would simply cease to exist. There is no way that we could ever pay him for this.

So from the start, we owe. Besides life itself, we all have many other gifts. Some of us can paint portraits or play the piano. None of us has every gift. Some of the greatest gifts God gives us are the individual crosses that he places in our lives that offer us the opportunity to grow in our love for him.

Dear friend, you have a special place in the Church. The world does not understand this. It speaks as if Good Friday never happened. But by the gift of faith that you do have, you know that almighty God chose to favor you with the gift of himself in a unique way. Selfless love is not easy for us, but he is so worth it! I suggest that you check out Courage (www.couragerc.net) and this web site on reparative therapy (www.narth.com) should this cross of yours be for only a temporary period of time.



Question: I am a homosexual. I am also a Catholic who loves my religion but feels that it is against me. Should I abandon my Catholic beliefs, since I will never be accepted within the Church?
Answer: First of all "homosexual" is not your identity. You are a Catholic who has same-sex attractions, and your Church is not "against" you.

Like every other human being, you have been blessed with existence not because you deserve it but because God in his generosity has given it to you. It is such a basic gift that most of us ordinarily don’t even think of it as such. If God wanted to take it back, he would not have to do anything; he would have to stop doing something. It’s a gift that he keeps giving, without which we would simply cease to exist. There is no way that we could ever pay him for this.

So from the start, we owe. Besides life itself, we all have many other gifts. Some of us can paint portraits or play the piano. None of us has every gift. Some of the greatest gifts God gives us are the individual crosses that he places in our lives that offer us the opportunity to grow in our love for him.

Dear friend, you have a special place in the Church. The world does not understand this. It speaks as if Good Friday never happened. But by the gift of faith that you do have, you know that almighty God chose to favor you with the gift of himself in a unique way. Selfless love is not easy for us, but he is so worth it! I suggest that you check out Courage (www.couragerc.net) and this web site on reparative therapy (www.narth.com) should this cross of yours be for only a temporary period of time.



Question: Do Catholics Worship Statues?
Answer: "Catholics worship statues!" People still make this ridiculous claim. Because Catholics have statues in their churches, goes the accusation, they are violating God’s commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down to them or serve them" (Ex. 20:4–5); "Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold" (Ex. 32:31).

It is right to warn people against the sin of idolatry when they are committing it. But calling Catholics idolaters because they have images of Christ and the saints is based on misunderstanding or ignorance of what the Bible says about the purpose and uses (both good and bad) of statues.

Anti-Catholic writer Loraine Boettner, in his book Roman Catholicism, makes the blanket statement, "God has forbidden the use of images in worship" (281). Yet if people were to "search the scriptures" (cf. John 5:39), they would find the opposite is true. God forbade the worship of statues, but he did not forbid the religious use of statues. Instead, he actually commanded their use in religious contexts!


God Said To Make Them



People who oppose religious statuary forget about the many passages where the Lord commands the making of statues. For example: "And you shall make two cherubim of gold [i.e., two gold statues of angels]; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece of the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be" (Ex. 25:18–20).

David gave Solomon the plan "for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord. All this he made clear by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all, all the work to be done according to the plan" (1 Chr. 28:18–19). David’s plan for the temple, which the biblical author tells us was "by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all," included statues of angels.

Similarly Ezekiel 41:17–18 describes graven (carved) images in the idealized temple he was shown in a vision, for he writes, "On the walls round about in the inner room and [on] the nave were carved likenesses of cherubim."


The Religious Uses of Images



During a plague of serpents sent to punish the Israelites during the exodus, God told Moses to "make [a statue of] a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it shall live. So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live" (Num. 21:8–9).

One had to look at the bronze statue of the serpent to be healed, which shows that statues could be used ritually, not merely as religious decorations.

Catholics use statues, paintings, and other artistic devices to recall the person or thing depicted. Just as it helps to remember one’s mother by looking at her photograph, so it helps to recall the example of the saints by looking at pictures of them. Catholics also use statues as teaching tools. In the early Church they were especially useful for the instruction of the illiterate. Many Protestants have pictures of Jesus and other Bible pictures in Sunday school for teaching children. Catholics also use statues to commemorate certain people and events, much as Protestant churches have three-dimensional nativity scenes at Christmas.

If one measured Protestants by the same rule, then by using these "graven" images, they would be practicing the "idolatry" of which they accuse Catholics. But there’s no idolatry going on in these situations. God forbids the worship of images as gods, but he doesn’t ban the making of images. If he had, religious movies, videos, photographs, paintings, and all similar things would be banned. But, as the case of the bronze serpent shows, God does not even forbid the ritual use of religious images.

It is when people begin to adore a statue as a god that the Lord becomes angry. Thus when people did start to worship the bronze serpent as a snake-god (whom they named "Nehushtan"), the righteous king Hezekiah had it destroyed (2 Kgs. 18:4).


What About Bowing?



Sometimes anti-Catholics cite Deuteronomy 5:9, where God said concerning idols, "You shall not bow down to them." Since many Catholics sometimes bow or kneel in front of statues of Jesus and the saints, anti-Catholics confuse the legitimate veneration of a sacred image with the sin of idolatry.

Though bowing can be used as a posture in worship, not all bowing is worship. In Japan, people show respect by bowing in greeting (the equivalent of the Western handshake). Similarly, a person can kneel before a king without worshipping him as a god. In the same way, a Catholic who may kneel in front of a statue while praying isn’t worshipping the statue or even praying to it, any more than the Protestant who kneels with a Bible in his hands when praying is worshipping the Bible or praying to it.


Hiding the Second Commandment?



Another charge sometimes made by Protestants is that the Catholic Church "hides" the second commandment. This is because in Catholic catechisms, the first commandment is often listed as "You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3), and the second is listed as "You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain." (Ex. 20:7). From this, it is argued that Catholics have deleted the prohibition of idolatry to justify their use of religious statues. But this is false. Catholics simply group the commandments differently from most Protestants.

In Exodus 20:2–17, which gives the Ten Commandments, there are actually fourteen imperative statements. To arrive at Ten Commandments, some statements have to be grouped together, and there is more than one way of doing this. Since, in the ancient world, polytheism and idolatry were always united—idolatry being the outward expression of polytheism—the historic Jewish numbering of the Ten Commandments has always grouped together the imperatives "You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3) and "You shall not make for yourself a graven image" (Ex. 20:4). The historic Catholic numbering follows the Jewish numbering on this point, as does the historic Lutheran numbering. Martin Luther recognized that the imperatives against polytheism and idolatry are two parts of a single command.

Jews and Christians abbreviate the commandments so that they can be remembered using a summary, ten-point formula. For example, Jews, Catholics, and Protestants typically summarize the Sabbath commandment as, "Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy," though the commandment’s actual text takes four verses (Ex. 20:8–11).

When the prohibition of polytheism/idolatry is summarized, Jews, Catholics, and Lutherans abbreviate it as "You shall have no other gods before me." This is no attempt to "hide" the idolatry prohibition (Jews and Lutherans don’t even use statues of saints and angels). It is to make learning the Ten Commandments easier.

The Catholic Church is not dogmatic about how the Ten Commandments are to be numbered, however. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied in the course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the Commandments established by Augustine, which has become traditional in the Catholic Church. It is also that of the Lutheran confession. The Greek Fathers worked out a slightly different division, which is found in the Orthodox Churches and Reformed communities" (CCC 2066).


The Form of God?



Some anti-Catholics appeal to Deuteronomy 4:15–18 in their attack on religious statues: "[S]ince you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth."

We’ve already shown that God doesn’t prohibit the making of statues or images of various creatures for religious purposes (cf. 1 Kgs. 6:29–32, 8:6–66; 2 Chr. 3:7–14). But what about statues or images that represent God? Many Protestants would say that’s wrong because Deuteronomy 4 says the Israelites did not see God under any form when he made the covenant with them, therefore we should not make symbolic representations of God either. But does Deuteronomy 4 forbid such representations?


The Answer Is No



Early in its history, Israel was forbidden to make any depictions of God because he had not revealed himself in a visible form. Given the pagan culture surrounding them, the Israelites might have been tempted to worship God in the form of an animal or some natural object (e.g., a bull or the sun).

But later God did reveal himself under visible forms, such as in Daniel 7:9: "As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was Ancient of Days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire." Protestants make depictions of the Father under this form when they do illustrations of Old Testament prophecies.

The Holy Spirit revealed himself under at least two visible forms—that of a dove, at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), and as tongues of fire, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4). Protestants use these images when drawing or painting these biblical episodes and when they wear Holy Spirit lapel pins or place dove emblems on their cars.

But, more important, in the Incarnation of Christ his Son, God showed mankind an icon of himself. Paul said, "He is the image (Greek: ikon) of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." Christ is the tangible, divine "icon" of the unseen, infinite God.

We read that when the magi were "going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matt. 2:11). Though God did not reveal a form for himself on Mount Horeb, he did reveal one in the house in Bethlehem.

The bottom line is, when God made the New Covenant with us, he did reveal himself under a visible form in Jesus Christ. For that reason, we can make representations of God in Christ. Even Protestants use all sorts of religious images: Pictures of Jesus and other biblical persons appear on a myriad of Bibles, picture books, T-shirts, jewelry, bumper stickers, greeting cards, compact discs, and manger scenes. Christ is even symbolically represented through the Icthus or "fish emblem."

Common sense tells us that, since God has revealed himself in various images, most especially in the incarnate Jesus Christ, it’s not wrong for us to use images of these forms to deepen our knowledge and love of God. That’s why God revealed himself in these visible forms, and that’s why statues and pictures are made of them.


Idolatry Condemned by the Church



Since the days of the apostles, the Catholic Church has consistently condemned the sin of idolatry. The early Church Fathers warn against this sin, and Church councils also dealt with the issue.

The Second Council of Nicaea (787), which dealt largely with the question of the religious use of images and icons, said, "[T]he one who redeemed us from the darkness of idolatrous insanity, Christ our God, when he took for his bride his holy Catholic Church . . . promised he would guard her and assured his holy disciples saying, ‘I am with you every day until the consummation of this age.’ . . . To this gracious offer some people paid no attention; being hoodwinked by the treacherous foe they abandoned the true line of reasoning . . . and they failed to distinguish the holy from the profane, asserting that the icons of our Lord and of his saints were no different from the wooden images of satanic idols."

The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566) taught that idolatry is committed "by worshipping idols and images as God, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them" (374).

"Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who ‘transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God’" (CCC 2114).

The Church absolutely recognizes and condemns the sin of idolatry. What anti-Catholics fail to recognize is the distinction between thinking a piece of stone or plaster is a god and desiring to visually remember Christ and the saints in heaven by making statues in their honor. The making and use of religious statues is a thoroughly biblical practice. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know his Bible.


NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004












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