Mary Ann Collins
Catholic Canon Law says that
"sacred images" (statues, paintings, etc.) should be displayed in
Catholic churches for the veneration of the people. (The "Code of
Canon Law" is online.) [Note 1]
Canon Law provides the legal basis for everything that the Roman
Catholic Church does. The "Code of Canon Law" was thoroughly revised
in 1983 and published by the authority of Pope John Paul II. The
English translation was published in 1988. These are contemporary laws
which demonstrate the spirit behind Roman Catholicism.
According to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," the purpose of
venerating "sacred images" is to venerate the people represented by
them (Jesus, Mary, saints, and angels).
(The "Catechism" is online
with a search engine.) [Note 2]
So having "sacred images" in
Catholic churches, to be venerated by the people, is not just a
holdover from popular piety of the past. It is required by modern
Canon Law and promoted by the modern "Catechism of the Catholic
However, there are three
problems with this.
In the first place,
veneration is a form of worship.
According to the Bible,
only God should be worshiped.
The Bible forbids us to worship
people (including Mary and the saints).
In the second place, some
Catholics venerate statues of Jesus as a baby. But Jesus is not a
baby. He grew up nearly 2,000 years ago. It may be alright to have
fond thoughts of Jesus as a baby. However, it is not appropriate to
worship Him as a baby. The baby Jesus did not save us from our sins.
Jesus was a grown man when He died for our sins and when He was
resurrected from the dead. It is not a baby who is sitting at the
right hand of God the Father, interceding for us. On Judgment Day,
people will not be judged by a baby.
In the third place, it is not
always clear whether veneration is given to the people represented by
the images or to the images themselves. Miracles have been attributed
to some images. This can encourage people to venerate the images
themselves. One example is the statue of the Infant of Prague. (This
will be discussed later.) Another example is the painting of Our Lady
of Czestochowa. (You can read about this online.) [Note 3]
What does the Bible say about
venerating "sacred images"? It says,
"Thou shalt not make thee any graven image,
or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is
in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the
earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve
5:8-9, emphasis added) (This is part of
the First Commandment.)
According to "Webster's
Dictionary," an image is an "imitation or likeness of any person or
thing, sculptured, drawn, painted, or the like" and the word
"graven" means "sculptured". So a graven image is a statue. We are not
supposed to bow down before statues or serve them.
There are two questions
regarding Catholic devotional practices involving "sacred images".
Do they indicate a kind of
devotion which should only be given to God alone? Are Catholics
actually worshiping Mary and the saints?
Do some of these practices
cross a line so that the images themselves are venerated? In other
words, do some of these devotional practices result in violating the
I will describe some ways of
venerating statues and give links to pictures which show these
Please look at these pictures and judge for yourself.
Appendix A discusses some technical theological terms for different
kinds of worship. But for the moment, let's set the Latin terms aside
and look to see what actually happens in real life. As the old saying
goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. (Links to some pictures
accompany the following text. Appendix B gives links to additional
Following is a link to a picture of Pope John Paul II
kneeling before a statue of the Virgin Mary. This picture was taken
during a ceremony in which the Pope (accompanied by cardinals and
bishops) consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Following is a
link to a picture of a huge candlelight procession in Fatima,
Portugal. There is a sea of people, a million pilgrims who have come
from all over the world. Because it is night time, it is difficult to
see the people. However, you can see the light from the candles which
they are holding. There is a path through this sea of people. A statue
of the Virgin Mary is carried on a litter, on men's shoulders, with
Catholic clergy going before it. The statue is easily seen because it
is engulfed with light. The light also shows the clergymen who are
walking in front of the statue.
On January 24,
1998, Pope John Paul II declared that the Virgin Mary is the Queen of
Cuba. As part of this ceremony, he crowned a statue of Mary. Following
is a link to an article with several pictures including: the statue
wearing a crown and elaborate clothing; a procession with the statue;
and the Pope placing a crown on the statue.
It is traditional
for Catholics to light candles in front of statues. In the United
States, this practice has become less common since the Second Vatican
Council (1962-1965). However, it is still done, especially at shrines.
Below is a link to a picture of a statue of the Virgin Mary with
numerous lit candles in front of it.
Following is a
link to a picture which shows nuns standing around a statue of Mary,
holding lit candles.
Some statues of
Mary are so large that they dominate the church or chapel in which
they are placed. Below is a link to a picture of a statue of Mary
which is above a church altar. Notice how large the statue is compared
to the crucifix underneath its feet.
Some statues of
Mary wear clothing. Below is a link to pictures of three statues which
wear elaborate clothing. They have large, ornate, sunburst halos. The
third statue is wearing a crown and earrings.
Spain, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary which has a crown made of
25 pounds of gold and diamonds, with so many diamonds that you can
hardly see the gold. In addition, it has six other crowns of gold,
diamonds and emeralds. It has 365 mantles which are embroidered with
gold and covered with roses of diamonds and other precious stones. It
has 365 necklaces made of pearls and diamonds, and six chains of gold
set with diamonds.
Czechoslovakia, there is a statue of Jesus as a baby (the Infant of
Prague). Miracles are attributed to this statue. (You can read about
this online.) [Note 5]
Below is a link
to an article with a picture of a cardinal carrying the statue. A
priest next to the cardinal is carrying the statue's crown. It looks
as if the statue's cape is made of ermine.
The statue of the
Infant of Prague has over 70 sets of clothing. It also has a crown of
gold set with diamonds, pearls, and other jewels. The statue is
dressed and cared for by nuns. Appendix B has links to several
articles featuring pictures of this statue and its clothing. You can
see the nuns taking care of it.
There is an online video about
apparitions of Mary.
If you watch the video, you will see the Pope
bow in front of a painting of Mary and cover the area with incense.
You will see a million pilgrims walking in a procession, following a
statue of Our Lady of Fatima and singing songs in her honour. You will
see several million people in a procession following a painting of Our
Lady of Guadalupe. You will see people weeping and raising their arms
towards Mary. You will see the largest assembly of bishops and
cardinals since the Second Vatican Council, gathered together to join
Pope John Paul II in solemnly consecrating the entire world to the
Immaculate Heart of Mary. A link to the online video is below.
There are reports
of statues and paintings of Mary and Jesus which are said to weep,
bleed, or exude oil. Some of these images are credited with healings
and miracles. (Articles and pictures are online.)
[Note 6] One church has hundreds of statues (mostly of Mary) which are
said to have wept in the presence of many witnesses. (Information is
online.) [Note 7]
"Miraculous" images draw crowds of people. In
some cases, the local Catholic Church authorities have told Catholics
not to go venerate the image, but people go anyway. (You can read
about this online.)
There is a "weeping" statue of the Virgin Mary in Akita,
Japan. A nun hears it speak and has recorded its messages. In 1984
these phenomena were approved by the local bishop. In 1988 the Vatican
declared that the supernatural phenomena and the messages from the
statue are reliable and worthy of belief. (Articles and pictures are
online.) [Note 9]
I have described a number of Catholic devotional practices relating
to "sacred images," especially statues. Are they contrary to
Scripture? Did you look at the pictures? What does it look like to
Appendix A - KINDS OF WORSHIP
theologians speak of three degrees of homage, which have Latin words.
"Latria" is the kind of worship which is due to God alone. "Dulia" is
appropriate for honouring the saints. "Hyperdulia" is appropriate for
honouring Mary; it is higher than "dulia" but not "latria". Therefore,
Catholic theologians say that Catholics do not worship Mary and the
However, in the practical,
down-to-earth, real world, these theological distinctions don't work.
Most Catholics have never heard of these words. Of those who have, how
many know how to apply them in practical ways?
LINKS TO PICTURES
STATUES WHICH DOMINATE CHAPELS
Statue Honouring the Apparition of Mary to St. Catherine
Statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (picture and
STATUES WITH CANDLES
Statue of Mary, Mother of Mankind (picture and prayers)
Nuns standing around a statue
of the Virgin Mary, holding lit candles.
An article with a picture of statues with votive candles in
front of them.
A "candle shrine" in honour of Mary.
An article with several pictures. The second one shows a statue
of St. Anne with many lit candles at its feet. The fourth picture
shows a gold-plated statue of Mary with a kneeler in front of it so
that pilgrims can kneel and pray in front of the statue. This takes a
little while to load because of the pictures.
PROCESSIONS WITH STATUES
An article with pictures of processions with statues.
Pictures of processions in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Pictures of a church procession honouring Mary. Click on the
pictures to enlarge them.
Pictures of three statues of the Virgin Mary. If you click the
"NEXT" button at the bottom of the page, you will see a series of
pages with pictures of a procession with one of the statues. The
procession is in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Picture of a procession with a statue of Mary
Pictures of a procession honouring Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
These are good pictures but it takes them a while to load.
White-robed monks carrying a statue in a procession.
An article with two pictures of a procession.
An article with picture of procession with the "pilgrim statue"
[travelling statue] of Our Lady of Fatima. The picture takes a little
while to load.
STATUES OF MARY
NOTE: The liturgy of the
Catholic Church includes an official ritual for crowning statues of
Mary. Following are links to websites showing pictures of this. It is
done at all levels, ranging from the Pope to classes in Catholic
Pictures of the Pope crowning
a statue of Mary in Cuba. This statue is an image of Mary with the
baby Jesus. Both Mary and baby Jesus wear elaborate clothing and
crowns. There is a procession with the statue before it is crowned by
Pictures of a crowning ceremony at a cathedral. The pictures
are small. If you click on them you will see large ones.
Crowning ceremony of a fifth grade class of a Catholic school
These are good pictures but they take a while to load.
If you click on the small pictures you will get larger ones.
Crowning ceremony at a Catholic grade school
INFANT OF PRAGUE
Pictures of a statue of the Infant of Prague, wearing different
outfits. These take a little while to load. If you have trouble
getting these pictures, then go the home page (the last link) and
click on "Photo Album".
Article with pictures showing nuns changing the clothes of the
Article with pictures showing details of the crown and some of
Article with a picture of a cardinal carrying the statue
Article with pictures of the statue (clothed and unclothed)
Article with several pictures and the history of the statue
Pictures, prayers, and brief history of Infant of Prague
An American church with pictures of its statues. The Infant of
Prague is at the bottom of the page. If you click on it you will see
The Chaplet of the Infant of Prague (beads and prayers). It is
also called the Little Rosary of the Infant of Prague. There are
specific prayers to be said on the beads and the medal.
There is a video about apparitions of Mary. You can see it
online in English and Spanish. It includes film footage of processions
with a million pilgrims.
USE OF THIS ARTICLE
I encourage you to link to this article. You have permission to
quote from this article, as long as you do it fairly and accurately.
You have permission to make copies of this article for friends and for
use in classes.
"Code of Canon Law," Latin-English Edition
(Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), Canons 1186 to
1190. The 1983 Code of Canon Law was translated into English in 1988.
It is available online. The following links go to the Index of the
book, which has links to the laws. Canons 1186 to 1190 deal with
veneration of Mary and the saints. They are in Book IV, Part II, Title
IV ("The Cult of the Saints, of Sacred Images and of Relics"). Canon
1188 deals specifically with having "sacred images" in Catholic
"Catechism of the Catholic Church" (Washington,
DC: U.S. Catholic Conference, 2000), Paragraphs 1161 and 1192. The
"Catechism" is online with a search engine. You can search for words
or paragraph numbers.
Internet articles about miracles attributed to
the painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa. (It is also known as the
Black Madonna or Our Lady of Jasna Gora.)
Dave Hunt, "A Woman Rides the Beast" (Eugene,
Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1994), pages 239-240.
Internet articles about miracles attributed to
the statue of the Infant of Prague.
http://www.infantjesusmangalore.com/miracle1.htm [part 2]
A website with links to numerous pictures of
statues and paintings which are reported to weep, bleed, or exude oil.
There are descriptions of the events involving these religious images.
Most of them are images of the Virgin Mary. Some are of Jesus or
Internet articles about statues and paintings
which are reported to weep or bleed.
Some internet articles about statues of Mary
which are said to bleed.
Online pictures of statues of Jesus which are
said to bleed.
Articles about a church where hundreds of statues
(mostly of Mary) were reported to have wept. There is a book (with
pictures) about it.
Internet article describing some religious images
which are said to weep, bleed, or exude oil. Some of these images are
said to be associated with healings. Sometimes local Catholic Church
authorities tell Catholics not to go venerate these objects, but
people go anyway. The author sees this as showing more loyalty to the
image than to the official Catholic Church. [The article mentions
"cardinal sin". It is referring to a cardinal in the Philippines whose
name is Cardinal Jaime Sin.]
Peter Heintz, "A Guide to Apparitions of Our
Blessed Virgin Mary," Part I, 20th Century Apparitions (Sacramento,
California: Gabriel Press), pages 308-319 . This is a Catholic book.
It is out of print but you can get it online at the following web
Internet articles (with pictures) about the
weeping statue of Mary in Akita, Japan. This statue is said to weep
and to speak to a nun.