'Venerating Statues'

Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)

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 Church".

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 them"
(Deuteronomy 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 First Commandment?

I will describe some ways of venerating statues and give links to pictures which show these practices.
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 pictures.)
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.

In Saragossa, 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. [Note 4]
 In Prague, 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.)
[Note 8]
 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 you?

Appendix A   -   KINDS OF WORSHIP

 Catholic 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 saints.

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?

Appendix B


Statue Honouring the Apparition of Mary to St. Catherine Laboure




Statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (picture and prayers)



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.



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.



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 schools.

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 the Pope.


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



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 statue


Article with pictures showing details of the crown and some of the clothes


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 an enlargement.


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.

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 Churches.



"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/miracle.htm [part 1]
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 saints.


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 site:


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.


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