Nearly all Protestant Christians and unbelievers alike are bewildered in confusion as to why we, Catholics, worship Mary and the Saints. As practicing Catholics, we are often seen standing before figures in a manner as if we are standing before the Lord: with solemn reverence. Part of “being reverent” is holding on to the feet or head or hands of whoever the statue depicts. It is rather strange that we have to go through such rituals when we could have just prayed directly to the source, i.e. God, for thanksgiving, forgiveness, and any particular petition. This habit of going to some random statue of someone who lived way back in history just validates the numerous layers the Catholic faith is comprised which make it difficult for others to comprehend. Why do we have to depend our salvation under the hands of some people who have died long ago?
The truth is, we—Catholic Christians—do worship Mary and the Saint. Yet, we worship them in a way many others would definitely not comprehend if a certain element of our creed is overlooked.
At the last section of the Apostle’s Creed we profess:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit / the holy Catholic Church / the communion of saints / the forgiveness of sins”
“The communion of saints”
The Church which our Savior founded does not only consist of communities in this world, but also of that who are now living in triumph with the Lord in Heaven. To keep His Church one – our Lord opened an avenue of communication between the two communities of faith. The Heavenly community is called the “Church Triumphant”. As a pilgrim Church here on Earth, we aspire to be with the “Church Triumphant” in Heaven. We do so by conversing with them, by praying to them. And when we pray to them, we do not necessarily worship them as mere false gods. Instead, we converse with them, fervently asking for their help—their intercession—so that we may be like them as well, because the Church Triumphant are the ones who have lived themselves fully in Christ.
The trouble that seems to belie what others believe and what we do is the way one holds the notion of church. Those who criticize us for our relationship with Mary and the Saints misunderstand our notion of the church. Instead of believing that the Church is a community of sinners aspiring to be saints, the prevalent notion is that when it comes to faith, only the individual and his/her relationship with God matters. There is an emphasis for the individual. This emphasis blinds one to believe in the capacity of others to help us in becoming saints and, in turn, hinders one to see the value of connecting with the saints. Praying is our means to spiritually connect with someone.
We don’t treat Mary and the Saints as gods and goddess as well, but as those “who have been there” and conquered “it”. And by “it” I refer to the struggles we commonly go through in life as a result of our sinfulness. As the Church on Earth, we live in great need of help which only the Heavenly community, consisting of Mary and the saints, can help us with. This does not necessarily mean supplanting Christ as our greatest source. They are essentially supplements to the main resources we are provided.
The Catholic Church is a community, comprising of sinners who aspire to be saints and sinners who have officially become saints. We need help. It is not a mere community of individuals aspiring to be saints according to their own power.