Can you explain the difference between “bowing down to” and “venerating” a statue or icon?


There really isn’t a difference, as long as you understand that, when Catholics bow (or make some other act of affection such as kissing, touching, or embracing) they are not giving divine worship or adoration to an object, as if it were an idol. Instead, they are acknowledging the holy purpose for which the object is used, or honoring the saint that the object represents.

The bible clearly reveals that bowing down to something or someone need not be equated with divine worship, or the worship afforded to God alone. The key is in the intent for the posture. Lot “bowed himself with his face to the earth” before the angels that visited him in Sodom (Gen 19:1). Saul “bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance” before Samuel (1 Sam 28:14). David bowed down before the temple of the Lord (cf. Psa 138:2). King Nebuchadnezzar “fell upon his face, and did homage” to Daniel, and even commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him! (Dan 2:46). They all did this not because they intended to worship an object of God’s creation but because they simply wished to show their veneration and respect.

That is all that Catholics intend to do. When a Catholic bows toward the altar in church he is not worshipping a table. Instead, he is showing reverence for the place where the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. When a Catholic kisses his rosary or clutches his scapular it is out of love for Mary, not the object itself. David bowed down before the temple not to worship the actual stone structure but to acknowledge the presence of the Lord that the temple represented.

Where the saints are concerned, there is nothing wrong with making some sign of our admiration of them. Scripture commands us to give respect and honor where it is due (cf. Sir 44:1-2; Rom 13:7; Phil 2:25,29; 1 Pet 2:17), and it is certainly due the saints, who have fought the good fight and persevered to the end. Of course, since the saints are no longer with us, our acts of affection must go towards those objects that make the saints present to us, with the understanding that these acts extend in a mystical way to the saints themselves. Protestants do this all the time, when they kiss the picture of a loved one who is miles away or when they place flowers on a family member’s tombstone. Veneration is both a very biblical and a very natural inclination.

Peace of Christ to you,

Nicholas Hardesty, WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church

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