On the Veneration of the Saints
When it comes to considering historic Christianity, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Protestants and evangelicals is the veneration of the saints with emphasis of Mary. Many assume and teach that those in the historic churches worship Mary and the saints. They also assume that the Catholic Church (here the “Catholic Church” will include the RCC and Orthodox traditions) teaches that the saints are on the same ontological level as God Himself. This is obviously not the case and the reason for their veneration is indeed in line with Christian practice.
The Holy Ones of our Lord; The Saints
When it comes to any holy person who has devoted their life to God it is appropriate to honor and aspire to be like them. If we are Christians seeking to follow Christ then surely those who are living in that way or have lived that way are our brothers and sisters who are serious about our God and religion. Their lives are an inspiration and remembering them gives us example and encouragement.
In my previous times in Baptist church services I often heard the pastors say that the church needs to “give honor where honor is due”. They would even say that the Bible says it. This would come before or maybe after honoring someone in the congregation and at certain times maybe even lead to putting their name on a brick or plaque in or outside of the church building. Historically Christians have honored and greeted one another with a kiss. Early on the Church started to create icons of the departed saints. At the coming together on the Lord’s Day Christians would continue their honoring of the saint by kissing their icon, which is still done in the historic Catholic churches today. Of course not every saint is honored this way, but rather only a few. Making icons of everyone would be quite tedious and take a long time to kiss. So kissing or bowing to icons or statues of the departed saints is one way the Catholic Church honors their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Prayers (Requests) for help and Intercession
It’s typical to ask one another for prayer. When we do so it is common to think that the one who is humble and devoted to God has greater efficacy or perhaps sway in their prayers of intercession for us. This would be in line with James 5, would it not? So when the Catholic Church prays, or asks, the saints for intercession it is not because they believe the saint is equal to God but that by their righteous and devoted life they have God’s attention. If we also believe that the saints and martyrs are in Heaven then we know they are closer to God and Jesus. Historically Christians have also incorporated into their own personal worship and liturgical worship the request for a saint to do things such as “save” them. Using the principles that we have explained already it can easily be accepted that by this they mean through the saint’s relationship and intercession to God they intercede on their behalf. When the Christian incorporates special requests or miracles it is probably because tradition records God doing said specific miracle or action for that saint.
Mary the Mother of God
The most prominent saint visible in the Catholic Church is Mary. Mary is prominent visually through iconography and statues and she is also prominent in the liturgy. Christians have held Mary in high regard since the beginning of the church. She has the highest prominence in the church among the saints for many reasons. The first reason is because she is the mother of our Lord, making her the mother of God. This description makes today’s Protestants cringe because they make a distinction between the humanity and deity of Christ being birthed by Mary. Those who affirm the Trinity and the divinity of Christ would be wise to affirm that Mary birthed divinity because if Christ was fully human and God the whole time of His existence as the God-man then it must be that Mary birthed divinity. It is not that divinity or Jesus began with Mary, for Catholics have always affirmed the tri-unity of God and the eternal pre-existence of Jesus. It is to say that just because birthing usually means the beginning of something, this does not mean that a supernatural variable such as God the Son being conceived and birthed by Mary makes her the origin of God from eternity past or a new deity. It is totally fine and consistent to say that Mary is the mother of God the Son, both in His humanity and His divinity. His humanity began in her, but His divinity simply was continued. Mary then being the mother of our God and Savior Jesus makes her a very important figure in Christianity. Since she is the mother of Jesus she is the mother of our salvation.
Mary is likely to be the first to believe in Jesus. The first to believe His claims, to trust Him, and to follow Him as Lord. Mary also is one of the only ones found at the cross of Christ; Jesus’ weakest moment. It also is a moment that put her at much risk. Mary has had great loyalty to her Son and Lord. Tradition also accounts of her virginity and great mercy. Her virginity makes her a beacon of temperance and devotion to God, which are strong tenants of the Christian faith. She is a great example of holiness and mercy. So her unique relationship with Jesus and holy character put her as the top venerated saint in the Christian’s life. Jesus no doubt honored His mother and probably still honors her in some way to this day. Mary’s statement regarding herself has come true time after time.
“From now on all generations shall call me blessed”
The veneration of the saints is an ancient Christian practice that has been preserved to this day and likely will continue until the day of Jesus’ return. It is a practice that is certainly done in worship, but unlike the common claims to the Church’s opposition it is done to God and not man. Early Christian writings attest to the honoring of the saints and a few references may be found below. The saints give us a faithful example to follow and their continued faithfulness and mercy in intercession continue on in Heaven. May the saints continue to have mercy on us, saving us sinners through their intercession to the all Merciful and Powerful One whom they themselves have found grace in. God keep the Church by His mercy and grace.
Early Church Witness
“Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls , for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth.”
“For on these very grounds we do not commemorate them (the martyrs) at that table in the same way, as we do others who now rest in peace, as that we should also pray for them, but rather that they should do so for us, that we may cleave to their footsteps; because they have actually attained that fullness of love, than which, our Lord has told us, there cannot be a greater. For such tokens of love they exhibited for their brethren, as they themselves had equally received at the table of the Lord.”
“Wherefore, we pray you, the most excellent among women, who boast in the confidence of your maternal honours, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in hymns august celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away. And also, O honoured and venerable Simeon, you earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful, be our patron and advocate with that Saviour God, whom you were deemed worthy to receive into your arms.”