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The Veneration of Images

“He who looks upon My Face consoles Me.” The truth of the teachings of the Church regarding the veneration of images has been shown to us by God Himself in many miracles. He left His Most Sacred Image on the Holy Shroud for our veneration.

Many non-Catholics have had great difficulty accepting the practice of venerating relics and images of Christ, Our Lady, and the saints, which the Church has always approved throughout its long history. More important in our day is that many Catholics make the same objections to this practice of the Catholic Church. In order to clarify and place this devotion of Catholics on a sound basis we must go to the official teaching of the Church and the writings of the Doctors and Saints of the Church. The following excerpts from well-known documents should help us understand the teaching of the one Church concerning the veneration of images of the saints.

The profession of faith contained in The Creed of the Council of Trent, summarizes the doctrines which Catholics must believe. Here is what Catholics profess by this creed regarding images and statues:

“I firmly assert that images of Christ, of the Mother of God ever Virgin, and of the other saints should be owned and kept, and that due honor and veneration should be given to them.”

The Catholic Church teaches in the Second Decree of the twenty-first session of the Council of Trent:

“Thus it follows that through these images which we kiss and before which we kneel and uncover our heads, we are adoring Christ and venerating the saints whose likenesses these images bear. That is what is enacted by the decrees of the councils, especially the Second Council of Nicaea, against the opponents of images.

Indeed, let the bishops diligently teach that accounts of the mysteries of our Redemption, as they are expressed in pictures or in other likenesses, instruct and encourage the people to call to mind habitually and go over the articles of faith. Let them also teach that this great benefit is realized from all sacred images not only because the people are reminded of the favors and of the gifts which were given to them by Christ, but also because through the saints of God miracles and salutary examples are put before the eyes of the faithful, so that they may give thanks to God for them, that they may fashion their lives and their actions in imitation of the saints, and that they may be spurred on to adore and love God and to cultivate piety. If anyone thinks or teaches the contrary to these decrees: let him be anathema.”

The Catholic Church again at Vatican II teaches all of us the same doctrine of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic Church regarding sacred pictures and statues:

“This most Holy Synod deliberately teaches this Catholic doctrine and at the same time admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and that the practices and exercises of devotion towards Her, recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course of centuries be highly esteemed, and that those decrees (particularly those of the Council of Trent and the Second Council of Nicea) which were given in the early days regarding the cult of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, be religiously observed.”

The above was taken from The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, paragraph 67, Second Vatican Council.

Not only do we learn from the teaching of Catholic Councils, but also from the examples and teachings of the saints and Doctors of the Catholic Church who are held before our eyes as our guides and examples on our way to Heaven. We quote just one Saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus:

“Hence all those devoted to Mary often visit Her images and the Churches dedicated in Her favor with great affection …

Let us not think it too much to visit Our Queen every day in some church or chapel, or even in Our own house, where for this purpose it would be well to have in a retired part a little oratory, with Her image, which should be kept decorated with drapery, flowers, tapers or lamps, and before it we should also recite Her litany, the Rosary, etc.” (This is quoted from The Glories of Mary.)