By Orestes Brownson
All love is demonstrative. It seeks always to express itself, and the expression of love is worship. From love springs alike the worship of God and of all that is godlike or related to the supreme and central object of love.
In every age of the Church saint-worship has obtained – never, I believe, by virtue of any positive precept, but from the overflowing of the pious Catholic heart. It is, if I may so speak, a necessity of Catholic piety. The love with which the regenerate and faithful soul is filled, cannot be satisfied without it. That love must worship, and it must worship the universal God: God in Himself and God in His works, all of which through His creative act partake of His divine being and are, through the medium of the act, identified with Him. The worship would seem to the soul incomplete, defective, if it did not embrace the creature with the Creator, and especially if it did not include the saints, who of all His creatures are the nearest and dearest to Him. The heart that does not include them in its love to God, and honor them in its honor to Him, may break no positive command, but it may be assured that it has at best only a stingy love, and no reason to applaud itself for either its logic or the fullness of its devotion.
The Protestant sects regard the worship which we render to the saints, especially to the blessed mother of our Redeemer, as idolatry. But this is because they do not consider that to worship God in His creatures, especially His saints, redeemed by His Blood and sanctified by His grace, is still to worship God; or that the worship which we render to the saints is never that which we offer to God Himself. Supreme worship is due to God alone, and to give it to another is idolatry, is treason to the Most High, to the Majesty of heaven and earth; none know this better than Catholics.
But worship is a general term, which includes not only different degrees, but different species. The word is from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe, which means simply the state or condition of being worthy of honor, or respect, or dignity; and to worship is to ascribe worth, honor, dignity, or excellence to someone – literally, to honor, it may be God, the magistrate, or simply any man for his office, station, acquirements, or virtues. The word itself may with like propriety designate the religious homage one owes to God, the reverence we give to the saints, or the civil respect we pay to persons in authority, whether in Church or State. Idolatry is not in rendering worship to men, but in rendering to them the worship that is due to God alone.
Protestant [critics] overlook this fact; and when they see us unmistakably worshipping saints – and perhaps rendering the saints as high a worship as that which they [protestants] in reality render to God Himself – conclude, rashly, that we are idolaters. But they seem not to be aware that the supreme and distinctive act of worship of God is sacrifice, and that we offer sacrifice never to any saint, never but to God alone. That Protestants should regard our saint-worship as idolatrous is not strange or surprising. Having rejected the sacrifice of the Mass, they have no sacrifice to offer, and therefore really no supreme, distinctive worship of God; and their [highest] worship is of the same kind, and very little, if any, higher than that which we offer to the saints themselves. Doubtless, so-called orthodox Protestants hold that a sacrifice, an all-sufficient sacrifice, has been offered by our Lord in offering Himself on the cross; but in their view, this sacrifice was completed, finished in the past, and is not an offering continuously made, and therefore made now on our altars, as really and as truly as on Calvary. In regard to men now living, according to them, [there is] no sacrifice to offer, consequently no supreme, distinctive worship of God. Hence their churches have a table, but no altar except by a figure of speech, as it is only by a figure of speech that they commune of the body of our Lord.
Their divine service or religious worship consists chiefly of prayer and singing of hymns or psalms, and comprises in kind nothing which is not perfectly lawful to offer to men. It is lawful to love our neighbor, to honor the magistrate, to pray to those in authority, to sing the praises of the conquering hero, and to confide in our friends. What in all this is distinctively religious worship, or that which can be given only to God?
But, because Protestants have, and believe in, no higher worship, it does not follow that there is none higher, or that we have it not. It is not good logic to argue that because they in their worship anthropomorphize God, we in ours divinize the saints. The sacrifice of Calvary, perpetuated in the sacrifice of the Mass, really and truly is the supreme, distinctive worship of God. As we have the true spiritual worship and offer it only to God, we can accept and encourage the over-flowings of the pious heart towards the saints without any danger of idolatry.
The holy sacrifice is never offered to a saint, not even to the mother of God; our churches and altars are all dedicated to God alone. Those that bear the name of some saint are, like all the others, dedicated to God, and simply placed under the patronage or intercession of the saint. The saints honored by offices in the church service are not the direct object of the worship. The sacrifice is offered to God in thanksgiving for them: the prayers are all addressed directly to God and only the saints’ intercession is invoked. [So, too], in the authorized litanies of the saints and of the Blessed Virgin, the saints are indeed invoked, but nothing is asked of them but their prayers for us; which is no more than we all ask daily of our pastors, of our friends, and of one another. And why may we not ask as much of a saint in heaven as of a sinful mortal on earth? Is the saint less living, or less dear to God?
But saint-worship does not simply spring from the exuberance of Catholic piety, is not simply an instinct or spontaneous outburst of Catholic heart; it has a reason in the deepest mysteries of our religion, and there is a profound philosophy in it, undreamed-of by those who neglect it. It is no excrescence on the Christian religion, no corruption of the simplicity of primitive worship, but a normal development which has its root in the very essence of the Christian system, or the divine plan of creation, redemption, and glorification. It is defensible not only to pious affection, but to the understanding, and rests on the deepest philosophical and theological principles that we know by either reason or revelation. The Christian religion is Catholic, all its principles are Catholic, and for everything in it or pertaining to it there is a Catholic reason. Catholic means whole, and universal because it embraces the whole. The Christian religion is a systematic whole, and all its parts cohere and are inseparable parts of a complete whole. The catechism is supremely logical, is a dialectic whole, and no part can be denied without denying the whole.
The worship of the saints does not stand alone, but rests on a principle as universal, as integral, and as essential as the worship of God. The command "Love thy neighbor as thyself" rests on the same principle or ground as the command "Love God." There are two senses in which we may consider saint-worship. The first, as the worship of God in His saints; the second, as the worship of the saints for what they are personally, or what nature and they themselves, by the grace of God, have made them.
[Acknowledgement: Orestes Brownson Society]