Why Do Catholics Have Statues?


There are many misconstrued ideas about Catholics….and one of them is the use of statues. Father Tonne explains…

Painting by Toby Edward Rosenthal (1848 – 1917)

by Father Arthur Tonne, The NuEvan Press Big Book of Catholic Sacramentals, 1950’s

“Render to all whatever is their due; tribute to whom tribute is due; taxes to whom taxes are due; fear to whom fear is due; honor to whom honor is due.” – Romans 13:7

A pastor in the Middle West recently bought a two-foot statue of St. Joseph for the sisters’ convent. When the statue was delivered he placed it on top of the ice-box temporarily, until he would have a chance to present it to the good sisters.

The housekeeper at the rectory, who is not a Catholic, was entranced with the beauty of the statue.

The assistant pastor took it upon himself to explain who was represented. “That is a statue of St. Joseph,” he told her. “It is for the sisters’ home. They are especially devoted to St. Joseph, who was the protector and guardian of the Blessed Mother, the model of all women religious.”

“And is that Jesus he is holding?” asked the housekeeper.

“Yes, that is the Christ-Child,” the priest explained. “St. Joseph was his foster-father. Notice the kindly but strong features of the saint. Everybody likes St. Joseph.”

And then with sincerity she exclaimed: “I like him, too, even though I just met him.”

That image of the head of the Holy Family was serving one of its principal purposes–to teach, to help instruct.

Images have many other purposes, which we will point out after we have shown the foundation or reason for having statues at all.

They are sacramentals blessed by Mother Church.

We have statues of our Lord, our Blessed Mother and of the saints. These figures in stone and bronze and marble and even plastic remind us of the holy people they represent.

St. Paul told the Romans to render honor to whom honor was due. Honor certainly is due to Christ. In a different and lower degree honor is also due to those heroic men and women who tried to follow Christ. That is the basis, the principle for our veneration of the sculptured likenesses.

Let me explain some of the purposes of this practice:

  1. With statues we adorn our churches and homes. Go from any Catholic to any non-Catholic church building, or vice versa, and immediately you notice the difference.

Beauty, a feeling of companionship and company, are experienced in the Catholic house of worship. This homelike feeling is due principally to the Presence of Christ, but the warm life-like statues add to that considerably.

Even your non-Catholic and your pagan ornaments his dwellings with products of the chisel. Yes, we even find statues of Catholics embellishing some Protestant Churches. In the church of St. John the Divine in New York stands a statue of our own St. Francis of Assisi.

  1. Then we use these sculptorings to instruct. The state and the city erect statues of Washington and Lincoln to teach patriotism and loyalty. The Church erects statues of Christ, His Mother and the saints to teach her citizens loyalty to God.

During the many ages before the invention of printing, from what did the Catholic study but from the figures of the saints and holy scenes?

My little story of the non-Catholic housekeeper who learned in a few minutes to appreciate and even to be attracted to St. Joseph by means of an expressive statue of him, is an example of the instructiveness of such images.

  1. Furthermore, statues spur us on to put in to practice what we have learned about the people represented. Don’t you want to be more big-souled, more honest, more unselfish, every time you look at a statue of Lincoln or Washington? Don’t you feel a surge of loyalty to and pride in your glorious United States?

Just so, don’t you want to be more modest and pureminded, more thoughtful of God and of others, every time you see a carving of Christ and His saints?

Who can gaze upon a marble reproduction of the crucifixion without experiencing the same feeling as the penitent thief hanging by the dying God-Man?

Whoever cast his eyes upon the sweet face of a Madonna, chiseled in immaculate marble, and did not wish to share the priceless purity that beams from her motherly countenance?

Were it not so often repeated we would feel it useless to answer the charge that the veneration of statues is idolatry. The simplest Catholic will tell you that he does not worship or adore or in any way honor the actual marble or stone of that figure. He honors the one represented.

Let Mother Church explain her stand officially.

We quote from the Council of Trent: “The images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God, and the other saints, are to be kept especially in churches. Due honor and veneration is to be paid to them, not that we believe there is any divinity or power in them, not that anything is to be asked of them, not that any trust is to be placed in them, as the heathens of old trusted in their idols…on the contrary, the honor we pay to images is referred to the originals whom they represent; so that by means of images which we kiss and before which we bow, we adore Jesus Christ and we venerate His saints.”

Mother Church stresses the importance of religious atmosphere and environment, not only in the house of God, but also in the homes of the children of God. Yet, how many Catholic homes are barren, totally barren of religious images of any kind. What is the cause?

It is not ignorance, for you know full well that a little Catholic air in your home is good for your spiritual health. Catholic atmosphere makes the home peaceful and happy.

The cause is indifference and thoughtlessness. Perhaps these few remarks on the usefulness and reasonableness of statues will induce you to put one or the other in your home, will lead you to appreciate the beautiful statues we have here in church, will prompt you to remember more often and more devoutly the holy people they represent. Amen.


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