I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues; standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.–Apoc. vii. 9.
The words of our text explain in part the glorious vision which St. John the Evangelist had of the celestial Kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem. There before the throne of God he beheld great multitudes from all the tribes of Israel, and other countless numbers from all peoples, tongues, and nations of the earth, clothed with white garments and palms in their hands, falling down before the throne in adoration of Him who liveth forever and ever.
This vast multitude which met the eyes of the seer of Patmos represented the Church triumphant in heaven, composed of the confessors, virgins, martyrs, and all other holy souls, who had been heroic servants of God on earth, and were now admitted to their crowns and everlasting joy. It is the festival of this glorious company that we keep today, and it behooves us at this time, while rejoicing over their triumph and their crowns, to reflect on the duties of honor and invocation which we owe them.
I. Veneration of the saints. I. There are two kinds of religious worship or veneration: (a) latria, or divine worship, by which we recognize God as our sovereign Lord and Master; (b) dulia, or veneration, by which we honor the saints and friends of God. The first is never attributed to any creature, but is proper to God alone. 2. Dulia, or the veneration given to the saints, has two degrees: (a) simple dulia, or lower degree of respect, which is shown to the servants of God; (b) hyperdulia, or higher degree of veneration, which we show to the Mother of God. 3. The reasons why we honor the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints are: (a) because God has honored them by giving them grace and glory; (b) because it is natural, for if we honor our own parents, friends, heroes, and the like, how much more should we honor the Mother, friends, and heroes of God; (c) because in honoring the angels and saints we are following the example given in Holy Scripture (Gen. xviii. 2; Josue v. 15; Num. xxii. 21; Apoc. xxii. 8) and in the early Church; (d) because in honoring the angels and saints we honor God whose handiwork and masterpieces they are. 4. The means of honoring the saints are: (a) to imitate their example; (b) to celebrate their festivals in becoming manner; (c) to read and make known their lives; (d) to venerate their images and relics.
II. Invocation of the saints, I. There are two kinds of religious invocation: (a) that which is directed to the Giver of all gifts; (b) that which is directed to others for the purpose of securing their influence and intercession with the Giver of all gifts. 2. Intercession is twofold: (a) necessary intercession, which is that of Jesus Christ, through whose merits and grace alone, and in whose name alone we can obtain any favor from God (I Tim. ii. 5; I John ii. 1) ; (b) useful intercession, which is that of the saints, whose prayers, far more worthy than ours, are addressed to Christ for us. 3. The reasons for invoking the saints: (a) the saints are aware of our needs and prayers, as we know from Holy Scripture; the prophet Jeremias after his death prayed for the Jewish people (2 Mach. xv. 14-16) ; (b) the saints are willing to help us, because their charity for us is now greater than when they were on earth; (c) the saints are able to help us, because if the prayer of a just man on earth avails much before God (Jas. v. 16), how much more will the saints be able to help us!
LESSONS: 1. We should be mindful at all times, and in particular on this feast, of the honor we owe to the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin, our guardian angel and patron saint. 2. We should try to imitate in our daily lives the many shining virtues which shone forth in their lives.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part III
THE HONOR AND INVOCATION OF THE SAINTS
In explanation of the first Commandment the faithful are to be accurately taught that the veneration and invocation of angels and saints, who enjoy the glory of heaven, and likewise the honor which the Catholic Church has always paid even to the bodies and ashes of the saints, are not forbidden by this commandment.(1) If a king ordered that no one else should set himself up as king, or accept the honors due to the royal person, who would be so foolish as to infer from such an edict that the sovereign was unwilling that suitable honor and respect should be paid to his magistrates? Now although Christians follow the example set by the saints of the Old Law, and are said to adore the angels, yet they do not give to angels that supreme honor which is due to God alone.
And if we sometimes read that angels refused to be worshiped by men,(2) we are to know that they did so because the worship which they refused to accept was the supreme honor due to God alone.
HONOR IS DUE THE ANGELS
The Holy Spirit who says: “Honor and glory to God alone,” (3) commands us also to honor our parents and elders; (4) and the holy men who adored one God only are also said in Scripture to have “adored,” that is, supplicated and venerated, kings. If then kings, by whose agency God governs the world, are so highly honored,(5) shall it be deemed unlawful to honor those angelic spirits whom God has been pleased to constitute His ministers, whose services He makes use of not only in the government of His Church, but also of the Universe, by whose aid, although we see them not, we are every day delivered from the greatest dangers of soul and body? Are they not worthy of far greater honor, since their dignity so far surpasses that of kings?
Another claim on our veneration is their love towards us, which, as the Scripture informs us,(6) prompts them to pour out their prayers for those countries over which they are placed by Providence, as well as for us whose guardians they are, and whose prayers and tears they present before the throne of God.(7) Hence our Lord admonishes us in the Gospel not to offend the little ones,” because their angels in heaven always see the face of their Father who is in heaven.”(8)
ANGELS ARE TO BE INVOKED
Their intercession, therefore, we invoke, because they always see the face of God, and are constituted by Him the willing advocates of our salvation. The Scriptures afford examples of the invocation of angels. Jacob entreated the angel with whom he wrestled to bless him;(9) nay, he even compelled him, declaring that he would not let him go until he had blessed him. And not only did he invoke the blessing of the angel whom he saw, but also of him whom he saw not. “The angel,” says he, “who delivers me from all evils, bless these boys.(10)
TO HONOR THE SAINTS DOES NOT DETRACT FROM,
BUT ADDS TO GOD’S HONOR
From all this we are justified in concluding that to honor the saints who sleep in the Lord, to invoke their intercession, and to venerate their sacred relics and ashes, far from diminishing, tends considerably to increase the glory of God, in proportion as man’s hope is thus animated and fortified, and he himself encouraged to the imitation of their virtues. This is a practice which is also supported by the authority of the second Council of Nice,(11) the Councils of Gangra,(12) and of Trent,(13) and by the testimony of the Fathers.(14)
In order, however, that the pastor may be the better prepared to meet the objections of those who deny this doctrine, he will consult particularly St. Jerome against Vigilantius and St. John Damascene.(15) To the teaching of these Fathers should be added as a consideration of prime importance that the practice was received from the Apostles and has always been retained and preserved in the Church.(16) But what proof is more convincing than that which is supplied by the admirable praises given in Scripture to the saints? For there are not wanting eulogies which God Himself pronounced on the saints. If, then, the inspired volume celebrates the praises of particular saints, why question for a moment the propriety of paying them the same tribute of praise and veneration?(17)
Another claim which the saints have to be honored and invoked is, that they earnestly importune God for our salvation, and obtain for us by their intercession many favors and blessings. If there is joy in heaven over the conversion of one sinner,(18) will not the citizens of heaven assist those who repent? When their aid is asked by the sinner, will they not implore the pardon of his sins, and the grace of his conversion?
Should it be said, as some say, that their patronage is unnecessary, because God hears our prayers without the intervention of a mediator, the impious objection is at once met by the observation of St. Augustine: “There are many things which God does not grant without a mediator and intercessor.(19) This observation is confirmed by the well known examples of Abimelech and the friends of Job who were pardoned only through the prayers of Abraham and of Job.(20)
Should it be alleged that to recur to the patronage and intercession of the saints argues want or weakness of faith, what will the objectors answer regarding the centurion whose faith was highly eulogized by our Lord Himself, despite the fact that he had sent to the Redeemer “the ancients of the Jews,” to intercede with Him to heal his servant.(21)
True, there is but one Mediator, Christ the Lord, who alone has reconciled us to the Father through His blood,(22) and who, “having obtained eternal redemption,” and “having entered once into the holies, ceases not to intercede for us.(23) But it by no means follows that it is therefore unlawful to have recourse to the intercession of the saints. If, because we have one Mediator Christ Jesus, it were unlawful to ask the intercession of the saints, the Apostle would not have recommended himself with so much earnestness to the prayers of his brethren on earth.(24) For the prayers of the living would lessen the glory and dignity of Christ’s Mediatorship, not less than the intercession of the saints in heaven.
THE INVOCATION OF SAINTS IS APPROVED BY THE MIRACLES
WROUGHT AT THEIR TOMBS
But who would not be convinced that honor is due the saints and that they assist us, when the wonders wrought at their tombs are brought before the mind ? The blind see, the lame walk, the paralyzed are invigorated, the dead raised to life, and evil demons are expelled from the bodies of men! These are facts which St. Ambrose(25) and St. Augustine,(26) most unexceptionable witnesses, declare in their writings, not that they heard, as many did, nor that they read, as did many very reliable men, but that they saw.
But why multiply proofs ? If the clothes, the handkerchiefs,(27) and even the very shadows of the saints, while yet on earth, banished disease and restored health, who will have the hardihood to deny that God can still work the same wonders by the holy ashes, the bones and other relics of the saints? Of this we have a proof in the resuscitation of the dead body which was let down into the grave of Eliseus, and which, on touching the body of the prophet, was instantly restored to life.(28)
THE DIRECTION REGARDING IMAGES IS NOT A DISTINCT COMMANDMENT
“Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth: thou shalt not adore them nor serve them.”(29) Some, supposing these words to constitute a distinct precept, reduce the ninth and tenth commandments to one. St. Augustine holds a different opinion; considering the two last to be distinct commandments, he makes the words just quoted a part of the first Commandment.(30) His division is well known and much approved in the Church, and hence we willingly adopt it. Furthermore, for this arrangement there is a very good reason. It was fitting that to the first Commandment should be added the rewards or punishments entailed by each one of the Commandments.
THE USE OF IMAGES IS NOT FORBIDDEN
This Commandment does not prohibit the arts of painting, engraving or sculpture. The Scriptures inform us that God Himself commanded images of Cherubim,(31) and also the brazen serpent(32) to be made. The conclusion, therefore, at which we must arrive, is that images are prohibited only in as much as they are used as deities to receive adoration and so to injure the true worship of God.
TWO ABUSES OF IMAGES FORBIDDEN
As far as this commandment is concerned, there are two chief ways in which God’s majesty can be seriously outraged. The first way is by worshiping idols and images as gods, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them, as the Gentiles did, who placed their hopes in idols, and whose idolatry the Scriptures frequently condemn. The other way is by attempting to form a representation of the Deity, as if He were visible to mortal eyes, or could be represented by the pencil of the painter or the chisel of the sculptor. “Who,” says Damascene, “can represent God, invisible, as He is, incorporeal, uncircumscribed by limits, and incapable of being reproduced under any shape.”(33) This subject, however, the pastor will find treated more at large in the second Council of Nice.(34) Rightly, then, did the Apostles say of the Gentiles: “They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into a likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and of creeping things;”(35) for the images of all these things, although the works of their own hands, they venerated as God. Hence the Israelites, when they exclaimed before the molten calf: “These are thy gods, O Israel, that have brought thee out of the land of Egypt,”(36) are denounced as idolaters, because they “changed their glory into the likeness of a calf that eateth grass.”(37)
THE MEANING OF THIS PART OF THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
When, therefore, the Lord had forbidden the worship of strange gods, He also forbade the making of an image of the Deity from brass or other materials, in order thus utterly to do away with idolatry. It is this Isaias declares when he asks: “To whom then have you likened God, or what image will you make for him?(38) That this is the meaning of the prohibitory part of the commandment is proved, not only from the writings of the holy Fathers, who, as may be seen in the Seventh General Council, give to it this interpretation; but also from these words of Deuteronomy, by which Moses sought to withdraw the Israelites from the worship of idols: “You saw not,” he says, “any similitude in the day that the Lord God spoke to you in Horeb, from the midst of the fire.”(39) These words this wisest of legislators addressed to the people of Israel, lest through error of any sort, they should make an image of the Deity, and transfer to any thing created, the honor due to God alone.
IT IS NOT FORBIDDEN TO REPRESENT THE PERSONS OF THE TRINITY
To represent the persons of the Holy Trinity by certain forms under which they appeared in the Old and New Testaments is not to be deemed contrary to religion or the Law of God. For who can be so ignorant as to believe that such forms are representations of the Deity?–forms, as the pastor will teach, which only express some attribute or action ascribed to God. Thus when from the description of Daniel God is painted as “the Ancient of Days,” seated on a throne, with “the books opened before him,” the eternity of God is represented and also the wisdom, by which He sees and judges all the thoughts and actions of men.(40)
THE SAME DOCTRINE TRUE WITH REGARD TO ANGELS
Angels, also, are represented under human form and with wings to give us to understand that they are actuated by benevolent feelings towards us, and are always prepared to execute the Lord’s commands; for “they are all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation.”(41)
REPRESENTATIONS OF THE HOLY GHOST
What attributes of the Holy Ghost are represented under the forms of a dove, and of tongues of fire, in the Gospel(42) and in the Acts of the Apostles,(43) is a matter too well known to require lengthy explanation.
THE IMAGES OF CHRIST AND THE SAINTS
But to make and honor the images of our Lord, of His holy and virginal Mother, and of the saints, all of whom were clothed with human nature and appeared in human form, is not only not forbidden by this Commandment, but has always been deemed a holy practice and a most sure indication of gratitude towards them. This position is confirmed by the monuments of the Apostolic age, the General Councils of the Church, and the writings of so many among the Fathers, eminent alike for sanctity and learning, all of whom are of one accord upon the subject.
THE LAWFUL USE OF IMAGES
But the pastor will not content himself with showing that it is lawful to have images in churches, and to pay them honor and religious respect, since this respect is referred to their prototypes; he will also show that the uninterrupted observance of this practice down to the present day has been attended with great advantage to the faithful, as may be seen in the work of Damascene on images,(44) and in the seventh General Council (the second of Nice).
But as the enemy of mankind, by his wiles and deceits, seeks to pervert even the most holy institutions, should the faithful happen at all to offend in this particular, the pastor, in accordance with the decree of the Council of Trent,(45) will use every exertion in his power to correct such an abuse, and, if necessary, explain the decree itself to the people.
He will also inform the unlettered and those who may be ignorant of the use of images, that they are intended to instruct in the history of the Old and New Testaments, and to revive the recollection of the events which they record; that thus moved by the contemplation of heavenly things we may be the more ardently inflamed to adore and love God. He will, also, inform the faithful that the images of the Saints are placed in churches, not only to be honored, but also that they may admonish us by the examples of the Saints to imitate their lives and virtues.(46)
1. See C. of Trent, Trid. sess. 17, de Sacrif. Missae, c. 3; sess. as, cap. de invocat. Sanctorum; Synod. 6, act. 6, at the end; Aug., lib. 8, de civit Dei., c. 27; lib. 10, c. i; lib. 21, contra Faust., c. 21; Basil., Hom. 20, in 40, Mar. 26, de Mar. Mamman; Nazian, oral in laud. S. Cyprian.
2. Apoc. xix. 10; Apoc. xxii. 9.
3. I Tim. i. 17; Exod. xx. 2; Levit. xix. n.
4. Deut. v. 16.
5. Gen. xxiii. 7; 2 Kings xxiv. 20; I Par. xxix. 20.
6. Dan. x. 13.
7. Tob. xii. 12; Apoc. viii. 3.
8. Matt. xviii. 10.
9. Gen. xxxii. 26; Osee xii 4.
10. Gen. xlviii. 16.
11. Conc. 2, act. 6.
12. Can. xx. Quoted in dist. 30, cap. si quis per superbiam.
13. C. of Trent, sess. 25; C. of Chalced. towards the end; 6 Synod. General, c. 7; C. of Geron, c. 3; Orleans, I, c. 29.
14. De orth. fid., lib. 4, c. 16.
15. Lib. 4, de orth fid., c. 16.
16. Dionys., c. 7, Hier. Eccles.; Iren., lib. 5, contra, haeres, c. 19; Athan. serin, in Evangel. de sancta Deip.; Eusep., lib. 13, praepar. Evang. c. 7; Cornel, pap., epist. 1; 1, Hilar. in Ps. cxxvi; Ambr. in lib. de viduis.
17. Eccl. xliv., xlv., xlvi, xlvii., xlviii., xlix.; Hebr. xi.
18. Luke xv. 7, 10.
19. Aug., quaest. 149 super Exod.; serm. 2 et 4, de St. Steph.
20. Gen. xx.
21. Matt. vii. 5; Luke vii. 3.
22. I Tim. ii. 5.
23. Heb. ix. 12; vii. 25.
24. Rom, xv, 30; Heb, xiii. 18.
25. Epist. 85, et serm. 95.
26. De civit. Dei, lib. 22, c. 8; epist 137
27. Acts v. xix. 12 et 5, 15;
28. 4 Kings xiii. 21
29. Exod. xx. 4.
30. Aug. super Exod. quaest. 71, and in Ps. xxxii., serm. 2. See St. Thomas, Q. la, IIae, 100, a.4.
31. Exod. xxv. 18; 3 Kings vi. 27.
32. Num. xxi. 8, 9.
33. Lib. 4, de orthod. fid., c. 17.
34 Art. 3.
35. Rom i. 23.
36. Exod. xxxii. 4
37. Ps. cv. 20.
38. Isa. xl. 18; Acts vii. 40.
39. Deut. iv. 15, 16.
40. Dan. vii, 13.
41. Heb. i. 14.
42. Matt. iii. 16; Mark i. 10; Luke iii. 22; John i. 32.
43. Acts ii. 3.
44. Lib. 4, de fid. orthod., cap. 17.
45. Sess. 25.
46. On the use of images see C. of Nice, act 7; Histor. tripart, lib. 6; Euseb., Hist. Eccl. I. 8. c. 14; Cyril., I. 6. c. Julian; Aug., de Consensn Ev., c. 10; Sixth Gen. Council, c. 82; C. of Rome under Gregory III and Stephen III; C. Gentil., I. de Rom. Pont. in Vita Sylvestri; Lactant., carmen de passione Domini; Basil., Orat, in S. Barlaham; Greg. Nyss., Orat. in Theod.; Prud., Hym. de S. Caes; hym. de S. Hippolyt; Baron., Ann. Eccl,, anno 57, Nos, 116 ff,; Aug., contra Faust., i, 22, c, 73.