Saints, angels and idolatry

Do Catholics worship saints and angels?
Plain and simply no. As stated in the FAQ about Mary, we offer a lesser form of veneration to the saints. We honor the saints for what they achieved in their life.

(Matthew 10:41) Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward.

They lived a life of uncommon piety and friendship to God. For this reason, we honor them and attempt to imitate their relationship with God. As Paul stated:

(1 Corinthians 11:1-2) Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.

Then why pray to saints?
Be careful not to confuse prayer with worship. Prayer is a method of communication. Prayer is not worship, but through prayer, we can worship. Catholics pray to (or communicate to) saints for the same reason we pray to Mary; to profess admiration and honor and for intercession. Never to worship them as deities. Prayer is how we send our requests and pleas to God, and we ask Mary and the saints to pray for us. So, instead of saying we pray to the saints, it’s more accurate to say we pray through the saints.

Have you ever asked anyone to pray for you? It’s the same when we ask Mary and the saints to pray for us. The saints are in Heaven and thus have achieved perfection. There’s no reason to believe that their love for us and works for humanity stop when they reach Heaven. Many Protestants may say there is no intercessor other than Christ, but the Bible has several mentions of intercessory prayer.

(Romans 15:30) I urge you, (brothers,) by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf

(Colossians 4:3-4) at the same time, pray for us, too, that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak of the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, as I must speak.

(Ephesians 6:18-20) With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must.

(2 Corinthians 1:11) as you help us with prayer so that thanks may be given by many on our behalf for the gift granted us through the prayers of many.

(1 Thessalonians 5:25) Brothers, pray for us.

(2 Thessalonians 1:11) To this end, we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith

(Acts 12:5) Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.

(James 5:16) Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.

The Bible states that saints may approach God with our prayers. Because they are now perfect, their prayers or method of praying is now perfect compared to our imperfection. So, when we pray to Mary or a saint on a particular matter, we ask them to intercede with God on our behalf. The passage below shows the saints passing on our requests to God.

(Revelation 5:8) When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.

But doesn’t the Bible say all Christians are saints?
No, it doesn’t. This idea comes from an unfortunate mistranslation in the King James Version of the Bible. To explain this, I’ll go into detail about the word saint. The word saint is a derivative of the Latin word sanctus, which means “holy.” Sanctus is a direct translation from the Greek word hagios, which also means “holy.” The word saint didn’t even exist until the Middle Ages, so I’m not sure why the authors of the King James Version chose “saint” for those instances of hagios while other uses of hagios in the bible are correctly translated to “holy.” For instance, pneuma hagios is the Greek phrase used in the Bible for the Holy Spirit. However, we don’t say “Saint Spirit.” Or “naos hagios,” which translates to “holy temple” and not “saint temple.” So, the King James Version defines followers of Christ as saints instead of the correct phrase, which would be “holy ones.” The authors of the King James Bible took many shortcuts in their translation by going to the Latin Vulgate instead of the Greek manuscripts because it was easier to translate Latin into English. It’s these kinds of mistakes that caused Pope Pius XII to recommend that future versions of the Bible be translated from the original Greek and Hebrew instead of the Latin Vulgate.

The Catholic Church does have a classification of souls that have reached Heaven called the Church Triumphant. They are equal to saints, and we celebrate them on the Catholic holiday of All Saints Day. The Church Militant is comprised of Christians on Earth. And finally, the Church Penitent is comprised of the souls who are presently in purgatory and are celebrated and prayed for on the Catholic holiday of All Souls Day.

What about praying to statues? Isn’t that idolatry?
Praying to statues and worshiping them would be idolatry, but that’s not what Catholics do. When observed from a third party who doesn’t understand the Catholic faith, it may seem Catholics are kneeling before and worshiping a statue. However, Catholics don’t make statues and images for worshiping. They are meant for religious use. Images of Mary, Jesus, and the saints are meant to call to mind that person. Much like a photo of a loved one would call to mind that person. The image is a focus or reflection when praying a request or honoring that person. If a Catholic chooses to kneel in front of a statue, Catholics are simply kneeling in prayer, and it’s not meant as a posture of worship. Some more examples would be a statue of some great person in history, such as General Washington or one of the founding fathers of America. Or the classic statue of American soldiers struggling to raise the American Flag. That was created to remember the soldiers that died for our country and to do them honor. Surely it doesn’t mean we’re worshiping them.
Another example would be the grave of a loved one. It’s marked by a headstone or even, at times, a statue. Many people visit their loved one’s grave bringing flowers and other gifts. They stay for a while, reflecting on that person and may even speak to that person in their thoughts. None of these examples are different than the statues and images in Catholic churches.

But the Bible condemns the use of statues and images. Doesn’t it?
Does it? The Bible says not to worship and offer sacrifices to images of false gods, but multiple places it talks about the use of religious images.

(Exodus 25:18-20) Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the cover; make one cherub at one end, and the other at the other end, of one piece with the cover, at each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, sheltering the cover with them; they shall face each other, with their faces looking toward the cover.

In the above quote, God commands that golden images of cherubim be created to be placed on the top of the Ark of the Covenant.

(1 Chronicles 28:18-19) the refined gold, and its weight, to be used for the altar of incense; and, finally, gold to fashion the chariot: the cherubim spreading their wings and covering the ark of the covenant of the LORD. All this he wrote down, by the hand of the LORD, to make him understand it—the working out of the whole design.

Above, David is instructing Solomon how to build the temple, which again uses religious images. So, as we can see, the use of religious imagery is acceptable to God as long as it is used correctly.