A frequent misconception of the Catholic Church by Protestants is that we “worship” saints, especially the Blessed Mother, that we engage in idolatry. Most good Catholic apologetics sites include an effective rebuttal of that misconception, but I came across a truly classic rebuttal in today’s Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. The rebuttal is by none other than St. Augustine, replying to Faustus. Here are some pertinent excerpts from the reading (with my emphases and brief [comments]):
We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity [such as Masses offered in honor of saints on their feast days] because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers…[w]hat is offered is always offered to God, who crowned the martyrs [The graces come from God, and thus the glory goes to Him.]…So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us…We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already acheived the victor’s crown and live in heaven. But the veneration strictly called “worship,” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone…[w]e neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If anyone among us falls into this error [The Church has always held saint-worship to be an error!], he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned [The one in error must amend his ways or be excommunicated until he does so.]…Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. [Despite ample Catholic rebuttal of this misconception of saint-worship, many Protestant preachers and evangelists continue to spread misinformation about veneration of the saints and try to use it to keep others from the Church. This is an abuse!]
Incidentally, this reading was apparently chosen because the saint we honor today, Pope Damasus I, preached the truth of the Faith to those who opposed the Church in the 300s– and “promoted the cult of martyrs whose burial places he adorned with sacred verse.” What a hero for our time: a pope who loved the Scriptures and those who died for Christ, and carried this love to those far away from the Church! Pope St. Damasus, pray for us, that we may follow your example!