I have been Catholic for a little more than two years and have now been to numerous chapels, cathedrals,
churches and shrines. I have seen beautiful sacred art that has pointed my thoughts and eyes heavenward. I have seen statues of saints that have reminded me of holiness and dedication to God and I have seen portraits and statues of Mary, Jesus’ mom. I have seen beautiful and heart wrenching Stations of the Cross
that vividly portray the suffering our lovely Lord Jesus endured for us. Yet in all this time, I have yet to see anyone bow down and worship a statue or image of God, Mary, Saint or angel. I have never heard a Catholic in Mass or outside of Mass speak of worshipping Mary or saint statues. I then checked the teachings of the Catholic Church called the Catechism
to see what the official stand is on images and statues: 2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.
So there is the official teaching folks! Catholics don’t worship statues but they do honor or venerate the person they represent. I have a statue of St. Francis in my garden purchased at Wegman's in their outdoor section. Quite frankly(pun intended) it's a nice lawn ornament, but it's also a quiet reminder to me of this simple monk who left a rich prosperous future 750 years ago to live simply and to re-build the church of God dedicating his life to Jesus Christ. When I walk into my house past this statue, I don’t genuflect, bless myself or even say “I worship you Oh St. Francis.” Sometimes it reminds me to ask St. Francis to pray for me to help me give my all for Jesus as he did. Do I pray to that statue thinking the cheap piece of resin material in the form of St. Frank from Wegman’s hears my prayers? No, of course not. But it reminds me that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who can intercede to the Lord for me. When you go to a loved one's grave and leave flowers, are you worshipping that dead person? No, but you are honoring them, “venerating” if you will, but not worshipping them. "An essential difference exists between idolatry and the veneration of images practised in the Catholic Church, viz., that while the idolater credits the image he reverences with Divinity or Divine powers, the Catholic knows "that in images there is no divinity or virtue on account of which they are to be worshipped, that no petitions can be addressed to them, and that no trust is to be placed in them. . . that the honour which is given to them is referred to the objects (prototypa) which they represent, so that through the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads and kneel, we adore Christ and venerate the Saints whose likenesses they are" (Conc. find., Sess. XXV, "de invocatione Sanctorum").
I have noticed that many churches in December put out large displays of statues of Joseph,
Mary and of Baby Jesus in a manger! (The origin of this tradition of a crèche can be traced back to a Catholic guy named St. Francis of Assisi, coincidentally) They even will put bright flood lights on it and will sometimes have a little service (weather permitting) reading Scripture right in front of these images of the holy family all the while sipping hot cocoa! Yet, nobody would say they are participating in winter solstice idol worship. It sure could look like idol worship to an alien who just landed on December 23rd in the heart of most small towns in the USA (unless the ACLU lawyers found them first! ) I also notice that many christians will often have images of Jesus on their Bible covers and/or these little fish symbols pasted to the back of their car. Now, no one accuses them of idol worship even though they are adorning the scriptures and their automobile with “graven images.” Am I making my point here? Obviously, it is wrong to worship anything or anybody other than the God of the universe. However using art, either 2 dimensional (pictures of Jesus, apostles etc such as is seen in VBS or Sunday School) or 3 dimensional (statues and bible action figures) to direct our hearts to Him is not idol worship. It would defy common sense that the God of the universe who endowed man with the ability to create such physical beauty would become enraged if we created an image that directed our hearts to Him. In the Old Testament God directed Moses to make a brass serpent for the people to look upon for healing. Also, the Ark of the Covenant surrounded by cherubim and the design of the temple containing multiple statues and images were given by the same God who forbade the worship of graven images. So clearly, at least in my mind, God did not intend any form of 2D or 3 D art to be forbidden as "idol worship." It’s what you do with the statue or image that matters. Many folks keep pictures of their family in their wallets but don't worship the images. If you carry loved ones pictures with you and put out crèches with the Holy Family in December, congratulations! You are in good company with 1.5 billion other Christians called Catholics who use images and artwork to direct their hearts and minds Heavenward. God bless Wegman’s Food Stores for selling statues of one of my favorite idols, Ooops, I mean saints.
PS:If you hurry now, I think you can still pick up a small statue of Old St Frank of Wegman for under 59 bucks. It's a steal!