Throughout the history of Christianity, the Church has used art to tell its stories, teach the Faith, and educate the faithful.
Stained glass windows, icons, paintings, and statues were the most common means of teaching the early Christians. Since most people at that time could neither read nor write, art was a crucial way to share stories from the Bible and to present truths of the Faith. Through these beautiful representations, even young children could learn the stories of Christianity.
Photo credit: SueAnn Howell, Catholic News Herald
Fast-forward to today. Christian art is a wonderful way to beautify our homes, have a formative effect on our families, and inspire us in our day-to-day lives. To display holy art in our homes is to enrich and inspire our families with the glorious truths of the Catholic faith. And there are so many choices, now that such artwork is more accessible than ever before.
Rather than being merely decorative, these images provide focal points during prayer; encourage deeper devotion; lift our hearts to heaven as we go about our days; and uniquely reflect who we are as followers of Christ.
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A Source of Confusion?
The statue is one of the most distinctive forms of Catholic art.
It is also one of the most misunderstood forms of Catholic art.
The use of statues in prayer—and the reverence they receive—has been fiercely disputed. Viewed by some non-Catholics with outrage, and by some with mere curiosity, the making of religious images had been a source of argument among various members of the Church in earlier centuries.
Some Christians insisted upon a particular interpretation of the Old Testament passage in which Our Lord commanded the Israelites:
“Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the Lord your God.”
Misapplication of this commandment—which claimed that statues used for veneration were idols used for worship—caused controversy within the Church.
To resolve this, the Church formally confirmed the use of statues and other art as a means of veneration at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D. They clarified, approved, and encouraged the honoring of Our Lord, Our Lady, saints, and angels, through the proper use of statues.
What the Catechism of the Catholic Church Says
The Catechism provides clear instruction on what we believe when we display and venerate holy statues:
In the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.
—The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2130
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.
—The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2132
So why should we bring Catholic statues into our homes?
Honoring and Remembering Who We Are
We keep photos of our loved ones in our homes. We do not worship these photos. We enjoy seeing these pictures and remembering our family and friends; it fills our hearts with love.
Statues of famous people adorn our government buildings, parks, and memorials. We honor these famous people, preserve their memories, and recall their contributions with gratitude when we look at their statues. We do not worship them—we commemorate them because they have contributed to society in some important way.
In a similar way, Catholic statues honor and preserve the memory of the important men and women whom the Church recognizes as holy. The saints are notable people who should be honored and remembered for their incredible lives on earth and their part in shaping our history.
Nearly all Christians love nativity scenes at Christmas. Nativity sets lift hearts to the heavenly reality of God, and call to mind the great mystery and gift of the Incarnation. Note that nativities are not mistaken for idols! Catholics know that a statue is not an idol, but a physical likeness of someone we love and want to honor and remember.
Worship is reserved for God alone. We venerate Our Lord when we kneel before His likeness. He is the object of our love and worship, not the piece of statuary. It is merely a representation of Christ, one that helps us keep our attention on Him, even though it falls short of His greatness.There was a time when God’s people—the Jews—did not make images of Him, because He had not revealed Himself in a form that we could see.
With the coming of His Son, we have seen the face of God. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus to Philip (John 14:9). That is why Christians began to lovingly create images of Christ. They had beheld Him in the flesh.
5 Reasons to Have Catholic Statues in Your Home
1. Statues are powerful visual reminders of our faith.
There is great truth to the saying “Out of sight, out of mind.”
We live in a frenetic world and despite our best efforts to remain in the presence of God and continually lift our minds and hearts to Him, our busyness can get the best of us. A statue serves as a visual reminder to keep our primary focus on spiritual realities—not earthly ones.
2. Statues are an opportunity to evangelize.
Due to the misunderstanding in regards to their veneration, a statue in a Catholic home can open the door to a discussion with family members or visitors. When a non-Catholic takes notice of your Catholic statues, ask the Holy Spirit to help you explain what your statue represents and how the statue inspires you to remember it.
3. Statues serve as starting points (or focal points) for prayer.
A statue, or any image, can evoke emotions, feelings, and meaning not easily captured in words. This is another way in which sacred art adds a powerful dimension to prayer. Looking at a statue can bring your mind back to your prayer and meditation if your attention wanders. It can keep you engaged and nurture your prayer life, especially if you have a hard time quieting your mind to settle into prayer.
4. Statues encourage deeper devotion.
We are part of a universal community of believers—both on earth and in eternity—who together seek deeper union with God. When we honor special saints in our homes, we nurture devotion to these holy intercessors. Each time we pass by a statue in our home, we can interiorly ask the saint to accompany us in our spiritual life—and gradually enter into a deeper relationship with that holy friend and intercessor.
5. Statues are reminders of the important place our faith deserves in our homes.
Your home is a unique reflection of you and your family. There are special things you own which have a distinctive character; the spaces of your home represent your individuality. When we place Catholic statues or art in our homes, we are sharing the importance and the primacy of place that our faith deserves in our lives.
We are physical beings with five senses given to us by God, and we worship with our whole person. Many elements of our Catholic faith reflect that understanding. Ours is a faith in which visible and tangible realities reflect the Divine.
The physical reality of a statue reminds us of the very real mystery it represents. A statue itself is merely a point of reference—one that allows us to meditate on and contemplate the mysteries of God more easily. It is a representation of a heavenly reality, reminding us of the eternal destiny to which we are called.
Is there a favorite statue in your home that has inspired you and become special to your family? Tell us about it!
Do you have childhood memories of saints who were special to your family and honored in your home?
How has venerating the statue of a favorite saint helped you in your spiritual life?