Worship

How and why Catholics are devoted to the saints.

Catholicism is unique for a myriad of reasons, but one of my favorites is our devotion to the saints.

I know that’s sometimes a misunderstood quality of my faith, and that breaks my heart. The most common misconceptions, in addition to being inaccurate, truly miss the point at the heart of this devotion.

Saintly devotion, for Catholics, is not equivalent to the worship of the Trinity (or any of its persons). Let’s make that clear right off the bat. Catholics define three types of worship. The highest form is latria, and is reserved for God and God alone. Latria is adoration, which can only be given to God—given to anyone else, it is idolatry and, therefore, a grave sin.

The Church describes adoration in a few ways, but here are some of my favorite for this context:

  • “Adoration is the acknowledgement of God as God, creator and savior, the Lord and master of everything that exists as infinite and merciful love.” CCC 2096
  • “Adoration is homage of the spirit to the King of glory, respectful silence in the presence of the ever greater God.” CCC 2628
  • “True adoration involves a docile heart, an assent to God’s sovereignty over our lives, a constant posture of humility before Him, and gifts of love offered in homage.” CCC 2111
  • Adoration is “the highest reverence to be offered only to God, our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, who alone should be worshiped and glorified.” Concise Dictionary of Theology

This worship can be given, inherently, only to God. It is one of the four ends of prayer (comprised also of atonement, supplication, and thanksgiving), and captures our respect, love, and subjection for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The two other forms of worship—hyperdulia and dulia—are directed toward Mary and the rest of the saints, respectively.  Both are defined by reverence, as opposed to the adoration involved in latria. Catholics are not called to pay homage to the saints, nor are we praying for them to perform any kind of miracle on their own.

Here’s the thing about saints: we ask them for their intercession, not their intervention. The saints intercede for us by praying for us to God. They are credited with miracles not because of their own power or ability, but because God responded to their devotion by sharing His gifts with and through them. In fact, many saints objected to being credited with miracles because they insisted their actions were performed by God’s hands alone.

Though it sounds complicated, sainthood comes down to a simple principle: it means we’re confident—based on their actions and devotion to a life lived for God—a person is truly in heaven. That’s why people aren’t made saints until after they die; it’s why it takes a long time for the Church to canonize anyone, since some investigation is required to make this statement confidently; and it’s why we have All Saints Day, which recognizes and shares love with the saints whose names we don’t know.

The short of it is that everyone in Heaven is a saint and, because they’re in Heaven, they’re closer to God than we can ever be whilst here on earth. Since we know they are close to God, we ask for their intercession because we know their prayers on our behalf will be heard. We all have a penchant for making mistakes and breaking promises, so we can use all the help we can get. Prayers of intercession from souls who may literally be sharing a table with God at this very moment certainly couldn’t hurt our hopes of staying on the righteous paths we are made to walk.

In their incredibly helpful roles as prayerful supporters, the saints aid our efforts to seek forgiveness, of course, but also to be stronger, to improve ourselves as people, and to be closer to God. They do this by praying for and with us, as well as by serving as examples of holy living here on earth. What I mean is that saints are brothers and sisters whom we can look up to, both literally and figuratively. There is no better role model than a person who’s won the true battle and made it to the ultimate realm of happiness, love, and spiritual “success.”

While we’re admiring the saints, we’re also invited to identify with them. They struggled and misstepped and tripped just as we do; they know our suffering. Fortunately for us, they—and their real compassion and wisdom—are always there to help.

Giving Faith a Boost in Just 88 Hours per Year

As a kid, I wasn’t very good about going to Mass. I complained, hated waking up “early” on Sunday mornings, and didn’t stay focused during the liturgy. I think a lot of kids are like that, unfortunately. It can be hard to get them involved.

What’s harder, though, is sticking with the routine when we’re older and our parents aren’t there to hold us accountable. Especially in young adulthood, it’s easy to neglect that weekly obligation. You’re tired. You’re working (or playing) hard. You’ve got a project to finish. Your friends aren’t going.

Fortunately, we Catholics are blessed with a special kind of guilt complex. That’s because the Church is always there to hold us accountable, even when our neighbors aren’t. She has our basic obligations cleanly and simply outlined for us: go to Mass on Sundays and holy days; confess your sins at least once yearly; receive the Eucharist at least once yearly; observe a handful of fasting and abstinence days throughout the year; give what you can.

Those obligations aren’t difficult to meet. At their hearts, all of them are about receiving much more than they’re about giving. And when you consider how much time it takes to fulfill them, it’s difficult to justify neglecting them.

Let’s assume each Mass takes an average of 1.5 hours to attend. In 2014, there will be 52 Sundays and 6 holy days of obligation (in the United States). 58 multiplied by 1.5 equals 87.

The Eucharist is part of the Mass, so no need to add extra time there. Fasting and abstinence aren’t about giving up time; they’re small sacrifices to make you think about the gifts God has given you. And giving what you can doesn’t have to mean more time—it means a few coins or bills out of your pocket, a few extra groceries in your cart.

So all that’s left is to add another hour for that annual confession. It probably won’t take nearly that long, but we’ll account for travel and wait times, just in case.

That’s 88 hours of your whole year devoted to God outside of your home—about the time you’d spend working and commuting for just two weeks. That’s it.

You have 8,760 hours to spend in 2014. Is it impossible to commit barely 1% of that time to thanksgiving, communion, and prayer? Does your faith make up less than 1% of your identity? After all, what we do reveals more about us than what we say.

The average American spends about 1,643 hours each year watching TV. A lot of us spend at least that much time on the internet, too. We spend at least 2,000 hours sleeping, and at least 2,000 hours working, too, if we have a full time job. Those aren’t necessarily fun, but we get them done, right?

We’re told to spend about three hours a week exercising our bodies. With work and intellectual activities like reading, we spend another 40+ hours exercising our minds. In the interest of improving ourselves holistically, isn’t exercising our souls worth two hours of our time each week?

For my part, I’m good about meeting those obligations, but I’m not good about committing more than that 1% of my life to my Church. In high school and college, I often went to daily Mass (at least partly thanks to Erik, who is fervent and passionate about his faith in a way I truly admire). I also participated in a handful of faith-based activities, which helped me stay thoughtful and devoted throughout the week.

Today, with a full-time job and a long commute, it’s hard for me to make myself do much more. But there’s a daily Mass offered walking distance from my building downtown. I could go several times a week if I wanted to; I just don’t. But I should, and I’m trying. I’m also hoping this blog will keep more of my mind and my time on God.

It’s also easy to supplement that 1% with learning: consume a few verses of the Bible each day; read the Catechism; follow Catholic blogs; have a conversation with your priest, your family, or your friends. Spend a little time talking to someone about your beliefs. Ask a few more questions (even if Google’s the one finding the answers for you, there are thousands of good resources to be discovered). Follow the Pope on Twitter. Read an article on EWTN. And, of course, there’s prayer.

None of us is perfect. But giving 1% of your time to improve your faith life, join your community, and thank your Father doesn’t require perfection. It takes just an hour or two of your week, an ounce of work, and a little bit of purpose.

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