Is Venerating Relics a Form of Idolatry?

By pintswaquinas June 25, 2024

To an outsider, it sure seems like Catholics do a lot of weird stuff. We carry out elaborate worship rituals, speak of the glory of suffering, and stand in silent awe of dead saints’ bones.

Some non-Catholic Christians see our veneration of relics as idolatry, giving the honor due to God to human remains.

But this veneration is distinct from the worship we give to God. Here’s why.

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There are different types of veneration.
Normally, we associate the word “worship” exclusively with God. But until recently, people used it more broadly to encompass respect due to certain individuals, including angels, saints, and rulers. A distinction was made between latria – the worship of God – and dulia, the worship of other persons besides God.

Today, it’s easier just to use the word “veneration” rather than “worship” when admiring individuals other than God.

There are different degrees of veneration. The highest form is given to the Blessed Virgin. Next, we honor the saints and angels. On a lower plane, we venerate heroes, sports figures, and other admirable (if not necessarily holy) individuals.

Venerating relics takes nothing away from God’s glory.
That’s because the saints are His masterpieces. His holiness fills their souls and bodies — even their corpses. He wants to work in us through these individuals because we are connected to them in the Body of Christ.

We are body and soul, so our body and the things connected to it are part of us. That’s why we often keep cherished items from deceased loved ones. In a certain sense, these items make the person present to us.

Relics bring to mind the saints’ holiness. They’re visible reminders that our lives are not our own, but God’s. They reinforce to us that there’s a connection between our bodily and spiritual lives. Since, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, all of our knowledge is based on sense knowledge (even spiritual realities), being physically present before relics is like a door opening us up to appreciate the saint’s spiritual richness.

There is nothing we must fear about venerating relics. We should avoid the excess that has sometimes been shown in this practice, but God is glorified when we admire His handiwork in the saints.

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