Q&A: My question concerns sacred objects vs. idol worship

All questions come from parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish or St. Joseph Mission and they are presented to you anonymously. Questions and answers were presented in the Series “Because You Asked” from 2016.
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My question concerns sacred objects vs. idol worship.


How can the Church declare “things” sacred and hold them in high regard expecting reverence? Or maybe the question should be, does the Church tell us to hold these objects in high regard? I don’t think that is the real intent of the Church but I see and hear people who treat objects as if God lived in them and it would be a sin to get it dirty. (rosaries, bibles, crosses, nativity sets) How can objects be blessed and what does that mean?

A: Treating objects like gods would be idolatry and a great offense against God. We worship God alone. However, to have reverence toward saints and holy objects falls under the greater category of fear of the Lord or holy reverence. For example, to consecrate a thing means to set it aside for sacred use. This would include a chalice, a paten or priestly vestments. Once they are blessed and used exclusively for sacred use we would never again use them for ordinary use. To wear a priestly vestment as a Halloween costume or to serve party snacks out of a chalice would be considered the sin of sacrilege or desecration. So some things we respect as an extension of our respect for God. Respect for a saint’s relic would additionally be suitable because we are dealing with human remains there. Our body reflects the creative work of God, the Incarnation, our body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit, etc. It is not, however, a god but simply a holy thing to be respected. This respect is a part of religiosity. Furthermore, we can see that this attitude is entirely in keeping with Sacred Scripture.  For example, from our Jewish roots, it is clear that God’s Chosen People held great respect for such objects as the meeting tent of the Lord, the Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments (i.e. stone tablets), the staff of Aaron, etc.  The Jews also strongly believed that one must not worship false idols and yet it is clear from their lived practice that they did not see such forms of piety toward objects as a violation of that teaching.  Christianity has simply continued this practice as it relates to sacred objects.  In our Catholic tradition we call such objects sacramentals.  The Catholic Dictionary defines a sacramental in the following way: “Sacred signs, whether objects (e.g. scapulars, holy water) or actions (e.g. blessings) possessing a likeness to the sacraments and whose effects are obtained by the prayer of the Church (Can. 1166).  The sacraments were instituted by Christ and effect grace by virtue of themselves.  The sacramentals [in contrast to the sacraments] are instituted by the Church and impart grace according to the disposition of the recipients and the intercession of the Church.”  So to put it another way, sacramental objects can bring grace into our lives to the extent that we make use of them with faith and a reverent attitude.  They are things and not gods but nevertheless they are holy things.  I hope that helps a little.

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