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Stephen wrote:

Hi guys,

I would like to be enlightened as to the teaching of the Church on the procession of statues.

In the Philippines, where I live at, there are many processions, either of a few saints in one procession (feast days) or many statues of the Saints and/or Jesus at once, like during the Lenten Season. I can't find the history of this practice on the internet.

  • May I know when this tradition started?
  • I know we do not worship statues but what is the purpose of these processions?

. . . like in the case of Jesus Nazarene statues in Quiapo, Manila. There are many processions in Manila for the Jesus Nazarene statues but the way His Statue is held — being swayed, up and down, left to right, intentionally — anyone can say that it is being danced to the music and it seems to me a very pagan-like way of seeing a statue.

  • Based on the definition of idolatry, how can I say that my actions towards a statue are not idolatrous?
  • If I touch it with my handkerchief then I kiss the statue, is it idolatrous?

Please help me. In as much as I would like to protect the teachings of the Church against my Born-Again friends and co-workers, they seem to have a point since they see Catholics kiss, bow, and dance to statues.

Thanks for your sincere help through this web site.

Stephen

  { When did the tradition of statue processions begin, what is their purpose, and are they pagan? }

Mike replied:

Dear Stephen,

Thanks for the question.

You said:
I can't find the history of this practice on the internet.

  • May I know when this tradition started?

Sources we use include:

  • New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, and
  • Wikipedia

Try using them more often! And check these web pages out:

You said:

  • Based on the definition of idolatry, how can I say that my actions towards a statue are not idolatrous?
  • If I touch it with my handkerchief then I kiss the statue, is it idolatrous?

Please help me. In as much as I would like to protect the teachings of the Church against my Born-Again friends and co-workers

Your questions touch upon a problem that we have had in certain portions of the Church. Namely, an attitude of piety, which is good, but when overdone can lead to others outside our faith misunderstanding what we believe as Catholics.

Catholics don’t worship pieces of marble. No, a marble statue of the Blessed Mother should remind us of her spiritual presence among us, and with us, when we are in prayer.

Touching your handkerchief then kissing a statue of Jesus, Mary, or a Saint is fine if it reminds you of the person the statue is made out of and of [his/her] spiritual desire to help you. Anything more then that would not be right because it could be misunderstood by others outside our faith.

That said, though the Church is the foundation for our Catholic faith, the practices you mentioned are biblical. Check out:

Taken from my Scripture Passages page under relics.

I hope this helps,

Mike

John replied:

Stephen,

You said:

  • Based on the definition of idolatry, how can I say that my actions towards a statue are not idolatrous?
  • If I touch it with my handkerchief then I kiss the statue, is it idolatrous?

Please help me. In as much as I would like to protect the teachings of the Church against my Born-Again friends and co-workers

  • Did you ever kiss a picture of a loved one, perhaps a deceased loved one?

It's the same thing. The picture is a point of contact for you, it reminds you of the person.
Sacred statues, paintings, and icons are similar to the family photo album.

The Saints are our spiritual family. They remind us of them. That's all. We don't worship either the statue or the saint. We honor their memory. We believe they are alive in Christ and can pray for us. For this reason, just as it is not idolatry to kiss your earthly mother or relative, it is not idolatry to do the same with:

  • your Heavenly mother or
  • your Heavenly brothers and sisters in Christ.

They can see us. They can pray for us and we can talk to them. We can have a relationship with them through our devotions, much like we do with our friends and family who we are devoted to but it is all by virtue of them and us being in Christ. Our devotion to the Blessed Mother, brings us closer to Christ. If it doesn't, then we are doing something wrong.

There is something wrong with the way we approaching our devotion. It's never meant to be a substitute for having a personal relationship with Jesus.

These devotions are complimentary.

I hope this helps,

John

Stephen replied:

Hi guys,

Thanks for the answers. I would like also to ask about this kind of tradition we Filipinos have during Easter Sundays. We call it Salubong or Encuentro, where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary would have a procession on a different route with a statue of the Risen Lord Jesus. They would meet, most of the time, in front of the church and there, the black cloth that signifies the mourning of Mary would be removed. When I was a kid, I joined that procession and would feel happy about it but now I feel a bit shaken about it.

  • Does a procession like this have its roots in pagan or pagan-like tradition?
  • It is like a re-enactment of Jesus' encounter with his mother after He had risen, but doesn't the use of statues make this a pagan tradition?

It seems to me that they are dolls being played. We also have similar processions like the encounter of Veronica and the Nazareno (Jesus carrying His Cross). At the end of procession, they would meet in front of the church.

Please don't get me wrong. I am still a Catholic. I studied from a Catholic High School and graduated with the Best in Religion award. I also served as a Knights of the Altar or an altar server, when in grade and early high school. I feel very sorry that many of my classmates, friends, and even co-workers, are leaving the faith for a Born-Again sect. They have many questions against the Catholic faith, that I answer as peacefully as I can.

I usually get my answers and read from Catholic.com (Catholic Answers), EWTN, and now recently from your web site but there are some questions that still shake my faith like those I just mentioned.

I am hoping that through the help of various true Catholic web sites like your own, I may be able to stand up for my faith and protect it. May you continue to strive to answer questions from people with the hope of ultimately leading them to the faith.

Many who have left for a Born-Again sect think there are certain questions which cannot be answered by the Vatican.

God bless you and your group.

To God be the glory!

Stephen

John replied:

Stephen,

Different traditions develop in different countries and cultures for different reasons.

  • Do they have parallel traditions in pagan or previous cultures>? <Could be.>

. . . but it's not worth getting upset over.

Sadly, we lose many Catholics to Born-Again sects. Often times because we, as Catholics, don't properly evangelize our own. We assume that because we have baptized our children and given them basic Catholic instruction, that we've shared the faith.

There is a difference between:

  • learning doctrine and
  • knowing Jesus.

There is difference between being taught about Jesus and being introduced to Him as The Real Person who, Himself, seeks you personally. The so-called Born-Again sects have a very simple and easy to understand message. It is the basic Gospel albeit a flawed understanding in many cases but most Catholics have a very poor understanding of the Gospel as well.

They believe that we can somehow earn our salvation. The Church doesn't teach this but when the faith gets transmitted, there is so much emphasis on good works and staying away from sin, or keeping the rules, that often times, there is not a proper understanding of Grace.

The Protestants, in an overreaction, misunderstand Grace.

When it comes to the Protestant view of the Saints, the Blessed Mother, and so forth, again, they have an overreaction to Catholics that don't understand the Gospel. Many Catholics think they cannot go to Jesus directly — that they need someone else that has extra brownie points to get Jesus to do something for them. That's a warped understanding.

We believe in the Communion of Saints because we acknowledge that all Christians are part of the Church and we are interdependent on each other. It is Jesus who grafts us into His Body and who brings us into relationship with Himself and each other.

Therefore He encourages each of us in the Body, living on Earth or in Heaven, to participate in His Redemptive Work through our prayers and actions, using the spiritual gifts that he endows us with.

I would encourage you to focus on the fundamentals of the Gospel and developing a relationship with our Lord.

Everything else will fall in to place.

John

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