Do Catholics Worship Images?

Reflecting upon the true meaning of idolatry based on the Bible

Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay

Catholics do not worship idols or images.

Bowing before an image does not mean a Catholic is worshipping that image or picture. If it is the image of Jesus, a Catholic is merely giving honor to Him who is represented by the image or picture.

It is like the statues of our national heroes that are honored. It doesn’t mean however that we worship such statues or that we believe them to be the same as the persons and heroes they represent.

It is also like the photos of our loved ones we keep in our wallets or put on our walls. They remind us of our loved ones. We even kiss such photos out of love for those whom they represent. We DO NOT love the photos for their own sake. We know that they ARE NOT our families and friends.

Why Catholics Do Not Worship Images

1. The first commandment forbids making images or idols that people will serve as gods.

Catholics HOWEVER, do not serve images of Jesus or Mary or the saints. They are mere representations that are honored in love and in respect of those whom they represent.

God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

-Exodus 20:1–6, WEB-BE

Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

2132 The 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:

Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

2. If it is ABSOLUTELY forbidden to make ANY IMAGES in a literal sense in the Old Testament, why then were the instructions to make several graven images in the form of cherubs, flowers and even of a snake?

The LORD said to Moses, “Make a venomous snake, and set it on a pole. It shall happen, that everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it on the pole. If a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked at the serpent of brass, he lived. — Numbers 21:8–9, WEB-BE

“You shall make two cherubim of hammered gold. You shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end. You shall make the cherubim on its two ends of one piece with the mercy seat. The cherubim shall spread out their wings upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces towards one another. The faces of the cherubim shall be towards the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I will give you. There I will meet with you, and I will tell you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the testimony, all that I command you for the children of Israel.” — Exodus 25:18–22, WEB-BE

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron, and tell him, ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lamp stand.’”

Aaron did so. He lit its lamps to light the area in front of the lamp stand, as the LORD commanded Moses. This was the workmanship of the lamp stand, beaten work of gold. From its base to its flowers, it was beaten work: according to the pattern which the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lamp stand.

-Numbers 8:1–4, WEB-BE

It is clear that such IMAGES have been allowed because the intention was NOT to worship such images but to serve other purposes e.g. to decorate, to be an instrument of God’s healing.

It is very different however when the Israelites made the image of a golden calf to SPECIFICALLY AND INTENTIONALLY WORSHIP IT:

The LORD spoke to Moses, “Go, get down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves! They have turned away quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’” — Exodus 32:7–8, WEB-BE

3. When the Lord commanded the Israelites not to make any graven images, it is to help them avoid the temptation of worshipping anything that is not GOD Himself.

During that time, God has not yet revealed His image to them. When Jesus came however, the image of God has finally been revealed to men. Thus, when we make statues or pictures depicting Jesus, we are worshipping God Himself. Not that we worship the statue or the picture itself, but the very One whom they depict — Jesus, the very image of God.

“Be very careful, for you saw no kind of form on the day that the LORD spoke to you in Horeb out of the middle of the fire, lest you corrupt yourselves, and make yourself a carved image in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth; and lest you lift up your eyes to the sky, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the army of the sky, you are drawn away and worship them, and serve them, which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole sky.” — Deuteronomy 4:15–19, WEB-BE

God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, who, when he had by himself purified us of our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they have. — Hebrews 1:1–4, WEB-BE


More than the literal issue of making a graven image, we should concern ourselves about the true nature of idolatry because idolatry consists of worshipping things other than GOD. When we put other things in our hearts above the importance we are giving to God, we are creating idols for ourselves to worship.

Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.

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Jocelyn Soriano is a Catholic devotional writer and poet. She wrote the books 366 Days of Compassion and Poems of Love and Letting Go. Aside from Medium, she also currently writes at I Take Off the Mask and Single Catholic Writer.