Not all Christians would be excited to celebrate the saints. “Shouldn’t we just focus on God? All this attention given to saints seems to take away from the worship we should give to Jesus,” they might say.
We as Catholics often try to clarify that we don’t worship the saints. We just honor them. But is there really a difference? And could you explain the difference between worship and honor to a friend?
Worship is the homage and praise given to God alone for who he is as the divine being. But honor is something different. Honor is the respect we give when recognizing a certain excellence in a person. Christians honor people all the time for good grades, athletic victories, and other achievements, successes, and qualities.
From a Christian perspective, when we honor people, we ultimately are recognizing the great things God has accomplished in a person’s life. So when Catholics honor the other saints, we are simply recognizing the great things God has done in their lives and celebrating it. This in no way takes away from the attention we give to God. In fact, it gives God more praise.
After all, who praises the artist more, the person who focuses only on the artist himself while ignoring his works of art? Or the person who praises the artist by admiring his masterpieces? God is the divine artist, and we should praise him for his greatest masterpieces, the saints.
The fact that God can take individual persons and transform them with his grace and make them saints is, indeed, praiseworthy! So if the Bible often praises God for his natural works of creation—praising God for the sun, moon, mountains, and seas (see Ps 104)—how much more should we praise God for his supernatural works of creation—the saints.
Honoring the saints does not detract in any way from our worship of God. We actually give God more praise when we acknowledge his achievements in the saints. When we honor the saints, we are basically saying, “Praise be to you, God, for what you did in the life of St. Paul!….Praised be you Jesus, for the work you did in St. Therese of Lisieux! We give praise to you Holy Spirit for transforming all the holy men and women of God!”
So when it comes to honoring the saints, the important question to ask is: Do you want to love God with all your heart and give God more praise? Because if you do, then you will want to recognize his spiritual masterpieces, the saints. That’s why we take time to learn about the saints, strive to imitate them, develop a relationship with them and seek their intercession. As we draw nearer to the saints, we draw nearer to God.
This article is based on a chapter on Mary and the Saints in “the Symbolon Book” Love Unveiled–The Catholic Faith Explained now available as a paperback edition!