A few weeks ago I engaged someone close to me in conversation. He is not Catholic and actually has some prejudice about Catholicism. I asked him what were the main issues for him that created antibodies. His immediate answer was that Catholics pray to and worship the saints. I attempted to explain to him about the “communion of the saints” and how the Church is one yet composed of the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven) and the Church Militant (those of us earth). I didn’t get into the Church Suffering (the faithful souls in Purgatory)—that will be a blog for another day. I told him that death does not separate us and that we are still part of the same Body of Christ. Finally, I told him that if I had a need I would not hesitate to ask my brother or sister in Christ to pray for me, how much more those who are already in the very presence of God.
He was not convinced with my explanation. I didn’t try to push him into believing. Honestly, that is a work of the Holy Spirit who guides us into the Church and teaches us through Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. However, I did come across a treatise written by St. Augustine, a saint highly esteemed by Protestant and Catholic alike. His treatise is included in the Office of Readings today for the feast day of Pope St. Damasus I.
From a treatise against Faustus by Saint Augustine, bishop:
We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers. Yet we erect no altars to any of the martyrs, even in the martyrs’ burial chapels themselves.
No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, “Peter, we make this offering to you,” or “Paul, to you,” or “Cyprian, to you.” No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs. We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so.
So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us. We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle. We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already achieved the victor’s crown and live in heaven.
But the veneration strictly called “worship,” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone. The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are call idol-worshipers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If anyone among us falls into this error, he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned.
The saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved for God, as is clear from the case of Paul and Barnabas. When the Lycaonians were so amazed by their miracles that they wanted to sacrifice to them as gods, the apostles tore their garments, declared that they were not gods, urged the people to believe them, and forbade them to worship them.
Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them. (Lib. 20, 21; CSEL 25, 562-563)
Look forgivingly on thy flock, Eternal Shepherd, and keep it in thy constant protection, by the intercession of blessed Damasus thy Sovereign Pontiff, whom thou didst constitute Shepherd of the whole Church.
Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.