Light From the Altar – Saints, Angels and Images

The Souls of the Just to Live with Christ

Q. How is it known that the souls of the Just are immediately admitted to the possession of God in heaven, when they depart out of this life?

A. First, From the following clear testimonies of holy scripture: “We know,” says Saint Paul, “that, if our earthly house of his dwelling be dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; for in this also we groan, desiring to be clothed over with our dwelling which is from heaven.” (2 Corinthians 5:1) After, he adds, “therefore, having always confidence, knowing, that, while we are in the body, we are absent from the Lord. But we are confident, I say, and have a good will to be absent rather from the body, and to be present with the Lord,” (verse 8); which demonstrates that the beatitude of the saints is not deferred till the resurrection; but that, in the mean time, and whilst they are, “absent from the body,” their blessed souls are “present with the Lord.” In his epistle to the Philippians, he says, “To me to live is Christ; and to die is gain; and, if to live in the flesh, this is to me the fruit of labor, and what I shall choose I know not. But I am straightened between two, having a desire to be dissolved and be with Christ, a thing by far the better; but to abide still in the flesh is needful for you.” (Philippians 1:21) Saint John actually saw great multitudes of saints and martyrs in heaven, adoring Christ, and saying, “Thou art worthy, Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us to our God a kingdom, and priests,” (Apocalypse 5:9); and of the holy virgins he also saw great numbers, “who follow the Lamb wherever he goes, and have his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads;” and “these,” he says, “were purchased from among men, the first fruits to God and to the Lamb,” (Apocalypse 14:4).

Second, From the constant belief and tradition of the church of Christ.

Third, From this reason, founded on what Christ himself declared that God is certainly much more inclined and desirous to do good to his creatures, than to afflict them. To do good to his creatures is his first and principle desire; to afflict them is a force upon his goodness, which their sins demand from his justice. Now Christ assures us, that, when the wicked die, their souls are immediately condemned to hell, as we see in the rich man in the gospel. If, therefore, the justice of God alone, immediately inflicts punishment upon sinners at their death, much more will his goodness and justice combined together, immediately reward his holy saints, when they leave this world, by admitting their souls into eternal happiness.

Like the Angels of God in Heaven

Q. What description does the scripture give us of the exaltation and dignity of the saints in heaven?

A. That “they stand before the throne, and in the sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands,” (Apocalypse 7:9); that, “they shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” (Matthew 13:43); that they “are like the angels of God in heaven,” (Matthew 22:30); that they are so highly exalted as to become even like God himself; for “we know,” says the beloved disciple, “that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him, because we shall see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2); that the blessed company of the inhabitants of heaven is composed of an immense multitude of cherubim and seraphim, and holy angels, all on fire with divine love; thus, “thousands of thousands minister to him, and ten hundred times a hundred thousand stand before him,” (Daniel 7:10); of an inconceivable number of holy martyrs, who having “come out of great tribulation, have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, and serve him day and night in his temple,” (Apocalypse 7:14); of numbers without numbers of other blessed souls, the patriarchs and prophets, the apostles of the Lamb, and his holy confessors, who, “having overcome, are clothed in white, and walk with him, because they are worthy,” (Apocalypse 3:4); of the chaste spouses of Jesus Christ, “who have not defiled their souls, but are virgins; in whose mouth there was found no lie, but are without spot before the throne of God,” (Apocalypse 14); and, above all the blessed Virgin Mother of God, the Queen of saints and angels, “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars,” (Apocalypse 12:1); the symbol of her super-eminent dignity above all the rest. Such is the splendor, magnificence, and beauty of these heavenly inhabitants; they are all advanced to the highest dignity that can be conceived, even to a fellowship with the living God, and a partnership with Jesus Christ in his throne; for, “to him that shall overcome,” he says, “I will give to sit with me in my throne,” (Apocalypse 3:21).

Our Communion with the Blessed

Q. What is meant by our communion with the blessed in heaven?

A. The communion of the saints, which we profess in the creed to believe as a truth revealed by God, is not confined to the communion of prayers, and other good works, which the faithful upon earth, have with one another; but also, and in a particular manner, it includes the communion which we have with our deceased brethren, who are departed out of this life in the faith and love of Jesus, whether they be as yet detained in purgatory or are gone to enjoy God in his kingdom. The word communion signifies a mutual communication of good things, and the communion of the saints signifies a mutual communication of such good things as relate to our salvation. The saints in heaven are already perfectly happy, and secure of their own salvation, and the only good they can receive from us is the pleasure of seeing us praise and glorify God on their account, and of our putting it in their power to contribute towards our salvation. Our communion with them then consists, in our praising God for their happiness, paying them that honor and veneration which is due to their great dignity, as the friends and favorites of God, and, begging a share in their holy prayers; and it consists, on their side, in their offering up our prayers to God, and praying for us.

Honor Due the Saints and Angels

Q. What is meant by the honor and veneration due to the saints?

A. The words honor, veneration, worship, adoration, and the like, all agree in this, that they suppose some dignity, excellency, or merit, in the person to whom they are given; they also suppose that we have an inward esteem, regard and respect for the person, on account of the excellencies we perceive in him. When therefore we know that a person possesses any dignity, excellency or merit, and, on that account have real esteem and regard for him in our heart, and when we testify this internal respect and esteem by such outward signs, whether in words or actions, as are expressive of that inward disposition of our heart towards him; this is what is meant by honor, veneration, worship, and adoration, in the general meaning of these words, in which they all agree. There is, however, a difference among them in some particulars; for to honor one, signifies, properly, to testify, by outward signs, the merits or excellency of the person whether he be our superior or inferior; thus a king honors a subject when he gives him any marks of his royal favor. The other words, besides testifying our respect for the excellencies of the person, imply at the same time, an acknowledgment of our own inferiority to him, at least with regard to those qualifications for which we honor him. Veneration is properly the respect we have for another, on account of some virtuous or religious excellency we perceive in; adoration most commonly signifies the respect we pay to God himself, or the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Worship is used promiscuously to signify both the honor we pay to God, and to holy persons, and also the respect we pay to civil magistrates. As, therefore, we have seen, that the saints and angels of God are adorned with many great excellencies, and are honored by God himself with the most exalted dignity, far superior to any thing in this world, for which they justly deserve the highest esteem and regard; the honor and veneration which is due to them from us, by our words and actions, that esteem and regard we have for them, as they so justly deserve.

Q. But is it not idolatry to worship saints and angels, as they are mere creatures?

A. Was it idolatry, in David’s nobles, “to worship the king?” (1 Chronicles 29:28); or, in Abraham, and Lot, and Josue, to worship the angels? or, in Abdias to worship Elias the prophet? or in the sons of the prophets to worship Eliseus? Or is it idolatry to acknowledge the dignity and excellencies of those above us, and to pay them that outward respect and veneration to which they are justly entitled on that account? To accuse of idolatiy the respect and veneration which the Church of Christ pays to the saints and angels of God, can only arise from ignorance, or malice and misrepresentation. The respect and veneration due to the saints and angels, far from being an injury to God, is an honor done to him; because it is only for his sake it is given them, as a just tribute to the graces with which he has adorned them, and a fulfilling of the intentions of God himself, when he said, “Whosoever shall glorify me, him will I glorify,” (1 Kings 2:30); and of our Savior who declares, “If any man minister to me, him will my Father honor,” (John 12:26).

Intercession for Our Spiritual and Temporal Welfare

Q. What is meant by the invocation of saints and angels?

A. It is to ask them to present our prayers to the throne of grace, and join their more powerful prayers for us, to obtain what is for our spiritual and temporal welfare.

Q. Do the saints and angels interest themselves in the happiness of men, and pray to God for them?

A. They do; and this is clearly declared in scripture,

First, That is a natural consequence of their ardent love to God, and of their fervent charity. Saint Paul assures us, that charity or the love of God, and of our neighbor for God’s sake never fails; faith and hope, and other such virtues, are swallowed up by the enjoyment of God in heaven, but this holy love is then only brought to its highest perfection: the blessed inhabitants of heaven, seeing the Divine Being in all the effulgence of his infinite beauty, are inflamed to the highest degree, with love for him, and the most ardent desires that he should be loved and served by all his creatures; and at the same time, sensible of the infinite happiness they enjoy in him, they are also inflamed by the most ardent zeal for the salvation of souls, and the most fervent desires, that all their brethren upon earth should come to enjoy the same happiness. Now, what are all these desires for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, but so many fervent prayers in the sight of God for our salvation? This, then, is their continual employment, to praise and adore God for all his glories, and for their own bliss, and to pour forth to him their most earnest prayers, that all their brethren upon earth may be brought to the same happiness. In fact,

Second, We have seen above, that this is one principal part of their employment in heaven, offering up the prayers of the saints upon earth, as a most agreeable sacrifice of incense in the sight of God.

Third, The prophet Zacharias relates a fervent prayer that an angel made for the people of God, and for the city of Jerusalem, and that his prayer was graciously heard by God; “And the angel of the Lord answered and said, Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem, and on the cities of Juda, with which thou hast been angry! this is now the seventieth year. And the Lord answered the angel that spoke in me, good words, comfortable words,” (Zacharias 1:12).

Fourth, In the celebrated dream which Judas Macchabeus had first, “Onias who had been high priest – holding up his hands, prayed for all the people of the Jews. After this there appeared also another man, admirable for age and glory, and environed with great beauty and majesty. Then Onias answering, said, This is a lover of his brethren and the people of Israel, this is he that prayeth much for the people, and for all the holy city, Jeremias the prophet of God,” (2 Macchabees 15:12). Now, Onias and Jeremias had been dead long before, and as this happened some hundred years before Christ, it manifestly shows that the people of God, even in the old law, firmly believed that the departed saints of God were solicitous for their brethren upon earth, and prayed for them.

Fifth, If the rich glutton, though in hell fire, was solicitous for his brethren, and prayed that they might not come to that place of torment; how much more must the saints and angels in heaven do the same?

Angels Appointed by God to Watch Over Us

Q. What does the Christian religion teach us concerning our angel guardians?

A. That particular angels are commanded and appointed by God to watch over us, and protect us, and bestow many good benefits upon us, is thus declared in scripture, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14) To minister, is to serve, to guard, to help us. Again, “he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways,” (Psalm 90:11). Hence our Savior says, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven,” (Matthew 18:10). And when Saint Peter was delivered out of prison, and came and knocked at the door where the rest were gathered together, they, hearing his voice, could not believe it was himself, and said, “It is his angel,” (Acts 12:15).

Q. What are the services which we receive from our angel guardians?

A. Many and most important: First, they direct us to what is good, by their holy inspirations, and correct us when we do ill, and preserve us from many spiritual dangers. Thus God says to his people, “Behold, I will send my angel who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared.

Second, They assist us in our temporal affairs. Thus, when Agar was at last banished from her mistress’s house, with her son, “she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Bersabee. And when the water in the bottle was spent, she cast the boy under one of the trees that were there, and went her way, for she said, I will not see the boy die, and sitting over against him, she lifted up her voice and wept.” In this distress the angel of God appeared to her, and comforted her, and showed her a well of water to relieve her, (Genesis 21:14). When the prophet Elias was in the wilderness, and in utter want of all things, his angel brought him two different times a cake of bread, and a vessel of water to support him, (3 Kings 19).

Third, They deliver us from dangers and temporal evils; and this is one of the principal ends for which Almighty God commits us to their care; for, “he hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways; in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone,” (Psalm 90:11); and “the angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear him, and shall deliver them,” (Psalm 33:8). The famous history of Eliseus, when the city he was in was besieged by the army of the Syrians, is well known; for, when his servant expressed his great fear on that account, the prophet said, “Fear not, for there are more with us than with them.” And Eliseus prayed, and said, “Lord open his eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of chariots, and horsemen of fire, round about Eliseus,” (4 Kings 6:16). The history of Tobias is full of the sendees done to that good man by the holy angel Raphael; and, when Saint Peter was thrown into prison, and was to be put to death next day, the angel of the Lord delivered him out of prison in a most wonderful manner, (Acts 12); as was also done to the other apostles; for, when they were “put in the common prison, an angel of the Lord, by night, opening the doors of the prison, and leading them out, said Go, and, standing, speak in the temple to the people, all the words of this life,” (Acts 5:19).

Fourth, They pray for us, and present our prayers to God.

Fifth, Lastly, they take care of our souls at our death, assisting us at that tremendous moment, and when the soul departs from the body conduct it to her rest. Thus, our Savior assures us, that, when Lazarus “died he was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom,” (Luke 16:22).

Honor and Veneration Due the Blessed Virgin

Q. What is the honor and veneration which is due to the Blessed Virgin?

A. We have seen above, that the honor and veneration given to the saints in heaven, is due to them on account of their great dignity, their connection with Jesus Christ, and the high privileges and excellencies which they enjoy. Hence it follows, that the more sublime the dignity of any saint is, the nearer they are united with Jesus Christ, and the higher and more exalted privileges they enjoy, the greater honor and veneration is due to them. Now, as the Blessed Virgin Mary is super-eminently above all the other saints, and even above the highest angels themselves, in all these respects, it follows as a necessary consequence, that the honor and veneration due to her is super-eminently greater than that which we owe to all the other saints and angels.

Q. What are the high privileges which the Blessed Virgin enjoys, so far more excellent than all the other heavenly inhabitants?

A. They are chiefly these following:

First, That sublime and inconceivable dignity of being the mother of God; a dignity so high and grand, that it elevates her at once far above all other creatures, above every thing whatsoever that is less than God. It is true, she is still a pure creature, and of course, infinitely below God, between whom and every possible creature, there must always be an infinite distance; but, with regard to all other creatures, there is as great a distance between the Blessed Virgin and the most sublime seraphim, as there is between the dignity of the mother of God and his servants. Saint Elizabeth was amazed at the sight of this sublime dignity of the Blessed Virgin; for, when “she heard the salutation of Mary – she was filled with the Holy Ghost, and she cried out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb; and whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me,” (Luke 1:41). By particular inspiration of the Holy Ghost she pronounced Mary the most blessed of women, and was confounded and amazed that so great a personage, as the mother of God should come to visit her.

Second, The intimate relation she has with Jesus Christ, by the sacred quality of being His mother. He, indeed, out of his super-abundant goodness, is pleased to consider his faithful servants as his brethren, and to treat them as such, but they are his brethren, at most, only by adoption; but the Blessed Virgin Mary is his mother by nature, not by adoption, but by the nearest ties of flesh and blood; he is flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone, his sacred body was formed of her flesh, and fed and nourished by her blood; so that her relation with him is that of a mother with the son of her womb, than which nothing can possibly be nearer between two persons. How justly then, is she entitled to the highest veneration!

Third, The superiority and authority which he was pleased to give her over himself, in consequence of her being his mother. An amazing thing it is, no doubt, to see the Creator of heaven and earth depending upon his own creature, the Sovereign Lord of all subject to a woman; he who provides for all creatures standing in need of being tended, supported and nourished, by one of them; and yet this is the very case. When God the Son first appeared among men, he was pleased to depend upon his Virgin Mother for all the innumerable helps that an infant stands in need of at that tender age; to be tended and supported by her and nourished with the milk of her breast, and as he grew up, all we know about him, during his private life, till the thirtieth year of his age, is, that “he went down to Nazareth, and was subject to her,” (Luke 2:51). What an amazing idea does this give us of the honor and dignity of this ever Blessed Virgin? If it be thought so great an honor, among men, to be a nurse and guardian of a King’s son, what must it be to be the mother, the nurse, and the guardian of the King of kings?

Fourth, The immaculate purity of this ever Blessed Virgin is a privilege of immense value, bestowed only on Mary: “Behold they that serve him are not steadfast, and in his angels he found wickedness,” (Job 4:18); but in Mary he found none. She, ever steadfast in his holy service, she was by the special disposition of Divine Providence, from the very first instant of her conception, evermore preserved in innocence, and perfectly unsullied by the smallest stain of sin. She never ceased to be the undefiled temple of God, the chaste and immaculate spouse of the Holy Ghost, and, of consequence, the sacred object of his complacency and love. In her he never found the smallest opposition to his will, but a continual correspondence and improvement of every grace he bestowed upon her. Hence his infinite goodness, whose delight is to communicate, with the utmost profusion, his holy grace to those in whom he finds no obstacle, was continually increasing his sanctifying grace in her soul.

Fifth, The angel Gabriel, when he appeared to her, declared her to be “full of grace, and that the Lord himself was with her,” and that on this account, she was, in a particular manner, “blessed among women,” (Luke 1:28). What a high idea does all this give us of the immense dignity to which she is now raised in heaven, ahove all the other saints, corresponding to her immaculate purity, and the innumerable graces, with which her blessed soul was adorned during her moral state!

Sixth, On all these accounts, she herself, by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, prophesied the great honor and veneration that should be paid her in the Church of God till the end of the world, when she said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me Blessed; for he that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is his name,” (Luke 1:46).

Q. What is the true devotion we ought to pay to the Blessed Virgin?

A. The true devotion which we owe to the Blessed Virgin consists in:

First, in endeavoring to save our souls by imitating her example in those sacred virtues for which she was most remarkable; particularly in the practice of her profound humility, her great purity, her admirable patience and meekness, her ardent love for Jesus Christ, her perfect conformity to the will of God in all her afflictions, and her tender love and compassion for others.

Second, in often meditating upon her great virtues, and the sublime reward she has received for them in heaven, encouraging ourselves, by that consideration, to go on with courage and perseverance in following her sacred example, with a firm hope in the mercy of God, that, through the merits of her blessed Son, we shall one day come to enjoy her blessed company in heaven.

Third, In often thanking and praising God for all the glorious privileges and graces bestowed upon her, and for the great glory she now enjoys in heaven:

Fourth, In frequently begging the assistance of her prayers for grace to enable us to imitate her example, with a firm confidence that Almighty God, through the merits of her Son, “will accept her face” for us, as he accepted the face of Job for his three friends, and through her intercession, grant us those graces which he may justly refuse to our unworthiness.

Honor and Veneration Not Due to Material Images But to What They Represent

Q. What is meant by holy images?

A. Holy images represent Jesus Christ and his saints, or historical facts of the sacred scripture, representing, in a striking manner, to the eyes, what we read of being done or suffered by our Savior and his holy servants, and they are called holy from the relation they bear to the holy persons or things which they represent.

Q. As the command of God says, “thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth; thou shalt not adore them nor serve them; I am the Lord thy God, mighty and jealous,” (Exodus 20:4). Does not this absolutely forbid the making or using of holy pictures or images?

A. By no means:

First, If these words were intended to prohibit the making of images of any kind, as they include every thing without exception, “thou shalt not make to thyself the likeness of any thing, in heaven or earth, or under the earth,” it would be unlawful to make any picture at all; because all are included, whether holy or profane; so that it would be a sin to make the picture of a friend, or to paint a horse or a house, or any creature whatsoever, which no sensible man ever imagined to be the meaning of that command; consequently it does not prohibit the making of images in general.

Second, neither does it absolutely prohibit the making of holy images, for a very palpable reason: because God himself absolutely commanded holy images to be made; for he said to Moses, “Thou shalt also make two cherubims of beaten gold on the two sides of the oracle; let one cherub be on the one side, and the other on the other: let them cover both sides of the propitiatory (or mercy seat) spreading their wings and covering the oracle,” (Exodus 25:18), “and looking the one towards the other,” (Exodus 37:9). And when Solomon built the temple, “he graved cherubims on the walls,” (2 Chronicles 3:3). Where also are described at large the magnificent manner in which he “made in the house of the Holy of Holies, cherubims of image work, and over-laid them with gold,” (verse 10) “and they stood upright on their feet, and their faces were turned toward the house without,” (verse 13). All these things (said he) came to me written by the hand of the Lord,” (1 Chronicles 28:19). Also, the Lord said to Moses, make a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign; whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live,” (Numbers 21:8). This was a holy image, representing Christ upon the cross, as he himself assures us, (John 3:14). Now, as this shows to a demonstration, that the words of the command do not forbid the making of holy images, otherwise God would never have commanded them, on so many occasions, to be made.

Third, Neither does the command forbid to honor holy images, and to use them for religious purposes; for God not only commanded the images of the two cherubims to be placed upon the mercy seat, and upon the ark of the covenant, which was doing them a great honor, but he also said to Moses, “thence will I give orders, and will speak to thee of the propitiatory, and from the midst of the two cherubims,” (Exodus 25:22).

Q. What does the Church teach concerning the honor and veneration due the holy images?

A. With regard to holy images, the Church, in; the general Council of Trent, teaches, “The images of Christ, and of his Virgin Mother, and of other saints, are to be had and retained, especially in churches, and a due honor and veneration is to be shown them: not that any divinity or virtue is believed to be in them, for which they are to be honored, or that any prayer is to be made to them, or that any confidence is to be placed in them, as was formerly done by the heathens, who placed their hopes in idols: but because the honor which is given them, is referred to the originals which they represent; so that by the images which we kiss, and before which we uncover our heads, or kneel, we adore Christ, and venerate his saints, whose likeness they represent,” (Session 25).

MLA Citation

  • Father James J McGovern. Light from the Altar, 1906. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 October 2019. Web. 26 February 2021. <http://catholicsaints.info/book-of-saints-/>