I wrote an article I entitled, “Do you pray to statues” because of the many accusation floating out in the land of the Internet. Recently at Mass I was thinking about this as our priest was using the Incense around the Altar, the podium, even the people.
Bowing has several purposes, I’ve seen people bow as a sign of humble respect. Suffering defeat, people bow in respect to the winners, in war, people have bowed in shame. People bow when receiving great applause, it is a measure of humbling oneself. Bowing can be a form of showing respect or submission.
For religious purposes, the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary states, “to incline in respect or submission”. To the Christian, it is all about reverence and respect. What is being viewed from the act of using incense is bringing the supernatural into the presence of the congregation. Revelation 8:3-5 states, “Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it down to the earth. There were pearls of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.”
This worship taking place in Heaven at the golden altar before the Lord, is extended to us in the Mass. The incense we see reflects that happening taking place before the throne. It is not the smoke of the incense that becomes the focus, but the prayers offered to God on behalf of His people.
When the Priest is taking the incense around the Altar at Mass, this is in reverence to what is taking place in heaven. We are part of what is taking place as we enjoin our prayer with those in heaven.
We are literally “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:3) as we are participating with the prayer of the holy ones (Revelation 5:8).
This visual representation taking place reflects the actual worship taking place in the Holy of Ho-lies; this is not foreign to Jewish worship. God Himself used smoke and fire as symbols of his presence among His people.
Abraham witnessed God’s presence through a smoking brazier and a flaming torch (Genesis 15:17) and God’s glory would be made manifest through smoke. Moses experienced this presence of smoke from the cloud as this was God manifesting His presence (Exodus 40:34-38).
In the New Testament, Revelation 15:8 speaks of the temple in heaven being filled with the smoke from God’s glory. When we bow in the Lord’s presence, we are showing reverence to the King of Kings.
Revelation 11:19 speaks of a vision God gives to St. John the Apostle, “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lighting, rumblings, and pearls of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm.” This is much like the happening in Revelation 8:5!
So, when you see people who are bowing or kneeling before sacred objects, those objects are not the objects of worship but are shown the respect of what is being represented. Nobody is talking to a statue of Jesus, but it is Jesus himself that the statue represents that a person is talking to.
When you see sacred objects of the Saints, the same is true, nobody is speaking to the statues, but the prayers are offered to God. Actually, it is really more to say that we are joining our prayer with the Saints when we ask them to pray for us. Intercessory prayer is taking place, there is no oblation offered to a Saint.
When you see the Priest kiss the Altar, he is showing respect and reverence towards God who is abiding at the Altar before His Throne. The Priest is not worshiping the Altar itself.
Bowing and giving reverence and respect to false god’s would be a serious problem. Exodus 20:4, “You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.”
St. Paul is warning against idolatry, consider what he is saying, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.” (1 Corinthians 10:21)
There is the difference between the table of the Lord and the table of demons, likewise, there is a difference from the use of sacred objects from the use of the graven images.
The enemies of the Lord seek to eradicate the Lord’s image from the face of the earth. They want you to bow to the idols of men that takes you away from the very presence of God.
Within the Christian community, sacred images are tools that help fortify to the Christian the Lord’s presence in their lives. To see the mighty acts of God through art, music, our lives are tools that help us lift up our hearts and minds to the King of Kings. They are simply reminders to the Christian. What is exterior of a Christian, should reflect what is interior. This is really the story of Pentecost. It is the Holy Spirit from within a person, that the exteriors points the way of a persons heart. Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.
It is from what is interior of the heart that St. Paul writes, “You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, shown to be a letter not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.” 2 Corinthians 3:2-4
As Catholics, we learn to genuflect whenever we enter the Church, this is not towards any statue or any image, it is a recognition of the Presence of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found in human in appearance, he humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every KNEE SHOULD BEND, of those in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
MOST Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference by which He is offended. And through the infinite merit of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.