Let 'veneration' be veneration

Do you remember that post more than a week ago about the issue of Catholics (and other believers in ancient communions) praying "with," and not "to," the saints? This issue came up in the context of the rapid movement of the late Pope John Paul II toward sainthood in the Catholic Church. Click here the original post on that. Several things have come up in the past week or so that make me want to offer an update on the subject.

First of all, I used the subjects raised in the earlier post for a Scripps Howard News Service column on the topic. Here is a key chunk of that:

Simply stated, what does it mean to say believers can ask saints to pray on their behalf during the trials of daily life or in times of crisis? Father Arne Panula has faced this kind of question many times, especially as director of the Catholic Information Center a few blocks from the White House.

In press reports, this mystery is reduced to an equation that looks like this -- needy people pray to their chosen saints and then miracles happen. It's that simple. The problem, stressed Panula, is that this is an inadequate description of what Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians and some other Christians believe.

"What must be stressed is that we pray for a saint to intercede for us with God. Actually, it's more accurate to say that we ask the saint to pray 'with' us, rather than to say that we pray 'to' a saint," he said. "You see, all grace comes from the Trinity, from the Godhead. These kinds of supernatural interventions always come from God. The saint plays a role, but God performs the miracle. That may sound like a trivial distinction to some people, but it is not."

After this column ran I was hit with a small wave of strongly worded posts from Protestants who -- no surprise -- fiercely disagreed with the beliefs of ancient Christians on this subject. Some, of course, argued that the early Christians could not possibly have believed in asking for the intercessions of the saints and added that this (a) means that Catholics, the Orthodox and some others "worship" the saints and that these same traditions argue that Christians cannot pray directly to God and the Jesus Christ. Both claims are inaccurate, in terms of doctrine and traditions (although it does appear that some believers IN THOSE CHURCHES are confused on the proper ways to express these ancient beliefs).

It doesn't help anyone when mainstream media reports get these doctrines wrong, as well. That is simply more fuel for the fire.

Thus, the following Associated Press correction caught the attention of several readers:

By The Associated Press (CP) ...

VATICAN CITY -- In stories Jan. 14 and Jan. 15, The Associated Press reported that Pope John Paul II could be publicly venerated, or worshiped, once he is beatified. The story should have made clear that such veneration of saints in the Roman Catholic church is different from the worship owed to God alone.

Thus, later AP stories that offered updates on the John Paul ceremonies offered the following conclusion:

Once he is beatified, John Paul will be given the title "blessed" and can be publicly venerated. Veneration is the word commonly used to refer to that worship given to saints, either directly or through images or relics, which is different in kind from the divine worship given to God only, according to reference work, the Catholic Encyclopaedic Dictionary.

John Paul's entombed remains, currently in the grotto underneath St. Peter's Basilica, will be moved upstairs to a chapel just inside a main entrance for easier access by throngs of admirers.

OK, that's better. But note this confusion statement in that passage: "Veneration is the word commonly used to refer to that worship given to saints ... which is different in kind from the divine worship given to God only. ..."

What? Now, the reference is tied to a Catholic reference book. That's good. But the double use of the word "worship" is still confusion and it is not the way that I have, through the years, heard Catholic authorities state this doctrine. Frankly, the language in the correction noted earlier is shorter, clearer and more accurate.

Catholic readers (and journalists who are Catholic), what think ye on this issue? Personally, the Orthodox would say that "veneration" is veneration and that "worship" is worship. Attempting to have a double definition of "worship" is too much for an ordinary reader to follow, methinks.

Before clicking, "comment," please remember that the goal here is to discuss how mainstream media cover this issue. The journalistic goal is to accurately report the content of the traditions in these churches. The goal is NOT to argue about the doctrines themselves, unless one was writing an actual story about debates on that topic -- perhaps in an ecumenical gathering on that topic.

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