'Worship'? Just say 'NO'

I apologize, gentle readers, for having to go over this issue again so soon. Still, I have to admit that when a reader sent the following URL to your GetReligionistas, I thought for a second that it was a prank. Before I serve up a chunk of this way-below-average Associated Press report -- a version posted at FoxNews.com -- let's review a crucial term in the religion-beat dictionary.

ven-er-ate ... transitive verb

1: to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference 2: to honor (as an icon or a relic) with a ritual act of devotion

With that in mind, here is the top of the AP report:

JERUSALEM -- Remains of a revered French nun who died more than 100 years ago have traveled the world, ventured into outer space and been worshipped by hundreds of thousands of Catholics. Now the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux are making their way through the Holy Land.



No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

The faithful in the ancient churches of Christianity do not "worship" the relics of saints, in the definition that is clearly implied in this story. The proper word is "venerate."

Here is a useful comparison. Let's say that your immediate family includes a grandmother who, at some point in the past, lost her husband. Let's say that on her bedside table there is a picture of her beloved and, at bedtime, it is her custom to kiss this portrait goodnight. The proper term for this action is "veneration," not "worship," in the sense that this word is customarily used.

This subject is fresh in my mind because this past Sunday was the first in the season of Great Lent in the churches of the East -- known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy. At the end of the service, in a rite marking the ultimate defeat of the iconoclasts, the faithful loudly make the following proclamation. Note the language used in the references to icons (since this would also apply to relics) and the language applied to Jesus.

As the Prophets beheld, as the Apostles have taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers have dogmatized, as the Universe has agreed, as Grace has shown forth, as Truth has revealed, as falsehood has been dissolved, as Wisdom has presented, as Christ has awarded, let us declare, let us assert, let us preach in like manner Christ our true God and honor His Saints in words, in writings, in thoughts, in deeds, in churches, in holy icons -- worshiping Him as God and Lord and honoring them as His true servants of the master of all, and offering to them due veneration.

This is the Faith of the Apostles! This is the Faith of the Fathers! This is the Faith of the Orthodox! This is the Faith, which has established the Universe!

This is certainly not timid language. However, note the terms applied to the icons -- "honor" and "veneration." What is the term applied to Jesus Christ? The phrase is "worshiping Him as God and Lord. ..."

Now I bring this up as a journalistic issue, not as a subject for doctrinal debates. Other churches are free to believe what they believe and the Associated Press should cover those beliefs accurately. However, this particular AP story is simply wrong. The word "worship" should not be used in this lede because that is not what Catholics believe.

Now, you could say that AP could write a story in which Protestants and Catholics (or the Orthodox) debate the validity of what the ancient churches teach on this topic. That's true. That's a different story and it's valid, if that subject happens to be in the news.

But this particular lede needs to be corrected. Period.

Yes, I also noticed this passage later in the piece:

In the Catholic faith, relics refer to the bodily remains -- bits of bone, hair and blood -- of beatified religious figures. Devotees pray publicly to the remains of the venerated to ask for help or spiritual guidance. ...

(Cue: audible sigh)

Please respect our Commenting Policy