Distinct Characteristics of Latria

I’ve heard many times that Latria is the reverence reserved for God. This is often in contrast to dulia which is the reverence that Catholics are encouraged to have for the saints.

The argument goes, that since the definition of Latria is “that worship fit only for God”, and since we do not offer Latria to saints, therefore we do not offer Latria to saints, therefore we do not worship saints.

But isn’t this a circular argument? What exactly are the distinctive characteristics of Latria? In other words, how would I know if I was accidentally (or intentionally) revering a saint too much and crossing the line into the worship that is reserved for God only? Surely, just because Catholics aren’t supposed to worship saints, doesn’t mean that no Catholic ever has, right? So how would one judge this?

The key distinction is that latria is sacrifice. This means latria first and foremost, is the Mass: the offering to God of the only worthy Sacrifice: that of Calvary. All other acts of latria outside of the Mass always connect to the Mass and the Paschal Mystery. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is latria because it is the official daily prayer of the Church, the voice of the the Mystical Body of Christ, and is therefore an extension of the Mass, a sacrifice of praise. The Stations of the Cross is latria because it is a direct meditation on the sacrifice of Calvary (which is why you genuflect, an act of latria). Eucharistic Adoration is latria because it is worship of the Blessed Sacrament, which of course flows from the Mass. Good Friday’s Adoration of the Cross is latria because it is, well, Calvary.

One would never do any of that to a saint, no matter how flowery the language. For as long as one is not offering any sacrifice to a saint, or anything that attempts to connect to sacrifice to a saint, or talk about the saint’s blood washing them clean, there is no latria.


From Modern Catholic Dictionary (excerpt)

Divine worship actually includes three principal acts, namely

  • adoration (or the recognition of God’s infinite perfection),
  • prayer or the asking for divine help,
  • and sacrifice or the offering of something precious to God.

Worship as veneration also has three principal forms, whereby the angels and saints

  • are honored for their sanctity,
  • asked to intercede before the divine Majesty,
  • and imitated in their love and service of God.
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You cannot ‘accidentally’ worship something.

Worship involves knowing and purpose.

Do you think Catholics are stupid enough to deliberately think a saint is, himself or herself, GOD? And to thereby worship “St So and So, who is God?”

Some poor souls probably think, “Catholics are So ‘over the top’, with their bowing and their candles and their flowery prayers. I bet some of them—most of them even, especially the old ones— secretly spend more time lighting candles and praying vain rosaries and since their focus is more on those saints, instead of giving all their attention to God alone they are probably accidentally ‘worshipping’ saints. How sad. Why don’t they just think about God and give up all this bowing and ‘dulia’ and Latin stuff. I’m just worried about the poor ignorant fules getting sent to hell for blasphemy don-cha-know”. . .

I once knew a Redemptorist priest whose custom when praying to God was to lie prostrate on the floor in adoration of his Creator who made him from nothing and continuously holds him in existence. He did not pray to the saints in the same manner.

But I also agree with the poster above that the supreme act of worship is the sacrifice of the Mass wherein we offer to the Father through the Holy Spirit the one sufficient offering of his only begotten Son.

Thank you. So does this mean it is a sin to sacrifice something for a saint? e.g. “Holy Mary, I will abstain from meat today to show my love for you.”

This is helpful but partly a circular definition in that “prayer or asking for divine help” is part of what constitutes divine worship… what exactly distinguishes asking for divine help vs asking for other forms of help?

E.g. if I kneel down before a statue of an eagle and ask the eagle spirit for help, is this latria or dulia?

You’re confusing sacrifice with penance. They are related, but not the same.

There is only one Sacrifice: what Jesus did on Calvary. That is the core of latria, and is why the Mass is the very definition of latria. Everything else that’s latria (Eucharistic Adoration, Liturgy of the Hours, Stations of the Cross, Good Friday celebration) flows from the Mass and its central mystery: the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, participating in his eternal priesthood. Something is latria only insofar as it is a participation in or unified with the Paschal Mystery.

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So by your logic, it is okay to kneel down to the emperor, or kneel down to a pagan idol, as long as I don’t believe either of them are divine?

What is an eagle spirit?

It is okay to kneel down to a king or emperor, if kneeling is the customary gesture of reverence due their office.

It is not okay to kneel down to a pagan idol, regardless of whether you intend latria or dulia, because a pagan idol is not a rational being, and is therefore incapable of receiving reverence. Such an action therefore constitutes falsehood, which is sinful. This makes the action idolatry.

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This seems logically coherent, although I am suspicious about the claim that idolatry is wrong primarily because it is dishonest and the false god doesn’t really exist. My uneducated pious sense is that idolatry has more to do with devotion than it has to do with whether the false deity is real or not. It is about loyalty to God.

But, to entertain your hypothesis that this is all about whether they really exist, I’ll use demons and bad rulers as examples, since we both agree they exist. How much devotion can we show to an evil earthly ruler? If we encounter a demon, and he demands that we just perform dulia on him, not worship, is it okay to bow down and kiss the demon’s feet? If not, what about just to call him something like “your highness” or “sir”?

I think I’ve already explained the position of latria clearly enough.

This is just proceeding into the ridiculous. Like, really. Kissing demons’ feet?

Good bye.

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Where did you get that idea from?

I said nothing of the kind.

I guess specific examples aren’t intellectual enough for you theologian types. Silly ridiculous ol’ me.

Are you truly interested in asking ‘specifics”?
Demon emperors are in short supply.

The Emperor of Japan is a legitimate ruler like the Emperor of Rome in Jesus’ time. I seem to recall Jesus saying to render to the emperor what is the emperor’s, and to God what is God’s. And in fact, Jesus (through Peter) paid the requisite TAX to Rome.

Your legal authority, be it president, prime minister, queen, king, etc. is owed by citizens allegiance and the respect due to rank.

If I bow to the Queen of England prior to becoming a Dame (let it be so some day) I am not worshipping her as a God, or even as the ruler of the Church of England, as I don’t belong to that church). I am paying the recognized respect to her status as Queen of England.

If however I bow before her knowing that through the work of Dr Who the Tardis has brought forth a Time Lord and put said lord into the body of the Queen, and I wish to worship the Time Lord and that’s why I’m bowing, boo, bad ol me.

I highly doubt that when I’m square dancing and bowing to my partner that I’m worshipping some demon lord, or that my friends in Japan bowing to each other are saying, “Hey god. . .same, god”. . .

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And yet, I’ve heard dozens of sermons saying that many of us have false idols, and actually worship money or something else as our idol. So there is more to worship than an intellectual belief that something is god. It is about putting trust or faith or offering obedience to something. How far can we go before we cross the line?

So the distinction is whether you are bowing before a spiritual being like the “Time Lord”?

What about the Christians who were martyred rather than kneel before Emporer Domitian?

Welcome back to the forum after seven years! If it’s not too personal, just curious what brought you back after all this time away.

Latria as adoration of God is an act of religion offered to God in acknowledgment of His supreme perfection and dominion, and of the creature’s dependence upon Him. Other than hearing certain words, it would be difficult to determine simply by looking at it. Generally, though, there are culturally understood forms. Sacrifice is the most consistent act reserved exclusively for adoration, as someone else mentioned above. Here’s a good summary from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The rational creature, looking up to God, whom reason and revelation show to be infinitely perfect, cannot in right and justice maintain an attitude of indifference. That perfection which is infinite in itself and the source and fulfilment of all the good that we possess or shall possess, we must worship, acknowledging its immensity, and submitting to its supremacy. This worship called forth by God, and given exclusively to Him as God, is designated by the Greek name latreia (latinized, latria), for which the best translation that our language affords is the word Adoration. Adoration differs from other acts of worship, such as supplication, confession of sin, etc., inasmuch as it formally consists in self-abasement before the Infinite, and in devout recognition of His transcendent excellence. An admirable example of adoration is given in the Apocalypse 7:11-12: “And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the ancients, and about the living creatures; and they fell before the throne upon their faces, and adored God, saying: Amen. Benediction and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, honour, and power, and strength to our God. forever and ever. Amen.” The revealed precept to adore god was spoken to Moses upon Sinai and reaffirmed in the words of Christ: “The Lord thy God thou shalt adore, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10).

The primary and fundamental element in adoration is an interior act of mind and will; the mind perceiving that God’s perfection is infinite, the will bidding us to extol and worship this perfection.

It is to be expected, then, that men should have agreed upon certain conventional actions as expressing adoration of the Supreme Being. Of these actions, one has pre-eminently and exclusively signified adoration, and that is sacrifice. Other acts have been widely used for the same purpose, but most of them — sacrifice always excepted — have not been exclusively reserved for Divine worship; they have also been employed to manifest friendship, or reverence for high personages.


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