How do we define "worship?"

How do we define worship? Is there an official document, or somewhere in the Catechism, that defines it?

In all the talk about “do we worship Mary” I have never seen anyone discuss what worship means. I’ve seen the lateria, doulia, and hyperdoulia distinction a hundred times, but I’ve never seen anyone say, “Lateria is…” “Doulia is…” and “Hyperdoulia is…”

It is clear to me that Protestants think that any form of prayer is worship. Prayer, furthermore, is not simply communicating or asking per se (so the whole “I pray to my friends when I ask them something.” and “Prithee”=“I pray thee” is moot, because that is not what Protestants -or anyone today- means by the word prayer.) Specifically, prayer is communication with that which is beyond this world.

I have heard some Catholics say that worship is sacrifice. That’s too simple of an answer. My user name is “I love my wife” and as such, I will make sacrifices for her. That does not equate as worship. Likewise, I’ve seen some prayers to the effect that we are offering up (=sacrificing) our TOTAL selves to Mary. But if worship is merely sacrifice, then we do worship Mary. But we do not worship her. Thus worship is not merely sacrifice.

So I return to my question: what is worship? What is the difference between lateria, doulia, and hyperdoulia?

(I am most interested in answers from Catholics. If you are Protestant and you want to comment on my notion of Protestant worship, please let us know that you are Protestant!)

Here’s the definition found in the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Adoration and honor given to God, which is the first act of the virtue of religion (2096). Public worship is given to God in the Church by the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ in the liturgy (1067).

Just a sidenote, for what it’s worth, but the glossary is not technically part of the Catechism. It was prepared by the US Bishops and refers back to the Catechism. It is still fairly helpful, though, as it often just lifts quotes right from the Catechism anyway.

Here’s a link to “worship” in the index of the Catechism. From there you can click to go to all the relevant parts of the Catechism.

As far as latria, dulia, and hyperdulia, those terms don’t really appear in the Catechism, but St. Thomas Aquinas uses them in his Summa Theologica, and the words have become quite useful in Catholic apologetics to help explain the difference between prayer to God and prayer to saints.

Here’s a basic rundown:
[list]*]Latria is the worship and adoration reserved for God alone.
*]Dulia is the honor and reverence we show to those who are above us (such as those who already in heaven [the saints]).
*]Hyperdulia is the highest form of honor and is reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary[/list]

Here are some of the relevant parts of the Summa:

Part II, Question 103 - On Dulia
[list]*]Article 3 - Is Dulia distinct from Latria?
*]Article 4 - Does Dulia have different species?[/list]

Part III, Question 25 - The Adoration of Christ
[list]*]Article 5 - Is Latria to be given to Mary?[/list]

Just an FYI on reading the Summa. This is how Aquinas operates. He will:

(1) pose the question,
(2) list several “objections” (i.e. the opposing points of view),
(3) give the correct answer concisely (“on the contrary”),
(4) explain the correct answer in a little greater detail (“I answer that”), and
(5) specifically respond to each separate objection.

Hope this helps! If anything is confusing or not helpful or you still have questions, let me know and I’ll try again! :slight_smile:


In our Christian system, monotheism is a basic presupposition for us. Thus when we think of worship, we think of that which we make into the universal. So when we talk of making a god of out money, or ideology, or an object (fetish), we say that we are forcing the universal into that which is finite.

But worship is different when we look an it anthropologically and are forced to jettison our presupposition regarding the universal. In a polytheistic religion, the universal cannot be divided between gods or fetishes.; that would be absurd Yet we’ll still speak of the Greeks worshiping Zeus and Apollo, and the Hindus as worshiping both Shiva and Vishnu, etc. (Note: I know that some Hindu apologists might say that all deities are just different manifestations of one deity, but not all Hindu adherents would say that.)

I think my question is more geared towards the anthropological nature of worship: our actions, our prayers, etc. Because when Protestants see Catholics praying to Mary, lighting candles before her image, and doing the same thing before an image of Christ, the actions look identical, and the prayers, which reflect the inner dispositions of the faithful, seem almost identical at time (just look at the language of the Memorare). It’s no wonder that some Protestants insist that we worship Mary despite our denials. They probably think that we’re just kidding ourselves if we really believe that we don’t.

In other words, our philosophy may be one of monotheism, in that we’ll say that we acknowledge that God is the universal and highest being, yet are actions are like that of a polytheist.

So I’ll rephrase my question like this: are our actions and prayers of dulia, hyperdulia, and latria, visibly distinguishable from one another? If so, what is the criteria to fit them into the different categories? If not, does the fact that, despite having a philosophy of monotheism, our actions are that of polytheism make us polytheists?

That would depend on the individual praying. He would know, for instance, if he was asking St. Mary to pray for him versus asking her to grant us long life.
As long as the person did not cross the line he is fine. Otherwise he has sinned and would need to confess.

And where is the line?

Is the Sub Tuum Praesidum, which says “save us from every danger” crossing the line?

Or the Memorare, where we run to her “merciful protection burdened by our sins” (paraphrase), crossing the line?

I know you’ll say no. So where is the line? I don’t know where the line is. Many Protestants would say that we’ve already crossed it, and we’re looking in the wrong place. So if we haven’t crossed it yet, where is it?

I suppose the line is the basic knowledge every Catholic child has of who everyone is in the scheme of things. Simply judging by appearances, including sentiments, divorced from the basic knowledge of who God is is always a bad idea…
:bowdown: I Love My Wife… is it worship of you, making fun of you, worshipping God or this post… which … decide …now!

If it is basic knowledge that a child should know, you should have no problem enunciating it.

Why is it a bad idea to judge by appearances? I thought worship was both internal and external (the Sacraments are an example of the external par excellence). The external is the easiest to make judgments about, since it is difficult to see inside someone’s soul.

Yet, when one uses the externals as a measure of the internals we cross the line of judgement that Christ said the Father reserved for Himself.

And where did He say that?

He that speaketh of himself, seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, he is true, and there is no injustice in him.

Judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment.

How do you judge justly if you can only judge by appearance?

I think I can understand why you are a bit perplexed. Catholics will have processions of the Eucharist, and then also have processions with statues of Mary. On the surface, one might think they are exactly the same. But, of course, we do not want to write off the interior dimension. If we did, then we would also have to say that anyone who participates in a parade honoring our veterans, or anyone who visits the Lincoln Memorial is also guilty of sacrilege and/or polytheism. It’s all about intent.

So, to answer your question, there are many times that the exterior aspects of these three look strikingly similar. One key exception, of course, would be the Mass, which is the highest form of worship. If you pay attention to the prayers of the Mass, they are all directed to God. Even when we celebrate a particular saint’s feast day and the prayers mention the saint, they are still addressed to the Father. I think that’s important to keep in mind.

I don’t know that there is any established criteria for the external aspects of latria, dulia, and hyperdulia. The primary distinction is the interior dimension. The only external one I could think of is sacrifice (as you said in your first post). That’s why the Mass (which is a sacrifice) is addressed to God and not to a saint.

First, I would say that our actions are not that of polytheists because we are not offering sacrifice to anyone other than God.

Second, I would say that, even if our actions were that of polytheists, we would not be because the intent is not there. One cannot unknowingly or accidentally be a polytheist.

I think that there is something to all your observations which strikes to the heart of this whole issue. Protestants being on the “outside” and only observing what Catholics do or say will say, “Hey, this prayer to God and this prayer to Mary seem pretty similar. Of course Catholics worship Mary!” Then any Catholic who hears this accusation is often completely baffled because they realize that they are certainly not putting any creature on the same level with the Creator.

It does often make it difficult to discuss the issue as neither side really gets why the other does not see it the same way they do. I guess that’s what apologetics tries to do!

John 5:22

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son

Acts 10:42

And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead

Act 17:31

because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness

2 Tim 4:1

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead,

I said in my first post that sacrifice does not equal worship. And I am not convinced that it does. I have been Catholic for five years now, and I still cannot tell the real difference between worship of God and veneration of Mary, and I guarantee you that many rural folks cannot tell the difference and probably do not know the difference. I think this is what worries Protestants the most. Sure, educated Americans and Europeans can talk about dulia and latria all they want, but does it make a difference for the real uneducated people? I have heard many stories -from Catholics and Protestants- that ex-hindus in India have basically made Catholicism into a polytheistic system. They basically just changed their old gods with saints, and the Church is doing next to nothing to correct it.

The more I am honest with myself, the more I think that these distinctions are just rationalizations.

As for paying tribute to secular heroes, the major differences is that no one is praying to them seeking their mercy, their love, etc. When was the last time you saw a prayer to Lincoln, or a litany of the Founding Fathers?

So we can’t make any judgments of anyone then?

There are two senses of judgment: one is condemnation, in which we cannot condemn someone to Hell (or Heaven). Only God has that ability.

Another sense of “to judge” is to examine and make statements. So if you are sinning, I will say “You are sinning!” That is a judgments. Those are the judgments we are to make. Although I do not know your intent, your motive, etc. as long as it is concealed from me, I can still judge you on your external actions.

The line is understanding that Mary is not God, but only a creature of God. That anything Mary (or anybody) can do for good, they can only do by the grace of God.

If Mary can save us from every danger (can she?), then it would only be by the grace God would grant her for that purpose.

“I Love My Wife”

I think you are a very thoughtful and honest seeker for truth. I have seen two different issues come up.

  1. How do you externally distinguish worship and veneration.
  2. Judgement and condemnation are different things.

I don’t believe nor have I seen that there is any foolproof way to determine what an action’s INTENT is. Worship and veneration look alike. The act of copulation and the consummation of marriage vows look alike. Causing physical pain for pleasure versus for discipline look alike. The only way to determine the difference is to know the person’s intent. Only the Lord can do that.

Which brings us to #2. I believe you are 100% correct in your definitions. We are charged to discern / judge but not to condemn BECAUSE we cannot know the whole story.

God bless you in your search for truth!

I have said in the past and I will repeat it. To the observer it would be extremely difficult to distinguish between the three. The difference lies in the intent and interior thoughts of the person "praying."
The difference depends on the realization of the identity of the person to which the prayers are addressed along with a realization of what the limitations, if any, of that person. Neither Mary or any other Saint or angel is capable of doing anything through the exercise of their own power, ultimately all power, grace, etc. comes from God. For example one would not praise Mary for being the creator of the world or universe, nor would one expect to gain salvation from Mary except to the extent that grace flows from her son through her. It may seem confusing in practice, but one only has to understand “who” is it I am praying to and “what” are they worthy of being praised for. Where am I mentally placing them in the hierarchy of existence?

A mundane example. You are invited to a state dinner party. You go through the receiving line. First you host, then a senator and his spouse, maybe a couple of ambassadors and their spouses, then the President of the United States. You greet them all, shake hands, maybe exchange a hug or two. Anyone watching would see no difference in your behavior to each, but in your mind you might really feel awe, honor, maybe some dislike for certain individuals. Unless you remarked to someone your thoughts and feelings as you traversed the line who would know?:thumbsup:

You can give all sorts of honor to all sorts of people, but you only offer sacrifice to God. That’s the difference. Mass, the unbloody sacrifice, is only offered to God.

You also might want to read St. John Damascene’s treatise “On Holy Images”. Tons of good stuff in there, and especially about honoring the King by honoring his friends and emissaries. And his mother, of course. :slight_smile:

Another example – I forget who came up with it.

The ancient Arian heresy was that Christ was the greatest prophet, the greatest living creature ever, but still just human and not God. (Muslims believe pretty much the same thing, except that they think He was the second-greatest prophet and second-greatest man.)

You can tell that this is wrong? That Christ isn’t being given His due? And you’re clear on the distinction between that Christ being God and Man is correct, and Christ not being God is wrong?

Okay. So now, people tell you that Mary is the greatest human being ever except Christ, but she’s still just human and not God.

That must be an equally clear distinction, right?

We honor our sport heroes with all kinds of presents and songs and gestures, and we even beg them favors. But do we treat them as God? Do we gut animals and perform sacrifices to them? No, not generally!

Thank you all for your responses; they have been helpful.

But I must admit that for me, personally, the greater devotion I have to the saints, the less I am focused on God. The more trust I place in them rather than in God. The more I border on them as the answer to my problems rather than God. That is all despite my intellectual knowledge and assent that they are not God and that I am not worshiping them. (I realize this on reflection.)

That is why I am afraid that we are just kidding and lying to ourselves about this.

Hey if you feel that focusing on the saints is taking away from your connection to God stop it immediately. The lines seem to be getting blurred for you. Hopefully your sight in these matters will come back into focus. In the meantime you don’t need to venerate any saint.

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