The Catholic attitude to the saints has always aroused the interest of those who are not Catholics. One of the first things to strike them is the number of statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saints that are often seen in church buildings, in homes and sometimes even in wayside shrines. And other representations of saints that they find among many of their Catholic friends strike them.

Sometimes they see in such things a sort of superstition, black magic or idolatry. Even when they are not completely opposed to such customs, they feel that they personally could never kneel down or pray before such images. It is important therefore to have a correct view of Catholic veneration of saints and to be able to distinguish clearly between what is obligatory and what is optional, and between what is approved by the Church and what is disapproved.

Permissible to venerate saints

The Church has always taught that some degree of devotion to the saints is good and useful. There is no strict obligation regarding it apart from a reverence and respect for the saints in general, and some measure of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is possible to embrace the Catholic faith without having any liking for the actual practices employed in the veneration of the saints, such as decorating their statues, exposing their relics, or saying particular prayers to them. One must, however, accept it as a point of teaching that it is permissible to venerate the saints and to ask them to pray for us.

Superstition to be avoided

Poorly educated people easily fall into unsound practices which have nothing at all to do with the genuine devotion to the saints. There is no doubt that this has sometimes happened over the centuries. Devotion to the saints, even today, is sometimes tainted with superstition.

This happens when some representation of a saint is credited with a certain power which the statue or medal itself could not possibly possess. One sometimes finds such superstitions associated with medals or plaques of St. Christopher in motor cars.

Any protection that the motorist may expect from the saint is to be attributed to the saint's intercession on our behalf because of our prayerful devotion to him. It is not to be attributed to the plaques or medals as if they were just lucky charms.

Taints of superstition also creep into devotion to the saints when people attach too much importance to particular attitudes, numbers or rites that have no particular value in themselves. We must never attach a compelling influence to any devotional practice; the result of the prayer and intercession of the saint must be left to the wisdom and love of God.

It is not always easy to distinguish between a case of superstition and a case of genuine filial confidence. We must therefore be extremely careful not to judge others nor to condemn their various forms of private devotion just because they do not appeal to us personally.