The first thing that a Catholic philosopher is taught is that he must define all the terms that he uses. That process of defining one term after the other is done before any proofs are put forth. Since questions concerning the above words surface occasionally, and since even catechisms generally do not deal with the problem We shall give the Catholic theology concerning Catholic Honor.
The highest honor that is possible is given to God alone, and that is called in Latin “latria.” The seconds highest honor that is given is “hyperdulia,” and that is given to the Blessed Virgin alone. The third type of honor is “dulia,” and that is given to all the angels and saints in heaven. After that there are various grades of honor. We are told to honor our parents. We are to honor the King (and rulers in general). We must honor our superiors. The wife must honor her husband.
The ordinary English speaking person generally does not use the terms latria, hyperdulia and dulia. He uses the words adoration for latria, veneration for hyperdulia and veneration for dulia. He may use super-veneration for hyperdulia.
The honor given to God through latria or adoration is the highest honor that can be given. It recognizes God as being the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. God is infinite. He is all good in Himself. Obviously He is our just judge. None of that honor can be given to a creature, and if it is done it is idolatry.
Hyperdulia or super veneration is given to only one created being, and that is the Blessed Virgin Mary. It shows that Mary, the Mother of God, is so highly blessed and endowed by God that she stands alone in her class. She is above all the angels and all the Saints. She is the Queen of Heaven.
Dulia or veneration goes to all the good angels and to all the Saints. No matter how good a person is he will not receive veneration in the Catholic Church until he is declared venerable and finally a Saint by the Church.
As noted above, simple honor must be given to all those in honorable positions. Among men the person who rightly receives the highest honor is the Pope, the Vicar of Christ. After him come the dignitaries in the Church. Then come the dignitaries in the civil order. They are kings, governors, judges, police and the like.
In the domestic order, that is, in the family the highest honor goes to the father. Then comes the mother. The children likewise must honor their teachers and elders in general.
Absolute and Relative HonorIn order to avoid confusion we must explain what is done in the honoring of the relics of Saints. We likewise give honor to statues and pictures of Saints and angels. Heretics are wont to accuse us of idolatry when we pray before a holy picture or a statue of a Saint or angel. They are confused over the method of our honor.
The words to remember are absolute and relative. When honor is give directly to the person involved, the honor is called absolute. When it is directed to an image of the person it is called relative honor. Even little children who grow up in a Catholic home know this distinction. We have an example to explain that distinction. A teacher asked the children in catechism class: what is the difference between a Crucifix and the Holy Eucharist (after consecration). A child answer correctly when she said: on the Crucifix we see Jesus, but he is not there. In the Eucharist we do not see Jesus, but He is there. In the above definition of terms we can say that Christ is present relatively on the wood of the crucifix, and in the Eucharist He is present absolutely. We state it again. To images we give relative honor, and to the persons we give absolute honor.
If one pins a flower on his mother on Mothers’ Day he gives her absolute honor, and if he pins a flower on her picture he gives her relative honor. The honor given with relative honor does not stop in the manufactured image. It really glances on to the one who is absent.
Let us study idolatry! When a heathen prays before an image, he makes his honor go directly to and remain in that manufactured object. If one held before him a sack of wool and had him shoot a bullet into it, the bullet would stick in that wool. However, when we have relative honor it is as if one shot a bullet against a stone. It will not stay there, but it hits another object.
There are times when we find books that say we venerate sacred objects. That statement needs correction. We give relative adoration (latria) to the images of God. We give relative super veneration (hyperdulia) to images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We give relative veneration (dulia) to the images of the angels and Saints (other than the Blessed Virgin Mary).
We need a few examples. When we give our honor before a Christmas crib we give relative adoration to the Infant Jesus. We give relative super veneration the Blessed Virgin. Finally we give relative veneration to St. Joseph.
When we worship before the Holy Eucharist (say at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament) we give absolute adoration to the Eucharist because Jesus is really, truly and substantially present there. Let us take a picture of that divine service. We can mount that picture of the Eucharist on a wall in our home. Then we give that picture of the Eucharist relative adoration.
When we pray without images before us to God, the angels and the Saints we give absolute honor to them. There is no mediator (image) for our honor to go to them. The reason that images are used is to lead us to think of and pray to God, His angels and His Saints.
Distinction between Honor to God & Honor to SaintsWhat follows is not intrinsic to honor except that it makes clear that Catholics always make a clear distinction between the honor given to God and that given to the angels and the Saints. Take for example the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. We respond to the opening invocations with “have mercy on us.” However, as soon as we say, “Holy Mary” we say: “Pray for us.” We ask the angels and Saints to go to God and plead for us before God. Holy Mother Church directs us in that method of prayer, and it most pleasing to God.
Whenever goodness is honored in an angel or a Saint we recognize that all of their goodness is from God. Of course, we honor the angels and Saints for their faithfulness to God. It was that faithfulness that moved God to give many of the extraordinary gifts we see in the angels and the Saints.
Our entering heaven depends on our treatment of God in our practice of the Catholic faith. Only those who have sanctifying grace in their souls are able to give to God an honor (latria) which is supernaturally pleasing to Him. Sanctifying grace makes men God-like, and therefore they belong to His family on earth, and they belong to His family in heaven forever.
Given, March 17, 1999