Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 3rd, 2014 by Joel Watts

Kimberly Hahn on the difference between Veneration and Adoration

As I noted yesterday, I want to delve more in the adoration of Mary (a very Protestant term, although many Orthodox use it in the English world). Kimberly Hahn writes,

We carefully differentiate between veneration of Mary, which is good and right, and adoration of Mary, which the Catholic Church condemns as idolatry. For Protestants, worship consists of songs, prayer, and a sermon. On a Marian feast day, since Catholics have songs about Mary, prayers to Mary, and a homily about Mary, Protestants can feel offended that we have “worshipped” her. However, as Catholics, we define adoration as sacrifice and veneration as honoring those whom God honors. For example, we would never offer Mary’s body as a sacrifice nor do we sacrifice to her, though we do honor Mary and the saints as, we believe, God does.1

One of the things I’ve learned in moving West is that words mean different things. The Catholics do not worship Mary, but venerate her, or in the language I grew up with, adore. But, if we are to have a universal church, or at least a universal charity, then we should at least hope for a normative use of words. Hahn, and many others, note the differences, but it is Hahn that succinctly presents the difference. Veneration would not include sacrifice. I believe Epiphanius, a 4th century Bishop, condemned the sacrifice to Mary, reserving only sacrifice (and thus the Eucharist) through worship to the Holy Trinity.

  1. Kimberly Hahn, “Mary, Full of Grace,” in Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God (ed. Scott Hahn and Leon J. Suprenant Jr.; Second Edition.; Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2004), 148.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

3 Responses to “Kimberly Hahn on the difference between Veneration and Adoration”
  1. Just Sayin' says

    I can see adoration of Mary in the same way as someone might silently adore the eucharist and meditate upon it. But once one starts vocalising — singing hymns about Mary, preaching sermons about her, praying prayers to her — I still struggle to see how worship of Christ and adoration of Mary could be easily differentiated in practice. Think of it as a Martian lands and walks into a service of Marian adoration. How would the little green man be able to tell that the congregants weren’t worshipping a deity, merely adoring her?

    • I would say this…

      The Eucharist is itself a sacrifice and a representation of Christ. What is given to Mary cannot be sacrifice (or to the Saints either) and must always preclude sacrifice.

      I think the Martian would have to first learn good theological language and understand the difference is always about the sacrifice.

  2. As a small child (about 5 years old) I lived in a neighborhood that was predominately Catholic. (It was one block away from the Catholic church and parochial school). So, as I played with my Catholic friends I assimilated many Catholic ideas and practices. I remember gathering wildflowers with my best friend Jane so we could “make a May altar to the Virgin”. I really didn’t understand what we were doing. We were simply playing, collecting wildflowers, and arranging them. But now it seems to me that making an altar implies sacrifice and perhaps worship. There are indeed some fine lines here.

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