Chapter One: Grace and Devotion to Mary
Chapter Two: Mary, Holy Objects and God
Chapter Three: Primary Teachings - Mary the Virgin
Chapter Four: Mary and Jesus
Chapter Five: Deeper Teachings -
Chapter Six: Teachings Not Yet Declared Dogmas -
Jesus and Mary
A Mediator with our Mediator
Chapter Seven: Final Thoughts and Reflections
of the Holy Spirit
of Jesus Made Present
and Church Unity
Consecration to Mary Individual and
Litany of Mary's Faith Journey
© Copyright, J. Roy MacIntyre 2009
Holy Objects and Places
In this world there are holy objects and holy places. God arranges these things as opportunities for His people to receive grace. This is evident in both Old Testament and New Testament times.
In the Old Testament we have the account of the Ark of the Covenant and the objects it contained (Ex 25:10-40). We have the holy oils (Ex 30:25) consecrated and use to make other things holy by consecrating them with this holy oil. It is written that the objects consecrated in Exodus 30 including the Ark were ‘most holy’ and whatever touches them will be made holy. The Ark was reserved to be touched only by the Levites as was being in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
In venerating the Ark, which God, through Moses, had commanded the Hebrews to construct, the people were brought closer to God. Despite the fact that God is omnipresent, He resided in a special way in the Ark in that the people were more able to perceive His presence there. The same is true of the Temple. The people were more aware of the awesomeness of God in the Temple and were able to be more devout in and around the Temple. This was a manifestation of these objects making people holy went the touched or were in the presence of these consecrated objects.
The Ark of God also brought blessings by its presence. In 2 Samuel 6:10-12, ‘…David took it (the Ark) aside to the house of Obededom the Gittite. And the Ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obededom the Gittite three months; and the Lord blessed Obededom and all his household. And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obededom and all that belongs to him, because of the Ark of God.”
The Ark of the Covenant was also a sure sign of victory for the Israelites when they were right with God. And God’s power working through it was evident when the Ark rolled back the waters of the Jordan River when it was overflowing its banks (Joshua 3:16) so that the Israelites crossed the river on dry ground.
Jesus Himself demonstrates that the Temple, an object and a place, is holy when he drove out the money changers (Mt 21:12) and when He said the Temple makes the gold of the Temple sacred (Mt 23:16) and the altar makes the sacrifice sacred (Mt 23:19). There are also the sacred vessels for ministering to the Lord first mentioned in Exodus 37 but appearing liberally throughout the Old testament right up to Hebrews 9:21 and Revelations 5:8.
In Daniel 5 we read what happened to the king of Babylon when he used the sacred vessels looted from the Temple of God in Jerusalem. A fearful hand wrote a message on the wall of the palace, which was later explained by Daniel. The expression, "the handwriting is on the wall" comes from this passage where it was prophesied that the Babylonian Empire would be broken and divided between the Medes and the Persians.
So we can see that God makes certain things sacred and such sacred things should not be defiled. There are many legends about the Holy Grail one such story was the theme of a motion picture. These stories are about the sacredness of the cup Jesus used at His last meal. However, every vessel in which resides the memorial sacrifice of Jesus, both in the form of wine and bread, is made sacred by the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. In fact, these should be regarded with greater dignity than the vessels mentioned in the Old Testament whose defilement brought about the destruction of an empire. There is a more extensive explanatory note on the Eucharist later in this book that should help to make clear why the Eucharistic vessels are sacred.
Another example of the graces associated with holy objects occurs in Acts 19:12. Here, we read that handkerchiefs that touched St. Paul's skin were used to heal the sick and to drive out demons. This can be seen as part of the beginning of the continual Christian practice of venerating holy objects such as relics of saints. I personally know of several healings that have come through a relic from a saint both canonized ones and ones not yet canonized. (A canonized saint is one that has been investigated and confirmed by God through verifiable miracles.)
Confusion around the use of holy images and objects has arisen because of what I believe is a narrow interpretation of some versions of the first commandment, such as that which appears in Exodus 20:4-6. Here we find a total prohibition against making any images. That would prohibit any plain cross, because that would be an image of the cross of Jesus. Christmas cribs, paintings of Jesus and any illustration of Bible scenes etc. would all be banned by the same reasoning. In fact, any image of anything would break the strict interpretation of the meaning of this presentation of the first commandment. One would even have to question whether creating an image of Jesus in our mind as we pray to Him and meditate on His life would be permissible. The prohibition of images surfaced in some early reformation denomination, in Jewish Synagogues and in Muslim Mosques.
Two things must be kept in mind when reading scritpure passages about graven images. First, Yahweh, in revealing Himself as being totally different from anything in the heavens, on earth or under the sea, could not be accurately reflected in any image made by human hands. This first commandment served to teach this truth. Secondly, God obviously did not want His people to fall into the error of worshipping images made by their hands that were intended to represent God. And finally God wanted to bring to an end the worship of images representing false gods; idols. Therefore, this commandment can be seen as a primary condemnation of idolatry.
When we compare the three reasons God prohibited images with the fact that God Himself ordered the construction of the graven images of Cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:18) and the creation of a bronze serpent in Numbers (21:9), we will begin to realize that God was not ordering an absolute ban on all images. God wouldn’t cause his servants to break His commands.
The carving and casting of the bronze image of the serpent in Numbers 21, an object of healing, was ordered by God but it was also a prefiguring of Jesus saving crucifixion. St. John makes the comparison of the lifting up of the serpent by Moses in the desert to the lifting up of Jesus on the Cross (Jn 3:13-14). It seems strange to me that it was ordered by God that Moses should hold up an image of a serpent so that the people would live yet some people would deny having the crucifix raised up so God’s people could look on it believe what Jesus did for us and be saved.
These points demonstrate that images or objects in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. The reasons they are made and the use made of them will determine their value before God. The images and objects God blesses can bring us special graces as did the bronze serpent on the staff held up by Moses or the handkerchiefs touched by St. Paul.
I can't explain why people are drawn closer to God by seeing a certain image or holding a certain object. I only know that when I hold my Rosary I feel closer to God. When I see images of Jesus such as the Divine Mercy or the Sacred Heart or even some images of Bible scenes such as Jesus weeping over Jerusalem or the agony in the garden of Olives I feel closer to God. When I am before a holy statue I feel closer to God. When I light a blessed candle before a holy object I feel closer to God. Like the Christians who received a handkerchief touched by Paul, I feel more confident in God's response to my petition when I employ a holy object or image. These tangible signs of God’s grace strengthen my faith. I can't understand why, I only know it is true. I also know this is something every child would understand because it is understood with the heart.
Anyone who has been separated from a loved one will know how meaningful a photo or memento of that person can be. Images are also constant reminders of our separation from the loved ones depicted in the images. They increase our longing to be with our beloved. Similarly, images and holy objects can increase our longing for Heaven. We can dismiss these ideas as sentimental and that such feelings do not have any relevance, since faith and salvation are not dependent on feelings. However, by the same reasoning we should dismiss hymn singing which also deepens our awareness of God's presence through our emotions and augments our longing for Heaven.
Finally, I should point out that there are unholy and even evil objects such as talismans or items used in satanic rituals. These are in the hold of the kingdom of Satan whereas holy objects are set aside for use in the Kingdom of God. It has never been shown that proper use of holy objects has led the faithful away from God but, rather, that they bring us closer to Him. Holy things, then, can be seen as sacramentals, little signs of God's presence, that help draw us closer to God as they remind us of His presence and power.
There are many people today who complain about the proliferation of statues or images of Jesus, Mary and the Saints that weep, shed oil or bleed somehow seeing this as representing sentimentality, sensationalism or even idol worship. I even know devote Catholics who have difficulty with weeping or bleeding statues. However, I do not know of one Catholic person who worships statues, images or holy objects. If I stand in awe at the power and mercy of God that He should cause a statue to bleed I should think I am behaving exactly like the Israelites in the desert when they looked upon the bronze serpent and experienced the healing power of God.
It seems to me that although there have been a few well publicized hoaxed of bleeding statues in recent years the shear numbers of legitimate occurrences that have not been produced by any human power is a loud trumpet call to the world. These many revelations of God's merciful warnings from Heaven have been calling to repentance those with eyes to see and ears to hear. This unprecedented manifestation of God's miraculous power can only mean the world is on the brink of imminent disaster and He wishes to draw as many to Himself as possible while there is still time. Many have come to Him or returned to Him through these bleeding and weeping statues. May God grant you the eyes of a little child that you may understand.
Before we take a look at Holy Places let's consider a comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was a holy object set aside by God for a blessing to His people. It contained the manna, the tablets of the covenant and the budding rod of Aaron. Manna was the bread from Heaven. Jesus is the true Manna; the Bread that came down from Heaven. Mary was the Ark of God, Jesus because she carried Him in her womb.
When the Ark was placed in the Temple it no longer contained manna but it was still a source of blessing for the people of God. Mary was still a blessing for the people of God after delivering Jesus because she was still sacred, holy.
There is a pious Catholic practice of having sacred images of Mary taken from home to home to receive a blessing from God by its presence. I have heard many testimonies of blessings received when a statue of Mary spent some time in a home just as Obededom received as recorded in 2Sam 6.
Let us now take a look at holy places. The most obvious and universally accepted holy place among Christians is, of course, the sites of Jesus' life and death - the Holy Land. Many Christians will be blessed by a pilgrimage to the Holy Land because it helps to make more concrete Jesus’ life and ministry when we see the actual places of his ministry. Think of being on Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured and joined Moses and Elijah before Peter, James and John. It just helps to make real the scripture passage. Pilgrimages in themselves can draw us closer to God as the Holy Spirit mysteriously moves within us as we journey to these places.
There are holy places in the Old Testament such as the Mount of Moriah in Genesis where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. When Moses encountered YHWH on Mount Horeb he was told, “Take off your shoes; this is Holy Ground.” There are many places that God makes holy for His own mysterious purposes. For instance the Marian shrine at Lourdes, France is a place of healing and peace. Even the great Pentecostal Minister, David DuPlessie admitted to experiencing the special presence of God in the Bosnian village, Medugorje where there were reports of apparitions of Mary. Personally, I find most Catholic churches to be places of peace and an almost tangible presence of God.