Peter J. Leithart at First Things had a recent brief post about Worshiping Angels, and he rightly points out that we are not to worship angels, referring St. John’s behavior in Revelation where he twice was corrected not to worship the angel.
“Thereupon I fell at his feet, to worship him. But he said, Never that; keep thy worship for God; I am only thy fellow servant, one of those brethren of thine who hold fast the truth concerning Jesus. It is the truth concerning Jesus that inspires all prophecy.” Revelation 19:10
“All this I, John, heard and saw, till, hearing and seeing it, I fell down as if to worship at the feet of the angel who revealed it to me. But he said, Never that; I am only a fellow servant of thine, and of thy brother prophets, and of all who hold fast the words which this book contains. Keep thy worship for God.” Revelation 22:8-9
In response to this Stephen Beale at Catholic Exchange asked Is Veneration of Angels Forbidden?
“In a recent blog post for First Things magazine, theologian Peter Leithart invokes this verse as a reason for why angels should not be worshipped [sic] today, implying that the exhortation to adore God was inconsistent with the veneration John was prepared to offer the angel. There’s just one enormously inconvenient fact for this interpretation—and even Liethart readily admits it: angels are venerated without any rebuke in the Old Testament.”
I admit I’m somewhat confused by Mr. Beale’s correction, and I suspect it may be because of a misunderstanding of three words, adoration, worship, and veneration.
From the Oxford English Dictionary:
To venerate: To regard with feelings of respect and reverence; to look upon as something exalted, hallowed, or sacred; to reverence or revere.
To worship: To honour or revere as a supernatural being or power, or as a holy thing; to regard or approach with veneration; to adore with appropriate acts, rites, or ceremonies.
To adore: To worship or venerate as (or as if) God or a god.
Mr. Leithart doesn’t say not to venerate, he says not to worship. Worship and adoration go beyond veneration. The First Commandment forbids this, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The distinction between veneration and worship may seem slim, but notice that worship goes above reverential acknowledgement of something holy and extends to adoration (veneration as God) and to rites and ceremonies.
Origen in the third century also distinguished between veneration and worship:
We indeed acknowledge that angels are ministering spirits, and we say they are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation, and that they ascend, hearing the supplications of men, to the purest of the heavenly places in the universe, or even to the supercelestial regions purer still, and they come down from these, conveying to each one, according to his deserts, something enjoined by God to be conferred by them upon those who are to be the recipients of His benefits . . . For every prayer and supplication and intercession is to be sent up to the Supreme God through the High Priest, who is above all the Angels, the living Word and God . . . It is enough to secure that the holy Angels be propitious to us, and that they do all things on our behalf, that our disposition of mind toward God should imitate, as far as possible for human nature, the example of these holy Angels, who themselves imitate the example of their God. Contra Celsum IV, 5
St. Augustine in the fourth-fifth century gave an excellent formula:
“We honor them out of charity not out of servitude.” De Vera Religione
Father Pascale P. Parente, Ph.D., S.T.D., J.C.B., scholar, professor, and author with a long-standing reputation as a prominent authority on ascetical and mystical theology wrote in the final chapter of his 1964 book, The Angels in Catholic Teaching and Tradition, about liturgical cult and devotions:
“As the blessed, who constantly see the face of the Father who is in Heaven, as princes of the heavenly court, as ministers and legates of God to men, the Angels are more than deserving of our veneration and devotion. They, however, are creatures like ourselves, even though of a higher nature, and as such they cannot be the object of worship and adoration, the cult reserved exclusively to God, the Supreme Being and Absolute Lord of all.” Chapter XI
These distinctions have been carefully made in Catholic teaching. Venerate and honor the Angels just as we do the saints, but never worship or adore anyone or anything but God because that is idolatry.