“Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me. You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them. For I, the Lord , your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation..”
—Exodus 20:1-5 (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
It’s clear that most people misunderstand this chapter and use it to attack Catholics and their faith, especially verse 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth.” Other Christian denominations assert that this is idolatry done by the Catholics by creating such statues, when in fact, if you read Numbers 21:6-9, 1 Kings 6:23-28, and 1 Kings 7:23-39, God himself ordered someone to create statues and/or images for religious purposes. Nonetheless, by simply understanding verse 2 of Exodus 20 will you fully grasp the meaning of verse 4. Verse 2 says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Here, it is God himself talking to the Israelites who are (or at this point, used to be) slaves in Egypt. Now, Egypt, as everyone must’ve know by now, has multiple gods, most of which resemble creatures or things seen “in the heavens above” like Horus (a falcon) and Ra (the Sun), and “on the earth” like Anubis (jackal-headed), and Bastet (cat), and “in the waters” like Sobek (crocodile) and Thoth (ibis). God, as he describes himself “a jealous God”, obviously doesn’t want his people to make statues of these Egyptian gods let alone worship them, which the Israelites probably used to, living and working in a polytheistic Egypt for about 400 years. Catholics, on the other hand, doesn’t have such statues, and definitely doesn’t worship any statues of any kind either.
Take this one, for example, you have a picture of your wife in your wallet that you keep wherever you go. Whenever you’re not together and you miss this person, you talk to this “picture”. It goes without saying that you’re not talking to the actual photo itself, but the person it illustrates. Same with giving respect to a memorial, or a resting place of a loved one. You’re not talking to that slab of marble, but the person entombed within. To put it simply, Catholics doesn’t worship the statue, but the entity it represents in heaven.