Radio Show

What is the Difference Between Worshiping, Adoring, and Venerating?


A reader of asks a question regarding the terminology used in a recent article. He quotes the author’s words: “It seems strange that in the Good Friday liturgy Catholics choose to venerate or adore the very instrument used to crucify Jesus.” The reader wonders about the author’s use of the words venerate and adore as synonyms, saying the author “seems to endorse the idea that Catholics adore something other than God. Obviously, we do not adore anything other than God. Statements like these create all kinds of confusion among Catholics and ammunition among anti-Catholics.”

Father Dave responds: “I see where he’s coming from, and as a matter of fact I looked over the article, and I said we should post something as a clarification. However, I would disagree a little bit that we need to parse so closely on the two English words — veneration and adore. Even if we said adoration — now, that’s a word that we typically reserve in our Catholic context for time spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament when we are adoring Christ our Lord. In English, that word doesn’t mean the same [as the word] worship. So I absolutely agree with [the reader] that we as Catholics can clarify that we only worship God … So only Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do we worship. Yes, it’s true that people might think that we worship the saints or we worship Mary, but that is not true, so we should take every opportunity to draw a distinction and say, ‘No, we draw a distinction between showing reverence and veneration and worship.’”

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Father Dave continues: “Now, worship and adore in English are not exactly synonyms. So, I would agree with him if for instance the line he’s quoting from would have equated the word venerate with the word worship, of course we would jump right in right away and grab the red pen and [clarify that] veneration and worship are not the same thing. Adore, while we do use the word adoration — this is again why I’m using the English word … Adoration, true. In Catholic jargon, we don’t say ‘Oh, I’m going to spend an hour in adoration of Saint Anthony.’ So, he’s right about that. But really, to be most accurate about it, we rely on Latin terms — which are not the exact equivalent of venerate or adore … So dulia in Latin is what we would typically call showing reverence, honor — like we do with the saints. And then we have what we call latria, which would be more accurately translated as worship, which we owe to God alone. And we even have one, special intermediate one, which we call hyper-dulia, which is reserved for one person only … Mary! She gets the most veneration, but still not latria … So, if [the reader] who e-mailed in was catching us in accidentally mixing up latria and dulia, I would quickly say, ‘Sorry … our bad!’ But the words don’t exactly translate when we say adore.”

As an example of this, Father Dave cites the very popular hymn “Behold the Wood of the Cross,” which is often sung on Good Friday during the Veneration of the Cross, and which includes the lyric:

Behold, behold the wood of the cross,

On which is hung our salvation…

O come let us adore…

Father Dave admits that because it’s a hymn, “it’s not a papal encyclical and it’s not giving catechesis about what latria and dulia are. But I would say that if we’re going to get called out for using the word adore, then that hymn that is sung in probably half the Catholic parishes on Good Friday also needs to be changed.”

Father Dave appreciates where the reader is coming from and says, “I would agree with his basic premise that we should go overboard to correct that mistaken image that we worship Mary or we worship the saints, but I don’t think we have to take a red pen and say we can’t use the word adore because we use that word colloquially not to mean worship.” (Original Air 04-18-17)

Photo credit: Worshippers hold candles at the beginning of the Easter Vigil at St. Louis de Montfort Church in Sound Beach, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)