It is not uncommon to hear Protestants accusing Catholics of worshipping statues because they have images of Christ and the saints in their Churches and in their homes. They quote the Holy Bible, "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them...” [Exodus 20:4-5] They accuse Catholics of being idolaters because they violate God’s commandment. How easy it is to charge falsely when you do not understand the actions of a person or a group!
God did not forbid the religious usage of statues; He forbade the worship of statues. There is a difference between the two. In one Bible passage, we read of an instance when God commanded the making of statues, “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat.” [Exodus 25:18-20]
In 1 Chronicles 28:11-18, we read of the instance when David gave Solomon the plans to the Temple. Then in verse 19, we read, “All this, in writing at the Lord’s direction, he made clear to me - the plans of all the works.” The building of the Temple and the Altar of incense was done because God had commanded it to be done.
In Numbers 21:8-9, we read, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”
This serpent on a pole was symbolic, represent Jesus Christ on the Holy Cross. Equally, when Catholics look at a crucifix or a picture of Jesus on the Cross, they are reminded that the Lord Jesus is their Saviour. He is the way, the truth and the life. No one lives unless he goes through Jesus Christ. As the serpent on the pole was part of a Jewish religious ritual, the crucifix is part of the Catholic liturgy.
As the Holy Bible teaches, God the Father has no form. He is Spirit. When God spoke to Moses at Horeb, it was in the midst of the burning bush. When the time was right, God revealed Himself to the world in physical form. “He is the image of the invisible God...” [Col. 1:15] “For in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” [Col. 1:19] “For in him (Jesus) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” [Col. 2:9]
The Holy Spirit also revealed Himself in visible form, as a Dove at the Baptism of our Lord Jesus [Mt 3:16, Mk. 1:10, Lk 3:22, Jn 1:32] and as tongues of fire on Pentecost Day [Acts 2:1-4].
Images, icons, statues, they are all reminders of God’s Three Divine Persons. Catholic do not adore or worship these images, icons and statues. They adore and worship He who is represented by these man made objects.
If a mother dies in childbirth, her picture is the only thing that the child has to communicate to him what his mother looked like. This does not mean that the child adores his mother. The picture serves as a reminder.
Equally, Jesus left this earth before all of us were born. A painting of Jesus serves the purpose of reminding us of what He looked like. It serves the purpose of reminding us to adore Jesus, to obey Him, to serve Him, to plea to Him on behalf of others, etc...
Pictures and Statues of saints remind us of their lives, their virtues and the blessings they received from God. The objects remind us that we can pray to the Saints in the sense of asking them to intercede before God on our behalf. For who is in a better position to obtain a favor from God than the Saints who are face to face with God? This certainly does not mean that we adore the Saints. Nor does it mean that we are praying to the Saints in the hope of obtaining the favors from them; the favors come from God through the intercession of the Saints.
When a Catholic bows or kneels before the picture or statue of a saint, this is no different than when a person bows or kneels in the presence of the king of a nation. It is a way of showing respect towards the saint who has been elevated before God.
The Catholic Church throughout its history, like other Christian churches, has always condemned all forms of idolatry. Catholics know that objects are not gods to be worshipped. This truth is taught to them from the moment that they can walk.
As for the making of religious objects to remind Catholics of what is Divine, Sacred, holy and invisible, such is encouraged in the Holy Bible.