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The word worship (Saxon weorthscipe, "honour"; from worth, meaning "value", "dignity", "price", and the termination, ship; Lat. cultus) in its most general sense is homage paid to a person or a thing. In this sense we may speak of hero-worship, worship of the emperor, of demons, of the angels, even of relics, and especially of the Cross. This article will deal with Christian worship according to the following definition: homage paid to God, to Jesus Christ, to His saints, to the beings or even to the objects which have a special relation to God.

There are several degrees of this worship:

In accordance with these principles it will readily be understood that a certain worship may be offered even to inanimate objects, such as the relics of a martyr, the Cross of Christ, the Crown of Thorns, or even the statue or picture of a saint. There is here no confusion or danger of idolatry, for this worship is subordinate or dependent. The relic of the saint is venerated because of the link which unites it with the person who is adored or venerated; while the statue or picture is regarded as having a conventional relation to a person who has a right to our homage -- as being a symbol which reminds us of that person.

Interior worship is to be distinguished from exterior worship. the former is not manifested by external acts, but consists in internal adoration; but when this inner sentiment is expressed by words or actions, prostration, genuflexion, the sign of the cross, or any other gesture, it becomes exterior worship. Again worship is private or public; the former, which may be an act of external worship, is performed unseen by men or seen by only a few; the second is official worship rendered by men assembled for a religious end and forming a religious society properly so called. This is not the place to show that Christian worship is a worship at once interior and exterior, public and private. It should be interior, otherwise it would be mere comedy, a purely pharisaical worship such as Christ condemned when He told His disciples that they should worship in spirit and the truth. But it should not be purely interior worship, as Sabatier, with certain Protestants and most Deists, maintains (Sabatier, Esquisse d'une philosophie de la religion, 1908, 5); for man is not a pure spirit but composed of body and soul, and he should adore God not only in his soul but also in his body. This is the justification of all external manifestations of worship -- genuflexion, prostration, kneeling, standing, the sign of the cross, the lifting-up or imposition of hands. Furthermore, on the same principle it will readily be understood that, in rendering homage to God man may have recourse to animate or inanimate creatures (sacrifice of animals, incense, lights, flowers, etc.). Neither is it difficult to prove that, since man is a social being, his worship should be public and in common with others. Worship in private or even individual worship in public, is not sufficient. Society as such should also render to God the honour due to Him. Furthermore, it is natural that men who believe in the same God and experience towards Him the same sentiments of adoration, gratitude, and love should assemble to praise and thank Him.

But even if this principle of a natural right did not exist to prove the necessity and legitmacy of a social worship, the fact that Christ founded a Church, that is, a society of men professing the same faith, obeying the same laws, united with one another by the closest bonds, implies the existence of the same worship. This religious society founded by Christ should have one and the same worship -- "one Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all" (Eph., iv, 5-6). This baptism represents the entire worship, which should be one, addressed to the same God by the same Christ. Hence Christian worship is the worship of the Church, the expression of the same faith, and exercised under the supervision of the ecclesiastical authority. Thus understood worship depends on the virtue of religion and is the manifestation of that virtue. Finally, theologians usually connect worship also with the virtue of justice; for worship is not an optional act of the creature; God is entitled to the worship of intelligent creatures as a matter of justice.

In Christianity the worship offered to God has a special character which profoundly differentiates it from Jewish worship, for it is the worship of the Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The worship of the Jews is directed to God, one, omnipotent, magnificent, sovereign, King of kings, Lord of lords, God of gods, but without distinction of persons. Prayer is addressed to Him as the living God, the Lord God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, or simply to the Lord our God. The formula, to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, remains in use among Christians, but ordinarily God is conceived of by Christians under other titles and with another form. In the worship which Christ paid to God He shows Him to us as the Father. He adores Him as His Father: "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" (Matt., xi. 25; cf. Luke, x, 21); "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee: remove this chalice from me" (Mark, xiv, 36); "Father, sanctify me . . . Father glorify me . . . Just Father" (John, xvii). Already He seems to claim for Himself a worship of adoration equal to what he gives the Father: "If two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt., xviii, 19, 20). The Apostles and even those who were not His disciples prayed to Him during His life-time: "Lord, if it be thou, bid me to come to thee upon the waters" (Matt., xiv, 28); "Lord, save us, we perish" (Matt., viii, 25); "Lord, if thou wilt, thous canst make me clean" (Matt., viii, 2; cf. Mark, i, 40; Luke, v, 12); "Have mercy on me, O Lord . . . But she came and adored him, saying: Lord, help me" (Matt., xv, 22; 25), etc.

He ordained that baptism should be given in His name as well as in the name of the Father, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt., xxviii, 19). Exorcisms, imposition of hands, anointing of the sick are to be performed in His name: "In my name they shall cast out devils . . . they shall lay their hands upon the sick" (Mark, xvi, 17, 18). In St. John this idea is emphasized: "That all men may honour the Son, as they honour the Father" (v, 23); "Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, tha will I do; that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you will ask me anythhing in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto you have not asked anything in my name. Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full . . . In that day you shall ask in my name" (xvi, 23, 24, 26). No sooner is He ascended to glory than He is beside the Father and in consequence of His equality with Him the object of the worship of the early Christians; "All whatsoever you do" -- St. Paul has just been speaking of prayer -- "in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him" (Col., iii, 17), which is like the ending of our own prayers. It seems probable that the prayer for the choice of Matthias was addressed directly to Him: "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men" (Acts, i, 24). His name becomes consecrated for prayer in the formulas, "By the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts, iv, 10), "By the name of thy holy Son Jesus" (Acts, iv, 30). St. Stephen prays to Him: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts, vii, 58). The formulas of exorcism are also in His name: "I command thee {Satan} in the name of Jesus Christ to go out from her {the woman}" (Acts, xvi, 18). Indeed even the Jewish exorcists attempted to make use of this name in their exorcisms: "Some of the Jewish exorcists . . . attempted to invoke over them that had evil spirits, the name of the Lord Jesus, saying: I conjure you by Jesus, whom Paul preacheth" (Acts, xix, 13). In St. Paul expressions like, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ . . . {Christ} Who is above all blessed forever," and others similar are too numerous for quotation. They likewise abound in the Apocalypse, usually in the form of a doxology, e.g. "To him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction, honour, and glory, and power, for ever and ever . . . Amen" (Apoc., v, 13, 14). The Apostolic Fathers and the writers of the first centuries likewise furnish us with an abundant harvest of similar formulas. (See Cabrol, Monuments liturgica, I, Paris, 1900-02, where the texts are collected in chronological order, especially nos. 612, 627, 649, 653, 656, etc., and also Cabrol. Dict. d'archéologie chrét. et de liturgie, I, col. 614, 654.)

In virtue of the same principle and of the equality of the Divine Persons in the Trinity, the Holy Ghost also became the object of Christian worship. The formula of baptism was given, as has been seen, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. In the doxology the Holy Spirit also has a place with the Father and the Son. In the Mass the Holy Ghost is invoked at the Epiclesis and invited to prepare the sacrifice. The Montanists, who in the second century preached, and awaited, the coming of the Holy Ghost to take the place of the Son and announce a more perfect Gospel, made Him the object of an exclusive worship, which the Church had to repress. But it nevertheless vindicated the adoration of the Holy Ghost, and in 380 the anathemas pronounced by Pope Damasus, in the Fourth Council of Rome, condemned whosoever should deny that the Holy Ghost must be adored like the Father and the Son by every creature (Denzinger, Enchiridion, n. 80). These anathemas were renewed by Celestine I and Virgilius, and the ecumenical council of 381 in its symbol, which took its place in the liturgy, formulated its faith in the Holy Ghost, "Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified." These expressions indicate the unity of the adoration of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; that is, that one or the other Person of the Trinity may be adored separately but not to the exclusion of the other two.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV
Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York