I am currently an administrator in a Facebook Group for Autistic Christians. I decided that as an administrator, I would do what I could to make sure that this was one Christian group that did not exclude Catholics. I made a rule that anyone who had anti-Catholic sentiments would be removed. One day, a new member saw a post I typed up about the Virgin Mary and accused Catholics of being idolaters. This is part of a myth that Catholics worship statues. On the surface, it may seem that way when you enter a Catholic church and see people kneeling in front of statues, especially if the statues are of saints rather than Jesus. It’s particularly glaring when the First Commandment forbids worshipping false idols. Wouldn’t these statues be an example of the idolatry forbidden by this commandment?
Not necessarily. In the Old Testament, David was instructed to construct the Ark of the Covenant. God told him to place statues of cherubim on it. (Exodus 25:22) So why is that allowed? Wouldn’t that be revering the cherubim?
When a Catholic is praying in front of a statue, he is not worshipping the statue, per se. He is worshipping what is represented in the stature. To use the cherubim on top of the Ark as an example, the cherubim, like all angels, are manifestations of God’s power. They are not to be worshipped, but to remind us of God’s power. We know we are forbidden from worshipping the statues themselves. We do homage by making statues of saints to commemorate their roles in the history of the Catholic Church. This is no different from seeing statues of soldiers as a monument, nor the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. No one actually worships Lincoln or the statue. But the statue helps remind us of the kind of person Lincoln was, and what he stood for. A statue of an angel does not mean the angel is worshipped. It means that we remember that they exist and are messengers of God. Even the angels themselves would not wish to be worshipped.
So this is why erecting statues is permissible, while still following the precepts of the First Commandment. It is not worship, but instead a gesture of respect, homage, and consecration. The Catholics are not idolaters. The statues are decorations, making the church more reverent than they would be without them.