ASK FATHER: Seeing devout people kneel to pray before statues

From a reader…


During these troubled times living in Northern Wisconsin I have found my faith thru you and now through Our Lady of Good Help in Champion Wis. I noticed praying before Our Lady, Mother Mary, the faithful, mostly Hispanic after confession pray on their knees and make their way towards the alter. I know it is pure and understand their devotion and have been so moved but still do not understand the devotion of the faithful of the Hispanic faithful? I also watch a young lady pray with a statue of Jesus, carry, kneel and pray before the alter and statues before me. Can you expand?


I’m not quite sure what the question is…

How do we explain the devotion of the faithful? They love God. They love Jesus. They love Jesus’ Mother Mary and go to great lengths to demonstrate that love. As human beings, creatures composed of bodies and souls, we use both to express our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Physical gestures mean things – watch a silent movie. With few words on a screenshot, actors and actresses were able to display a whole panoply of meanings just by using their eyes. If a man were to stand, stockstill, hands at his side, and say to his wife in a monotone, “Penelope, I love you” would it have the same effect as if he were to get down on one knee, throw a dozen roses at her feet, and look up at here with pleading eyes and cry out with passion, “Penelope, I love you!”? (Presuming, of course, that her name is, indeed Penelope. If it weren’t, he would be in for a world of hurt).

We show our love for the Lord not just by cold, emotionless words (although our words are powerful, and the Lord knows that we all express our emotions differently, and some more naturally than others). We show our devotion to the God who created us by falling on our knees before His Eucharistic presence. We lower ourselves physically in order to remind ourselves of His prominence over us. We kneel in humble appreciation of His great gift of forgiveness. We embrace physical reminders of God and the things of God – statues, pictures, rosaries.

To understand the meaning behind a particular person’s expression of his or her devotion, it would probably be best to ask that person directly. “I was moved to see how lovingly you carried that statue of the Sacred Heart to the altar and knelt there in prayer. Could you explain what that meant to you?”

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  1. JabbaPapa says:

    My bad knees don’t let me kneel (except for Eucharist at a TLM on a padded communion kneeler) or I would, though the minimum show of respect (unless you can’t for medical reasons) is to stand, and when appropriate show reverence by bowing or inclining your head when others might kneel instead.

    It is important to understand when standing, if circumstance dictates it, that it is a position of humility before God, not one of pride in oneself — and to kneel is a special act of humble devotion, that has always been recommended to the Faithful.

    Not the sort of prideful kneeling against the American flag that some people have been practising. Not the enforced kneeling to mere men that some have self-centredly been demanding of white people these last weeks.

    Standing or kneeling in the Presence of our Lord or when praying to Him, including through His Saints and Angels, is from love and humility, never from worldly pride or spite.

  2. xavier says:


    With all that squeamishness about statues and exuberance, , sounds like a Catholic who’s been inculturated in Protestant iconclasim and calnvinstic emotional dourness.

  3. “inculturated in Protestant iconclasim”

    When the person called Our Blessed Lady “Mother Mary”, my first thought was that he/she was either a convert or non-Catholic. Many protestants and converts refer to her as “Mother Mary”. She is our “Heavenly Mother”, and the title the person used for her, I feel is a bit disrespectful. We have “Mother, may I?”, and “Mother Earth” etc. but we have the Blessed Mother and not Mother Mary. Just my feelings on the subject.

    Hispanics are not the only people who kneel, bow, etc. We are French and my father, may he rest in peace, used to carry a large cross on his shoulder during Lent while on his knees and make the Way of the Cross outside. When we prayed the rosary as a family, nightly during Lent, the Franciscan Crown, we prayed on our knees with arms outstretched as if we were on the Cross with Jesus. Why? This was penance and thanksgiving for what Our Lord suffered for us.

  4. Lurker 59 says:

    If we are discussing OLGH in North Eastern Wisconsin, it is not just the Mexican Hispanics up there that show such great devotion, but I have also seen Asians, likely Hmong, having such piety to Our Lady and the Saints.

    Devotion to the Saints takes many forms, and is often cultural in nature. Here in the United States, we have often lost a lot of our religious cultural heritage (Even the Protestants!) to the degree that when it is encountered that it can be shocking and surprising.

    There are two ways of understanding: understanding by cognition and understanding by doing. Both can lead to understanding with the heart. Both start by saying “teach me why you do this so that I might do likewise”. I have not known Hispanics to be shy about their love for the Virgin when asked to speak of her.

  5. Cjrs_79 says:

    @Lurker59. I grew up in Puerto Rico and popular piety is such a big part of expressing our catholic faith. I was really shocked when I came to the continental US and very rarely saw processions, public rosaries, statues of saints everywhere. Etc. I know it exists. We do pray A LOT in front of statues. The way we were always taught was that it’s like when you look at a picture of a deceased family member but in this case the saints can respond in ways the Lord allows. I am not trying to write a theological treatise. Lol. We also really lived the liturgical calendar.

    Let me add something else. We celebrated commemorations that I never saw in the catholic calendar and when I started learning more about the TLM and the changes I realized that we were still celebrating the old feasts.

  6. Alice says:

    I’m not sure that this is particularly weird. I’ve noticed it is common among traditional (lowercase t) Catholics, regardless of ethnicity. There’s a rural parish I visit occasionally where the parents just take their children to light candles and pray before the statues before Mass because that’s what they’ve always done and the priests have tended to be too busy to mess with the people’s piety. Watching them, I find myself thinking that if one of their ancestors were to find themselves transported out of 18th century Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg or Alsace or wherever into that church on a Sunday morning, they would think the Mass was bizarre and the clothes weird, but the piety, that they would recognize.

  7. adriennep says:

    Maybe if more Catholics knelt before their Saints, we wouldn’t have angry mobs tearing down statues of Saint Junipero Serra in SF and LA, like they did this weekend. Maybe we would have a Bishop or two defending our Saints instead of our looters.

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