DO CATHOLICS WORSHIP THE SUN?

I know this question seems ludicrous, but believe it or not, some anti-Catholics actually believe that we do!

The very notion is ridiculous to me, and I'm sure to any other Catholic.  I went through years of religious instruction in the Catholic Church as a child, and none of my teachers ever told us to worship the sun.  I've never heard a priest say that the sun is God, and never read anything of the sort in any papal encyclical, catechism, council document or theology text.  In fact, if the subject of sun worship ever came up at all, it was rejected as another form of idolatry, a violation of the First Commandment!

This anti-Catholic charge is so silly that it shouldn't even merit an answer.  But since some people actually believe it and use it to try to steal sheep from the Catholic fold, I have to respond.

Solar Symbolism

No, Catholics do not worship the sun; we worship the Blessed Trinity alone.  But we do sometimes use the sun as a symbol of God; this is neither pagan nor wrong, in fact it is biblical!

Psalms 84:11 says "For the LORD God is a sun and shield".  Malachi 4:2 applies the title Sun of Righteousness (or Sun of Justice) to the coming Messiah:  "But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings".  And St. Zechariah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to call Christ the "Dayspring from on high" (Luke 1:78).  Dayspring literally means "rising sun"!

(The above verses are all quoted from the King James Version, for the benefit of those Protestants who only accept that translation.  Readers may look them up in any reliable translation.)

No Bible-believing Christian can accuse Scripture of promoting pagan sun worship with these verses.  The Church simply follows this biblical precident; she uses the sun as a symbol of the God Who is Light (1 John 1:5) without in any way promoting idolatrous worship of the yellow star at the center of our solar system.

Take, for instance, the following from St. Francis of Assisi's Canticle of Brother Sun:

Praise to You, O Lord our God, for all Your creatures,
especially our dear Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
fair is he, in splendor radiant,
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Note the clear distinction St. Francis makes between God and the sun.  He addresses God, praising Him for making "Brother Sun"; he does not pray to the sun as though it were God.  He clearly identifies the sun as one of God's creatures.  And Francis ends by saying that the sun "bears the likeness" of God, meaning that the brightness of the sun is somewhat comparable to the Glory of God. But the distinction between the two remains clear; the sun may be "like God" in its radience, but it is still not God!

If the inspired Psalmist could draw such a bold simile as "the LORD God is a sun", then surely St. Francis's comparison is legitimate.

Sunday Observance

Certain anti-Catholics who observe the Saturday Sabbath rather than Sunday see "proof" of solar worship in our Sunday observance.  After all, they argue, Sunday means "the day of the sun"; the fact that the Catholic Church changed the day of rest from the God-ordained Sabbath to the day the pagans assigned to the sun surely must prove that Rome was replacing the true God with the sun as an object of worship.

This argument does not hold up biblically, historically or theologically.  Early Christians began observing the first day of the week even in New Testament times (Acts 21:7) because it was the day of Christ's resurrection.  The Sabbath was a commemoration of the first creation, and Christians were very aware that they were living in a new creation, completed by Christ when He rose from the dead.  Some early Christian writers refer to Sunday as the "eighth day" to underscore the fact that the new creation (completed on the "eighth day") surpasses the original creation (completed on the seventh day).

Pagan Romans named each day of the week after the seven heavenly bodies known at the time:  the sun, moon and first five planets other than Earth.  Thus the first day of the week was Dies Solis, "the day of the sun"; the second Dies Lunae, "the day of the moon", the third Dies Martis, named after Mars; the fourth Dies Mercurii after Mercury; the fifth Dies Iovis for Jove/Jupiter; the sixth Dies Veneris for Venus and the seventh Dies Saturni for Saturn.

However, pagans did not "observe" Dies Solis as a special day of rest or religious feast.  In fact, they didn't observe any particular day of the week as the Jews did.  The Romans had no concept of a "sabbath"; every day was a workday to them, and they even mocked the Jews for "wasting" one seventh of their time!  So the idea that the Catholic Church copied her "Sunday observance" from the pagans is historically incorrect; the pagans didn't "observe" Sunday!

Though pagans had called the first day of the week the "day of the sun", Christians soon renamed it Domenica, "the Day of the Lord" (from the Latin word Dominus, "Lord").  This new Christian word replaced the old pagan name Dies Solis for the first day of the week in Ecclesiastical Latin, and is still reflected in the Romance languages.  To this day, Italians call Sunday Domenica, the French Dimanche and the Spanish and Portuguese Domingo - all derived from the Latin word Domenica!  The pagan term "day of the sun" still survives in the English Sunday and German Sonntag (both derived from the Teutonic Sunnandaeg), but this is not the case with all European languages.

So even etymology reveals that early Christians renamed the first day for Christ, thus replacing a pagan honor given to the sun with Christian worship of the true God.

Monstrance = Sunburst?

Some anti-Catholics like to point out that monstrances, which Catholics use to expose the Blessed Sacrament for veneration, often have a "sunburst"-like pattern radiating from the center.  They claim that this is further proof that Catholics worship the sun.

Mario Derksen does a great job answering this charge in his article Debunking Myths about the Monstrance.  I won't rehash all his arguments here; you can check out that article for yourself.  But one observation he makes is very relevant to this article:  we Catholics believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Himself, and the Bible refers to Christ as the "Sun of Righteousness" (as we saw above).  So what could be improper about enthroning the Eucharistic Lord in a sun-like utensil?  It simply signifies that Jesus Christ is the Sun of Righteousness, the Dayspring from on high!

I should also point out here that not all monstrances are shaped like that.  Many are more boxlike, and so do not convey the impression of a sunburst.  But even those which do are not intended to promote "sun worship".  After all, Eucharistic adorers worship Jesus Christ, not the monstrance itself!

Conclusion

No, Catholics do not worship the sun.  Along with our separated Protestant brethren, we repudiate solar worship as idolatry.  Our occasional use of sunlike imagery for God is biblically based and therefore sound from a Christian point of view.  On the Lord's Day, we gather to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, not the yellow star He gave us to light our days (Genesis 1:14-18). Once again, a charge of paganism hurled against us falls flat on its face!


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