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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 19 Jan 2002

Statue of Lazarus QUESTION from Greg Neywick March 27, 2000 My wife and I were recently given a statue of the poor Lazarus with dogs licking his wounds. It was given to us by a Hispanic woman (My wife is also Hispanic) This picture of Lazarus is only given to us through a parable by Jesus in Lk 16:19-31. The statue came with a candle that had a prayer on it to St. Lazarus, patron of the poor and humble. My question is this: Is this person of Lazarus held up by the Church as a saint for veneration, or is this just Hispanic superstition? I have talked to one Opus Dei priest about it, and he said that he knew of no feast of St. Lazarus in the US, but he couldn't say about other countries. He said it was definitely a good question.
I am hoping that you can help me or point me in the right direction to find out whether this is an image to uphold for veneration, or one to be destroyed. Any help you could give on this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks and may God bless you abundantly in all of your endeavors.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on April 4, 2000 Dear Mr. Neywick:
In the story we see that Lazarus is partaking of the heavenly banquet. Thus, in that sense he is a saint.
In the middle ages there was an Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem. This order ministered to lepers. It was thought that the Lazarus of the parable was a leper.
But as to an official declaration, I am not sure, but he is listed as a saint in the Dictionary of Saints that I have (compiled by John Delany). His Feast Day is listed as June 21.
I would suspect that Lazarus was perhaps popularly venerated. Many saints were considered saints, especially in the early centuries by virtue of popular veneration. These will be listed in the Canon of Saints. But many of these populary venerate saints would not stand up to the scrutiny of today's sainthood process. Nevertheless, they are listed in the Canon and thus we may venerate them.
Popular ideas about Lazarus finds him a leper suggesting that his horrible disease may be why the rich man neglected him. I can see how the outcast would venerate St. Lazarus. However the real reason for the rich man's neglect of Lazarus was not that he was a leper. The story is not about the rejection of a sick and poor man. The story is about a man, Lazarus, who accepted his poverty virtuously and was rewarded; and a rich man who neglected the opportunities his wealth gave him for charity and was thus punished. The parable is about how we miss opportunities that God has given us. The rich man paid for his neglect of those opportunities. We should all heed the warning.
In both the popular context of Lazarus the neglected leper and the more accurate moral of the story of missed opportunities, I can see how a popular local devotion can be had of Lazarus in areas of extreme poverty contrasted by the harshness and injustice of those of wealth. This situation fits Central America which has always been a land of marked contrasts between those in power and wealth and the common people.
In Lazarus the poor would find hope.
However, I believe the reason the Church will not likely put Lazarus on the Roman Calendar is that we don't know for sure if he every existed. Most Catholic exegetes now commonly accept the story as a parable without any literal reality of a real person named Lazarus.
But contrary to popular opinion, a saint does not have to be on the Calendar to be venerated or his feast day celebrated. The Church only puts saints on the calendar who have universal significance and who we can reasonably be assured actually existed. Certainly there is not enough says in the year to list every saint on the calendar.
No saint is de-sainted, by the way, by being removed from the calendar. We may publicly venerate any saint in the Canon of Saints (of which I think are some 11,000)
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