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This odd use of the verb venerate occurs on a funeral home website:

Prior to the age of photography, death masks were used to venerate the death.

The use is odd because the transitive verb venerate means “to regard with feelings of respect and reverence.” The taking of a death mask may be seen as a way of venerating a deceased person, but not a death.

The Latin verb venerare gives us the verb venerate and the adjective venerable. The words are used in both religious and secular contexts:

While far from universal, ancestor veneration occurs in societies with every degree of social, political, and technological complexity.

While Horus was venerated throughout Egypt, his primary cult centers were in the south. 

Kissing the Black Stone–Veneration or an Idolatrous Practice?

Why Do We Venerate the Holy Cross?

Upon Gary Smith’s retirement: The venerated Sports Illustrated writer on long-form immersion and intimacy

The book discusses the extreme veneration of technology.

Generation gap: Older folks venerate patriotic symbols, while younger folks extol principles.

The adjective venerable (worthy of respect or worship) may be applied to people or things. The respect may be seen to stem from character, position, age, or antiquity.

Author of Stupid Men Jokes Nancy Gray calls Washington DC “that venerable bastion of maledom.”

Anti-equality advocates, like Princeton professor Robert George and his co-authors, are attempting to cast this movement as an attack on the venerable institution of marriage. 

The doctrine of re-birth — that is, the repeated embodiment of the inner essence of man — is the oldest and most venerable belief of the human race.

It was also great to see such venerable actors as Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs, as the three elderly security guards, strut their stuff.

In some religions, Venerable is an honorific prefixed to the names of especially respected leaders:

Buddhist Ethics by Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera

The Venerable Dr. Jean Fritz Bazin, [Episcopal] Archdeacon for Immigration and Social Justice

In the Roman Catholic process of canonization, Venerable is a title bestowed on a candidate for sainthood before the approval of the first miracle.

The person most associated with the title Venerable in English is a medieval monk named Bede (672-735 CE). Bede is venerated as the father of English history. Because of his dedication to scholarship and religious observance, he was honored with the title Venerable even in his lifetime. He doesn’t seem to have undergone the official canonization process, but in 1899, Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church. He is often referred to as “Saint Bede,” but more commonly as “the Venerable Bede.”

Bottom line: People and things are venerated. Respected people and things are venerable. The transitive verb venerate takes a direct object–human or inanimate–that is felt by someone to be worthy of respect.

The funeral home writer may have been reaching for the word commemorate (to mark by ceremony):

Prior to the age of photography, death masks were used to commemorate the death.

Note: Although the word worship is often given as a synonym for venerate, many speakers distinguish between the two words, using venerate to denote deep respect for non-divine things or personages and reserving worship to describe the adoration of a divinity.

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