There are three reasons I decided to start this blog series by addressing the common misconception that Catholics worship Mary. One is that a friend of mine actually did express some interest in having this cleared up in a previous blog post comment. Another is that I think that this might be one of the biggest objections that non-Catholics have to Catholicism, so I thought it would be good to address upfront. The third is that, to me, it’s one of the easiest misunderstandings to set straight.
As a child, I didn’t think about Catholicism much (my only point of reference for the phrase “Hail Mary” was a last-second desperation throw to try to win a football game), but when I did, I vaguely thought that Catholics worshipped Mary. The fact is that I didn’t know the first thing about Catholicism in reality. My belief about Mary was simply a parroting of something I heard an adult say.
However, when I started attending Catholic Mass last year and reading about the Catholic Faith, I had absolutely no problem getting past my previous misunderstanding about Our Lady. In fact, one of my first reactions to reading about how some other people are so reluctant to show love for her was, “Why?”
Here’s an illustration of my thoughts about the matter:
Imagine being in a deep, loving relationship with someone. You love this person dearly, and you’re about to meet His parents. He can’t wait for you to meet them, because He loves them so much, and they are very important to Him. You meet His Dad and realize that you really love Him too, but every time your Dearest tries to introduce you to His mother, you refuse, saying, “No thanks. I just don’t think she’s important here. I’ll meet her and maybe visit with her a bit when your birthday rolls around, since she did give birth to you. But other than that I want nothing to do with her.”
That would be weird.
Perhaps that analogy is overly simplistic, but I guess that is why it was never difficult for me to understand Marian devotion, once I thought about it a bit. Mary is Jesus’s mother. She was chosen by God to carry Him, to give Birth to Him, and to raise Him, along with Joseph. She suffered intensely by having to watch her Child be subjected to the tortures of His Passion. Surely, no other person could possibly have had nearly as much of an impact on Jesus during His time on Earth as she did. Just imagine her love for Him, and His for her.
So. Why would we not honor her? Why not sing songs about her and mention her in the Mass? God is Jesus’s Father. Mary is Jesus’s mother. God is our Father. Mary is our Mother. Of course we love her.
Many Protestants and others might try to clarify their objections and say, “But you pray to her!!! That’s not right.”
But that belief is not correct. We don’t actually pray to Mary.
Devotion is not the same as worship. Honoring someone is not the same as worshipping her. Asking someone to pray for you is not the same as praying to her.
We believe that Mary is in Heaven, right there with her Beloved Son. She is our Mother and she watches over us. We ask her to pray for us. We ask her to intercede on our behalf and to help us grow in our faith.
The biggest role that Mary plays is that she brings us closer to her Son.
That brings me to the question I got from my friend Liz, which frankly shocked and flummoxed me at first. She had commented to me before that she wondered about Catholics’ beliefs about Mary. When she heard I was going to post more about this, she wrote:
To be clear, my confusion does come from Catholics themselves (in hindsight I realize they probably weren’t active Catholics). As an LDS missionary in SE Asia I’d occasionally ask contacts “so, are you Christian?” and every now and then I’d get the response, “no, I’m Catholic.” Puzzled, I’d continue “I thought Catholics believed in the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ?” Most would agree, but two young girls once said “No, we pray to Mary. Christians pray to Christ.” I didn’t want to argue their religion (or mine, since Mormons don’t pray to Christ, but to God) with them, but I had a feeling that wasn’t quite right. I’ve never been able to figure out why they thought that.
My only response to that is to say that those young girls must have been very misinformed. I’m not sure why a Catholic would ever say, “We’re not Christian,” or “We pray to Mary, not Christ.” That is just simply not true. Catholics are Christians. We believe in a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we pray to each of these persons of the Holy Trinity.
Yes, there are some prayers that are specifically directed to Mary, but these prayers are simply intended to show love and honor to her and to ask her to pray for us. And actually, the words of the Hail Mary almost all come directly from scripture:
Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Consider Luke 1:28 regarding the angel Gabriel’s first words to Mary at the Annunciation, “And coming to her he said, ‘Hail favored one! The Lord is with you,'”
and Luke 1:42 about Elizabeth’s first words to her when Mary arrived for the Visitation, (Elizabeth) “cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.'”
These are words to acknowledge the importance of Mary as Jesus’s mother. As the one God chose to raise his Son on Earth.
The Catholic Church does not teach in any way that Mary is equal to Jesus or God. The Church does not try to include her as part of the Holy Trinity. But the Church does accord her the honor and love that she deserves as the mother of God.
And that’s what I know about it. I know there is a lot more to say about the matter. I’d be happy to do my best to answer any more questions you may have about Mary. Also, Scott Hahn’s book, Hail Holy Queen, is full of wonderful information about our Blessed Mother. It’s a little dense though, so this is my beginner’s version.
So, what do you think?
I haven’t gotten any questions from you yet, so I’m just going to roll right along with my own agenda until I do. Next week I’ll write about the authority of the pope.
Feel free to comment with any future topics you’d like me to cover or send me an email.