Q&A: On Mary, Mother of Our Lord

"You shouldn't be Catholic, Catholics worship Mary!"

There is no more of a common and frustrating misconception about Catholics than the assertion that Catholics worship Mary. Protestants believe that worshipping Mary is wrong because it breaks the first commandment, that we worship none other than God, and God alone. To this I must give a resounding and hearty "Amen!" Indeed, we are to worship God and God alone, and Roman Catholics, as well as all Catholic rites (nearly 2 dozen) agree that we are to worship God alone. Why then can you find in nearly all anti-Catholic literature statements that insist Catholics worship Mary?

Our Protestant brethren often misunderstand what the Catholic faith teaches about Mary when they see statues of Mary in our parishes, and when people ask for the intercession of Mary, such as through the use of the rosary. The practice of asking for prayer from others is common in all Protestant denominations. In many liturgical denominations, the 'prayers of the people' are a common practice in which the congregation will pray for others. In non-liturgical reformed denominations there are usually prayer bulletins that are passed around where in members may ask for prayers for themselves and others from church goers. We do this because as Christians we are members of one body and one family. St. Paul teaches us to pray for each other (see 1 Timothy 2:1).

The practice of making images, either photographs, statues, paintings, icons, or other ways allows us to remember those who have gone before us. Just as you hang pictures of your grandma, mom or dad, son or daughter, or the local missionaries on your walls, Catholics have pictures, statues, and other images of their Christian family. This includes great Christians who were exampliers of the faith whom we deem "saints" and our Brother and Savior Jesus, our spiritual mother, Mary, and so on. Catholics never idolize or make gods of these images, just like you do not idolize an image of your grandma on the living room mantle. The image of your grandma reminds you of her and you can look at that image and say "That's my grandma!" even though, of course, the actual ink and paper is not your grandma. We can look at a statue of St. Joseph and say "that is St. Joseph" without actually meaning that the stone is St. Joseph. The image represents the substance of that which it depicts, be it St. Joseph, Jesus, or Mary.

This brings us to the question of whether or not it is right to ask those Christian brothers and sisters of ours in heaven for their prayers. Let's specifically consider Mary and the rosary since it is the most commonly misunderstood. The rosary has a deep history that we will not get into now, but it is our intercession to Mary that she would show us her Son, Jesus. It is a very Christocentric intercession. Each decade of the rosary focuses on a portion of the life of Jesus Christ. Each Hail Mary considers a passage of the life of Christ out of the Bible. The 150 Hail Mary's in the original 3 sets of "mysteries of the life of Christ" also represent the 150 Psalms. The Hail Mary itself is a biblical prayer that fulfills the angels acclamation that all women shall call Mary "blessed" and comes straight from the scriptures in Luke 1-2.

So can we ask the mother of our Lord for her intercession? Can we ask her, or any of those Christians who went before us for prayer? Even if you were to assume the answer is "no", you still could not say that Catholics 'worship' anyone other than God. Ah, but you may say "Catholics paying attention to saints or Mary is taking away from the glory of God and the prayer we can make straight to God." That's right, we pray to God and ask Him for "our daily bread". Catholics fully agree that we should go straight to God in prayer, and the faithful Catholic will. Alas though, let's think about this on family terms. God is our heavenly Father who created us, as His creation, whom He saw and called "good", he cherishes us. Is God so jealous that if we notice this goodness, whether in His creation, man, or in all of His creation from the mountains to the seas that he would be angry for us noticing His creation? Would a painter be angry if we were to praise the painting and not only the painter? Of course not! We are a huge family, and as much as we pray to our Lord and communion with Him, we communion with our whole Christian family, on heaven and earth as well. This takes nothing away from God when we fellowship with each other or praise His creation, but instead lifts God up as Almighty.

We are on a tangent here though. We have no doubt that God can hear us, even though He is not physically with us and we do not see Him now face to face. There is nothing scripturally that states that heaven is a place in which we are cut off completely from the body of Christ on earth (Rev 20:4). And who better to ask for their prayers than from those who see God now, face to face? Revelation speaks of the "prayers of the saints" being offered at the throne of God (Rev 5:8). Those in heaven then realize the power of prayer, and most certainly intercessory prayer. The angels in heaven know of what is going on here on earth (Tob 12:12) and there is no reason to think that our Christian brethren in heaven do also not know as well.

The objections here may continue. "However," a Protestant may say, "How can Mary hear all of the requests for intercession from all those asking for prayers on earth? Is she omnipotent?" Of course, Mary is not omnipotent, however with her position being that she is in heaven, and that time does not exist in heaven as it does on earth, who is to say she is not aware of our requests for intercession? The first miracle of her Son was at her requests at the wedding at Cana. Jesus handed the care of His mother over to the disciple John. This indicates both that - Jesus did not have any brothers (since it would have been a grave insult as a Jew not to hand the care of one's elderly parents to someone who is not another sibling), and that Joseph has passed on of age at this point since he is no longer carrying for Mary.

Here there is little left to say. At times this conversation with a non-Catholic may lead to the assertion that there is only one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). To this we fully agree that there is only one mediator of a new and better covenant, Jesus Christ. Catholics believe in and agree with all scripture. Mediatorship of the new covenant really does not have a lot to do with intercession. As we said before, we pray for our Christian brethren often, however this does not violate Christ's mediatorship, but affirms that when we pray for them we realize the power of this mediatorship.

So then the misunderstanding Catholics in any way worship Mary is unfounded. To worship Mary, Catholics will say, is a grave sin. There is more that can be said on the subject, but this will suffice for now.