Protestants often accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary.
This isn’t always the case. I know a great deal of Protestants who understand the devotion to Mary but for the most part there is still a lot of confusion in the non-Catholic world on this issue. I know Protestants who agree with most of the teachings of the Catholic faith but still have a hard time with Marian devotion.
I can understand the confusion about Mary’s role in the Catholic Church.
I mean, if Catholic’s say they don’t worship Mary then why are they always talking about her? Why do they pray the rosary so much? There’s nothing wrong with asking these questions. Even a Catholic who doesn’t understand the practice should seek the answers to these questions. There are very good reasons Catholics are so devoted to Mary. Here are seven.
#7 – Devotion Is Not Worship
A simple Google search for the word devotion produced the following definition – “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person”. The synonyms provided include faithfulness, fidelity and commitment. I am married and I am devoted to my bride. I have often said that I am in love, faithful, or devoted to my wife. Never have I been accused of blasphemy or worshiping my wife for saying such a thing. Why is it the case that we are afraid to say we are devoted to Mary?
If being devoted to her just means that we really, really, love her then how does that get confused with worship? I spend a great deal of time with my bride. When I am at work I often catch myself thinking about her and wondering how her day is going. I will often send her a text message to remind her that I love her. God is not jealous that I am devoted to my wife, that I spend time with her, or that I love her. When I love her I am honoring God.
Mary is family to me. I listen to her, speak to her and spend time with her as a way to express my devotion, or love, to her and as a way to honor God. We give to God what belongs only to God – worship. However, we can be radically in love with another human and totally devoted to them without fear of worship. That’s because real love has no fear of abandoning God for another since true love must first be grounded in Love himself. Our love for Mary leads us closer to God.
How? Well, that leads to reason number six.
#6 – Mary Is the Ark of the New Covenant
This sounds like an odd reason, I know, but the Ark of the Covenant was an extremely important part of the faith of God’s people in the Old Testament. Therefore, if we can demonstrate that the Ark of the Old Covenant was a foreshadowing of Mary then it might be easier to understand her role in the faith.
God gave specific instructions on how to build the Ark starting in Exodus chapter 25, verse 10. The Ark held three things of great importance: the manna (miracle bread) from heaven, the staff of Aaron who was the high priest, and God’s word on stone tablets (Heb 9:4).
Likewise, Mary held in her womb three things: the true manna, the true high priest, and the Word of God. Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” (John 6:51). He is the high priest (Hebrews 4:14) and he is the Word, not of stone, but the Word become flesh (John 1:14).
With this knowledge in mind take a look at Revelation chapters 11 and 12. The Ark, which was so important to the people of the Old Testament, had been lost for a very long time and here it was being revealed to John by God, “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant” (Rev 11:19).
Pay close attention to the verses that follow, “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth” (Rev 12:1). “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev 12:5).
If you read this in your Bible at home you might be tempted to say “Hey, the ark appears at the end of chapter 11 and the verses concerning Mary are in the next chapter. The division of Scripture by chapter and verse was developed in the 13th century. Before that there was no division between Revelation 11:19 and 12:1. John was speaking of Mary when he referred to seeing the ark of the covenant.
Further study into the ark of the old covenant will give a greater view into the way Catholic’s view Mary’s role in the Church. I recommend reading a book titled “Hail, Holy Queen” by former Protestant minister, and now Catholic scholar, Scott Hahn. The book can be found on Amazon and local Catholic book stores.
There are other interesting parallels between the Ark of the Old Covenant and Mary (read more here). The point, though, is that the ark of the old covenant was treated with great reverence and respect. It was considered holy because of what it contained.
It wasn’t worshiped and it didn’t hinder the faith of God’s people. In fact, it enhanced their faith and was a means by which God blessed his people. In the same way, Mary is considered holy by God’s grace. She is not worshiped and devotion to her doesn’t hinder our faith. In fact, it can enhance our faith and be a means by which God blesses us.
#5 – Mary is the New Eve
“And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). Mary is often called the New Eve except she succeeds where the Old Eve failed. Bishop Irenaeus in AD 202, just over a century after Jesus’ death, wrote, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. The knot of which the virgin Eve tied by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary opened by her belief”.
He also says “If the former [referring to Eve] disobeyed God, the latter [referring to Mary] was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin”.
I did not set out to provide a complete explanation of why Catholic’s believe Mary was born without sin. However, I would like to say that the first Eve was born without sin. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to believe that the Mother of Jesus, the one who was to usher in the Savior of the world, enjoyed the same gift as the person who ushered sin and death into the world.
If Mary was born without sin does that mean she didn’t need a savior? No. We believe she was saved in a different manner – before she was tainted by sin. Imagine Mary is walking through the woods when she steps on a bear trap. Jesus comes along and helps her get her foot out of the bear trap.
He saved her. In another scenario Mary is walking through the woods but right before she is about to step on the bear trap Jesus swoops in and stops her. Even though she wasn’t harmed by the bear trap she was still saved by Jesus.
She still need a Savior because she would have stepped on it had he not prevented her. Why would God save her in a different manner than the rest of humanity? I don’t know. Why did God choose Mary to be the mother of Jesus? He could have chosen anyone else in any time period but he chose Mary. My guess is that he chose her not because she was the most powerful, or vocal, but because she was the most humble and open to God’s will. That brings us to reason number four.
#4 – Mary Is the Prime Example of What It Means to be Human and to be a Saint
Pope John Paul II taught, in his lectures on the Theology of the Body, that woman, in the image of her body, shows all humanity the example of what it means to be human. More specifically, Mary is the example of what it means to be a follower of Christ. In this age we have so many powerful speakers, and leaders, and we can easily forget that the central message of the Gospel is to accept God’s proposal to marriage. Throughout the Bible we are constantly reminded that God is a husband and that Jesus is the bridegroom. Sometimes our biggest obstacle is to let God love us.
Being open to the will of God for us can be difficult because it requires an active passivity. In some cases when a man tries to open the door for a woman she might say “thanks, but I can do it myself”. We can sometimes feel that we need to prove our self sufficiency and show that we are not dependent on anyone. However, true humility requires that we recognize our complete dependence on God.
We can do nothing on our own. God’s grace is at work to keep us alive and in existence. Mary was the prime example because when the Angel Gabriel came to her and said “you will bear conceive and bear a son … and He will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32) her response was one of being open to the will of God “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
That’s what makes Mary so important?
Yes. What makes Mary most important is that when someone comes to her she tells them “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). That is our example – to point others to Jesus. That’s also why the apostles are so important to the Church. Their role was simply to bring others to Christ. Mary brought others to Christ by bringing Christ to the world. And she did it through obedience to God’s will.
#3 – Our Prayers to Mary Are Spoken in the Language of Love
If you’re simply wondering why Catholic’s pray to Mary, or to the Saints, read my article “Why Do Catholic’s Pray to Saints?”. Here I am going to address Marian devotionals and, more specifically, the rosary. Protestants often wonder why Catholic’s put such a heavy emphasis on the rosary.
Let me first say that the rosary is a meditation on the life of Jesus. It begins with the Apostles creed which many Protestants profess in their own churches, except the part that states “I believe … in the holy Catholic Church” (some Protestants do recite this part as referring to the ‘universal’ church).
Then it proceeds with the Our Father which is a prayer that Protestants often recite as well. The next prayer is the Hail Mary which is something many people have trouble with. However, the first part “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you” comes straight from Luke 1:28.
The next part is taken from Luke 1:42 “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”. The last part of the Hail Mary prayer is simply asking Mary for to pray for us – “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen”.
The completion of ten Hail Mary’s is called a decade. On each decade the person praying is meditating on a particular passage of the New Testament. Each decade is meant to help us think about the events of Jesus’ life for at least as long as it takes to pray ten Hail Mary’s. Catholic Answers has an article that goes into more detail on the rosary and can be found here.
If you can get past the Hail Mary you are still confronted with the last prayer of the rosary – the Hail Holy Queen.
“Hail holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.”
For those who have an aversion to any kind of Marian devotion these words can be like nails on a chalkboard. However, this is nothing but the language of love being spoken by one who is devoted to their loving mother. When we feel in love with another person we often start speaking like this. This is actually God’s design. The beauty of his creation and our communion with each other is meant to be a sign and symbol of God who is love and who is family.
For example, when I proposed to my wife I told her that she was the most important person in my life. I told her that she had changed my life and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I told her she was my everything. Even now, I give her my sighs. I mourn to her and I offer her my tears because she comforts me (though rarely since I’m not really an emotional person). I don’t treat her as my God and she doesn’t try to take Christ’s place as comforter. She imitates Christ and shares in his ministry as comforter, healer and lover of my soul.
When I am feeling strongly in love with her my words are elevated and reach toward the Heavens. I have looked at my wife and told her “Oh my God, you are so beautiful”. I have looked at my children and told them “God, you all are so amazing”. I remember one day I realized that every time I praise my wife and children for their beauty I somehow end up bringing God into the praise.
Authentic and powerful love for our family orients us toward God even without us realizing. Likewise, I can look at Mary and say “My God, you are beautiful and amazing”. When I praise Mary I praise God. God is the designer so when we marvel in his work we are marveling in Him. When we learn how much Mary loves us, how she is the perfect mother to us, we start speaking words of great affection to her.
Consider the following quotes about Mary:
“[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. ..She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still, honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.”
“No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity.”
“One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace.. .Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ…Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.”
“Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation.”
Would you like to know who is responsible for all those praises of Mary?
Yes. The same Martin Luther credited for starting the Protestant reformation.
#2 – She Is Jesus’ Mother
Mary is Jesus’ mommy. She breast fed him, she cleaned his poop, she laughed and played with him, she tickled him and she kissed his tummy when it ached.
I’m not Jesus but I can tell you that if you respect and love my mother – I will go into battle alongside you. Conversely, if you disrespect or harm my mother – I will be going to battle against you.
Jesus is a better son than me. Imagine what he will do when you honor his mother with love and affection.
#1 – Jesus Gave Us Mary to be Our Mother
The simplest answer we can give for our devotion to Mary is that she is our mom too.
The last act of love Jesus performed before his death on the cross was to share his mother with us. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (John 19:25-27). Throughout the Gospel of John, John refers to himself as the beloved disciple or the one whom Jesus loves (examples: John 13:23, 21:7).
This could be taken as a little odd and possibly arrogant of John but John, and God, is trying to tell us something. We are the ones whom Jesus loves. We are the beloved disciples. John is representative of all the beloved believers and that’s why in John 19:25 – “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved” – John didn’t refer to himself by name. He wanted us to know that Jesus was giving his mother to the beloved disciple. He chooses his words carefully to show us that Jesus was giving the gift of his mother to all of us.
I am not afraid to take her into my home. I am not embarrassed to say I love her. She is my mother.