Catholics Don’t Worship Mary — We Love and Honor Her
‘The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship. The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion.’ (CCC 971)
Many Protestants have been trained from their mother’s milk to be wary of Catholic “displays.” It’s because they have been taught that only God should be worshiped and adored (we totally agree) and because of that, no one else should be honored or venerated at all (we completely disagree, and so does the Bible, I would contend). There are lots of ignorant Catholics, just as there are ignorant practitioners in any Christian group. One can’t “go by” them.
That said, I think Protestant contra-Catholic criticism (especially of the anti-Catholic variety) grossly exaggerates the excesses of Catholic Marian devotion. The main problem is the false belief that any honor to any human being is automatically idolatry. But the latter means that a person has replaced allegiance to God in their hearts with something or someone else. Catholics aren’t doing that with Mary. We simply think she is the highest of God’s creatures, because she is Jesus’ mother. So that status of “highest creature” looks in many Protestant eyes like raising her above God or making her equal to him. That’s the furthest thing from any educated, properly catechized Catholic’s mind.
There are people who are more righteous than others. The Bible teaches this. So, for example, James 5:16 states, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (RSV). This presupposes that some people are more righteous than others. James was using the example of the prophet Elijah, and goes on in 5:17-18:
Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.
If that is the case, then certain people can be and should be honored (venerated) more than others. This is where it comes from. So when we get to Mary, we’re talking about the highest creature God ever made: the Mother of God the Son, whom God gave a special grace of being freed from original sin from her conception — not because it was strictly necessary, but because it was “fitting.” The latter notion is biblical, too. Therefore we greatly venerate and honor her.
Protestants look at that and too often assume in a knee-jerk fashion that it’s idolatry and blasphemously replacing God with a creature. But it is non-worship honor of one whom God has exalted. It was the angel Gabriel who said to Mary, “Hail full of grace” at the Annunciation (yes, that’s what the Greek kecharitomene means). This means she was without sin, as I have argued from Scripture (grace being the antithesis of sin). But if a Protestant rejects the possibility of a human being being without sin, and being blessed above all others, then he or she will obviously collapse Marian veneration into idolatry and blasphemy, because their categories forbid such a notion from the outset. I’m saying that the premise is wrong.
An entire chapter (Hebrews 11) is about the heroes of the faith. We’re told in the Bible (1 Peter 2:17) to “honor all men” and “honor the emperor” (who was the wicked Nero at the time). But we can’t honor Mary? This makes no sense. I don’t think Protestants think it through deeply enough.
I was informed that a Catholic had a prayer in their bathroom that starts with “Dear Jesus, we come to you through your blessed mother Mary.” This gets back to the idea of asking a holy person to pray for us. The Bible is filled with that sort of thing. I compiled an article about it. Protestants will say we can’t ask someone who has died to pray for us, let alone asking them to answer the prayer themselves. Yet Abraham did both, in Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. The rich man asked him to do something twice, and Abraham refused, but he didn’t say, “Why are you praying to me?” Therefore, we can ask a dead person to pray for us, according to Jesus Himself.
The Catholic Church doesn’t command any Catholic to pray to Mary, or forbid them to pray directly to God. A prayer that states: “Dear Jesus, we come to you through your blessed mother Mary” means in the Catholic (and biblical) outlook, “Dear Jesus, we know that we can always choose to come to you through your blessed mother Mary or other holy persons.” It’s not the only way, but it is a good, effective way to reach God and to receive an answer to prayer, according to the Bible.
There are also many biblical passages whereby men are the mediators of God’s grace and even salvation. So why can’t Mary conceivably be one of those “mini-mediators” too? Some Catholic individuals are mistaken and have fallen into idolatry. Why should that surprise anyone? Are there not a million different excesses in various Protestant teachings and practices, in various denominations (including idolatry and blasphemy)? I was an evangelical in the past, too, and corrected some of these as a Protestant apologist (see an example from 1982). They can always be found. This is why good teaching, catechesis and apologetics are of the utmost importance. There are 1.3 billion Catholics in the world. Some of them will obviously be ignorant of various doctrines and practices and get them wrong.
If some practices of Catholics regarding Mary are truly excessive, yes, of course we must point them out, condemn them, and correct those who are doing them. But many (most?) Protestants think that there should be no Marian veneration or intercession, period, which goes too far and is unbiblical. It’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Vatican II corrected Marian excesses in practice without ditching the doctrines.