All Christians agree with the practice of praying the Our Father. However, the honor given to Mary by faithful Catholics is often mistaken for worship. This is something I run across quite often. You see, most of my childhood was spent in a primarily Protestant area. While I was growing up, not one of my friends shared my Catholic faith. In that type of circumstance, questions and misunderstandings abound. This has led me to quite an in-depth pondering of all things about Mary. In being consistently questioned and misunderstood, I have sought answers. The resulting search brought my own, deeper pondering.
Now that I am deeply involved in Catholic blogging and social media, it is abundantly clear that these same questions and misunderstandings remain. In fact, the questions and misconceptions seem to be on the rise. Anyone with a keyboard or smart phone has access to myriad sites on any topic at their fingertips. In fact, infinite access to information (and misinformation) creates quite a vast climate of likely misinterpretation.
It is my quest, then, to attempt to share the true nature of Catholic reverence for Mary. As a lifelong Catholic, I assure anyone reading this that it is best to receive information about our faith from someone who practices faithfully. Those who thoroughly understand what the Church teaches are certainly best-equipped to alleviate any misconception.
Now, on to a sincere effort to clarify the Catholic approach to Mary:
- The angel, Gabriel, announces the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary. He addresses her with the greeting, “Hail”.
And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” ~ Luke 1:28
- Although initially confused about how this could be, Mary places her trust fully in the hands of God.
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. ~ Luke 1:38
- After affirming that she is the “Handmaid of the Lord” Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth. At around six months into her miraculous pregnancy, the child leaps in her womb when the two women greet one another. John the Baptist literally heralded the divinity of the pre-born Jesus while his mother, Elizabeth, says:
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! ~ Luke 1:41
- It is, indeed, a blessing for Mary to be the chosen, woman of all women, by God. Her role is to carry Jesus in her human womb. The fruit of her womb is our Savior Jesus Christ! What greater honor is there than being entrusted with the care of God made Man during His earthly life? This indicates her holiness.
- As Christians, we all believe that those who are deceased are not truly dead. While their earthly life has ended, we have the promise of Eternal Life from God Himself. Those who are saved through their full acceptance of God’s grace, therefore, live in and with Him Who created them. In Catholicism, we call this the Communion of Saints – the heavenly gathering of those who are in Heaven. They join together in one glorious and endless song of praise for God.
- Mary’s role as the mother of Jesus elevates her above any other human. As the Queen of the Communion of Saints, Mary has direct access to God. At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus appears to dismiss the situation involving a lack of wine.
“O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” John 2:4
Yet He takes Mary’s request to heart and performs His first public miracle. Remember her instructions to the wine stewards, “Do as He tells you”. At the first public miracle Jesus performed, she initiated that the stewards listen to Jesus. She is ever present in His heart and He listens to her pleas.
- Mary’s role is as a mother, not solely at the earthly life of Jesus and not only to Him. At the foot of the cross, Jesus gives one final instruction to her and the disciple He loved. They are to become mother and son after He is gone from this earth. In this way, He gives Mary to us all. She is our heavenly mother.
When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” ~ John 19:26
I hope that reading the clarifications above will allow the reader to see the Hail Mary for what it truly is. It is a scripturally-grounded tribute to the woman, chosen by God, to be the earthly mother of His Son. In praising her role in salvation history, we point to the One Who saved us – Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Even in honoring Mary, we worship the Son of God and fully acknowledge the One Triune God. The source of her place of honor is that she is the Mother of God. With the biblical sources in mind, now let us read through the words of the Hail Mary.
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.
As you can clearly see, the words of the Hail Mary are largely contained within the first chapter of Luke. It is a biblically-based prayer that simply honors Mary because of her role in the earthly manifestation of Jesus. Jesus is at the root of this honor. Without His divinity, Mary would simply be a woman who is a good role model.
Another Marian prayer is found in the Bible as well. It contains the words of praise Mary proclaims as she realizes the great honor given to her. She will bear the Son of God! In repeating it, the Catholic faithful are simply praising God by using the scriptural words of Mary. We are reciting scripture.
Magnificat (Mary’s Song of Praise)
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.
~ Luke 1:47-55
In conclusion, I offer an explanation of Catholic terminology. When we say that we are “praying to Mary” it does not mean the same thing as a worshipful prayer to God. Only God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – receives worship. The worship of divinity is reserved solely for God. Using the Greek term, this is called latria. On the other hand, the theological terms signifying the honor paid to Mary and to the saints are called hyperdulia and dulia. In both language and practice, these different levels of either worship or honor are distinctly practiced. There is no worship of Mary or of the saints. Their honor comes strictly from their close association with God in the holy lives they led.
Originally published at Catholic Life in Our Times.