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“We are Honoring Mary, Never Worshiping Her”

The above are lyrics to an African hymn that a priest in our diocese, who was transferred from Nigeria, sings during Mass when he talks about devotion to our Mother Mary. A few nights ago I turned on the TV and a local Christian station was on with some protestant preacher accusing Catholics of divinizing Mary, worshiping her and making her equal to God. This is why it is important for us to really understand the Church’s teaching on Mary’s role and to know what true devotion consists of.

Much of what we believe about Mary comes straight from scripture. We believe that nothing written in scripture is insignificant or accidental and therefore its many references to Mary are worth noting. First and foremost is the link between the Old and New Testaments regarding Mary. In the few encounters between Jesus and His mother depicted in the Gospel of St. John Jesus does not refer Our Ladyto Mary by name or even as mother; he calls her ‘woman’ (Jn. 2:4, 19:26). For Catholics this ‘woman’ is an echo of the woman referred to in the book of Genesis (3:15):

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.

This verse is also a foreshadowing of the ‘woman’ in the book of Revelation who was “clothed with the sun” and “gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod” (12:1, 5).

In his book, Hail, Holy Queen, Scott Hahn says, “That child could only be Jesus; and so the woman could only be His mother, Mary.”

Catholics’ desire to honor Mary is fitting because of her role in the redemption of mankind. Through her ‘fiat,’ her obedience to the Divine will of God, Mary was overshadowed by the power of the Most High (Lk. 1:35) and became the means by which the Son of God came into the world to redeem mankind and thus became also a cooperator, or co-redeemer with Him. Our LadyMore proof that Mary is intimately linked with the redemptive work of her Son is in the prophecy of Simeon in which he reveals that Mary will also share in the sufferings of Christ. As Christ suffered and died on the cross for our sins, those sins formed the sword that was to pierce the soul of Mary as well (Lk. 2:24-35). It is not the Church who has raised Mary to such a prominent position, but God himself who found favor with her and chose her to be blessed among women (Lk. 2:30, 42). Mary’s obedience undid the disobedience of Eve. For more on this see the Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 494 (which also, by citing the likes of St. Irenaeus, shows that the early Christians believed this as well).

Christ not only desired that Mary be honored among all women, but also that she should have a special relationship with the faithful. In handing Mary over to his beloved disciple he made all Christians, who are represented in the person of John, children of Mary (Jn. 19:26). Our LadyIn devoting ourselves to the care of our heavenly Mother we are using the same means He used to come down to us. That is why St. Louis DeMontfort calls true devotion to Mary an “easy, short, perfect and secure way of attaining union with our Lord.” It is perfect because,

“The Most High has come down to us perfectly and divinely, by the humble Mary, without losing anything of His Divinity and Sanctity. So it is by Mary that the very little ones are to ascend perfectly and divinely, without any fear to the Most High.”

Even Mary herself foresaw this devotion when she said in her great Magnificat; “behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Lk. 2:48).

Nowhere in Catholic Church teaching do we claim that Mary is equal to God or that we worship her at all. In fact the Catechism expressly states that,

“This very special devotion[to Mary] … differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration,” (CCC n. 971)

We honor Mary, giving her the respect that is owed to such an important figure in Salvation History, one who is, as common sense tells us, the Mother of God. And we devote ourselves to her powerful intercession, a devotion which is, above all, Christ centered, with the goal of achieving perfect union with Him through the help of our Mother in heaven.

The same African priest I mentioned earlier explains Mary’s role this way: Two thousand years ago Mary brought Christ into the world; today she desires to bring Christ into our hearts.

The Navarre Bible
The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Further reading:
True Devotion
Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God.
Mary of Nazareth

Imitation of Mary

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