DO CATHOLICS WORSHIP THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY?
“Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Lk. 1:48). Catholics throughout the centuries have tried to live up to the prophetic statement of the Blessed Virgin Mary; however, she and her faithful are grossly attacked of committing idolatry. That the Rosary Catholics say, the veneration accorded Mary through reverence of her person, titles, images, pictures, and a high place of honour given to her after Jesus Christ and the devotional frequency in her honour amount to a Marian idolatry called Mariolatry. Some ask why should she be invoked (Holy Mother of God – pray for us), while others question why she should be imitated as a model. Contenders of Catholics also question the place of Mary in the history of salvation as they have failed to understand why Mary should hold a prime place in Catholicism in particular and Christendom in general. So, do Catholics worship Mary? Put differently, are Catholics guilty of idolatry because they profoundly respect Mary?
The key term that is highly disputed about is “worship” of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Worship is from the old English weortscipe, meaning “condition of worth”, honour shown to an object which has been etymologised as “worthiness or worth-ship” – to give, at its simplest, worth to something. Worship means treating something or somebody as divine or a deity and showing respect by engaging in acts of prayer and devotion. In simple terms, worship means reverence and reverence, means deep respect or devotion accorded something/a being because of its excellence. Hence, in classical catholic theology there are three degrees of reverences – Latria, hyperdulia and dulia. First – Latria (Greek), Adoratio (Latin), Adoration (English) is given to God alone. It is an acknowledgement of excellence and perfection of an uncreated, divine person. Accordingly, only God is adored. As a sign of adoration to God, we offer Him sacrifice through the celebration of Holy Mass. The second degree of reverence is Dulia (Greek) – honour due to the excellence of a created person. This refers to the excellence exhibited by the created being that likewise deserves recognition and honour. For instance, its high degree of sanctity or holiness calls for recognition. This is the form that we accord Mary and the saints. Because Mary occupies a special place in God’s plan for our salvation and God honours her; her form of dulia, (honour) is higher than that of the saints. Therefore, she is given a heightened degree of dulia as the Mother of the LORD. This is technically called Hyperdulia. It is best understood as veneration. And veneration is simply an expression of profound respect or reverence accorded somebody or something because of its worth. Remember the etymology of worship – “to give, at its simplest, worth to something.” The fact is that we do not worship Mary in the strict sense of the word as our contenders think rather we give her a higher form of reverence (honour) that is higher than that of the saints but we do not adore her because we do not offer sacrifice to her.
The question that follows immediately is why do we give worth to Mary? The truth is that God is the first to give Mary her worth. To understand and appreciation the fact above, read thoroughly and thoughtfully Lk. 1:26-56. Now, let us see Lk. 1:28; the Angel represented God and surely the messenger would always represent the sender accordingly. Hence, God told the angel when you get to Mary salute her as follows: “Hail full of grace.” In Israel, only kings and Queens are hailed! No wonder the Jews hailed Jesus saying “Hail, King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:29). God is the first to honour Mary and we are simply imitators of God. Jesus Christ who is the Son of God and God also honours Mary by accepting to be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary and Mary became His mother and the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth recognises Mary as Mother of the LORD (Lk. 1:43). So, the Blessed Trinity honours Mary!
In the O.T. there are a lot of figures/persons that prefigure Mary and in the N.T. they were fulfilled excellently by Mary and in Mary. For example, the old Eve of disobedience (Gen. 3:6) is undone by Mary of obedience (Lk. 1:38). The Ark of the Old Covenant contained three things – the tablet of the Word of God, the staff and manna (Deut. 10:5) and it was “overshadowed” by the power and presence of God (Ex. 40:34-35) likewise Mary contained the Word of God made flesh, Jesus (Jn. 1:1) and she was “overshadowed” by the power and presence of the Most High (Lk. 1:35). See the amazing evidence of our consideration above in 2Samuel 6:9, 16, 11, 2 and Luke 1: 43, 41-44, 56-57, 39-40. Read the two passages and you would marvel at how they match each other as outlined above. Does the aforementioned and other staggering truth about the person of Mary inform you of her extraordinariness? Little wonder St. Paul says we should give “…respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due” (Rom. 13:7b).
When Christian pilgrims visit the sites of the Holy Land, they pay special religious reverence to the cave of Bethlehem where Jesus was born; they do same to the streets of Nazareth where Jesus was brought up and also when ascending the Mount of Calvary, where the blood of Jesus paid for our sinfulness and redeemed us from the shackles of the evil one and his slavery. Even when Jesus was carrying out His ministerial work, people struggled to touch him. For example the woman that was troubled with an issue of blood (Matt.9:20). The question is who gave Jesus Christ, body and blood, since He is God and God is a Spirit. Is it not Mary? Accordingly, Jesus knew the worth of His Mother, so, he began with her in the Incarnation event as a mother and had to hand her over to John who represented all of us as a Mother at the crucifixion event which is the high point of His Messianic mission (Jn. 19:26-27). With all these statement of facts above, do we still need somebody to tell us that Mary is great and she deserves to be honoured? Anything short of profound reverence to and for Mary is from the Devil and not from God. Truly, truly I say to you, to love Jesus Christ is to love also all the things associated with Him. Hence, the reverence accorded the Holy Land and its sites that are associated with Jesus. Can we equate those sites with Mary that gave life to Jesus Christ? Let us judge for ourselves!
It goes to say that we Catholics do not worship Mary in the strict sense of the word as that form of worship belongs to God alone. Rather we venerate or give a special honour to Mary which is below that of God and higher than that of the angels and saints. Mind you, Mary is neither God nor a goddess, she is simply a creature, but the greatest of all the human beings ever created by God. Two essential points makes Mary worthy of honour. First, God honoured her through His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit and secondly, her excellent role in the history of salvation which earned her myriad of titles such as Mother of God, Ark of the New Covenant, Gate of Heaven and Queen of All Hearts and so on. God did so much for her and in her splendid attitude of ever been grateful, she had to echo her song of praise – the magnificat in which she says emphatically, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Lk. 1:48). Have you been calling her blessed through your devotion to her and holding her in a high esteem by imitating her virtues, which are more numerous than the stars of heaven? What we should guard against or avoid is the two poles of extremisms – profanity (underrating and disrespecting Mary) and Mariolatry (Giving Mary what is due to God). Please think like God, act as God and you will never make any mistake nor regret in the future. Holy Mother of God – pray for us!