Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Do We Worship Mary?

There are a lot of misconceptions about the role of Mary in salvation history, and especially, within the liturgical and prayer life of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics are often perceived as "Mary worshipers", claiming that we worship Mary instead of worshiping Christ. Just recently, I came out of the Papal Mass in Washington D.C. when Pope Benedict XVI was in the United States, and I was met by a group of protesters who had very anti-Catholic leanings. One of the claims they made was that we worship Mary. And the reason why they may think this is that at one time or another, they probably heard a Catholic say, "I am going to pray to Mary for ...". And understandably, many people may hear this and think that we are somehow elevating Mary to the point that she is divine, because many times we say "we need to pray to Jesus". Notice that they are the same sentence, except we are praying to different people.

Ok, so this is something that needs to be resolved, so I am going to attempt to explain the difference between these two statements. Linguistically, the two sentences are the same. They use the same words and the sentence structure is the same. The only thing different from the two is that one has the name "Mary" and the other "Jesus". Going back to something I learned in grade school, the sentences denote the same thing; we, in both instances, are praying to something.

However, the two statements connote two totally different things. We must look at the meanings behind the words in order to get a sensus plenior (a fuller sense) of the meaning. When we pray to Jesus, we are praying for Jesus to answer our prayer. For example, in the prayer "Lord Jesus, help my son follow you more closely in everything that he does", this mother is asking Jesus to answer her prayer for a son who follows Christ. In the prayer "Blessed Mother Mary, we ask you to intercede on our behalf for the gift of Wisdom", notice that it isn't Mary who grants wisdom, but rather we are asking her to intercede for us for that gift of Wisdom. There is a difference. Mary intercedes for us. This is what we are really asking when we pray "I am going to pray to Mary for ...(say Wisdom)". This prayer is intercessory, while prayer to Jesus and the Holy Trinity is a prayer that has an element of worship to it. That element of worship is not there in prayer to Mary, because there is no worship being given her.

Now, there might be an element of praise given to Mary, and rightly so. There is a difference between praise and worship. Do we ever praise our children or our friends for doing something right, or for doing something good? Of course we do. When we praise someone, we are recognizing the role they play, and we praise them when they do a good job. When we praise Mary, we are praising the fact that she is the Mother of God, and that she intercedes for us to God. We are also praising Mary for her role of bringing Christ into the world, by saying, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word," as we read in the Gospel of Luke. There is a great element of praise that should be given to Mary, but let it not confuse people to make them think that we are actually worshiping Mary. That is a notion that is incorrect.

Now, this analysis begs the following question: "If we aren't worshiping Mary but rather asking for her intercession, can't we just go straight to Jesus to ask Him?" Well, the answer is yes. But there are a couple of additions I would like to make to that. The first is an example. When we were kids in the classroom, and one kid spoke up, asking if the class could go outside, the teacher would usually say no. But my experience as a student showed me that when the entire class asked to the point that the teacher would have to sit down and take an Aspirin, the teacher would more times than not give in and let us go out for a few minutes. Well, the same thing can be said for prayer. We can go straight to Jesus, but at the same time, you may want to have another person asking Jesus for what you want or need. And what better person is there than His own mother? What son would not do what His mother asks? Look at his upbringing, his early life. When Jesus was lost in the temple, Jesus was thereafter "obedient to them" (Luke 2:51), his parents. He listened to them, and He is still listening.

Now, maybe this is instinctual, even for those out there who may not think so. Let me ask the reader a question: When you have a great need, say, you need to find a new job, or you really want to have a baby, but something isn't going right, do we keep it to ourselves, ashamed of our need or want? No. You ask your friend, or brother, or mother, or neighbor to pray for you so that your prayer may be answered. Once again, prayer is powerful in numbers. Those people you ask, when they pray, are interceding for you. This is a similar thing to asking Mary or the saints to pray for you (we ask the saints to pray for us in an intercessory way as well). And I certainly encourage you to ask your friends to pray for you. It is important for others to know your struggles and to spiritually help you get through them. You ask your closest friends and relatives for help. Mary is your friend. Mary is your spiritual Mother (Pope Paul VI declared Mary as Mother of the Church during the Second Vatican Council), so we can look to Mary as our Mother as well. She is so close to Jesus, why not ask her for help?

For Scripture passages to reflect on the intercessory role of Mary, consider reading the Gospel of John 2:1-10. This is the Wedding Feast at Cana. It is a great example of the intercessory power of Mary when she intercedes on behalf of the wedding guests.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us. Our Lady of the Rosary, Pray for us.

Icon under the Patronage of Mary, Mother of the Church. Icons are used to present theology, and they are found in Eastern liturgy. They are predominant in the Eastern Churches.

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