Saturday, December 11, 2010

Catholics Worship Mary

Among the many things which divide Catholics and Protestants one which often comes up is the idea that Catholics worship Mary, and/or worship idols of her and/or the saints. It’s an issue that confuses many converts to Catholicism, and even many cradle Catholics, and causes many needless anxiety.

In our current culture of sound bites, where answers to complex questions are sought in one sentence or less (before our mind starts wandering), it is especially difficult to answer the question: Do Catholics worship Mary? So let me state an answer in the simple words most people seek: No. Catholics do not worship Mary. Now, if you are still reading and want to understand that answer, I’m afraid I’m asking you to read a bit more.

This morning I read a lecture by St. Augustine on the subject of “worship” of the saints. He says things so very clearly, so I will not attempt to expand on my one word answer, but will print here St. Augustine’s explanation of the Catholic veneration of the saints, and of Mary:

“We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers. Yet we erect no altars to any of the martyrs, even in the martyrs’ burial chapels themselves.

No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, “Peter, we make this offering to you,” or “Paul, to you,” or “Cyprian, to you.” No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs. We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so.

So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us. We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle. We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already achieved the victor’s crown and live in heaven.

But the veneration strictly called “worship” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone. The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are called idol-worshippers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If anyone among us falls into this error, he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned.

The saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved for God, as is clear from the case of Paul and Barnabas. When the Lycaonians were so amazed by their miracles that they wanted to sacrifice to them as gods, the apostles tore their garments, declared that they were not gods, urged the people to believe them, and forbade them to worship them.

Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them.”

How simply put. I always liked that guy. Catholics don’t worship Mary or saints anymore than Protestants don’t go against teachings of their particular faith, but there will always be “abuses thrust upon us.” Some will do what is not taught, sometimes in deliberate error but more often in ignorance or confusion. Then “we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them.”

Be not the one to cast the first stone. Please! (for I fear I might be buried in rocks for all my sins.)


  1. Catholics do honor Mary. This isn't an easy concept even for all Catholics to understand. I am what is commonly referred to as a 'cradle Catholic', i.e., someone who was baptized Catholic very soon after birth. I was then raised in a reasonably stable, two parent, Catholic home, went to Catholic schools for twelve years, attended weekly, even daily Mass for years and yet through all that time, I would say I never clearly understood why the Church made so much over Mary. Of course I knew she was 'the mother of God' but what did that mean really?

    It wasn't until I was an adult attending a Marian Conference when I heard a speaker pull all these different Scriptural references pertaining to Mary out and review them one-by-one that I finally GOT Mary. Understanding is certainly a Gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Thank you for this post!

  2. I suppose that denying the truth about giving the honor to man, when all honor should go to God, somehow makes delusional Roman Catholics feel better about their blashpemy.

  3. Sorry, Anonymous, I'm not about to defend what I state on these blogs; as my header notes, I'm not out to convert anyone. Augustine was considered one of the wisest men in Christian history, but if you don't understand him I understand. Understanding the ways of God are difficult.

    Muslims believe all honor should go to God, but then they relate to God as slaves to master. That's the honor they give. There are over 1 billion Catholics in the world. You can go on believing there are that many "delusional" people in the world, or you can try and grow in wisdom, to try to understand why they believe what you can't understand. (I don't understand the logic of the political beliefs of many New Yorkers, but I don't call them stupid.)

    There are many websites, Catholic Answers for instance, to speak about Catholic beliefs and explain more about Mary and the saints or any concern you have, or you can read the words of former Protestants who believed as you did, like Scott Hahn, Steve Ray, or Al Kresta. Or you can read the words of an Anglican bishop turned Catholic, John Henry Newman. Perhaps even after reading these you may not understand; I've written here a number of times about how one of the hardest lessons I learned in truly growing up was that I was not as wise as I sometimes felt, and I could not always understand what other wise men spoke --- and sometimes I had to, in humility, to agree to disagree with someone who my logic and faith said was wrong. If I couldn't agree to disagree, I'd never learn why they believe as they do. And they'd never learn to believe as I do, if I ended conversations by just calling them stupid, or "delusional".