Catholic Classroom: Beliefs about Mary
Question: Do Catholics worship Mary?
Mary is very important in Catholic belief, but Catholics do not worship her. Worship is reserved for God alone. We do, however, honor and venerate Mary for her crucial role in salvation history. As a creature immaculately conceived and fit to bear the Incarnate Word because of her total obedience, Mary is held above the saints and angels. But she is in no way equal to God, and is not an object of our worship; rather, it is her very denial of self that makes her a perfect vessel for the completion of God’s will.
The Catechism teaches that Mary is an essential part of salvation history. While Jesus is our only salvation, God saw fit to require the cooperation of a human being to bring the child Jesus into the world—and that human being was Mary. We honor her for her complete trust and obedience at the Annunciation—for her beautiful “Fiat.” After her initial “Yes,” Mary bore the hardships of an unconventional pregnancy, persecution, and the death of Jesus on the cross. Through all this, she remained a devoted mother and handmaid of God.
Sometimes, devotion to Mary is misunderstood. Some people believe that Catholics pray to Mary. In truth, we pray not to Mary, but for Mary’s intercession to Jesus. Our Blessed Mother has a special relationship with Jesus and is an important intercessor, as we see from the wedding feast at Cana (John 2). As Catholics, we believe that we can pray directly to God, and that he hears us. But we also believe in intercessory prayer, and Mary is foremost among intercessors. A similar misunderstanding can happen with Marian consecrations. Catholics who complete these consecrations, such as St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, are not consecrating themselves to Mary. It is imperative to understand that they are consecrating themselves to Jesus, and their way of doing this is through Mary.
During the Crucifixion in John’s Gospel, Jesus entrusts Mary to the care of the beloved disciple. Mary becomes the beloved disciple’s mother (John 19:26-27). We extend this moment to understand Mary as becoming the Mother of the Church. Mary, a loving mother, completely empties herself and points always to Jesus. As Christians, we look to Mary not only as an example to lead us ever closer to Jesus, but also as a devoted mother who will always intercede on our behalf.
We can best understand how Mary points to Jesus in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), in which she says:
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.