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Praying to Mary

bvm_028QUESTION:  Why do you have to ask Mary to take your prayers to Jesus? Can’t you just go straight to Jesus?

Of course, one can and should address Jesus directly in prayer; however, this does not negate Mary’s role. The question is a good one and possesses some complexity. All of the attributes of mercy and love attributed to Mary find their ultimate source in the Lord. The unity between the Mother and her divine Son is very intimate and unbreakable. Even when we address our prayers to Jesus or show him homage, we are also honoring his Mother and invoking her assistance. Mary rejoices when we come to her Son, no matter what the path. The Dominican priest, Fr. Jelly wrote that in this sense, even the most fundamentalist of Protestants are showing their respect to Mary in their devotion to Christ. Conversely, God is honored when we honor Mary. God loves us to honor Mary as a Father is pleased when his daughter is honored.  Every honor we give to Mary is reflected back to God since we honor her for what He has done for her, with her, and through her. When we honor her, we honor Him. When Catholics address Mary, it is because there is something about her maternal qualities which soothe our souls and remind us of the great company of heaven— the home to which we hope one day to enter. Even in human families, the love and help of parents could just as well come from one parent or the other; but sometimes we want the strength of our fathers and at other times the feminine touch of our mothers. Mary is a creature, not God like her Son, and yet her abiding proximity and union to Christ makes her a fitting figure for our prayers. We reverence her, as we do all the saints, but true worship is addressed to God alone. Otherwise, we would fall into idolatry. Christ is our only mediator (1 Tim. 2:5-6) with the Father, but Mary can intercede (pray for us) with her Son Jesus. Jesus worked his first miracle at her request (Jn. 2:1-12). Just as we can ask other members of the Church on earth to pray for us (1 Tim. 2:1; 2 Tim. 1:3; Phil. 4:22), so too, can we ask members of the Church in heaven to pray for us (Rv. 5:8; 6:9-11; 7:10-12; 8:2-6; Mt. 22:31, 32).

We are also called to imitation of Christ. Did Jesus follow the commandments? Sure. Including the fourth commandment? Yes. Then if Jesus honored Mary his Mother and took her direction seriously, would this commandment be abrogated in heaven? Further, if Mary is given to us as our Spiritual Mother, are we not to pay the same respect to her as he did– imitating Christ even in this? Yes. The honor we give Mary our Spiritual Mother in no way subtracts from the worship we give to God any more than honoring our earthly mother does. In fact, it conforms to God’s holy will, and we who are adopted sons of God honor her whom the Son honored.

2 Responses

  1. Father Joe, thank you for your kind words and response. I lean towards a Reformed way of thinking (Presbyterian ‘PCA’ to be exact) with a heavily influenced Calvinistic view. I am still a relatively new Christian and I am trying to learn as much as can. I want to be sure that I do not lead my children (or anyone else) the wrong way.

    My understanding of what you have said here is that the saints (apostles and clergymen including Mary, etc.) stand out compared to the ‘average’ Christian. For example in Acts, once the disciples of Jesus received the Holy Spirit they were not merely enlightened with wisdom and the ability to speak other languages; they changed into something new completely.

    FATHER JOE:

    Your minister would have a different view, in certain respects, but I can give the Catholic perspective. The Apostles are viewed as given a particular call to ministry which they pass on to their successors. Mary had a unique role to play in salvation history: at the annunciation, at the visitation, at the nativity, at the presentation, at the wedding feast at Cana, and at the foot of the Cross. The Bible referred to believers as “the saints,” a term that later was increasingly restricted to those who had died, having run the race and received their crown. Catholicism speaks about the believer in faith and baptism as regenerated or “born again.” Our sins are washed away. We become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters to Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit and inheritors of the kingdom of God. We still suffer from a tendency to sin and can forfeit grace by sin; however, real forgiveness and transformation is possible. Some live out their faith with consistent courage and take this righteousness with them when they die. We believe God perfects the dead but upon death our orientation either toward or away from the Lord is made permanent. You and I may one day be counted among the saints of heaven, praying with and for our family and friends that we have left in the world. Catholics believe that the dead are alive and aware.

    We view Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. The Holy Spirit comes upon the Church, giving efficacy to the divine mysteries (sacraments) and preserving believers in the truth. This Holy Spirit is still with believers and the Church. While various “charismatic” Catholics speak in tongues when they pray, most Catholics do not. The languages of Pentecost are seen as signifying the universality of the Church. The people the world over can come together into one body, the Church.

    I understand our desires as human beings to want to congratulate and look up to someone with such a status. This is especially the case of the great Prophets and Apostles we read about in the Bible. I find myself having a strong connection with such individuals like David and Paul because both their stories, in many ways, are similar to my own. But if I am elevating these men, am I not worshiping a false idol?

    FATHER JOE: Imitation of the saints is certainly a major factor in our devotion. I often speak about it as finding various paths to follow in the one way of Christ. We look at their occupations, struggles, personalities, etc. and find some parallel with our own discipleship. There need to be no idolatry. We find something similar even regarding the living, although such heroes often disappoint us. For instance, a boy might say, “I want to be a Christian man like my father!” A girl might think, “My mother taught me what it meant to be a godly woman!” Just as a family might gather together in their home for prayer; Catholics view the saints in heaven as part of the family circle of prayer. We are connected. Catholic piety is often misunderstood. The saints alone cannot save us. Mary apart from her Son cannot save us. Only Jesus can save us.

    Remember in Acts 14 when Paul and Barnabas went into Lystra and the people thought they were Greek gods? Paul said to them “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” They were of like nature with them, not God.

    FATHER JOE: Yes, and the Gentiles here were truly falling into idolatry, treating the apostles as deities. The Romans went so far as to falsely deify the emperor. Catholic saints, and to a lesser degree our ministers, are honored but not deified. Catholics would honor their spiritual fathers much as the Decalogue commands the honoring of biological mothers and fathers.

    In my very small understanding of God and the Bible, all men and women since Adam, except Jesus who was both the Son of God and Man, are simply men and women. If you are saying that the moment a priest is ordained and he is instantly changed to a godly man then you are stating that Sanctification is also an instant thing and it would apply to everyone.

    FATHER JOE: I wish it were all so simple, but while ordination authorizes a man for ministry it does not necessarily make a man good or holy. We must be properly disposed to God’s gifts. Oftentimes we fall back into our sins after God’s forgiveness. Fortunately, divine mercy does not give up on us. We belong to the Lord. Hopefully we can avoid serious or mortal sin even if most of us remain prone to small acts of selfishness and weakness. We live in the sure and certain hope of our salvation in Christ. Catholics seek to grow in holiness. Holiness is understood as the mysterious “otherness” of God. The more that God lives inside you, the holier you become. Catholics define certain terms differently from their Protestant brothers and sisters. Catholics will speak of us all being redeemed and “of the many” who will be saved. Salvation requires that those redeemed by Christ must cooperate with Christ’s saving grace. You must say YES to God and NO to sin. The saints of heaven include clergy, laity, men, women and even children. We hope to be counted in their number.

    Having accepted Christ as my Savior and the Lord of my life through faith given by the Grace of God I believe I am Justified, but nowhere near Sanctified. I have a lifelong way to go before I can be considered godly, and I believe I’ll never reach Christ-like status until His return.

    FATHER JOE: You are using the words “justified” and “sanctified” somewhat differently from Catholics, but we would generally agree with what you mean to say. The only qualifier would be our notion of a corporate faith. This is why we baptize both children and adults. Of course, even children are to be formed in the faith so that they will stand before the Church one day (in their Confirmation) and profess the faith in Christ that was passed on to them. Catholics believe that faith and baptism bring about regeneration in Christ and incorporation into the Church. Such a person is indeed holy. However, maintaining such holiness can be a struggle. Faith can sour. We can fall into personal sins. We remain members of the Church. Once baptized, always baptized. It is not repeated. We grow in the likeness of Christ but the transformation has yet to be completed. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the consummation of all things in Christ. (Of course, the saints and angels of heaven will never have the infinite dignity of Almighty God. The saints are saved but they remain creatures, not gods.)

    I do not intend to offend or condemn your beliefs, I only seek clarity and I thank you for your time. May God Bless you!

    FATHER JOE: No offense is taken. I only wish I was better at such explanations of the Catholic stance. Please note that the universal Catholic catechism is entirely online at the Vatican site.

  2. Fr. Jenkins, please help me understand. Would praying to or honoring Mary be the same as praying/honoring any other of God’s chosen? From Abraham, to Noah, to Moses, to David, all prophets, and apostles. They’re all unrighteous, fallible human beings and not worthy of such reverence. Jesus is the only Mediator, as you said, nothing else should distract our focus.

    FATHER JOE: Welcome Douglas, before I say anything, I want to applaud your service for our country, your faith in Christ and your devotion to your family. Answering your initial question, Catholics do indeed see a similarity in the religious appeal to any of the saints, including Mary. However, Mary is also of an entirely different order given her intimate cooperation with the work of her Son in salvation history. We do not see the communion of the saints and our prayer for one another as a distraction from the unique mediation of Jesus Christ. This comes back to the Catholic emphasis on both a personal and a corporate faith (the Church). We would affirm your faith in Jesus Christ. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. There is no other way to the Father except through him. Having said this, Catholicism would insist upon one corrective. You write, “They’re all unrighteous, fallible human beings and not worthy of such reverence.” The Lutheran view of redemption as juridical imputation would indeed mean that the so-called saints are left unchanged. The far older Catholic view stresses that the chosen of God are “born again” and become a new creation. The gravity is placed upon a transformation in Christ. When they enter into the fullness of the kingdom that “metanoia” is made complete and they are perfected by grace. While still creatures, they are divinized, or share in the divine life. The saints are now made truly “righteous” in the eyes of God. Fashioned in God’s image, they will participate in his likeness forever. The minds and hearts of the saints are in total conformity with God. They share in a profound unity that we have just begun to explore through faith and incorporation into the Church.

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