Catholics don’t worship the Blessed Virgin Mary, and anyone who says that we do is simply false. You will not find a single line in any official Church document that uses the word “worship” in association with devotion to Mary. True, there may be some misinformed, well-intentioned Catholics who think they are supposed to worship her, but Catholic teaching is abundantly clear: adoration and worship is given to God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That being said, there’s no doubt that Mary ought to play a very significant role in the life of every Christian. There’s a difference between “honor” and “worship.” We honor Mary for the special grace and privilege that was given to her. In fact, by honoring Mary we imitate the Lord who honored her by becoming flesh in her womb. Yes, as Jesus literally entrusted himself to Mary, we too can entrust ourselves to her care and protection.
So what’s the deal with Catholics praying the “Hail Mary?”
No Christian can argue with the first part of the Hail Mary, for it is biblical. “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,” were the words that the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” were Elizabeth’s words to Mary upon hearing her greeting. By praying these words we are simply echoing the inspired words of Scripture.
But why the second part: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”?
We believe Mary is holy because she is the vessel that carried Christ. (I’ll explain the Catholic teaching on the Immaculate Conception in a future post). We call her “Mother of God” very simply because it follows logically upon the fact that Jesus is God.
Many non-Catholic Christians struggle with the idea of asking Mary to pray for us. In a recent talk I heard, the speaker shared his experience of talking to non-Catholic Christians about this very subject. He poses the question: “Do you ask your pastor to pray for you?” They answer: “Yes.” Then he simply asks: “If you had to choose between having your pastor or Jesus’ Mother pray for you, who would you choose?” The point is clear: if we ask the living to pray for us, shouldn’t we also ask those who are with Christ in Heaven to pray for us, especially his mom!?
We can’t doubt that God chose Mary to play a very important part in salvation history. Her only desire is to lead us closer to Jesus, her Son. She knows him best! By honoring her and asking her to pray for us, she will help us to know and love him more.
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