“Don’t Catholics worship Mary?” The Catholic practice of venerating Mary bothers many Protestant Christians. In an intellectual climate permeated by five Solas (“Christ alone”, “glory to God alone”, etc.), the practice of intentionally focusing honor, attention, and praise to anyone other than God seems tantamount to idolatry. Some would argue that Mary herself would resent the attention that Catholics give her. If Mary was really so saintly and humble, wouldn’t she prefer that we be giving all of this attention and honor to her Son, our Lord and God Jesus Christ?
I believe that these are important objections that every good Catholic Mariology ought to address. In this post, I will briefly comment on my experiences and ideas regarding Mary as a convert to Catholicism from a Protestant upbringing.
It is important to bear in mind that Catholics believe that obedience to the ten commandments is mandatory for salvation. Granted, Catholics believe that the very ability to work is a gift of grace, as the Council of Trent elegantly explains. Therefore, it would be to embrace the inappropriate heresies of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism to say that salvation is earned, in spite of the paradoxical fact that we are, in a sense, justified by works (as the letter of St James straightforwardly states). The first commandment (in Augustine’s numbering of the ten commandments, the commandments to worship God alone and to refrain from making a graven image are combined into a single commadment) prohibits idolatry. Therefore, if a Catholic were to “worship” Mary as God, he would be in serious sin and in need of spiritual healing. However a Catholic is supposed to revere Mary, he is not to see her as equal with God. As uncreated creator, God is necessarily without equal, and to deny this is to commit spiritual suicide.
However, to acknowledge God as creator is to regard Him as a master artist. Imagine that one of your friends claims to admire Van Gogh. But suppose that your friend is not interested in any of Van Gogh’s masterpieces. Is it plausible to to claim that your friend appreciates Van Gogh as an artist? This hypothetical scenario could be applied to additional cases ad infinitum. It simply does not make sense to say that you love someone, but don’t care for anything that they do or create.
What about God? If God is a master artist whose grace permeates our very cosmos and crowns our nature with the glory of His image, then it would be unfitting for us to neglect His handiwork.
It has been said that the one great tragedy in life is not to become a saint. It is equally true that to be a saint is to be pleasing to God. If a saint is pleasing in the “eys” of God, then the saint can be considered beautiful in the “eyes” of God. It is by God’s grace than any of us are able to become saints. God’s unmerited gifts can make us into wonderful people.
According to the Bible, God the uncreated become a creature, a human. Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, had a human mother. God chose to have a mother. Not only did God choose a mother, he chose that she would be “full of grace”. Mary of Nazareth was apparently worthy to be saluted by one of the highest angels to sit in the presence of God, namely, the archangel Gabriel. What sort of creature is Mary, such that even an archangel is in a position to salute her?
Mary is the most lovely saint of them all. Jesus said that a woman is not blest simply for being His mother, but for hearing the word of God and keeping it. To hear God’s word and obey it — that is what Mary did. In Luke’s Gospel, Mary did what an ordained priest could not. She heard God pronounce the impossible: that a virgin would become the mother of God. And she obeyed the word of God. In her song, known now to tradition as the “Magnificat”, she stated unabashedly that all generations would call her “blessed”. All generations would salute her in reverence, just as the angel did.
Saint Mary of Nazareth is the masterpiece of God. She is to God what the starry night is to Van Gogh, what the Divine Comedy is to Dante, and what Comfortably Numb is to Pink Floyd. If we claim to love God, then how can we fail to admire what He has made? It would be a profound act of defiance and disrespect to God to fail to honor His creature Mary. It would not be unfitting to honor her but to neglect her, and if we claim to love the God revealed in Christ, then we cannot neglect to take notice of His most beautiful masterpiece, His mother Mary.