The first thing I want to say in this post is this: Catholics do not worship Mary. Catholics do not worship Mary. Catholics do not worship Mary. Said another way: Mary is not worshiped by Catholics. Anyone, Catholic or not, would be committing grave sin if they worshiped Mary because we are to worship God alone. This is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 971. So, anyone, Catholic or not, who believes we do worship Mary is sadly misinformed. What we do is honor Mary who is the mother of the Son in our Triune God.
We have special devotion to Mary because she is the mother of our brother and savior, Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:38, we read that Mary was the first Christian filled with the Holy Spirit after she consented to the angel Gabriel by saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Later in Luke 1:48-49, we read that “all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me.” Mary, herself, tells us what would happen as a result of the Incarnation. All generations will call her blessed, which is what we Catholics do when saying the rosary. The rosary begins with these words, “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus,” which come from the first chapter of Luke in verses 28 and 42. The rosary prayer has its origin in the Bible! The word blessed means holy or sacred or worthy of adoration or reverence in this context. Also, the word “pray” comes from the Latin word precari which means to entreat or ask. Prayer is a form of communication.
So, when saying the rosary, we honor Mary, the mother of God, and the idea of honoring the mother of the King is something that has its roots in Jewish history. Scripture supporting the position of the “queen mother” is found in the Old Testament in Psalms 45:9, I Kings 2: 17-20, 2 Chronicles 15:16, 2 Chronicles 22:10, and Jeremiah 29:2.
Why does Jewish history matter to this post? Because Jesus was a Jew who worshiped in the temple, taught in the synagogues, and studied the words of the Old Testament. Judaism is fulfilled in Catholicism. The promised Messiah comes to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. He proclaims His kingdom, is crucified and died, rose again, ascended and now reigns in heaven beside God the Father. As Catholics we observe the sacrifice of the mass representing Christ’s death in thousands of churches all around the world every single day. Early Christians, who were Jews themselves, would have known and understood the connection between Jewish history and the coming of the Messiah. They would have honored the mother of the Messiah as the queen mother was honored in the Old Testament. And they would have recognized the importance of the sacrifice of the mass as a continuation of the worshiping of God that took place in the Temple during Old Testament times. Again, Judaism is fulfilled in Catholicism.
Now I know what you are thinking. What about those beads? What is this rosary that Catholics emphasize so much? It is a prayer in which we ask Mary to pray to God on our behalf. We are not asking her to grant or answer our prayers. We are asking her to make a petition on our behalf to God for us. I wrote about the first phrases of the rosary in the paragraph above. The next phrase of the rosary is this: “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. ” Where did Catholics get this idea? Think back to the Bible stories you learned about Jesus. Can you recall His first miracle? You may remember He turned the water into wine at the wedding at Cana and He did it at the request of Mary, His mother. Think of it. The wine steward told Mary about his predicament and Mary told her Son and He turned the water into wine. That is the premise of asking Mary to pray for us. God answers the prayers. Mary only asks for us. We believe we can bring our concerns and our needs to Mary and ask her to pray to Jesus Christ on our behalf.
This practice of asking Mary to pray for us comes from our belief about the Communion of the Saints. We believe that the saints are those who are in heaven. They are in the presence of God. If they are in the presence of God, we feel we can ask them to petition God on our behalf for our needs. After all, isn’t God the god of the living and not the dead? The Gospels tell us that. Didn’t Jesus converse with Elijah and Moses at the transfiguration? Those believers who are in the presence of God are more alive than we are. As Catholics, we believe we can ask these saints to pray or intercede for us just as we ask fellow believers on Earth to pray as well. In Revelation 8: 3 and 4 we read, “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.” The saints say prayers to God.
This intercessory prayer does not in any way change the fact that Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and men. In I Timothy 2: 1-6 we read, “First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet an peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was given at the proper time.” The saints, who are fellow Christians or our brothers and sisters in Christ, intercede for us with their prayers and Mary as the queen mother intercedes for us as well.
Yes, I do pray to God myself about these concerns too. In all cases, I know it is God alone who will answer these prayers. Now I want to make it clear that Catholics do not have to have this devotion to Mary; however, as Catholics, we believe we can ask the Blessed Mother to intercede on our behalf and I must tell you I definitely believe this works. It only took me 25 years to understand this concept. The thing about Mary is that she only wants to bring us closer to her Son because we reflect on the major life events of Jesus during the rosary. If you look up the story of the wedding feast at Cana in John chapter 2, you will see that Mary said, “Do whatever He tells you,” in verse 5. The “He”in this verse is Jesus Christ, her Son. Mary tells us to do whatever Jesus commands. Once I began to say the rosary on a regular basis, my faith began to grow exponentially. My faith in Jesus Christ has grown and my faith as grown in general.
Our family has many examples of prayers being answered. Those prayers were made to God the Father, Jesus Christ His Son, and to Mary and the saints. Our son, Anthony, was born with a congenital heart defect and had to have corrective surgery at two months of age. The evening after his surgery the doctors reported to me that Anthony was struggling to maintain his blood pressure and things looked grim for him. I called my husband, who was at home with our 19 month old daughter, and gave him the prognosis. He and his parents said a rosary about midnight for Anthony’s health and it was at midnight that doctors reported a change for the better in his condition. Countless prayers were said for Anthony all those years ago and today he continues to be a healthy example of what prayer and medicine can do.
We recently became the proud grandparents of our first grandson. He is answered prayer personified. Our daughter faced difficult infertility issues for 2 1/2 years before she conceived and gave birth to Beau on June 5, 2013. My husband and I prayed unceasingly for a child for our daughter and her husband. I prayed the rosary daily on her behalf for over two years asking Mary to bring my prayer for my daughter to God. It was a joyful day when Kathryn announced her pregnancy last October. Then, when Beau was ten days old, he faced an infection that had to be treated with IV antibiotics. It was a frightening time for our family, but again our prayers were answered and Beau was discharged in good health. Of course, I prayed to God and to Jesus as well for their protection, mercy, and care in all of these situations. But, the great thing about intercessory prayer to the saints is they continue to pray for us about these same things even when we aren’t praying. Continuous prayers sent up to God on our behalf is a very good thing.
So, yes, I do firmly believe in prayer. Moreover, why wouldn’t I use all help available to me from God during the trials I face? And also, why not send up my gratitude to God in the same way in times of triumph? I ask daily for your prayers and for the prayers of the saints, because, in the end, the answers all come from Him.