If I take a trip to Italy and I only speak English, absent a translator, I may have a very difficult time communicating. The lack of my ability to communicate can cause severe problems. The root problem is two languages are being spoken and neither individual understands the other one’s language. Likewise, one of the root problems causing the great divide between Protestants and Catholics is the lack of effective communication. There are two languages being spoken and until one is open enough and willing enough to learn the language of the other, the division will remain. The communication breakdown will continue.
A key example of this communication breakdown is the allegation that Catholics worship Mary. To a Protestant, worship is contained in the elements of prayer, songs and dance (among other things). Because they do not understand, nor believe or accept (there is that communication problem again) the communion or intercession of the saints, a Catholic saying a prayer to a saint is worshipping that saint. At least, in the Protestant’s language.
The ‘Hail Mary’ prayer is the most commonly pointed out prayer where the allegation ‘Catholics worship Mary’ originates and is the ammunition Protestants use to defend their belief that Catholics worship Mary, based upon the fact that Catholics pray to Mary.
After all, Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:13 in Luke 4:8, proclaiming that we should ‘worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone.’ The truth, however, is Catholics and Protestants alike worship God alone. That is what makes them Christians. The breakdown in the communication makes it appear something different.
The high esteem and respect Catholics have for Mary, and all the other saints, is not worship, rather, it is honor.
In the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:12 commands us to ‘honor your father and your mother.’ As a faithful Jew, not to mention being the Lord and being sinless, Jesus would have obeyed this commandment fully. Catholics pray to saints and ask for their intercession just as Protestants ask their fellow brothers and sisters for prayers and help here on earth.
All Christians, and non-Christians, place photos of their loved ones around their homes and in their offices. Particularly, photos of those who are no longer here. We quote them, talk about them, tell stories and will occasionally reach for a photo to run our fingers across it, usually combined with an utterance of ‘I miss you’, ‘Save a place for me’, or ‘Be good until I get there’ and even perhaps ‘tell grandma to wait for me.’ This is what the Protestant would call ‘honoring’ and remembering those who are special to them. They would never say a photo or cherishing a loved one’s bracelet are idols or worshipping them. They honor them.
Catholics honor the saints who have gone before them and ask for their intercession and help. After all, Scripture is clear there are roles angels and saints have in heaven. Revelation 8:3-4 says ‘And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones on the golden altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the holy ones, went up before God from the hand of the angel.’ It is clear this angel has a job to do. His job is to bring forth the golden censer and offer the prayers of all the saints on the altar before the throne of God. That means the saints have a job as well. They must pray. We must pray here on earth and those in heaven join us in prayer.
Worship to God alone unites Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, yet we remain focused on the language barrier as opposed to learning each other’s language. Perhaps it is time we all work harder at becoming bilingual.