“How come you Catholics worship Mary and treat her as a goddess? The Holy Trinity is not a quartet. The worst sin of all is idolatry, and you Catholics commit that sin all the time when you worship a mere human being, and when you bow down and worship statues of her. You Catholics pray to Mary all the time, which means you worship her, and you focus more on Mary than you do Jesus. That’s why you’re not real Christians!”
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Wow, have you ever been confronted with these questions by a friend or co-worker or, most zealous of all, a family member who USED to be Catholic? How do you respond? Do we Catholics really worship Mary when we pray to her? Do we treat her as a divine goddess? Are we guilty of committing the sin of idolatry because we have so many statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
Well, once again a major problem is that the issue is often framed with “either-or” language: we focus either on Mary or Jesus. However, it’s really more of a “both-and” situation: we focus on both Mary and Jesus. But let’s be really clear: Catholics do not, and have never, worshipped Mary. Worship is reserved for the triune God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church (which developed the doctrine of the Trinity, by the way) understands that the triune God is fully complete and does not need to be a quartet, even if they probably could use a good soprano voice. (Just kidding!)
The Bible clearly says that all generations will call Mary blessed. And that’s exactly what Catholics do: we honor her. We call her the Blessed Virgin Mary because she was and is the pre-eminent of all saints who submitted to God’s will more perfectly than anyone ever did.
When Catholics pray to Mary, we are not engaging in worship. That’s another misunderstood aspect of prayer. Prayer does not always mean worship. Prayer can be merely spiritual communication. Just as we regularly ask our friends at church to pray for us, we also ask Mary and the saints in Heaven to pray for us. After all, who better to intercede on our behalf with the Lord than those who are right in His presence all the time?
Regarding statues, no Catholic worships a carved image. That would be idolatry, plain and simple, right out of the golden calf episode in the Old Testament. Statues are just earthly representations of heavenly realities. It’s a lot like those photos of your children in your wallet (or nowadays, on your cell phone). They are not actually your kids; they are representations of them. When you are far from home, you look at those photos to remind you of how much you love and miss your children. Same thing with Catholic statues. They represent the Lord and the saints we love, and help us focus our prayers. We definitely do not worship hunks of wood or marble or plaster.
One final thing about the Blessed Virgin Mary. She always, always, always points to her Son. It’s never about her. Oh sure, we have many special Marian feast days in the Church, but that’s only because she is such a great example for us. The last words recorded in Scripture from the lips of Mary are these: “Do whatever He tells you.” (Wedding feast at Cana, and of course the “He” she referred to was Jesus.)
Even now, 2,000 years later, that is still Mary’s message: Do whatever Jesus tells you. It’s impossible for Catholics to focus more on Mary than on Jesus, because when we focus on Mary we ARE focusing on Jesus, just as she always does.
Oh, and one last thing, in case you’re not sure: Catholics definitely ARE real Christians.