“Why do Catholics love and worship Mary?” “Why does the Church love the saints?” “Aren’t we supposed to love God and God alone?” Nearly every Catholic encounters questions like these at some point in their lives. These are all valid questions from both believers and non-believers alike, especially given how much misinformation there is out there about the relationships between Mary, the saints, and the kinds of love Catholics show for them. It wasn’t until I was well into my theological studies that I heard three terms that both explained and clarified the kinds of love Catholics have for the saints, Mary, and God. I hope, in sharing those terms, you’ll have ready answers whenever anyone asks you any version of the aforementioned questions.
This is a word of Greek origin and means veneration or homage. Dulia is the level of love we are to have for the saints. We are supposed to venerate them as those who have made it to Heaven and who are able to receive our prayers and to intercede for us. Like the loving Father he is, God knew we would not be able to make it in life alone and he has given us a ready-made family of saints from all over the world to call on in times of joy or sadness or confusion or stress.
The prefix “hyper” often means over (as in flowing over) or in excess. This heightened veneration refers, as you may have guessed, to Our Lady. Our Lady is not only the greatest saint but is also the Mother of God, Help of Christians, and Queen of Heaven, to name a few of her titles. It makes sense that she not only has a special, heightened place in both the church and in the hearts of believers.
Latria is a comes from the Latin and refers to the worship, adoration, and love due to God alone. This should be our highest and best love. This is the devotion essential to all Christians, especially since this love is the source of not only hyperdulia and dulia, but also the charity we are called to show others. It can be easy to think that our devotions to the saints and to Mary take away from the love we have for God. Those kinds of love enhance our love for God because in glorifying his creation of the saints and Mary, we are glorifying him.
God in his mercy has given us so many people, not just on earth, but already in Heaven, to help us to get there. I hope this little language lesson helps clarify some of the confusion surrounding the kinds of devotion we, as Catholics, have. God bless you.