His Truth Will Set You Free

Listen to what Jesus says; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Misguided Worship; the Catholic Elevation of Mary

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One of my past posts solicited the following comment: “Since Mary is the immaculate mother of Jesus and he was unable to deny her wishes on Earth (see wedding feast of Cana) she is the ideal intercessor!” I don’t know if this one comment represents the view of the entire Catholic Church, but it sparks some issues I would like to talk about.

First I would like to discuss this idea of Jesus taking direction from His mother, supposedly being “unable to deny her wishes.” Then I will try to compare the Catholic view of Mary with the biblical view (they are not one and the same). My intention is not to demean Mary in any way, but I do plan to focus on the truth; not according to the Catholic Church, but according to God.

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Was Jesus truly unable to deny the wishes of his mother? What does the following tell you about Jesus’ relationship with Mary?

“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

Jesus puts all who obey on the same level as His mother. He himself does not elevate her above anyone else. So why does the Catholic Church?

However, do Jesus’ words in the bible indicate that He was inclined to follow the direction of His mother, or did His guidance come from elsewhere? Please consider His own words…

“I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:28-29)

“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:49-50)

“The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

“These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:24)

“…the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31)

Jesus follows His Father, not His mother.

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Regarding the Catholic view of Mary, one of her attributes is that she is an object of Catholic prayer. One of the most familiar Catholic prayers is directed toward her; “Hail Mary, full of grace…”

Does Jesus call us to pray to His mother? No. Jesus tells us to go directly to God…

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:9-12)

And…

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

In addition to being an object of prayer, Mary appears to be an object of worship. For me, it’s difficult if not impossible to separate worship from prayer. After all, prayer is an expression of worship. Praying to Mary is worshiping her.

What does God have to say about our worshipping other than Him? From the 10 Commandments:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Exodus 20:4-5a)

From this point in Exodus to the end of Revelation, we are told to worship only God…

“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:8-9)

Even an angel is not to be worshipped, and neither is Mary. Worship God!

I do not write this in order to criticize the Catholic Church. I write this out of concern for the souls of all who follow the ways of the Catholic Church. Jesus is concerned too…

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

Author: CJ Penn

First, my writing isn't about me. Don’t want the attention, don’t want to feed my ravenous ego (yep, I’m just a typical pride-plagued human). But I love writing - it gets me out of bed when it's way too dark, just so I can do some writing before heading off to work. I write because I’m passionate about God, Jesus, His Spirit, and His truth. And, I feel the Holy Spirit gets shortchanged in the world we call Christianity. The truth is sometimes lacking too.

6 thoughts on “Misguided Worship; the Catholic Elevation of Mary

  1. The Roman Catholics don’t pray to Mary (as an object of worship) but rather they ask that she pray with them and for them to God.

    Also, it has to be taken into account that Jesus, while fully divine, was also fully human. It would be ridiculous to think then that he (as a Jew and as the one who gave the particular commandment) to think that he would not honor both his mother and his father.

    Though, I will agree with you that the Roman Catholic Church, in their zeal to honor Mary (since the the angel Gabriel as well as she herself say in the Gospel that she would be) as the chosen one of God, chosen to be the vessel to bring into the world and raise the Son of God, have taken things a little too far. The idea that she was immaculately conceived (born free of the effects of original sin [an idea that was needed based on their conception of what original sin is in the first place]) and their desire to turn her into a co-redemptrix (not offically a dogma though) have taken things a bit too far.

    For the proper role of the Theotokos it would be best to see how she is portrayed in Eastern Orthodox theology, as it holds the same view that has been held by Christians for at least 1,7000 years.

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  2. Doulos,

    Wow. You kind of lost me at the end of your comment – a bit too complicated for my simple mind. And it’s my simple mind and simple heart that tells me that I am to worship God and Jesus, and no one else, no matter how special they may be. And my heart also tells me that I can honor someone without praying to or worshipping them. And the way Catholics respond to Mary just looks too much like worship to me. For example, to rely on her to be a prayer mediator between them and Jesus; well, there is supposed to be only one mediator for us, and that is Jesus Himself.

    Jesus created a simple way to worship and praise and pray. But humans, in their on-going effort to stroke their own egos, have made things much more complicated.

    I really appreciate your comments, but I guess I have stronger feelings about the Catholic relationship with Mary.

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  3. Sorry about that! I’ve looked extensively into Christian theology and have done a lot of self-study into the various Ecumenical Councils which defined the proper understanding of Christian theology so sometimes I don’t really think before I start spouting off such things :P

    What it boils down to is that the Roman Catholics don’t ‘worship’ Mary, they venerate her, though in my opinion their veneration has been carried a little to far so that it does indeed border on worship in some senses.

    The proper understanding of the verneration of the Theotokos (this is a Greek term and one that the Eastern Orthodox Church [to which I belong] uses to refer to Mary; it literally means “Birth-Giver of God”) is thus:

    Mary can and does interceed for us to God. However, she is in no way the only intercessor, nor is she an absolutely necessary one. The way that Catholic and Orthodox understand the intercessory prayers of Mary is linked in the same way we see the how the saints are able to interceed for us. What you refer to “praying to” Mary or the Saints is really the same thing as if I were to go to my friends or my wife and ask them to pray FOR me to God for something that I”m going through. We might say something like “Mary, please pray for me to Christ our God to have mercy on me.” This doesn’t mean that we don’t pray ourselves to Christ, but it never hurts to have multiple people praying!

    The reason why we feel like we can ask the Theotokos or the saints to this for us is two fold: (1) because, being in heaven, these individuals have already been perfected (minus having a physical body of course, since this doesn’t happen until the Second Coming) and they are already at the foot of the throne of God, and (2) because we believe there is a link between us and them, and just because their mortal life has ended, that link is not broken. I’m only really going to touch on point (b):

    As Christians, we believe that Christ has conquered the power of death; right-believing Christians do not die–our physical bodies my become corrupted to the point that it can no longer contain the soul, but the soul continues to live and after death goes immediately either to heaven or hell. Now, we believe that communication is still possible between us and those souls that have already passed on due to the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, as well as the proofs we have throughout history of miracles manifested through the saints (I say manifested because the saints themselves have no power to perform miracles, they can only do what God has granted them to). This isn’t to say that we can speak with dead friends and such, just that those in heaven are able to hear and ask God to answer our prayers.

    Mary, being the mother of the human nature and material body of Christ we hold to be especially close to Him in heaven. Now, the human side of Jesus was a Jew, so surely he followed the command to honor his mother (such as at the wedding feast at cana) so we believe that this honor continues in heaven. Some of the prayers when asking Mary to pray for us start out “With the boldness of a mother, please ask your Son to…”

    We also see Mary as the premier example for Christians to follow: she agreed to God’s plan, she had faith in Him, she most likely endured backlash from being pregnate out of wedlock, she faithfully followed her son and witnessed his death on the Cross. We look to Mary as a model of how we are to live, how we are to be “handservents of the Lord.”

    We also show Mary honor due to what she herself and the angel Gabriel say in the gospels. At the annunciation Gabriel greets Mary saying “Hail, full of Grace (some translations say “favoured one”, the Lord is with you.” He tells her that she has found favor with the Lord. And in the Canticle of Mary we hear her sing “..behold, fron now on will all ages call me blessed.” We honor her as the means which God Himself chose to be born into the world; if God found her special, then we should as well.

    It’s understandable that you’re wary of Mary, since as (what I believe you are) a protestant you’ve been taught to stay away from such things. Indeed, the whole of the protestant reformation has been to distance themselves as far away from the Roman Catholics as possible, although in doing so they have lost many of things traditions and beliefs that Christians has believed for the 1,500 years before the Reformation.

    I will say once again that I agree with you that the Roman Catholics have taken things a little too far, but the fact remains that Mary has been an important figure in Christianity for the whole 2,000 years it has been around.

    Sorry that was so long-winded, but hopefully I was able to explain the Orthodox/Catholic understanding of Mary in a way that isn’t too complicated. Whether you choose to agree or not is up to you; I just wanted to let you know how Christians have viewed the Theotokos.

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  4. Hello Doulos,

    Thank you very much for the “long-winded” explanation. You indeed helped me understand more about how some view Mary. I do honor and greatly admire Mary. She is indeed a model of unhesitating obedience. It would be fantastic is we were all as obedient as Mary. She is worthy of all possible honor and admiration.
    But, I still don’t understand why people pray to her, asking her to pray for them, when we can go directly to God. And the message I get from Jesus is that He wants us to go directly to our Father.
    But the fact that I don’t understand really doesn’t matter. What matters is the individual relationship that people have with God. Some people like to pray to God, some pray to Jesus, and some pray to the Holy Spirit. My only concern with praying to Mary is that it may distract the soul from our only source of salvation: God and Jesus.

    Again, thank you very much.

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  5. Well, it ultimately comes down to the same reason why we ask our friends to pray for us when we’re going through something. It doesn’t mean that we don’t ourselves pray straight to God, but it doesn’t hurt to have others praying for us either.

    You pray: Mary, please pray to God to have mercy upon me.

    And then right after that you pray: God, please have mercy on me, for my sake and for the sake of the prayers of your Mother.

    Just like I might pray: Mom, dad, please pray for me that God will have mercy on me.

    And right after I’d pray: God, please have mercy on me.

    Unless you personally don’t ask for your friends or fellow church members to pray for you.. then I guess it wouldn’t make sense either way!

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  6. Doulos,

    Thanks for additional examples and clarification. I ask others to pray for me all the time, and I pray for other people all the time. I guess that when I’m able to quiet my mind enough to actually pray without having earthly distractions interrupting my thoughts, I’d just rather focus on God than anyone else. So for me, that’s why I pray to God rather than Mary or any other “saint”.

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