Most of us who are Catholics eventually get asked, “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” More often than not the question is not a real question it is a rhetorical question. A “rhetorical question,” is a “question” whose purpose is not to seek an answer, but, rather, to make a (usually hostile) point. For example the expression “Who do you think you are!?” is in the form of a question but it does not seek an answer. Instead it is meant as a rebuke. And so it usually is when we Catholics get asked the “question” Why do you worship Mary?” we’re usually aware that it is not a sincere question seeking a sincere answer. However, for those cases where an answer really is sought I might propose the following approach:

“Well, of course we don’t worship Mary since that would be a terrible sin. Worship belongs to God alone. We DO honor her though. After all, she is Jesus’ mother.

But let me ask you a question. Why in your church, do you NOT honor Mary at all? Doesn’t scripture say Every generation will call [Mary] blessed because God who is mighty has done great things for [her]? (Luke 1:48-49) It seems to me that we Catholics are fulfilling Scripture but that in your denomination you are not fulfilling or following it. So why don’t you honor her at all? Why don’t you call her blessed as the Bible says?”

Now stop there and wait for an answer. Don’t keep going. Just stop and wait. Have them answer for a change. We Catholics are always on the defensive, always in answer mode. But we ought to ask a few questions too. When asking, try to avoid a merely rhetorical or hostile tone. Try to allow this question to be genuine, respectful, one meant to provoke thought.

It is possible that many Protestants have never been asked this question or pondered an answer. Now it is also possible that your interlocutor will try to change the subject or evade an answer by piling on about Catholics but just repeat the question respectfully and ask for an answer. Remember your point is not to argue, be hostile or win an argument. Your point is to provoke thought and get a real answer. And even if the conversation ends badly or with no answer, you’ve planted a seed, a question that they will ponder even if they don’t admit it. Jesus often asked questions to provoke thought and conversion. I will be doing a post on this next week.

Another way to explain out devotion and love for Mary is that we are imitating Jesus. We love, honor, respect and entrust ourselves to her care because Jesus did all these things, and we want to be just like Jesus. Consider that the very Son of God, dwelt in Mary’s womb, nursed at her breasts, was held in her arms, sat on her lap and entrusted himself to her care. Our Lord could have chosen to enter our world in other ways. Perhaps He could simply have entered the world as a full grown man. The fact is that He freely chose Mary to be his mother and he was truly her Son. As her son he loved and honored her as any good son must and as her son he entrusted himself to her care. All of this serves to highlight Mary’s dignity and to show us how devotion to her is in perfect imitation of Jesus himself.

What more need we say: Jesus our Lord and God honors and loves Mary, and his very Scriptures sing her praises; so too His Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit,  and countless saints. When we honor Mary we imitate the very Son of God and fulfill Holy Scripture. Certainly our Lord is pleased that we love and honor his mother.

Painting above by French artist William Bouguereau (19th Century)

71 Responses

  1. Bender says:

    “Why in your church, do you NOT honor Mary at all?”
    _______________________

    At the risk of being undiplomatic, for all too many, the answer is quite simple — If the Catholics are for it, then we are against it. For too many, their entire existence is founded upon opposition to Catholicism.

    To be sure, many of them are still going on arguing about justification by faith or works. The thing is — they are arguing by themselves. Catholics quit arguing with them about 450 years ago and moved on to other things, but they are still going round and round on that as if we were still in the room. Meanwhile, ask a Catholic today about that ancient dispute, use the word “justification” with them, and all you’re likely to get in response is a “Huh? What are you talking about?”

  2. Nick says:

    Worship is adoration and veneration. It is Protestants who have taken “worship” and changed it to fit their beliefs. Whereas we Catholics use “worship” according to the full sense of the term.

    According to the Rabbinic Writings, the mother of the Messiah is prophecised to represent Israel and be the Mother of Israel, whereby, in accordance to the Fourth Commandment, she is to be venerated.

  3. Nguyen Thuong Minh says:

    Epistle 245
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope asked us a question: Why do you not honor Mary in accordance with Scripture?
    The question of Msgr.Charles Pope is synonymous with question: Why do we not respect Mary as Bible did? Or why do we respect Mary as Bible did?
    Secondly, now permit me to discuss some matters to relate the homily hereafter:
    For answering to question of Msgr.Charles Pope: Why do we respect Mary as Bible did? First of all, we find out about: How did New Testament respect Mary?
    In Gospel of Matthew 1:18, written: Mary is mother of Jesus. And in certain place of Matthew also written: Jesus is a shepherd and Catholics are lambs.
    Therefore, painting in the homily by French artist William Bouguereau (19th Century) painted Mary carried Jesus in her right arm and a lamb in her left arm.
    Finally, I quite agreed with French artist William Bouguereau on his painting because he understood clearly NT when he painted the painting.
    In other words, New Testament respected Mary as Mother of Jesus. And we also respect Mary as Mother of Jesus./.

  4. Don M Jones says:

    As a recent convert having attended RCIA classes, I am struggling to learn our Catholic way. “Catholics pray to women”, was the first thing I heard from a friend, who was repeating ‘what a friend told him’. My answer was ‘we pray through Mary’.
    Your explanation here is very helpful to me. I should learn more about the Scriptures. Thank you, again….

  5. Donna Mary says:

    Wonderful post! I left the Catholic Church for 15 years to join a Baptist church, and one of the things that always confused me was Protestants’ refusal to acknowledge Mary’s significance. To them, she was merely an “incubator”. My husband and I would frequently point out that scriptures says “all generations will call me blessed”, but it always fell on deaf ears. For years, I had to listen to church leaders praise “Jabez” (The Prayer of Jabez), but practically ignore Mary. I also thought it was strange that believers anticipate governing with Christ, but find the idea of Mary being named “Queen” ridiculous! Who do they think will actually reign with Christ? They see themselves, but not Mary!!

    Thanks again!

  6. teo matteo says:

    Msgr, thanks for the post re apologetics for our Mother. My first response to their question would be: “when did you stop beating your wife (husband)?” But that would be uncharitable. I too think along those lines of asking questions(with humility). There is nothing wrong with this technique unless we are only trying to use it to intimidate back. I’ve wondered about the line of questions I’d ask someone who seeems to be against the Catholic veneration of Mary. Maybe start with the question of where St. Paul’s remains are buried? Who respected him so much that they refused to forget where his body was placed? Why is he (his remains) under a Catholic Altar? And what about the Mother of our Lord? Where are her remains? etc. Even as He hung on the cross for our sins He took care of her. When i think about these things i conclude that the Catholic faith has got so much more than the other faith traditions. The fullness.
    This post tells me I gotta say the rosary more. Thanks again Msgr!

  7. Tabelle says:

    Father, you’re very right that “why do catholics worship Mary” is just a rhetorical question rather than a sincere one. An acquiantance of mine a catholic convert to baptist just called me one day & angrily asked “Why do you worship Mary?” I was surprised w/ her tone & explained as best I could what I have learned from catholics books about this particular issue, BUT she wouldn’t listen. So I asked her, when you were still a catholic were you taught to worship Mary as we worship God, or to honor her as Jesus honored her? And do you heard somebody instructing someone to do it? And if you did was he/she a priest or a nun in good standing with the catholic church? And amazingly she answered me YES, she was taught by a priest. Then I calmly told her, “You Are A Liar.” Even simple folks who didn’t finished elementary education knew Mary is not God but the Mother ofOur Lord Jesus. By this she is not to be worshiped but honored. It was so agonizing bec she was like a child ranting the same question until she hung up. Father, I observed that those catholic converts to other denominations are the ones who are so hot & insistent that we worship Mother Mary.

  8. James Patrick John says:

    I tell my Protestant friends that there are 2 things that bore Christ; Mary and the Cross, and Catholics deeply and reverently respect both for their part in God’s plan of Salvation.

  9. Lenore says:

    This is such a great post! As a convert, I actually lost a friend because her husband would not allow her to be friends with a ” Mary worshipper”. It turned out not to be a loss at all compared to what I gained! Thanks for article!

  10. Richard a says:

    Considering that Mary is also a type of the Church, another fair question might be this.

    “Here is how you talk about ‘the church’” (whatever they may mean about ‘the church’; I’d even concede, for the sake of argument, their definition of ‘the church’.) Here is how Scripture talks about ‘the church’. Why the discrepancy, for a Bible Christian?

  11. jesse says:

    For me as a catechumen, it was a true revelation when I realized that honoring Mary is only the very beginning of our relationship with our blessed Mother; there are incalculable graces that come through her intercession that Protestants fail to access, at least fully, though I do believe that the blessed Virgin prays for all persons and especially for all Christians. I began to pray the Rosary out of a desire to honor Mary; I continue to pray the Rosary because I need the love, help, and prayers of my Mother.

  12. David says:

    I’ve wrestled with the veneration of Mary for years. But I think that what you say about the imitation of Jesus is spot on. If we’re supposed to imitate Christ all the way to the Cross, then it makes perfect sense to imitate his life in Nazareth with Mary as well. Its something on which I can meditate.

  13. David says:

    And of course, there’s also an imitation of Christ in Bethlehem–to be nurtured within Mary in a spiritual sense.

  14. Daniel says:

    The followup question “Why do you not honor Mary?” seems rhetorical also and not really looking for a “real” answer. If the intent is actual dialogue then I think a more open-ended question like “How do you regard Mary?” would be more effective, especially if followed by genuine listening. Trying to put the other on the spot to prove them wrong and render them speechless is more likely to polarize (as they tried to do to you) than to convert.

      • Tim Conley says:

        I totally agree that it is more effective to explore “How do you regard Mary” as a good starter.
        Other questions I think are good ones are to ask what is meant in Luke chapter 1 when 3 times Mary is reffered to as “most favored” by Gabriel, “blessed among women” by Elizabeth and “all generations shall call me blessed” by Mary herself. What does it mean that all generations will call her blessed? How is it in our generation we are to call her blessed? In protestant culture, Mary is not generally mentioned. I’ve never heard a protestant discussion about how Mary is to be called blessed or how we are to take this?
        I think it bears discussion about what is it to give Mary her due in accordance to what the angel, Elizabeth and Mary herself said. The answer is not worship…both parties agree. According to the scripture, ignoring Mary is not what we are instructed to do also. Ignoring her just doesn’t fit. I think this is touchy ground and I believe what others here are saying about making sure you’re not just “firing back”. Once the defenses go up, there is no communication either way. I think it could be gently but firmly explored. Questions are more powerful often times than statements.

  15. rick says:

    don jones, here is a wonderful youtube vid (made by someone about 25 miles from me) that hits a lot of the high points of our Lady in scripture…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUdYeYy3NQA

    scott hahn’s book ‘Hail Holy Queen’ should also be made mandatory reading for protestants and Catholics alike to understand the biblical presence of our Blessed Mother

  16. Therese says:

    I find that the “born-againers” are the worst as they
    are usually people who used to be Catholic but left
    for some reason or other. I met one who categorically
    stated “I used to be a Catholic but now I’m a Chruistian”!
    C r a z y or what????

  17. esiul says:

    So well explained Msgr. I’ve not come across this question, but on several occasions had been questioned
    why we call her “Holy Mary, mother of God.” She is not the mother of God but the mother of Jesus.
    You can talk yourself blue in the face to explain that. That’s because they do not believe or understand the
    Trinity. But I have not lost any friends from this. So I must have answered correctly even if not convincing them.

  18. rick says:

    sadly therese… it just shows the lack of catechesis so many that leave the faith actually received in the first place

  19. elcid says:

    St Thomas Aquinas states it best in his “Exposition of the Angelic Salutation” concerning angels in the old testament appearing to men:

    “…but it was never heard that an angel showed reverence to a man until he saluted the blessed virgin, saying reverently ‘Hail’….Therefore it was not fitting that the angel should show reverence to man until someone should be found in human nature who exceeded the angels in three respects (1. dignity 2. familiarity with God 3. grace.)”.

  20. Burton says:

    Msgr.,

    Thanks for the informative post. I am a Protestant who for years has been leaning Rome-ward. I have a gained understanding and appreciation for the Catholic practice of honoring Mary, but I still have questions and concerns regarding certain Marian titles and their doctrinal implications. Could you shed some light on the titles Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix and what they imply regarding Mary’s role in salvation?

    • elcid says:

      I’m sure Msgr. Pope has some good insight on this, but I will also refer you to the website below, you should be able to find some good answers to your questions on the Catholic faith.

      http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2007/0712fea1.asp

    • BHG says:

      Not to usurp Msgr. Pope, but you might try reading the trilogy of books (Mary, Mother of the Son) by Mark Shea on Mary I found them very helpful, very easy to read. Mark Shea is a former Evangelical Protestant, so he knows the discussion from both sides.

      • The answers here a re good. I would also point the a distinction that many moderns fail to make with principle causality and instrumental causality. This leaves many Protestants, and Catholic too, unable to understand the role of the saints, the priesthood and an so forth. That God is the principle cause of all things, and obviously our salvation, does not preclude that he takes up things and people and works through them.

  21. Dismas says:

    I’m not sure I can express this thought fully. I hesitate to reveal this sweeping generalization which I haven’t fully thought out. I fear this will sound woefully uncharitable, however, when it comes to the refusal of protestants to recognize the importance and necessity of Mary’s role in salvation, I’ve always viewed the root cause to be the their lack of recognition of any order or economy of grace. It seems to me that if each protestant believes themselves to be equally justified before the eyes of God no matter what their works, faith or belief, wouldn’t this naturally disallow or prevent them from acknowledging Mary as anything more than just another woman or being like themselves?

    I think it stands to reason that if protestants subscribed to Mary deserving a special devotion, honor or role in salvation, their whole theology that anyone who accepts Jesus is equally justified by faith alone would naturally crumble before their eyes.

    It seems to me the whole Mary worship accusation, whether they realize it or not, is nothing more than necessary intellectual dishonesty and a smoke screen to protect the rest of their illogical house of cards.

  22. Robb says:

    This once long time Anglo-Catholic who crossed the tiber has never had a problem with honoring our mother.
    It just seemed natural and right. Do not understand why others do.

  23. Richard says:

    There’s more scripture on point: at the visitation, both Elizabeth and John the Baptist venerate Mary:

    When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 1:39-45)

    You can’t possibly read that and think that Elizabeth and John are rejoicing over Jesus and ignoring Mary. The protestant version would read: “Hey you’re just another woman, but we worship the child within you.” In fact, John leaps at the sound of Mary’s voice, and Mary’s visit is a sign of favor.

    Elizabeth’s words here are explicitly inspired by the Holy Spirit.

  24. Dave says:

    Very interesting post and discussion. I am one of those protestants spoken of, sometimes a little harshly, in the various comments. I regard Catholic believers as fellow-heirs in Christ, as my brethren and as precious to God. I know that there are some protestants who are antagonostic towards Catholics – shame on them. I have always been a protestant, and have a degree in Theology, but one of my fondest memories of being touched by God occurred in a Catholic church when I was in high school. I remember the Priest as if it were yesterday. There was something about him that showed forth God’s love and grace in a way that I have seldom seen since – in any church. There is no doubt in my mind he was a man of God among men of God.

    I would like to offer my opinion of why there is often quite a bit of animosity from protestants towards the Catholic viewpoint on Mary. For many protestants it is the appearance (to protestants) of the Catholic treatment of Mary as worship that should be reserved for God alone. The same could be said (by evangelical proetestants) of prayers made to the saints (by Catholics or other protestants). Both practices are viewed as an incorrect veneration of a human over God. I do believe that for most protestants, the problem is that simple.

    I actually do agree, at least to some degree with the idea that most protestants do not properly honor Mary. And I do believe that is in part due to a desire to separate from the Catholic way. However, I and many other evangelicals have a place of fondness and honor in our hearts for Mary. We do respect her – she among all women was chosen to be the Mother of Jesus. Should I voice that opinion too strongly in many protestant circles, I may indeed be held in suspicion of being a closet Catholic.

    Now to respond to just a few comments:

    Bender – Most protetants existance is not founded on opposition to Catholocism. The word “protestant” is not truly applicable to most non-Catholic Christians today. Yes there are those who seem to make it their life’s work to (unfairly and un-Christian-ly) attack the Catholics. I am not one of those, nor are that vast majority of protestants.

    Richard a – I’m not sure I follow you. My view as a protestant is that the Church (the called out ones, the eklessia in the Greek) consists of all Christians, whether Catholic or protestant. There is no difference to me between a Catholic and a protestant – both are sinners saved by God’s grace. We are brethren.

    Therese – I suppose I am one of the “born-againers” and the statement “I used to be a Catholic but now I’m a Christian” is hurtful and doctrinally unsound. My apologies on behalf of a misguided and untaught person.

    Dismas – Your statement “if each protestant believes themselves to be equally justified before the eyes of God no matter what their works, faith or belief” is not correct. There are mulitple protestant viewpoints on justification, but the mainstream view is justification by faith in Christ, through Christ’s redeeming death on the cross, not by personal good works without trusting in Christ. But, we are to walk in good works as Christians.

  25. Dismas says:

    Dave, your response is most welcome and a pleasant surprise. I’m still working on my sweeping generalizations and have a long way to go. However, based on your comment it would seem we largely agree. I’m honestly trying to get a better grip on the mainstream view, it’s just that all those differing sects along with each individual members own interpretation of their individual sects belief’s apparently make identifying a mainstream view more difficult for me than you. It’s my sincere hope that someday soon I can honestly identify a mainstream view but currently this remains quite a reach for me.

  26. Richard says:

    Great comments on this topic. When you think of the Ark of the Covenant and what it contained, manna from heaven, the word of God, and the staff of the high priest and then compare it to Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant and what she “contained”: The Word Incarnate, THEE High Priest, and the Living Bread. I just think…WOW. and then read 2 Samuel and compare it to the Gospel of St. Luke. Even non Catholics say “scripture interprets scripture…” Well then, how else could you interpret the purity of the New Ark? and then….Read from Revelation Chapter 11 through Chapter 12. My silly post can evenly properly express the awesomeness and veneration that is due our Heavenly Mother.

    Thank you Monsignor.

  27. Richard says:

    And a comment for Dave on Protestantism. I would say most modern day protestants are really anti-protestants. Please don’t take offense. Most modern day protestants are nothing close to the Protestants of 400 years ago. Just a thought. Not sure what a better term would be. The modern American Christian movement, local churches, mega churches, off shoot denominations, etc seem to be a real schism. I know a family of four, that attend 3 different “non-denominational” denominations. It seems to be in contrast to being one.

    Maybe another topic for discussion by Monsignor. And maybe that topic was already addressed, if there is no Pope, we can all be the Pope of our own church.

    Peace and unity to all that peruse and post this great webpage.

  28. Nonoy says:

    This is a good post.Protestant question us “Is She a virgin after Jesus?”. Even we give them reasonable answer and Church father testimony they don’t believe us.I only pray they will open their mind and heart to hear us and the truth.Thanks Monsignor to light up my life and my catholic believe will be enlighten.

  29. Lisa C says:

    Dave,
    You by far are the most Catholic sounding Protestant I’ve ever heard. I don’t mean to sound so presumptuous but it seems like you are more than half way in crossing the Tiber, so “just keep swimming” “just keep swimming” (sorry I watched Finding Nemo for the upteenth time earlier)

  30. Anne Marie says:

    One could also answer because one of the last things Jesus did from the Cross,in the gospel of John and one of his final words was to the apostle John to take into his care Mary as mother. From that day onwards, Christians are to honor Mary as mother.

  31. sparks1093 says:

    Thanks, Monsignor. I am planning a half day retreat regarding our Blessed Mother for my parish and this will now be one of the topics to discuss.

  32. Maria says:

    It is right, and i think we should ask in such a manner to make them ponder to the scripture more, and bring it to a way of prayer, contemplation and answer, as they are always refer to bible to bring them more understanding about the deepest knowledge of the bible itself.

  33. Cynthia BC says:

    For Lutherans the issue isn’t whether Mary should be honored as Mother of God (she should be, as Luther himself said) but whether she can serve as an intercessor or advocate for us. It seems in conflict with Christ’s assertion that one can only come to the Father through the Son.

    A couple of years ago I included in my Lenten reading the Great Cannon of St Andrew of Crete (an Eastern Orthodox saint). In Frederica Mathewes-Green’s forward to the Canon, she noted that asking a saint to pray for us isn’t unlike asking friends to pray for us, for the saints still live – in heaven. Since reading that I’m not as weirded out as I once was at the concept of asking Mary/the saints for their intercession, but I’m not comfortable with it, either. Nope, I’m just not there.

  34. mickobrien says:

    Scripture is silent on how Marys life ended and the church has never declaired whether she died and was raised or was raptured up without ever dying

  35. Richard Wilton says:

    Religion = Christian or Budist, Muslum, Hindi etc.
    Denomination = Catholic or protestant (baptist, methodist Etc., etc., etc…….)

  36. Michael Morrell says:

    To everyone who takes the weird attitude – “if it’s Roman Catholic it’s wrong” — think again. That is understandable, but if the book of Revelation calls the Roman Church “The Mother of Harlots” then who are the Harlots? All the protestant churches obviously.

    To everyone I would say – Be careful speaking against Mary. She of all women was chosen as a faithful Jew to give birth to, and raise, the Son of God. If you all believe that after the resurrection you will meet her?, then what will you say to her when she sees how many people sinned by “worshiping her”? What will you say when she sees all of you who “bad-mouth her” in your anti Roman Catholic zeal?

    Just understand, look at your own beliefs which are most likely filled with Error. Hebrews 11 explains that none of these people are alive. They all await the same resurrection as all who have believed. But Mary, was honored by God — Her Father and Ours, for a reason – because she was faithful, faithful means she knew, understood and believed the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. (www.bereans.org)

  37. Barnabas1956 says:

    I hope this isn’t turning into another anti-catholic thread. There are too many already. All the way up until the Protestant Reformation, we were one church and so we Protestants, whatever flavor, share a rich history with our Catholic brothers and sisters and neither of us have a corner on absolute righteousness. We will all take our turn in front of the judgement seat of Christ.

    For me it was settled in Luke 11:27-28 Jesus corrects a woman.

    DRC: Luke 11:27. And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck.

    DRC: Luke 11:28. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.

    or in the King James:

    KJV: Luke 11:27.
    And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.

    KJV: Luke 11:28. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

    Even though the woman in the text seemed to have good intentions by praising Christ’s own blessed Mother,
    Jesus did not support her, but rather corrected her in front of the ones that had heard her.

    Had Jesus joined the woman and blessed His mother, and taught the others there to join in; then I would also.
    I would pray the Rosary daily and probably the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

    But since He didn’t, and basically said that He preferred our obedience instead, then following His lead, I don’t do this. Mary still deserves our respect, though, because she is our sister and the mother of our Savior.

  38. a sister in Christ says:

    In reading the Holy Scriptures it’s too easy to assume we know the meaning . That’s where careful and thorough study comes in, because Holy Scripture never contradicts itself. Jesus was neither correcting nor rejecting the words spoken by the woman in the crowd. He accepts the woman’s statement and goes even further, saying that Mary is blessed particularly because she’s been faithful in putting the word of God into practice. You can even say it was a compliment to His Mother on her fiat (Luke 1:38). She lived her fiat sincerely and unwaveringly, in the hidden and silent sacrifices of each day.

  39. IB says:

    Prayer is a dialogue

    Something we should all have with Christ, the Father, Holy Spirit, The Blessed Mother and our Guardian Angel often to the point of continual send and receive either consciously or sub-consciously. The link, ability and expectation for the blessed Mother in regard to this dialogue as MSG Pope has revealed is in Luke 1:48-49.

    thank you

    Excellent Dialogue

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