Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
If I were to ask what the biggest dividing factor between Catholics and Protestants is, I guarantee you at least half would say "Mary." A few might say "The Pope," one or two may bring up the sex scandals, some may bring up Tradition and Scripture vs Solo Scriptura, and a few who were familiar with Catholic doctrine might say the Eucharist. But the bulk of people would say Mary and the Saints.
Why is that? Some people will claim that it is because we shouldn't talk to the dead, but Jesus told us that God is not God of the dead, but of the living, so many will leave the topic of the saints alone - regardless of their acceptance of it. But few will leave Mary alone. I was listening to a talk by a convert, and he was certain that "Mary would keep him Protestant." Mary was one of my mother's largest hurdles to pass as well, though that wasn't something I had an issue with. But for many of my friends, it is.
So, first, let me clarify a few things, for misconceptions and bad communication, I believe, are at the heart of our distrust of the Jesus' Mother.
1) Catholics do NOT worship Mary.
"With the whole Church, I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather, is simply nothing, since He alone can say, 'I am He who is.'" ~St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
Adoration, or worship, is reserved only for the Trinity - Father, Son, and Spirit. All the saints are granted devotion, honor, or veneration. They are granted, in the Greek, dulia. This devotion is due to the fact that they fought the good fight, ran the race, and now make up the cloud of witnesses that the author of Hebrews talks about. Should we offer devotion to anyone but God? Well, think about it. Are you devoted to your spouse? To your children? Your family? Your friends? I am. I would take a bullet for them. Wouldn't you? I don't worship them, but I will be devoted to them. After all, they are who God put on this earth to model Himself for me and for me to exhibit Him to. Well, the saints are our family as well - some of them quite literally.
To Mary, we grant hyperdulia - a higher form of honor or devotion, but still only honor and devotion. She is granted this for the same reason Elizabeth cried out in greeting "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" Elizabeth, carrying the prophet, carrying the new Elijah, who had been granted a child in her old age - in circumstances almost as miraculous as Mary's - was awed that her kid-cousin would come to her bearing the Lord. We grant her this only because of her unique connection to God the Son. St. Joseph - the foster father of Jesus - is also granted a higher form of devotion because of his role in Salvation History - caring for Jesus and His Mother. He, therefore, is granted protodulia. While not quite as high as the devotion given to Mary, it is, none the less, higher than that given to the rest of the saints.
The Greek Latria is reserved only for God. (See it here in the word "IdoLATRY"). This is worship, adoration.
Yes, we honor Mary and the saints, but we worship and adore God and God alone.
2) By honoring Mary, we more fully honor Her Son
My little brother is absolutely wonderful - and this isn't just sisterly bias, this is something that everyone tells me, my parents, and him. He was at a retreat this last weekend, and when he got back, everyone was awed by the fact that I was his sister, but what every one of them, without fail, asked was "Where is your mom? I want to meet your mom and dad." And they would go and talk to my parents just because of the witness that Bryce gave. Because they respected Bryce, his peers went to my parents.
Bryce does not just attract the attention of people his age. He has a gaggle of girls in love with him - in Kindergarten. My mom works up at the school lunch line, and they will all poke each other and "whisper" to each other "Look! That's Bryce's mommy!" and giggle as only crushing girls can. They will jostle each other to try to get close to my mom and give her smiles they don't give the other lunch ladies. Why? Because they "love" Bryce.
"As one cannot go to a statue of a mother holding a child and cut away the mother without destroying the child, so neither can one have Jesus without His Mother. Could you claim as a friend one who, every time he came into your home, refused to speak to your mother or treated her with cold indifference? Jesus cannot feel pleased with those who never give recognition to or show respect for His Mother. Coldness to His Mother is certainly not the best way to keep warm a friendship with Him. The unkindest cut of all would be to say that she who is the Mother of our Lord is unworthy of being our Mother." ~Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Think about it. If you get defensive when someone talks snidely about or belittles your parents, you would get mad, right? How much more Christ who is the embodiment of the Law. The word for "honor" in the Hebrew in the 10 Commandments can also be translated to a much higher, stronger, word: glorify. If, while on earth, Jesus honored and glorified His mother, how much more should we?
"Let those who think that the Church pays too much attention to Mary give heed to the fact that Our Blessed Lord himself gave ten times as much os His life to Her as He gave to His Apostles" ~Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus submitted himself in obedience to His Mother and father. He answered her soft cry for help, and some of His last thoughts on the cross were of Her. How then, can we say that we give her too much honor? Rather, I think we give her too little.
In Luke 11, a woman cried out calling blessed the womb and breasts that bore and nurtured Christ, and Christ countered her. He said, "No. Blessed are they who hear the word of God and observe it." We know from Luke 1 that Mary was credited as being blessed because she heard the word of the Lord and believed that it could be accomplished through her. It was not her womb or breasts that were blessed. Rather, she, in her entirety, as she prophesied in Luke 1, was Blessed and would be called Blessed by all generations. Not for anything she did, but for the wonders that God worked in her.
"Let us not imagine that we obscure the glory of the Son by the great praise we lavish on the Mother; for the more she is honored, the greater is the glory of her SOn. There can be no doubt that whatever we say in praise of the Mother gives equal praise to the Son." ~St. Bernard of Clairvaux
3) Everything Marian leads to Jesus
I have talked about this some before, I believe. Just as when the shepherds and the wise men came to the stable, they found "Mary with the child." You cannot separate Mary from Jesus. She allowed herself to be so totally consumed by Him that she only reflects Him. Her response to Gabriel "I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Be it done to me as you have said." and the way she promptly redirected the praise Elizabeth showered upon her back to the Lord with her Magnificat, exclaiming "My soul magnifies the Lord!" When the wine ran out, she did not say "Do what I tell you." She said "Do whatever He tells you."
We only look to Mary to gain a better understanding of Christ. Fr. Barron explained it by using this analogy. The glory of Jesus is like that of the Sun. It brightens everything, gives life, but to look upon it would be to blind yourself. So, instead, we look to that whom the light is reflected off of - Mary. Mary shines with none of her own light. She is like the moon, radiating the light of the Sun, but in a gentler, easier to mimic and understand manner. (This is actually why my blog is titled Our Lady's Lamp - an old title for the moon).
"She is an echo of God, speaking and repeating only God. If you say 'Mary,' she says 'God.'" ~St. Louis de Montfort
4) Every Doctrine about Mary is actually about Jesus
Everything we define about Mary is only because it is necessary to understand our Lord better. We do not just willy-nilly proclaim that Mary is this or that. For example, one of Mary's most famous titles is Mother of God. Many people now reel at that title as they did back in the fifth century. But the council convened and declared that we had to proclaim that Mary is the Mother of God otherwise we declare that Jesus was not God at the moment of His conception. We aren't saying that she is the mother of the Trinity or even the eternal Son, but she is, none the less, the Mother of God for Jesus is God. She is not outside of time as Jesus is, but it was to her womb that He came, and to Her was granted the relation Mother.
This is true of every doctrine related to her. At some later point, I shall try to go through them in greater depth.
5) Mary is our model in Faith
Think about it. If you could be like anyone, who would it be? I hope you'd say Jesus. But let's be real. None of us can ascend into heaven on our own power, can die for the expiation of the sins of the entire world, or can even love as perfectly as Jesus did.
But we can bring Jesus to the world. And in that, we need to model Mary. Mary was granted the grace to carry Jesus inside of her, brought him to her elderly cousin, then bore Him into a world that did not accept Him. She sheltered Him from being destroyed by the evils of the day, nurtured Him, then walked beside Him as he ministered to others. She stood beside Him as he suffered and died, not ashamed of His cross, and she was there on Pentacost when the Spirit descended upon her for the second time.
We are called to accept Our Lord into our lives, to bring Him first to our families, and then into a hurting world where society seeks to kill Him and cast Him out. We are called to imitate Him and follow along as He guides us in His mission, to be His hands, His feet, His eyes, and His heart. We are called not to run away ashamed of the cross, the stumbling block for the unbeliever, as St. Paul says, but to embrace His cross and the crosses He gives us to unite with His. We are called to allow the Spirit to work within us and to set the world afire with His love.
To model her, we have to get to know her. We cannot model that which we do not know. Imitating Mary is no more sacrilegious or blasphemous than Paul telling the early Christians to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Again, sometimes it is too hard to look upon the Sun, so we have to turn our eyes to the Moon for a moment to better understand how to reflect that light back to the Father.
6) Mary is our Mother
"If anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his Mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother." ~St, Maximilian Kolbe
On the cross, Jesus granted Mary to His Beloved Disciple to take as his mother. John intentionally, throughout his Gospel, does not call himself by name, for he desires everyone to put themselves in his place. Jesus grants Mary to the church at this time. He has already taught us to call His Father our Father, and now he says "Behold, your Mother."
When John sees the image of the woman in the sky, fighting the serpent, he harkens back to the image of Eve and calls this new woman, who gave birth to the Messiah, the mother of "all who did the will of her son and followed his commands." Some will argue that this is not Mary but the Church, or Israel, and I will also discuss this at a later time, but the early church fathers all proclaimed her as the "New Eve."
"True it is... the whole race of man upon earth was born of Even, but in reality, it is from Mary that Life was truly born to the world, so that by giving birth to the Living One, Mary might also become the Mother of all the living." ~St. Epiphanius (310-403 A.D.)
"The Mother of the Head, in bearing Him corporally became spiritually the Mother of all members of this Divine Head." ~St. Augustine
Many people wonder why we Catholics get so touchy about Mary, and this is why. We do see her as our Mother. When you say something offensive about her - even unknowingly - it will often rankle us. No, at times, we are woefully inadequate to express the rational behind our love for her, but we have taken her for our Mother, desiring to be as much like Christ as possible. The saints are our siblings, Joseph has a special paternal place, God is our Father, and Mary is our Mother. It is a filial love that we have for her, the Mother of Our Lord. We hail her as Gabriel and Elizabeth did, knowing that we are unworthy of the gift Christ gave us in her, and that she gave us in participating at Calvary.
But what our love for her boils down to is this, right here: We love her because Christ loved her. We love her because she is our Mother.
"Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did." ~St. Maximilian Kolbe