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Veneration of Mary

Adoration, or latria, is the worship reserved to God, who is praised and adored as the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect in every way. Veneration, or dulia, is the honor given to another person, who deserves such honor for his or her excellence in one area or another. Hyperdulia, which is a level of veneration given to one whose excellence exceeds that of all others, is given to Mary. We worship God fully aware that He is the Supreme Being and infinitely perfect, and this is latria. We honor the saints aware that they were virtuous Christians and enjoy glory in heaven, and this is dulia. We honor Mary aware that she is inferior to God, but God's holiest creature, and this is hyperdulia. If dulia or hyperdulia is given, if Catholics are aware that Mary and the Saints are not God, then chances are, latria is not given. Ask a Catholic if he offers adoration to Mary, if he gives Mary latria the way he gives it to God. He will say no, of course, and the distinction between adoration and veneration is clear in his mind when he offers them to God and Mary, respectively.

No matter what you call it, Protestants object to Marian veneration. They claim that the Bible hardly mentions Mary, meaning she is not that important, and sometimes even say that the Scriptures insult her. They further claim that there is no Biblical precedent for Marian veneration.

As for the first charge, that the Bible hardly mentions Mary, this is true but quite misleading. We find Mary at every important point in Christ's life: His conception (Luke 1:31), His birth (Matt. 1:25), His circumcision (Luke 2:21), His childhood (Luke 2:41-50) and young adulthood (Luke 2:51-52), His first miracle (John 2:1-11), the beginning of His ministry (John 2:12), His death (John 19:25), His ascension (Acts 1:9-14), and at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). So why do we not see more of Mary in the New Testament?

For one thing, it was necessary for the early church to focus primarily on Christ. Marian veneration flows from Christological beliefs, so it was necessary for beliefs about Jesus to be established before any Mariological developments. Another reason is that the Biblical writers wished to respect Mary's humility, since she was alive when many of the epistles were written.

As to the second charge, that the Bible insults Mary, Protestants cite a few different passages. One of them is John 2:4, where Jesus calls Mary, "woman". This, they say, is the language of insult. Actually, the word for woman here, gynai, is actually a title of dignity (Matt. 15:28; Luke 13:12). It is the English equivalent of "lady" or "madam". Jesus uses the word "woman" to refer to Genesis 3:15, which says, "I will put enmity between you and the woman", the woman being Mary. Just as Adam was called the "first man" and Jesus the "second" (1 Cor. 15:47), Mary, as the New Eve (Irenaeus), is the "second woman", just as Eve is the "first woman".

Another passage is found in Luke: "As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you!' But he said, ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it'" (Luke 11:27-28). Jesus used the word "rather" to say that Mary was not blessed, say Protestants. But the Greek word for "rather", menoun, is best rendered as "and". This being the case, Jesus actually agrees with the woman–that His mother is blessed. Even if the word "rather" is used, Jesus is actually saying, "My mother may be blessed for giving birth to me and nursing me, but what makes her truly blessed is that she heard the word of God and kept it". Mary is called "blessed" six different times, once by an angel no less (Luke 1:28, 42, 45, 48; 11:27). If Jesus really did say His mother was not blessed, than Scripture contradicts Scripture, and as every Christian knows, this is impossible.

Protestants also cite Matthew, which reads: "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? . . . For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, and my mother" (Matt. 12:46-50). This, they say, reduces Mary to the status of a disciple who is no greater than any other believer, who are all "brothers, sisters, and mothers". Christians have a spiritual relationship with Christ that is greater than any blood relationship could be. Mary may be related to Jesus according to the flesh, but her spiritual relationship with Him is more important. What makes her (and all other believers, for that matter) true Christians is that she does the will of the Father. It is not an insult, nor was Jesus saying that Mary was no more important than other believers, which would be a contradiction to other Biblical passages (Luke 1:28,42,49).

What Protestants forget when they cite such passages in an attempt to show that Jesus insulted His mother is that Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly, including the commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother" (Ex. 20). In Hebrew, to honor one's mother meant to bestow glory upon her (which is why we are right to honor Mary–in imitation of Christ who honored His mother. You might say Jesus began Marian veneration). Jesus was even "subject" to His mother (Luke 2:51). To interpret the texts in the way Protestants do contradicts such a notion.

On the contrary, the Bible calls Mary "full of grace" (Luke 1:28), and "blessed among women" (Luke 1:28,42). We are told that the Lord was with her (Luke 1:28), and she "found favor with God" (Luke 1:30). Mary herself prophesied that "all generations shall call (her) blessed" (Luke 1:48). Elizabeth was honored that the "mother of (her) Lord" would visit her (Luke 1:43), and praised her for the fact that she trusted the word of the Lord (Luke 1:45).

So why does Mary deserve this special veneration, this hyperdulia? First of all, she was "full of grace" (Luke 1:28), which made her the most holy of women since Eve (Luke 1:42). Secondly, Mary was the Mother of God, and was set apart by God to give birth to God Himself. And finally, she was a model disciple, the greatest of all Christian models.

Finally, to answer the third charge, that there is no precedent for Marian veneration, this is true. The Bible does not explicitly (rather than implicitly) contain any command for Marian veneration. This is what bothers Protestants so much. But what they need to realize is that all the veneration given to Mary is according to the will of God, even though this veneration is an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who enlightened the Church and its Magisterium through implicit Scriptural texts and Sacred Tradition rather than from explicit Biblical statements.

Marian veneration does not take glory away from God, but rather gives Him glory. We honor God by honoring the great things He has done, by His graces, through Mary. We could spend our time praising Jesus rather than honoring Mary, but then again, if we were to avoid going to a retirement banquet in honor of a retiring pastor because we felt it was inappropriate to spend time honoring him rather than spending that time praising God in prayer and worship, that would be silly.

Finally, Protestants accuse Catholics of Mary worship because they sings songs about her, ask for her prayers, and display images of her. But if Protestants were to honor a retiring pastor by singing a song about him, asking for his prayers, and hanging a picture of him in their church, they would not be guilty of idolatry–they would be right to honor a man who did so much for God's Kingdom on earth. As for phrases like Mary is "our life, our sweetness, and our hope", this is the language of love and devotion, and is no different than the Protestant who says to his wife, "I adore you, I worship the ground you walk on, you are the love of my life." As for quotes from St. Alphonsus Liguori's, The Glories of Mary, and other devotional works, in which things like, "even God is subject to Mary" are said, one has to understand what the author means, not only what he says. In this case, St. Bonaventure meant that Mary's will is so united to the will of God, that what she prays for is according to the will of God, so He always grants her wishes–not because she asked for it, but because it was God's will in the first place. We also must remember that Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism, said about Mary, "We can never honor her enough" (Sermon, Christmas, 1531); and "No woman is like you. You are . . . blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity" (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation, 1537). Luther not only prayed the rosary, including the "Hail Mary", but also believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and called Mary "Mother of God".

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