If you’ve been around practicing Catholics long enough, you’ll notice that Mary is a very important part of our faith. In fact, it is very difficult for you to find any exposition on the Catholic faith — whether done by Catholics or non-Catholics — without having the Blessed Virgin Mary come up.
In my experience as a Catholic mentor, Mariology is a subject I have had to become very good at because of the many times I need to talk about the Theotokos (God-bearer), the Mother of God.
Naturally, one would expect that if I was defending or explaining the Church’s teachings on the Blessed Virgin Mary, I would be doing so to protestants, atheists, or people of other faiths. But the reality is that I have had to explain Mariology to Catholics more than anybody else.
Many Catholics simply don’t understand how important the Immaculata is to us as Christians. Millions of Catholics don’t pray the rosary daily or even practice the tradition of reciting 3 Hail Marys at night before going to bed. Millions more know absolutely nothing about the Mother of God's life, virtues, dormition, apparitions, and mission.
Even though organizations like the Militia Immaculata, the Rosary Confraternity, and the Legion of Mary exist, tens of millions of Catholics are yet to be totally consecrated to her or, at the very least, to wear her Brown Scapular as enrolled members.
“But… why all the fuss about Mary?”
If you did your First Holy Communion somewhere during the late 1900s and early 2000s, you probably remember the Penny Catechism. This small red book summarises the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church in a question-and-answer format that children can easily remember and understand.
Here is a picture from the book:
In this image, I want to draw your attention to question 185. It reads:
185. What kind of honor or worship should we pay to the Angels and Saints? We should pay to the Angels and Saints an inferior honor or worship, for this is due to them as the servants and special friends of God.
Before we address the obvious elephant in the room, the word “worship,” I want to point out that since Mary is the Mother of God the Son, she holds a higher place of honor than any other saint. In other words, she would receive the highest “inferior honor of worship” compared to any other Angel or Saint.
There’s only one problem with that sentence:
Catholics should NOT be worshipping anything or anyone other than God Almighty!
If you were thinking the same thing, congratulations! You came to the same conclusion that the Church did long before this book was ever published in the 1970s.
So why is a Catholic Catechism document, approved by the Church, talking about us worshipping not just Mary but all the heavenly Angels and Saints?!
The Language Problem of Faith
When you look at the Bible, you most likely see an easy-to-understand, self-explanatory document written in plain, simple English. But no part of the Bible was ever written in English; it was translated into English.
Even though we can rest assured that the translators worked to maintain the integrity of the Bible’s message (for many Bible versions at least), there is still the problem of the language itself.
English is always changing.
For example, there was a time when this part of scripture made complete sense, and nobody saw anything wrong with it:
“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
— Matthew 19:14
Today, this kind of language is less likely to spread the Gospel of Christ and more likely to get you into trouble with the authorities. That’s because “suffer” doesn’t commonly mean what it used to.
In more recent translations, this verse is rendered as:
“but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
— Matthew 19:14
Same verse. Same meaning. Different times. Different 'languages.'
This is one of the reasons why most Catholic teachings and documents are originally written and then preserved in Ecclesiastical Latin. Latin is one of those languages that hasn’t changed much (if at all, significantly) in centuries. You can always rely on it to give its original meaning.
However, for the propagation of the faith and the salvation of mankind, it appears to be more efficient to translate and re-translate sacred teachings into other languages — no matter how tedious this task may be — than to teach all nations to understand unchanging Latin.
But, keeping in mind that most languages change with time, we must always revert to ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin to ensure that we are still aligned with the original meaning and context of a particular teaching.
So, what does “worship” really mean?
Worship, as we know it, refers to revering an entity as sovereign, deifying it, and showing that level of adoration through religious rites or rituals.
In Christianity, worship is due to the Godhead alone. No being other than the Blessed Trinity is worthy of worship. To do so would amount to idolatry, breaking the very first of the famous 10 Commandments of God.
In other words, we worship only one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
But worship didn’t always have only one common meaning.
An archaic meaning of worship reads that worship meant an “honor given to someone in recognition of their merit.”
This makes sense because “worship” itself comes from Old English, “weorthscipe,” which then became “worth-ship,” which then led to the word we use today.
It was used for the acknowledgment of worth.
The degree of worship one received showed the level of worth he or she had to the worshipper. This gave rise to idioms like “he worships the ground on which she walks,” which meant how dearly a man loved a woman.
One who worships God, then, is called to do so with all his Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength, and to have no other gods before God. This means that there cannot be contrary “worships” in the life of a Christian against the worship of God.
Of course, statements like this that use a broad meaning of the word worship are no longer used colloquially. Worship, as a result, has a much more specific meaning nowadays.
But one is left wondering… What kind of worship does the Catholic Church mean when she talks about the worship of Angels and Saints?
Latin to the Rescue
As I said earlier, Holy Mother Church, whose teachings must remain the same over time— even as Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever— teaches and preserves her teachings in the sacred and unchanging Ecclesiastical Latin language; one of the languages affixed to the cross of Christ.
And fortunately for us who now have this language problem, the Church has a teaching on “worship.”
In Catholic theology, there are 3 kinds of worship:
- Hyperdulia, and
Dulia (from Greek “douleia”) is a form of veneration due to Angels and Saints of God. They who are sanctified and honored by His Majesty to be in His presence for all eternity deserve a place of honor in our hearts and minds that is higher than that we give to any other dignitary or created thing.
For if we honor those who excel in science, literature, commerce, and other disciplines of this ephemeral existence, how much more honor must we give those who are made perfect before the Creator of the Universe? Indeed, no achievement on earth or within the temporal universe can surpass what they have accomplished by the Grace of God.
“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.”
— Proverbs 10:7
Hyperdulia, a higher form of Dulia, is reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. She is full of grace (kecharitomene, Luke 1:28), and all generations shall call her blessed (Luke 1:48).
Whatever position we hold St. Peter, upon whom the Church was built, we hold Mary even higher, within whom the Head of the Church was conceived. And where we place the Apostle St. Paul, who preached to us the Word so passionately, we place Mary even higher through whom the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
It was her, the Woman, who said yes to God and ushered in His only begotten Son, the Savior of the world.
She is deserving of far more honor than any other Saint.
But, no matter how highly we honor and venerate the Immaculata, it does not compare to the Latria we give to God.
Latria, in Catholic Theology, is Adoration— a reverence directed only to the Holy Trinity. For God alone is the Holy One, God alone is the Lord, and He alone is the Most High!
None compares to Him, and no one will ever take His place.
He is our God, and we are the sheep of His flock.
So, do Catholics worship Mary?
No. Yes! I mean… We… Uhm… Hyperdulia.
Yeah, hyperdulia. Let’s stick to Latin and avoid further confusion. :)