I received the following questions from an ex-student during the week. The questions were asked of him by a non-Catholic Christian friend wanting answers on the Catholic beliefs of Mary.
Why do Catholics pray to Mary? Does it say in the bible she should be prayed to? My Christian friend was telling me that there is no where in the Bible that states Mary is without sin and should be worshipped. You may be able to help me here.
I'm going to address those questions in steps because it's a multi-faceted question and I want to make sure I do each justice by giving each a full response.
1. Catholics DO NOT worship Mary. Some non-Catholic Christians believe that by merely praying to a being that that is the equivalent of worship. This is not the case. When we ask our friends to pray for us, are we worshipping them? No, of course not. We have to remember that there are many reasons why we pray and as Christians we believe in intercessory prayer, i.e. praying for one another and asking others to pray for us. We can ask our friends to pray for us for whatever intention but we know that it is the Lord who answers these prayers according to His will. Mary and the saints in Heaven pray with us as we invoke their intercession. As it says in scripture:
"Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." - James 5:16
"And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;" - Revelation 5:8
The term "saints" has multiple meanings here. There are the living saints - Christians - whose desire it is to be sanctified in the Lord; and then there are the saints in Heaven who HAVE been sanctified in the Lord and made fully holy in communion with Christ. And what exactly does Luke 20:38 say about the saints, sanctified in heaven?
“Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” - Luke 20:38
Because God wills it, the sanctified in Heaven hear our prayers through God and they pray with us urging us on to be sanctified ourselves as it says in Hebrews 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” - Hebrews 12:1
The angels and saints in Heaven are cheering us on. Why? Because they, as much as our Lord in Heaven, desires us to be fully united with him and experience the beatific vision. Catholics honour Mary (very, very different to worship; worship is given to the Lord alone; no Catholic is taught or told to "worship" Mary) as the Mother of God. Why the "Mother of God"? Christ is God incarnate; the second person of the Holy Trinity; and so when we refer to Mary as the "Mother of God" we honour her as mother of the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus who died for our sins and rose from the dead.
2. Why don't we read about the early Christians praying to Mary in the Bible? Probably because she was still alive and they would have just gone up and spoken to her, much in the same way they did at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) where Christ first revealed his divine being to all that witnessed. Jesus was a commandment keeping Jew (i.e. "Honour thy father and thy mother") and when Mary pointed out that there was no wine left, Jesus - despite initial resistance - did as his mother requested. Mary even went as far as ordering the servants to "... do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5).
3. I've already pointed out a couple of verses of scripture where we are encouraged to pray for one another and further to ask others to pray for us. If this was disallowed and if Christ was the only one we should pray to (remember I noted that the Lord is the only one who answers prayers; Mary and the saints do not have this power but because the Lord allows it, they may hear our prayers and pray with us according to the Lord's will), then we have to consider the reality that many, many, many of the early Christians and ourselves included have deliberately disobeyed this directive.
"Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel." - Ephesians 6:18-19
If Christ is the only one we should pray to, then why would Paul ask for the prayers of others? 4. As Catholics we believe that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. Why is this so hard for some non-Catholic Christians to believe? Of course we believe and agree that Christ, the Son of the Living God, was too conceived without Original Sin but this of course was due to Christ's divine nature. As the human mother of the Son of God, it was fitting that while Christ grew in the womb of his mother that this mother too be without sin. Don't forget that Adam and Even were created without Original Sin because they had not sinned yet! But let's look at what the Bible says:
In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke we read of the archangel Gabriel coming to Mary who is in Nazareth (a city in Galilee) and declares to Mary that she will bear the son of God and call him "Jesus". The archangel greets Mary by saying, "Hail, full of grace" (Luke 1:28; "Hail, O favoured one" in other translations). The term "full of grace" ("gratia plena" in Latin) for Mary comes from the original Greek manuscript of the Gospel of Luke (who was a Greek himself). The word used by the archangel Gabriel (i.e. the word St. Luke uses for it) for the Blessed Virgin Mary was "kecharitomene" which translates to "having been graced" or "having been favoured". The archangel Gabriel is speaking in what's known as the "perfect passive participle", meaning Gabriel is talking about a quality that is and was always present, namely freedom from original sin.
How can this be explained in layman's terms? Mary's preservation from Original Sin is like this: if you fall into a pit and I pull you out from it, I've saved you. In the same way, if you're walking along and I prevent you from falling in the pit (either by warning you about it or physically stopping you before you get there) I have also saved you this way. In the latter instance, I have "preserved" you from the fall, ergo Mary has been "preserved" from Original Sin.
What is "grace"? There are two different types of grace.
i. Actual Grace
ii. Sanctifying Grace
Actual Grace: This is a share, if you will, in the life of God; God acting upon you and drawing you to Him, hence "Actual Grace". Grace of this nature is received at or works from the very beginnings of a person's conversion and works through and towards the person's sanctification. Grace moving you towards God is akin to being inspired by the Holy Spirit. In short: Actual Grace is the grace that enables us to act in a manner that is pleasing to God, i.e. to do good and to avoid all evil and to do as Christ taught us (in essence: Matthew 5:48).
Sanctifying Grace: This is what you need to get into Heaven and to be with God for eternity; the soul needs to be "clean" before it can come before our heavenly Father (Revelation 21:27). To die in a state of grace is to die with Sanctifying Grace (grace that sanctifies you; grace that makes you fully and completely holy), i.e. there is no mortal sin or trace of it upon your soul. Sanctifying Grace allows us to share in the life and love of God in Heaven, sometimes referred to as the Beatific Vision. We first receive Sanctifying Grace at Baptism and later through the other sacraments. We can have no Sanctifying Grace in us if we are not in a state of grace, i.e. if we have committed Mortal Sin (1 John 5:16-17). However, making a good confession can restore Sanctifying Grace within us.
Mary was described in Luke 1 (Luke 1:28 specifically) as being "full of grace" and it is the . Luke 1:28 may read differently in other translations of the Bible and this is why it is important for Christians to read a good and reliable translation of it, but that's whole different story! If Mary is "full of grace" then that means there is no room for anything else. If I fill a cup to the rim with water, is there room for anything else? Mary has been sanctified and rejoices in this fact later on in Luke 1:
"And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.'" Luke 1:46-49
And I'm sure you're familiar with the Hail Mary prayer. This prayer is taken straight from the Bible, from Luke 1.
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