WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HONOUR THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY?
“From now on all generation will call me blessed.” (Lk 1:48)
Throughout the centuries, the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, has certainly been a source of much discussion and controversy. I believe, however, that the failure to recognize her importance in salvation history is due, in great part, to misunderstanding and failure on the part of many to search the Scriptures and focus on some very important, inspired words as, for example, those recorded in Luke’s gospel (Lk 1:46-55). It is here that we find the “Magnificat” as spoken by Mary on the occasion of her visit to Elizabeth, her cousin. Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist, who became the forerunner or precursor of Jesus Christ Himself.
Charges or accusations have been levelled against Catholics for thinking or believing that Mary is some kind of goddess because of all the devotion or attention they direct to her. Mention is often made of all the shrines, the novenas, the Rosary and the apparitions involving the Virgin Mary. In fact, to put it even more clearly, Catholics are often accused of paying more attention to Mary than they do to Christ, her Son. The truth is that Catholic devotion to Mary, as do all the saints, points to Christ.
Communion with the Saints
An article of the Catholic faith that buttresses this point is the article in the Apostles’ Creed that says, “We believe in the Communion of Saints”. This article affirms our faith in the resurrection of Christ and the truth that all the faithful who have done the will of God while on earth are united to Him in heaven (cf. 1Jn 3:2). We also believe that since God is life and light, in Him the saints are alive and see what God sees. Psalm 36:9 tells us “in you is the source of life, by your light we see the light” (NJB). The same article also affirms that we share a special connection with them. So it is wrong to say that those in heaven are unconcerned about what happens on earth. The numerous apparitions of Mary, Angels and some of the saints to people on earth are evidences to the contrary. The saints are aware of our plights on earth. And since they know and see in their union with God, they are able to pray for us and bring heavenly messages to us. This also means that our honour of the Saints is not out of place because whatever honour we show them, we invariably show to God. We will explain this in details shortly. It is worthy of note that it is in the Scriptures that the first Christians honoured Mary as the “Mother of our Lord”.
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.” (Luke 1:46-55 RSV)
When we carefully study the beautiful prayer that we call the “Magnificat”, Mary’s Canitcle, we find many answers to those who object to honouring Mary. In the very first verse Mary says her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Saviour. If Mary considers God her Saviour, that means she understood that she had to be saved, and in no way did she ever imply that she was equal to God or did not need His help.
As one continues to read, we hear her saying that “He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His Name”. She gives all the credit to God. Others who have not understood the role of Mary through the years would do well to read the closing lines of the Magnificat where she says that “henceforth, from now on all generations will call me blessed”. That is why Catholics call her the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the current generation, we understand that it is fitting that we look upon her as special because God Himself considers her special. To be selected from all women to bring the Son of God into the world certainly is a great honour.
Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that (s)he who loves God loves all that God loves. The honour we give to Mary reflects our love for God.
Mother Of God
The Church’s position on devotion to Mary is based on Scripture and on the fact that God chose her to be the mother of His Son. That, incidentally, is the answer to the problem or difficulty that some people have with Catholics calling Mary the Mother of God. Mary is not the mother of the Triune God. She is the mother of Jesus who is true God and true Man. Since Jesus is both human and divine, we ask; “who was His mother”? The answer is obvious. Hence, the title “Mother of God”. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth called Mary, “the Mother of my Lord” (Lk 1:43). Interestingly, Saint Paul tells us that no one can say that Jesus is Lord unless by the power of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:3). In the same way, only the Spirit could have revealed to Elizabeth that Mary is the Mother of the Lord (Lord, “Adonai” in Hebrew is another word for “God”).
Work of Art
Picture yourself in an art gallery. When you praise a work of art as the best in a gallery filled with paintings, and the artist is standing right there. The artist is not going to be offended or jealous. Rather, he will be delighted because in praising the painting, you are actually praising him. This is simply because that painting is his creation, the result of long, hard work. We honour and love our parents or our neighbours; no one frowns at this. In doing so we are not taking anything away from God, rather, in honouring them we honour God because they are His creatures. The Prophet Isaiah uses this analogy when he says that, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands” (Isa 64:7 New American Bible). Paul says it in even clearer terms, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life” (Eph 2:10 New Jerusalem Bible). In the same way, when we honour Mary, we are honouring God her Creator.
To Whom Honour is Due
To honour someone is to show great respect or esteem for their person. Honour is due in different degree to different people. This is true whether we are talking about God, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, our parents or neighbours. The honour due only to God is what we call Latria in Latin. This is translated in English as “worship” or “adoration”. The honour due to the saints and people we admire, revere and respect is called Dulia in Latin. But we know that among God’s creatures none comes close to the one who gave birth to Jesus Christ who is true God and true man. The Blessed Virgin Mary herself. To her is reserved a special kind of honour that is neither latria nor dulia. The honour we show to Mary is called Hyper-dulia. The honour we show to her does not detract from the worship we offer to God. In loving her, as God’s child, we are loving God Himself (cf. Lk 9:48).
It’s all Love
You cannot claim to love of God and choose to disrespect your neighbour (1Jn 4:11). They go together just like the head and tail of a coin. The love of God and love of neighbour is the greatest of all the commandments (cf. Lk 10:27). Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that the reason for this is that he who loves God loves all that God loves. The honour we give to Mary reflects our love for God. Conversely, the disrespect we show to Mary shows our disrespect for God who first honoured her through the greeting of the angel Gabriel (Lk 1:28). The disrespect is even more grevious since Mary is the Mother of God. (We shall highlight the implications of this in the next article.)