From the age of fourteen until twenty-one I belonged to a religious group called Jehovah's
Witnesses. Sometime in 1965 my sister, who remained a faithful Catholic, made a novena to
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, for my return to the Church. Her prayers were answered.
Jehovah's Witnesses accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary, which they tell us is
condemned in Exodus 20:3: "You shall not have other gods before me." The
Church, in response, denies the allegation. The official Catholic teaching has
always been that worship belongs to God alone. No creature (including
Mary) deserves adoration. The Nicene Creed definitively teaches that "we believe
in one God." The doctrine of polytheism is repudiated; Mary is not a goddess.
Any Catholic who places Mary on the same level as God is guilty of breaking the
First Commandment and of sin.
The next charge raised by the Witnesses is that Catholics violate Exodus 20:4:
"You shall not make for yourself an idol or any image which is in the heavens
above or on the earth below or in the waters below; you shall not bow down and
serve them because I am the Lord your God." Again, the Witnesses do not
understand the Church's view, for the Catholic Church categorically rejects the
worship of statues or pictures of Mary, the saints and even Christ as idolatry and
superstition. These objects have no divinity nor power intrinsic to themselves.
Obviously, even the Witnesses do not take this command literally. Their literature
is filled with drawings or pictures of Christ, Biblical figures, etc. No, visual aids in
devotion or Biblical understanding serve no other purpose than to call to mind the
persons we are remembering. Anyone who attributes Godhood to these pictures
or statues are guilty of the sin of idolatry.
So, what do Catholics really say about Mary? It is this. Mary is to be venerated in
the same manner that God honored her. Remember that it was God Himself who
sent the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce that the Lord was with her and that He
had greatly blessed her and had been gracious to her. (See Luke 1:28, 30)
God chose her to be the mother of His Son. Jehovah's Witnesses should note
that God did not create the human Jesus independently and send Him directly to
earth. No, Jesus was born of the woman Mary. No woman before nor since was
so privileged to bear God's Son. (See Galatians 4:45) Mary is not just an ordinary
woman as Witnesses would have it. Bearing God's Son put her in another
Catholics are also taught to respect and esteem Mary because of her faith and
obedience. Mary, in the true sense of the word, was the first believer, the first
Christian. In Luke 1:38 her response to the angel was "I am the Lord's servant,
may it happen to me as you have said." Mary said "yes" to God by becoming the
one to bear Christ to the world. If Mary did not believe in the Father, the Son and
the Holy Spirit, who does? (See Luke 1:31-33, 35)
At the message of the angel, she received the Word of God in her heart and in her
womb, and gave Life (Jesus) to the world through the Holy Spirit. Luke 2:19 and
51 indicate that Mary faithfully heard the Word of God and kept it in her heart.
Contrast her response to those of unbelieving Zechariah at Luke 1:20.
Jesus Himself declared blessed those who hear the Word of God and keep it
(Mk. 3:35; Luke 11:27-28). Jesus was certainly not demeaning his mother in this
passage as Jehovah's Witnesses once suggested to me. Mary did do what God
wanted her to do; she did hear the Word of God, treasured it in her heart and
obeyed it. (See Luke 1:45) Jesus is really telling His listeners to imitate her
because she did keep the Word of God. Jesus is also teaching the necessity of
detachment from even one's family for the love of God. But placing God above
one's family is not intended to be a sign of disrespect. The same Jesus also said:
"Honor your father and mother." (See Matt. 15:4)
Through Mary's intercession Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana (John
2:1-11). Mary's words to the servants apply to us even to this day: "Do
whatever He (Jesus) tells you." Incidentally, when addressing His mother as
"woman, what is that to you?" does not mean "mind your business" as the
Witnesses told me, but rather "do not worry, all will turn out well." The latter is
certainly what Jesus meant for He immediately works the miracle of changing
water into wine at His mother's request! The use of the word "woman" in ancient
times does not in the slightest degree imply any disrespect- its equivalent today
would be "Lady," a far cry from what Jehovah's Witnesses would have us believe
the term means.
Instead of always trying to detract from Mary's role and respect due her,
Jehovah's Witnesses would do well to follow the example of the Catholic Church,
who through the ages has fulfilled Mary's own words in Scripture: "Henceforth all
generations will call me blessed." (See Luke 1:48) That is why we call her the
Blessed Virgin Mary (see also Luke 1:30, 35). Since God was the first to honor
Mary, why would it be wrong for Christians to do likewise?
|Why Do Catholics Honor Mary?
by Claude Kenneson