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MARIAN DEVOTIONS


Definition

The Church recognizes that certain devotional practices and sacramentals can be helpful to Catholics.  Many of these have a Marian emphasis.

How This Teaching Exalts Christ

All devotions to Mary and the saints ultimately glorify their Creator, who made them what they are.  Could we possibly praise the Mona Lisa without praising Leonardo DaVinci?  That masterpiece certainly did not paint itself!  Even so, Mary is God's great masterpiece, and all praise given to her is praise of Her Maker.

Biblical Basis

When Elizabeth praises Mary, saying "Blessed art thou amongst women", Mary immediately replies "My soul doth magnify the Lord..." (Luke 1:42; 46).  All the devotion which we offer her redounds to God's praise and glory.

The last article presented the biblical basis for Marian devotion in general.  The biblical basis for specific Marian devotions will be given in the answers below.

Early Christian Witness

As we saw in the last article, the Church has always offered Mary a lesser honor, fitting for a creature.

The catacomb drawing is an early holy image of Mary.

An inscription at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, dating back to 200 A.D., says "Hail Mary!".  This is very early evidence of prayer to Mary.

The Sub Tuum Praesidium is another early prayer to her:

We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God.
Despise not our petitions in our necessities,
But deliver us from all dangers,
O ever-glorious and Blessed Virgin! (circa 300 A.D.)
The Hail Mary also originated early on, since most of it comes from the Bible.  This later became one of the prayers of the Rosary, along with the Our Father, Glory be and Apostle's Creed, all of Biblical or early Christian origin.

So Marian devotions clearly trace back to the early Church.

Objections

    Prayers to Our Lady

  1. The Rosary and the "Litany of Our Lady" are repetitious prayers, and Jesus condemns repetitious prayer:  "When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do" (Mt 6:7).

    Jesus goes on to say "for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking".  He is really denouncing the belief held by pagans that repetition of words has some magical power.  He cannot be condemning all repetition in prayer, for He Himself repeated His prayer in Gethsemane:  "He went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words" (Mt 26:44; also Mk 14:39).  He also accepts the praises of the angels who "rest not day and night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev 4:8).  Evidently, not all repetitious prayer is "vain repetition".

    As for the Litany, every verse of Psalm 136 ends with the phrase "For his mercy endureth forever".  That Psalm is a litany!  If God objects to litanies why would He have included one in the Book of Psalms?   Obviously, God does not disapprove of all repetitious prayer.

  2. How can you say you don't worship Mary when the most important Catholic prayer - the Rosary - is a prayer to Mary?

    The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most important Catholic prayer, not the Rosary!  And the Mass is offered to God alone.

  3. In the Rosary you say ten Hail Marys for every one Our Father; you must think that Mary is ten times more important than God!

    That's your interpretation, not ours.  We say so many Hail Marys in the Rosary because it is a devotion with a Marian emphasis.  We also have numerous devotions which center on Jesus, such as the Way of the Cross, Enthronement of the Sacred Heart, Benediction, etc.

  4. Catholics have composed more prayers to Mary than to God.

    Have you researched this?  Have you actually counted every single Catholic prayer written in every language all over the globe during the past two millenia?  If not, your objection is speculative and carries not weight.

  5. Do you really believe that you can be assured of salvation by wearing the Brown Scapular?

    Not without true faith and confidence in God and living a Christian life.  Scapulars are intended as outward signs of inner faith.  All who would use them superstitiously, thinking that they are magic passports which will get them admitted into heaven no matter what they do during life, are misusing this sacramental and so are certainly not assured of salvation.

    Titles of Our Lady

  6. Why do you call Mary "Our Lady"?

    As we saw in an earlier article, the Hebrew term for the queen-mother, gevirah, literally means "lady".  Mary is our Gevirah in heaven, so we certainly can call her "Our Lady".

  7. The Catholic Church gives Mary titles and attributes which belong to God alone.  For instance, Catholics call her the "Morning Star", which is a title of Jesus (2 Peter 1:19; Rev 22:16).

    The Bible sometimes applies the same title to both Christ and Christians; for instance, in John 8:12 Jesus says "I am the Light of the World", yet in Matthew 5:14 He tells His followers "You are the light of the world".  Since the Bible cannot err, Our Lord can clearly share a title with His followers, as long as it is understood in a different way for them than for Him.

    Catholics call Mary the "Morning Star" because as that star appears before the dawn as if to herald the rising sun, so Mary came before Christ the Dayspring (aka Dawn or Sunrise) from on high (Luke 1:78), to herald His coming.  We Catholics do not use this title for Mary the same way the Bible uses it for Christ, nor do we intend to make her equal to Christ.

  8. Catholics also call her the "Gate of Heaven", but Jesus is the only Way to heaven (John 14:6), and He says, "I am the door of the sheep . . . He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1-7)

    We certainly believe that Christ is the only Way to the Father, and that people enter His sheepfold, ie. the Church, by Christ the Door. We call Mary the "Gate of Heaven" because she is the gate through whom Jesus came into the world from heaven, and we can also go to Jesus by her. As the song goes, "Mary the Gate, Christ the Heavenly Way". She is not "another way" to Heaven apart from Jesus, but the one who brings us to Him so that He may then bring us to the Father.

    Many Byzantine ikons of the Theotokos depict her holding the Christ Child in one arm while her other hand gestures toward Him, as if calling our attention to her Divine Son.  This ikon style is called the "Hodigitria", which means "Guide, Directress, or Way-shower".  The Mother of God is not herself the way, but the way-shower, the one who directs us to Christ the Way, Truth and Life.

  9. Catholic call Mary the Queen of Peace, but the Bible calls Jesus the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

    Jesus is called the Prince of Peace because His Kingdom is one of peace (Isaiah 11:1-10).  As we saw in an earlier article, Mary is the Queen Mother in the Kingdom of God.  If she is the Queen of the peaceful Kingdom of the Messiah, why would it be wrong to call her "Queen of Peace"?  This title in no way makes her equal to God; is simply indicates that she reigns in His Kingdom.  The Bible says that Christian martyrs will reign with Christ in His Kingdom (Apoc/Rev 20:4); they are certainly not God, and neither is Mary.

  10. The Church calls Mary the "Mother of the living", but Scripture says that God is the "God of the living" (Mark 12:27).

    "Mother" and "God" are not synonyms; there's a big difference between being the "mother of the living" and the "God of the living".  Anyway, the Bible calls Eve the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20); does that mean she was God?  Obviously not.  We apply this title to Mary because she is the New Eve; Catholicism does not teach that Mary is the "God of all the living" any more than the Bible teaches that Eve is the God of all the living!

  11. The Catholic Church calls Mary the "Seat of Wisdom", but the Bible says that God is the source of wisdom (James 1:5).

    Again, "Seat" and "Source" are not synonyms.  We call Our Lady the Seat (or Throne) of Wisdom because she held in her lap Jesus Christ, the Eternal Wisdom of God.  Artistic portrayals of Mary as the "Seat of Wisdom" depict her seated with the Christ Child on her lap, as though she were His "throne".  This in no way makes her the source of all wisdom; only God is that!

  12. Catholics call Mary the "Mother of mercy", yet 2 Corinthians 1:3 says that God is the "Father of mercies".

    Catholics certainly believe that God is the Father of Mercies, and by calling Mary the "Mother of Mercy" we neither deny that nor make her equal to God.  Scripture calls Jesus the Lamb (Revelation 21:22-23), but it also calls Christians "lambs" (John 21:15).  The one does not negate the other; nor does the shared title make Christians equal to Christ.  The same is true of "Father of mercies" and "Mother of mercy".

  13. The Church also calls Mary the "All-Holy" (Panagia), yet Scripture says that God alone is perfectly holy (Isaiah 6:1-3, Revelation 15:4)

    It also says that His house is holy: "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord" (Ps 93:5).  Mary was the Lord's "house" for nine months!  If holiness becometh God's house, how could Mary not be holy?  She, like the Tabernacle of old, had to be completely sanctified and consecrated to the Lord, for she was to be the living Holy of holies, the sacred dwelling of the all-holy God.  This is why she is sometimes called the "All-Holy". Yet she is only holy to the greatest degree that a creature can be.  She is not Holiness Itself; only God is that!

  14. Catholics call her "Our Lady of Perpetual Help", but the Bible says "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalms 46:1)

    The Bible also says that God made Eve to be a "help" for Adam (Genesis 2:18), and the Hebrew word for "help" there (ezer) is the same exact one used to refer to God in Psalms 46:1!  If both God and the first Eve could be man's "help", then why cannot both God and the New Eve be our "help"?

  15. The Catholic Church calls Mary the "Cause of Our Joy", yet the Bible says "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17) and "in thy presence is fulness of joy" (Psalms 16:11).

    We call Mary the "Cause of Our Joy" because she gave birth to Christ our Joy.  This argument erroneously assumes that these titles exalt Mary at Christ's expense, when in reality they are intended to ultimately exalt Christ.

    Anti-Catholics draw up extensive lists of such title comparisons in an effort to "prove" that the Catholic Church applies divine titles to Mary, thus somehow supposedly making her equal to God.  In many cases cited above, the Marian titles are not titles of God at all (few of these anti-Catholics would ever call God the Queen of Peace, Mother of all the Living, Mother of Mercy, etc.).  The rest of them fall under the principle set by Jesus' dual use of the term light of the world to apply to Himself and to His followers.  God can and does work through His creatures, and He can draw them so close to Himself by grace that they begin to reflect something of His goodness.  So what is true of God can also, to a lesser degree, be true of His servants at the same time.

    As members of the Mystical Body of Christ; we are called to "be Christ" to the world, to be His hands and feet.  Something of His power and goodness shines through us when we are at our best.  This is most especially true of the one Christian who is closest to Our Lord:  His holy and grace-filled Mother.  She resembles Him more closely than anyone else, so it should be no surprise that she might have some titles similar to - or even in common with - Him, even as all Christians are called "the light of the world" like Him.  As we cannot use the title light of the world to somehow "prove" the deity of Christians, so it is illegitimate to try to use Marian titles to allegedly "prove" the "deity of Mary".  So the argument from title comparisons is fallacious.

  16. The Church also calls her "Virgin Most Powerful", but God alone is all-powerful.

    The Church also explains that the only "power" Mary has is the power of prayer, and that this title in no way attributes divine omnipotence to Blessed Mother.  If you knew Catholic Mariology you would know that.

  17. Judging by these titles, the Catholic Church seems to believe that everything God is, Mary is as well.

    No, the Catholic Church does not teach that at all.  Mary is not the Eternal, Uncreated Creator of the universe.  She is infinitely less than her Creator, so we certainly don't believe that she is "everything God is".

  18. If she has all the attributes of God, then she would have to be God!

    Mary does not have all of God's attributes:  she is not eternal, infinite, self-existent, unchanging, pure spirit, triune, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, the creator of all, etc.  Even as the highest creature, she is still infinitely less than her Creator!

    Sacred Images of Our Lady

  19. Catholics worship statues of the Virgin Mary and other saints, in direct contradiction of the Second Commandment:  "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath . . . Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them" (Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 5:8-9)

    First of all, Catholics consider that injunction against idolatry part of the First Commandment, not the Second.  The Ten Commandments are nowhere numbered in the text of Scripture, so Catholics, Protestants and Jews each number them differently.  Catholics consider "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" and "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image..." to be one command, while most Protestants divide them into two.

    Second, the Baltimore Catechism, a Catholic religious textbook used for decades to educate Catholic children in the Faith, says, "We do not pray to the crucifix or to the images of Christ and of the saints, but to the persons of whom they remind us" (I, q. 96).  This is the official teaching of the Church; we do not worship statues, we use them to remind us of our beloved family in heaven, even as you might look at a photo of a relative when he or she is far away.  We are familiar with that Commandment and would never pray to a plaster statue, since the statue itself can do nothing.

  20. But the Commandment forbids the making of all images of God or of any creature.

    God was forbidding idolatry, not the mere making of images.  That's why He added the words "Thou shalt not bow down to them nor worship them."  He doesn't want us to make images for the purpose of idolatrous worship.  This Commandment does not apply to artwork, like Michelangelo's David, or monuments like the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty, since none of these images are intended for idolatrous worship.  And since we Catholics do not worship our holy images, this commandment does not apply to Catholic practice either.

  21. You're twisting Scripture; it clearly commands "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image"!

    If God really intended to ban all images, then why did He later command the Israelites to make images of angels to adorn the Tabernacle?  In Exodus 25:18, shortly after issuing the Commandment in question, God says "Thou shalt make also two cherubims of gold: of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat".  These cherubim on the Ark were images of things "in heaven above", and so seemingly prohibited by Exodus 20:4-5!  Is God contradicting Himself?  No, for although they were intended for use in the Tabernacle, and thus had a religious purpose, they were not themselves objects of worship!

    Again, in Numbers 21:8-9, when the Israelites were plagued by serpents, the Lord told Moses to "Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that everyone who is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live".  Moses did so, and people were healed by looking at it!  If God opposed all images, why would he have chosen to heal His people through one, and even made it a type of the Messiah (John 3:14-5)?

    1 Kings 6:29 tells us that the walls of the Temple were covered with "carved figures of cherubims, and palm trees, and open flowers, within & without".  These are likenesses of things in heaven and on earth!  1 Chronicles 28:18-19 indicates that King David made numerous gold and silver images to adorn the future temple, and that he did so according to God's command (vs. 19)!  And 2 Chronicles 3:10-13 informs us that Solomon had two huge golden statues of angels constructed for the Holy of holies (in addition to the two on top of the Ark, that is!).

    Nowhere does God ever object to this proliferation of images in the Temple of Jerusalem, in fact His blessing of the Temple implies divine pleasure with the whole thing (2 Chronicles 7:18).  Many Catholic churches are similarly filled with holy images; indeed, the Temple of Solomon resembled a Catholic church more than a typical Protestant one!

  22. But King Hezekiah had the bronze serpent destroyed (2 Kings 18:4).

    Only because in his day of rampant idolatry some Israelites had decided to worship it.  This was a clear misuse of the statue, since God never intended for it to be an object of worship (that would have violated the First Commandment!).  Yet the fact that King Hezekiah had to destroy the bronze serpent does not change the fact that God had commanded its construction in the first place, used it as a vehicle of His healing power, and that Jesus said it was a type of Himself (John 3:14-15).

  23. There is no contradiction here because the Second Commandment prohibits "graven" (ie. carved) images, and the cherubim were made of beaten gold (Ex. 20:4), not carved.

    So are you saying that God only objects to the making and worship of carved idols, not ones of beaten metal or molded clay?  Catholics believe that God objects to all idols, but our holy images are not idols because we do not worship them or attribute divinity to them.

  24. But you do worship those "holy images"; I've seen Catholics kneel to, pray to and even kiss statues and pictures of Mary.

    Let's get our terminology straight; Catholics do not kneel to images, we kneel before them.  "Kneel to" implies that one kneels to honor the image itself: the wood, stone, plaster or whatever.  Since we are not doing that, we say that we kneel before, or in front of, the statue.  The prayers offered or honors paid are to the personage represented in the image, not to the image itself.

    The same thing goes for kissing an image of a saint; the kiss is not indended for the image itself, but for the person represented.  If you were far away from a beloved family member, and carried a picture of him or her in your wallet, you might, from time to time, when you missed the person, look at the picture lovingly, perhaps even "talk to" or kiss it.  Do you intend to talk to or kiss the photographic paper itself, or the person represented by the picture?  The person, obviously!  That's how we Catholics treat holy images.

  25. Kissing a photo is one thing, but kissing a statue is clearly idolatrous.

    A photo and a statue are just two different kinds of images; one two dimensional, the other three.  But the both represent someone else!  Kissing a statue is not necessarily idolatry; I've seen Protestants kiss their Bibles; are they commiting bibliolatry?  I've even seen Protestants kneel before their Bibles to pray; are they worshipping the Bible?  No, they are using the Bible as an aid to prayer, perhaps praying the Psalms or another Scriptural canticle.  Even so, Catholics use sacred images as aids to prayer.  We do not pray to the images any more than Protestants "pray to" the Bible!

  26. You say that your images merely represent Christ or a saint, but the same goes for pagan idols; they merely represent the false god depicted!

    Actually, pagans made a deeper association between god and idol.  They often believed that the idol "embodied" the deity, and that by possessing the idol they "possessed" the deity and could manipulate him or her by magic rituals involving the idol.  This is another reason why God forbade the Israelites to make an idol of Him; He did not want them to conclude that He could be "controlled".

  27. Doesn't that danger still exist?

    Not if people are well-informed, as all Catholics should be.  The Church has always condemned such superstitious use of sacred images.  To quote the Baltimore Catechism again, "It is not allowed to pray to the crucifix or images and relics of the saints, for they have no life, nor power to help us, nor sense to hear us" (III; q. 1215).

  28. Then the Commandment against graven images is still as relevant today as it was in Moses' day.

    Properly understood, yes; we are still forbidden to worship idols of false gods.  Even an image of the true God should not itself receive worship; but we can use the image to remind us of God as we pray to Him, not to the image!

    In Moses' day, God forbade the Hebrews to make a created image of Himself becaues He was pure Spirit (Deuteronomy 4:15-16).  But a major event has taken place since then: the Incarnation!  When God the Son became flesh, He effectively made an created image of Himself - His Human Body!  God gave Himself a human face, through which to manifest His glory:  "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6).

    The unseen God of the Hebrew Scriptures is now seen in Jesus:  "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new "economy" of images" (2131).  As the Resurrection has changed the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday, thus modifying the Third Commandment, so the monumental event of the Incarnation has modified the First Commandment.  God can now be depicted in sacred art, as long as the art itself still receives no worship.

  29. Even if everything you say is true, we could only make images of God and the angels, not of Mary or the saints.  God may have commanded His people to make images of the cherubim, but He never commanded them to make images of men for the Temple.

    That's because the Temple was a representation of heaven, and there were no men in heaven back then, only angels.  The souls of the righteous were waiting in the Limbo of the Fathers (aka Abraham's bosom: Luke 16:22) for the coming of the Messiah.  When Jesus rose from the dead, he brought them into the glory of the Beatific Vision in heaven (Ephesians 4:8-10).  Ever since then there have been holy men and women in heaven, and Jesus Himself said they are like the angels (Matthew 22:30).  So now it is permissible to adorn a New Testament Church with images of the saints, Mary being the greatest among them.

    These statues also remind us of the virtues of the saints, even as a statue of George Washington in a park reminds us of his great role in the founding of our country.  So iamges of saints are both memorials and aids to devotion.

  30. What about all the "weeping statues" of Mary, or the icons which exude oil.  There is no biblical basis for this.

    The fact that God healed people through the bronze serpent is biblical proof that He can perform miracles through images if He so chooses.  So "weeping" statues and such are certainly possible; if God can cause water to flow from a rock (Exodus 17:5-6) He can cause tears to flow from a statue.  But every claim of such phenomena must be carefully investigated, since unscrupulous people can and have faked such things in the past.

  31. Well, you may try to justify your Marian devotions with Scripture and all, but it still seems so pagan:  all those statues, rosary beads and medals.  It just doesn't feel "Christian".

    We're not "trying to justify" anything; we are showing you that Catholic practices are rooted in Scripture.  Your objection is based on your subjective feelings and past experiences of Christianity, which are irrelevant.  If there is biblical and historical Christian precident for Catholic Marian devotions, then they certainly are Christian, not "pagan".  If you have not experienced this aspect of Christianity before, then your understanding of your faith is incomplete.


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