Saturday, January 8, 2022

Should We Pray to Mary?

Every morning I receive an email from an Evangelical Christian outfit with interesting comments about faith life. A few weeks ago, the daily message I received caught my eye. The subject line said: “Is it Okay for Christians to Pray to Mary?”

“Oh boy, here we go,” I mumbled to myself. Before even reading a single word, I knew where it was going. I started reading, and yup, I was right. After acknowledging that Mary was kind of special because she gave birth to the Messiah, and noting “Christians have always been amazed and interested in Mary,” the essay declared, “Mary is not worthy of receiving prayers from Christians.”
As I’ve mentioned before in these Merry Catholic pieces, there is a big misunderstanding in the Christian world regarding the definition of prayer. Some people insist prayer is the same as worship, which only should be directed toward God. Since Mary is not God, prayer to her is the same as worshipping her, and that is idolatry.

Let me be clear: worshipping anyone or anything other than God is indeed idolatry. (Keep that in mind when you consider your attitude toward things such as money, cars, political parties, celebrities, or the Boston Red Sox.)

Our Evangelical friends are correct when they insist it is wrong to worship Mary. Catholic doctrine agrees with this claim. And I should add, there are more than a few Catholics whose devotion to Mary is so over-the-top that it comes across as worship. I can see why some non-Catholics get a little upset.

But the fact is, the Catholic Church clearly teaches that worship is reserved for God alone. Regarding Mary, is it perfectly fine to respect and honor her. Luke’s gospel says all generations shall call Mary “blessed,” so there is no problem when we refer to her as the “Blessed Virgin Mary.”

We Catholics have an expanded definition of prayer. For us, prayer is not only worship, it also is spiritual communication. When Catholics pray to Mary, we are not worshipping her; we are, instead, asking her to intercede on our behalf with the Lord. 
Why would we want to ask Mary to intercede for us when we can pray directly to God? (Which, if you’re not clear about that, we definitely can do.) The best way to answer that question is to use Evangelical Christians as an example. In my experience over the years, no group of people is more willing to offer up sincere and heartfelt prayers for the needs of others than Evangelical Christians. 

I certainly know plenty of Catholics who are terrific prayer warriors, but as a group, Evangelicals are amazing. If you tell one that your spouse is sick or your neighbor got in a car accident, he or she will immediately begin praying earnestly. Quickly thereafter, a prayer chain will be mobilized, and within 20 minutes, dozens and dozens of folks will be praying for your spouse or neighbor. It is quite commendable.

Evangelicals take to heart the words of Scripture: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Well, when we Catholics pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary, all we are doing is asking her to pray for us. We don’t ask her to “give us this day our daily bread.” We don’t ask her to “forgive us our trespasses.” We don’t ask her to “deliver us from evil.” All those requests go straight to God in the “Our Father” prayer.

The final statement of the “Hail Mary” prayer says, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” We don’t worship Mary. We don’t ask her to do the things only God can do. We simply request that she prays for us. Just as we would ask an Evangelical friend to pray for us. (This, by the way, also goes for all the other believers who have gone before us, the mighty Communion of Saints.)
So, to answer the question in the subject line of that email I received: Yes, it is okay for Christians to pray to Mary. As long as you make sure you don’t worship her, it’s perfectly fine to ask her to pray for you — just as it’s fine to ask your friend at church to pray for you.

There, I’m glad I cleared that up. Now, go and confidently ask your Blessed Mother to pray for you. 

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