No, Catholics do not worship or adore Mary. Catholics hold Mary in a special place of honor and venerate her with special devotions such as the Rosary. The first point of confusion related to this issue is terminology. So let’s clarify a few words: worship, adoration, veneration, and devotion. If you look them up, they all have similar meanings, but the difference from a Catholic point of view is that worship and adoration is due only to God, while veneration and devotion to Mary and the saints is possible as a recognition of God’s grace within them. When we pray to Mary or the saints, we pray with them or ask for their intercessory prayers to God on our behalf. The first commandment clearly states that we should worship God alone. Therefore, only God deserves worship and adoration. Worshiping Mary or the other saints would clearly be idolatry. To venerate is to “honor” or “respect” someone. Only God is holy—the fountain of all holiness—and all holiness found within the saints and Mary comes from God. We venerate Mary because of the special grace that is within her.
Why, then, do Catholics venerate Mary?
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mary proclaimed: “All generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). “From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God’” (CCC, 971). Think about that for a moment. Mary gave birth to God. The awesome power of the incarnation—God becoming man—began in her. She experienced, literally, the first communion. We venerate Mary because though she was a “lowly handmaid” (Lk 1:48), God chose to raise her up to a place of honor. Her selfless response and her faithful “yes” welcomed God into the world. As Eve gave into the Serpent, Mary let God’s will be done in response to the angel Gabriel.
Also, please consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 963-975, 2617-2619, 2673-2679 for more information about Marian devotion.
Analyze the Hail Mary
To illustrate what Catholics really believe about Mary, ask students to breakdown the most famous prayer to her, the Hail Mary. What does each phrase say about what we believe about Mary?
- Hail Mary = rejoice Mary or hello Mary
- Full of grace = grace is a freely given gift from God
- The Lord is with you = It is God who makes her holy
- Blessed are you among women = she holds a special place among all people (Lk 1:42, 48)
- Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus = Jesus, the Son of God, makes Mary blessed
- Holy Mary, Mother of God = Mary is holy because of her son, Jesus, who is God
- Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death = what we really as for is her intercession, prayers for us just as we would ask anyone to pray for us.
Then, have the students read CCC, 2672-2677
Compare and Contrast the Ways we Worship Christ vs. Venerate Mary
Ask the students to make a list of ways they worship Christ. Then help them create a list of ways Catholics venerate Mary. Discuss how these are both similar and different. Use a Venn diagram to help students organize their lists. Highlight these major differences: Christ’s presence in the sacraments and we pray to Christ and ask Mary to pray to Christ for us.
Compare and contrast the Fall in Genesis (Genesis 3) to the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)
Help students to see the following similarities between Eve and Mary:
- Eve = Mary
- Satan (fallen angel) = Gabriel (angel)
- Eve rejected God’s will = Mary embraced God’s will
- Eve was born without sin = Mary was born without sin (Immaculate Conception)
Mary as the New Eve is a very ancient understanding of Mary, partly due to Paul’s connection between Adam and Jesus (the New Adam) in Romans 5:12-19.
Examine The Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38) and Visitation (1:39-56)
Read the words of Mary and about Mary in Luke 1. Underline or cite all words or phrases that point to Mary’s humility. Explain to the students that this humility and selfless “yes” to God’s will makes her a model of faith and the Church.
- Pray the Hail Mary.
- Pray the Rosary, particularly meditating on the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries.
- Pray the Magnificat.
- Participate in May crowning ceremonies.
- Meditate on Luke 1. Invite students to imagine themselves within the story as a witness or as Mary or Elizabeth themselves.
- Meditate on the image of Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
- Use an image or statue of Mary to inspire meditation on her life and holiness.
- Invite students to make up spontaneous prayers or write letters to Mary asking for her to pray for them to her son Jesus.