Catholics are in love with Mary. We are known for our deep love and great affection for the Blessed Virgin Mary, so much so that some people get confused or are mistaken to think that we worship her.
Whenever we kneel before statues of Our Lady and ask for her intercession, do we worship her? To the outsider, this is a disobedience of the first of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
The teaching of the Catholic Church is very clear: “The devotion to the holy Virgin is of a singular kind which differs essentially from the cult of adoration given only to the Most Holy Trinity. This special veneration directed to Mary finds particular expression in the liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and in Marian prayers such as the Holy Rosary, which is a compendium of the Gospel” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 198).
Our relationship with Mary essentially leads us to Jesus Christ because Mary is our intercessor with Him. Mary never keeps any we give her for herself.
Veneration and adoration
What does this special veneration for Mary mean? The terminologies used in catechisms are significant and one must carefully understand what they mean.
Veneration and adoration are types of honour that are distinct from each other. Mark Miravelle of Franciscan University of Steubenville says that the English word “worship” has connotations of both veneration and adoration, and so this could sometimes cause confusion. It would be helpful then if we could clearly be using either “worship of adoration” or “worship of veneration.”
In classical theology, terminologies are very specific. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, there are two types of veneration. The first is dulia, which is “the honor and reverence appropriately due to the excellence of a created person.” We commonly show this for people or things that deserve recognition and honor, such as student leaders, Olympic medalists, and national heroes. This is the same honor we give to saints.
The second type of veneration is hyperdulia, which is a special veneration due to Mary. Theologians use this term to indicate that it is greater than the ordinary dulia since Mary is the Mother of God. God himself granted her that honour.
And then there is latria or adoration which is due to God alone. It is the worship and homage that is rightly offered only to God. We submit and acknowledge our dependence on Him. We recognize Him as Creator and trust in His providence.
Do Catholics worship Mary or venerate her by virtue of "hyperdulia"? There are overwhelming reasons for us to render such great honor to Our Lady. We must remember that God honored her first. Through her fiat, her “yes” (Luke 1:38), God became Man. Isn’t it fascinating that even though God can do all things without the help of mortal beings, He still chose the Virgin Mary to be an instrument of His divine grace? He chose her to be the “Mother of God,” bearing the Son of God in her womb.
While hanging upon the cross, Jesus gave to us all His own mother when He said, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27). Mary is our mother and not some “goddess” in a strange pantheon of gods. This great mother leads us to a closer union with her Son, Jesus Christ.
Are you worried that this great love we give to Our Lady would make Jesus Christ jealous? St. Maximilian Kolbe has this to say: “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did, and if anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his mother, he will not have Christ for his brother.”
By loving and honoring Mary, we can grow in the ability to emulate her life—to make a complete and total gift of ourselves to God, to give God our own fiat. Through Mary we can grow to know and love her son, Jesus Christ, more deeply because she continuously directs our hearts to Him.
Article written by Gem Penetrante for Christian Catholic Media
Gem Penetrante is a freelance editor, columnist, language teacher and Catholic seminarian from the Philippines.