From the Bishop
Sometimes when we talk to people questions arise and we have no answer for them. I have found that these questions can be the best way to learn about your faith. By finding the answer we gain understanding.
One question people often ask is “Why do Catholics worship Mary?” The quick answer is that we do not “worship” Mary. This does not always satisfy people’s questions. They might say, “ I have watched people using beads and special prayer to pray to Mary.” As we search for an answer we begin our journey into the teachings of the Church.
The Church has never said that Mary is to be worshipped. It has never said that Mary occupies the same place as God. Mary is not divine nor is she a part of the Holy Trinity. Surprisingly, we find that this debate has gone on from the earliest days of the Church and continues even today. One might relate the love of Mary to our love for our own mothers. We might love an aunt or grandmother or a person who has affected our lives in a significant way but this love is nothing compared to the love given to the one who gave us birth. We love our own mother more and in a different way.
The Church has called Mary The Blessed Virgin, The Theotokos or God-Bearer. The latter title came into common usage at the Third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431AD. Theotokos… If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is, in truth, God, and therefore that the holy virgin is Theotokos (for she bore in a fleshly manner the Word from God which became flesh), let him be anathema. (Cyril’s third letter to Nestorius) The title put Mary into a special place but not equal to God.
In Church teaching there are two levels of veneration (devotion) and only one of worship.
Dulia in classical theology is the honor and reverence appropriately due to the excellence of a created person such as the saints and the actions taken during their lives. There is nothing contrary to the proper worship of God when we offer the appropriate honor and recognition that saints deserve. But this level of vernation is far less than the worship due God.
Hyperdulia is the type of veneration (devotion) specifically offered to Mary, The Mother of Jesus Christ, the one who gave to our Lord the flesh of his human nature. This distinction is spelled out for the Church in a statement of the Seventh Ecumenical Council held at Nicea in 787 AD. This is one of the Seven Ecumenical Councils to which the Anglican Catholic Church adheres. This level of veneration is higher than that due the saints but still far from the worship of God. Mary’s veneration is due to her as a special instrument of God’s grace entering into this world, in the form of the Son of God.
Latria as St. Thomas Aquinas once explained is the worship and homage that is rightly and only offered to God. It is the manifestation of our submission, and our acknowledgement of dependence, on the uncreated divine person and to his absolute Lordship. It is the worship of the Creator that God alone deserves.
Latria the highest level of the three and it is worship not veneration as with the Saints or even the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a level that only belongs to God. Worship, is a sacrificial act by man to the creator of the universe without desire of reward but only with love for the divine majesty on high.
We ask the Saints and Blessed Mother to help with our prayers. Just as we might ask a person we know or even a long passed loved one to pray with us. Some, might be more familiar when at a funeral, standing by the grave, we ask those who have gone before to assist our prayers in times of need. This is a simple way to think of our prayers offered to the Saints. And, If we believe in the three stages of the Church – the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant, then we believe those who have gone before can assist us in our prayers today.
We are not worshiping our loved ones nor do we believe them to be God but that they are those who can pray for help from God.
I will admit that from time to time in the Church there have been groups, which will carry things to extreme but the church has never condoned this type of behavior. Veneration of the Saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary is not nor has it ever been worship. Only God is due worship form his children.
Yours in Christ
+Rommie M Starks
Bishop of the Midwest