The month of May is traditionally dedicated to the honor of Mary, the Mother of God. There is probably no part of Catholic life so often misunderstood. Many claim devotion to Mary amounts to nothing more than worship that should be given to God alone. Of course, that is not the case but many Catholics are at a loss when it comes to explaining why.
I want to offer some help in why this is so difficult. One reason is because of the word "worship" itself. The experience of worship in many churches consists of a gathering to sing, pray and preach. If someone has the idea that such activities constitute worship then our actions do seem like worship.
In honor of Mary Catholics commonly sing, pray and preach. So, we can say we do not worship Mary and then engage in practices that most definitely seem like worship of Mary. It is easy to see why some would be confused.
The Catholic idea of worship, however, is something entirely different. When we gather on Sundays we do sing, pray and preach. Those actions are not worship by themselves, but rather serve to engage us more fully in worship. For Catholics, worship takes on the ancient and biblical understanding of offering sacrifice. The Mass is worship because the Mass is the sacrifice of the cross offered to the Father.
When Catholics say we do not worship Mary it is clear because we would never even consider offering sacrifice to Mary. Because of the difference in understanding of what worship is other Christians do not understand the way we honor Mary.
The misunderstanding has existed for a long time and will continue to be a source of contention for some.
In the end we should realize the great gift we have as Catholics. Honoring Mary seems natural to us. We honor our Mother in heaven as easily as we honor our mothers on earth.
From all mothers we learn a great deal. From Mary we learn the greatest thing, how to love God himself. During the month of May we pray with our Mother, that we may love Jesus as she does.
Father Erik Pohlmeier is the theological consultant for Arkansas Catholic and pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Hot Springs.
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