Why do Catholics honor the Blessed Virgin Mary? The simple answer is because God did first. Catholics follow His word and imitate His example! The Lord God commanded us multiple times in the Bible to honor those whom He honors (Gen 12:3), and so we do. God Himself was the first one to honor Mary and to raise her up.
Through the angel Gabriel, the Lord said to Mary, “Hail, full of grace … blessed are you among women.” After this special greeting, God informed Mary that she would be the mother of His Son (Lk. 1:28-38).
Wow! Talk about an honor, a blessing, a special calling.
Some people object to this, saying that Mary was just an ordinary woman who deserves no special honor. However, no woman who mothers the Son of the Eternal God, the long awaited Messiah, the second person of the Trinity, is an ordinary woman deserving of no honor. That is unbiblical.
We know that all God’s choices are perfect, and God’s perfect choice to bring salvation into the world was through Mary. Yes, all power, all miracles, all redemption and salvation came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ through Mary! From the beginning of all time, Mary alone was chosen for this moment and purpose. It is no wonder Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit called Mary blessed among women (Lk. 1:42). Thus, it was God who first honored Mary, and Catholics follow His example.
Some people blindly believe that Catholics worship Mary, but this is not accurate. Mary is a mere human being, a creature who is nothing, or even less than nothing, without God! Thus, Catholics do not worship her in the least. With that being said, she is held in high honor because of her role God chose her for, and because of her exemplary faith, example, and cooperation with God and His plan. It is a fact that we honor all those who follow God faithfully, whether Mother Teresa, St. Paul, or the Virgin Mary, and we look to their example of holiness. This allows us to praise God all the more for His greatness working in them, for He is the marvelous author of all that is good, true and beautiful. Mary is like a masterpiece painting, and God is the master artist. The painting may be beautiful and admirable, but all the praise and glory goes to the artist.
The Immaculate Conception
Because of Mary’s special role in God’s plan, and because she mothered the eternal Son of Perfection, Mary was set apart from the devil and his seed of sin (Gen 3:15). Mary, like everyone else, did need a savior (Lk. 2:41-45), but she was saved in advance. There are two ways one can be saved:
1. After having fallen into a pit (sin), God can save you by pulling you out and cleansing you.
2). He can save you in advance by placing a board across the pit to prevent you from falling in the first place. Someone is saved both ways. God saved Mary in the latter fashion, keeping her free from sin by His mighty grace and power, to prepare her to be the perfect tabernacle of His perfect Son, so she could sinlessly bear the sinless Son of God (Gen 3:15; Lk. 1:28).
Jesus Christ knows no corruption and hates sin (Jas. 4:4); it is no coincidence then that Mary would be kept perfect, not because of anything she did, but purely by the grace of God. From the early days of Christianity, she was seen as the new Ark of the Covenant (Rev. 11:19-12:1), holding the true presence of God, the true high Priest, and the true Bread of Life. Just as the old Ark was lined with pure gold (Ex. 25:18-21:11), so the earliest Christians saw Mary as completely pure. After all, is God not strong enough to accomplish this (Jude 1:24)?
In the Old Testament, God struck someone dead because they merely touched the Ark of the Covenant. Why? Because nothing unclean can come into contact with an infinitely holy God. The Immaculate Conception is not about Mary, but about Jesus. It is saying that He is someone so infinitely holy that Mary, His tabernacle, was prepared ahead of time to sinlessly house the sinless Son of God.
St. Augustine taught this 1600 years ago: “All men must confess themselves as sinners except the Holy Virgin Mary, whom I desire for the sake of the honor of the Lord to leave entirely out of the question when the talk is of sin. For from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.” (De Natura et gratia 36.42, 415 A.D.).
Even Martin Luther believed and accepted this truth: “It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin” (Sermon: On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God, 1527).
“She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin—something exceedingly great. For God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil.” ~ Martin Luther
The Ever Virgin Mary
Mary’s special role was to bear the Son of God, raise Him, and prepare Him. From all eternity, God chose Mary for this end. Her purpose was to participate in the salvation process by bringing forth Jesus, the Savior of the world. Therefore, she did not have other children, as some believe, for she was not called to that purpose. Mary was a virgin before and after she bore Jesus.
The angel Gabriel told the virgin Mary when she was engaged to Joseph that she would be the mother of Jesus (Lk. 1:27-31), and Mary asked the angel how this would happen. She was about to be married; so of course she knew the normal way to conceive kids, so why the question? Since she had taken a life-long vow of virginity, Mary asked the angel how this was to be accomplished (Lk.1:34), and he told her it would be by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Though this was the belief of the earliest Christians, some people well after the Protestant Reformation started to object to this, pointing out the “brothers of Jesus” in the Bible. However, these are not His literal blood brothers. Most of these same people don’t understand Biblical language context. Back in Jesus’ day, the Jewish people did not have words for uncle, cousin, sister, father, close friend, etc. Rather, they just used the word brother for them all (adelphos in Greek, äh in Hebrew). Thus, it would be inappropriate to assume that they were blood brothers. When you study all four crucifixion accounts in the Gospels along with the Story of Emmaus (Lk 24), it shows that these “brothers” of Jesus mentioned in the Bible were actually sons of another Mary who was also present at the cross.
Moreover, if Jesus had brothers and sisters, He would have certainly given His mother over to them at the cross, for this was Jewish custom. In fact, He did not give Mary to them because they did not exist. For this reason, He gave His mother to the disciple John (Jn. 19:26). To many in modern day society, Mary remaining a virgin is very odd. Perhaps it is, but it’s not as odd as having the second person of the Trinity as your Son!
No early Christian believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary had other children with Joseph. Not even the Protestant Reformers believed this, reformers like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley, and Henry XIII, etc. The evidence is pretty clear.
Mary – Mother of God
Mary is called the Mother of God not because she has been around for eternity, or because she made God, but because she was the Mother of Jesus Christ who is truly God (Jn 1:1). Jesus was fully human and fully divine, it is impossible to separate the two. Therefore, Mary is not just the mother of His human side, or of His divine, or just the mother of a body. No, she was the Mother of Jesus, whole and entire, and since Jesus is God, she can be said to be the mother of God.
Mary – Assumed into Heaven
It is because of sin that death entered the world (Rom. 5:12), and without sin there would be no death. Mary’s Assumption (being taken up by God’s power, body and soul into heaven) is a natural consequence of her sinlessness. God’s all-powerful grace kept Mary from sin and also kept her from rotting in the grave. By His power, He brought her (the new ark of the Covenant) straight to heaven at the end of her life (Rev. 11:19-12:1).
Many people scoff at the thought of an assumption. However, the assumption is Biblical. Enoch was assumed into heaven (Heb. 11:5), as was Elijah (II Kings 2:11). If they were brought straight to heaven, it is even more reasonable to conclude that Mary, the faithful mother of the Eternal One, was too, especially considering the fact that her tomb in Jerusalem is empty and her body never found.
Mary is the model of what is going to happen to all of us at the end of the world. Our dead bodies will be raised (assumed) into heaven by God and reunited with our souls (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Mary – Spiritual Intercessor
Why do Catholics pray to Mary instead of Jesus? It is more that we pray through Mary than to Mary as if she is God. No. I could ask Pastor Bob or Fr. Smith to pray for me, and they would go to the Lord Jesus for me. In the same way, when we “pray” to Mary and the saints, we are asking them in the same way, to go to Jesus for us. They intercede on our behalf; after all, that’s what the word “pray” means.
So we do go straight to Jesus, but we also ask the help and prayers of our brothers and sisters, the saints in heaven, to pray for us and with us to Jesus (Rev. 5:8). After all, the prayer of the righteous man and powerful (Jms. 5:16) and they are perfectly righteous. .
God commands us many times in Scripture to honor those who He honors and with the same amount of honor He does. Thus, as He honored Mary, we follow His example. Let us praise God for His great work in Mary and cry out as Elizabeth did who was filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:41-42, 48)!
We will end with two quotes from Martin Luther that sums up the Catholic belief of Mary perfectly:
“One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace… Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ… Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God. (Explanation of Magnificat, 1521)
“[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ…She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures” (Sermon, Christmas, 1531).
Bottom line: In the Bible Mary prophesied: “All generations will call me blessed” (Lk. 1:48) Anyone who does not honor the Virgin Mary and call her blessed does not follow the Bible.