Catholics aren’t the only ones …
Catholics often face criticism for praying to the Virgin Mary. Protestant Christians tend to find it incredibly odd that Catholics would want to pray to anyone other than Jesus or God.
However, it is worth pointing out a little known fact: that Catholics are FAR from the only Christians who pray to Mary.
Eastern Orthodox Christians are also very, very devoted to Mary, whom they affectionately call the Theotokos (Mother of God). We have a post on the Theotokos, you can check it out here.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, after Catholicism. Again, check out our post on Eastern Orthodoxy.
So that’s the two largest Churches on the planet who pray to Mary.
Then there’s the Oriental Orthodox Christians. These are also a very large group of Christians (about 60+ million). They too pray to Mary and are very devoted to her.
Additionally, surprisingly, many Protestants have a devotion of sorts to Mary. This is especially true of Anglicans, particularly Anglo-Catholics.
Many Anglican churches today have reverent icons of Mary in their churches, often accompanied with candles before these icons. This encourages Protestant Christians to approach God through Mary.
So those who criticise Catholics for praying to Mary should recall that Catholics are definitely not alone in this practice.
In fact, of the very approximately 2.6 billion Christians in the world, 1.35 billion are Catholic, 220 million are Eastern Orthodox and 60 million are Oriental Orthodox.
That’s 1.63 billion people.
That’s well over 60% of the world’s Christians who are in Churches that venerate and pray to Mary.
And that doesn’t include all the Protestants who also do this.
So, when you look at the figures, it’s actually the case that those who don’t pray to Mary are in the minority.
Prayers to Mary are very, very ancient
It is also worth considering that prayers to Mary are very old and go back to the earliest times of the Church.
We have actual, historical evidence for a very early prayer to Mary, from about 250 AD. It is called ‘Beneath Thy Protection’. This prayer is so old, and yet it has always been recited in the Church throughout her history.
The reality is probably that prayers to Mary came about before 250 AD. We merely have evidence of the earliest example written down, but many might have existed that were not written down.
The fact that this one is written down may suggest it was part of a liturgy, and would probably have been in existence long before 250 AD.
Why would there have been a need to write down prayers to Mary? We are lucky we have one this early.
Consider the Apostles
Let us also consider the closeness of the apostles to Mary, the Mother of our Lord.
John the apostle took Mary in to live with him. He probably spoke to her everyday. They shared meals and went to Church together and prayed together. They embraced often and really loved each other.
After Jesus went back to heaven, John was the only person Mary really had in the world. And it’s likely that Mary was the only person John had in the world.
After Mary departed from this earthly life, is it conceivable that the apostle John cut off his relationship with her and stopped talking to her? When he knew she was in heaven and could hear him in Christ?
Nor is it likely that the other apostles cut their relationship off with Mary.
It would certainly make sense that the apostles wanted to continue their relationship with Mary after she departed from this earthly life.
There is every chance that Mary had a unique relationship with every apostle and every Christian she knew on earth. God is like that. God treats every Christian as if that Christian were his only child.
I know a priest like this. When he talks to you, it’s like you are the most important person to him.
I imagine Jesus to be like this and I think Mary is also.
If Mary treated each apostle and Christian like this, it is perfectly understandable that they wanted to continue a relationship with her after she left them.
We’re not just talking about any Christian. We’re talking about the most special Christian the Church has ever known. Mary, the very Mother of our Lord. The one who knew Jesus closer than anyone else, ever.
Christians all over the world today and throughout history have constantly prayed to Mary as if they know her deeply. People who have never met Mary in the flesh do this.
Are we to believe that the early apostles and Christians who DID meet Mary in the flesh never thought of uttering one prayer to her when she was no longer around?
Again, it’s not likely.
It is highly likely that the opposite is the case: that the early Christians who did meet and know Mary would have continued to love and talk to her when she went to heaven.
Again, Mary isn’t any Christian. She is the most excellent Christian and person ever to have existed, after her Son Jesus.
She would have so reminded people everywhere of Christ that it is inconceivable that they wouldn’t have wanted to continue relating to her after she left them.
This is all prayer to Mary is: talking to her, conversing with her.
Prayer is not the same as Worship
Prayer is not worship in the strictest sense. Worship in Scripture involves blood sacrifice.
Abraham worshipped God by building altars and offering blood sacrifices. Abel offered a lamb. The law of Moses instructed the offering of animals.
This is the true worship of God. Catholics worship God in the same way, but instead of offering animals, we offer the Holy Eucharist: the blood of Jesus, which cleanses us from all sin.
This is how Catholics can worship God, and this is how God can be approached properly. By the offering of the Holy Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Catholics never, ever offer this to Mary or any creature. This would be terrible idolatry and would seriously grieve and anger the Mother of God.
But prayers to Mary? Talking to Mary? Telling her we love her? Songs and hymns to her? This isn’t the supreme worship we offer to God. This is just prayer.
It’s just affection. And we show affection to all our loved ones. None of this is idolatry.
Prayer and worship are different. Prayers can be offered to any heavenly creature. We even offer prayers to other people in this world, when we plead with someone to do something for us.
We all do this all the time, and this isn’t wrong at all.
But sacrificial worship – the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist and the blood of Christ – can ONLY be offered to the Trinity.
Christians who think that prayer and worship are exactly the same thing obviously would believe that prayer can ONLY be offered to God.
I don’t understand this though. I don’t understand anymore why worship and prayer should be equated like this.
God cannot be worshipped by us simply speaking to him anymore than we worship people when we ask them for help.
God is FAR FAR greater than that, and must be approached through an absolutely unique method. He can only be worshipped by the holy offering of Jesus.
Mary is always with us when we pray
Think about it. Mary would have been EXTREMELY precious and revered by the apostles.
Luke makes a point of mentioning her at the start of Acts when the apostles meet in prayer: ‘the mother of Jesus was there.’ (Acts 1:14).
What’s the point singling Mary out like this if she wasn’t held in very high esteem by the Christian community?
What’s the point of mentioning this if not to encourage Christians today that Mary is with them when they pray?
It’s not simply an empty historical fact Luke is mentioning: ‘Mary was there.’ Luke is trying to encourage us that she is always with us too when we pray.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to have had Mary, the Mother of Christ himself, with you when you are all gathered in prayer?
No-one other than Jesus Christ every in the history of the world prayed like Mary did. She knew what the true silence of holy contemplation was on a constant basis.
You surely have to suppose that your prayers would have an extra effect on heaven if Mary was with you. ‘We have Jesus’ own mother with us as we pray! How can Jesus not hear us?’
That’s exactly the logic of Catholics when we pray to Mary today. Mary is seated with Christ now in heaven. She is always with us when we pray. If our prayers are joined with those of Mary, how can Christ fail to listen to us?
Mary is our Heavenly Mother
We have a heavenly Father, and in God’s goodness he has also given us a heavenly Mother.
We can choose to approach God either as our heavenly Father, or we can approach God through Mary as our heavenly Mother.
This is beautiful. It means God presents himself to be approached either through the concept of Father or as Mother.
Many find it more natural to approach God as a Father, and others find it more natural to approach God through our heavenly Mother, Mary.
In God’s wisdom, either approach is acceptable to him. We are free to select either approach.
There are many ways to approach God, but it is always ALL in and through Christ, the eternal Son of God.
Mary is Jesus’ Dearest Companion
The easiest way to Jesus’ heart is through Mary. You can’t possibly love Mary more than Jesus does. Jesus ADORES his Mother, Mary.
If we want Jesus to hear us, it is always a winning formula to contact his Mother. It’s like ringing Mary on our mobile phones, and asking if she can help us out.
We pray to Mary and it’s as if she says: ‘Let me see what I can do. Leave it with me.’
Mary brings our requests straight to the ear and heart of her Son, and pleads with him on our behalf to give us what we need.
Since Mary is Jesus’ closest and dearest friend, he can hardly refuse her.
I am sure there so many more reasons why Catholics pray to Mary.
Personally, I pray so much to Mary because she’s my Mother. I love her and I have seen her constant influence and help in my life.
She’s real. When you begin a relationship with Mary, life isn’t the same. It’s like a second conversion.
I love having a heavenly Mother. I love approaching God in this way. And this has often been the path of the saints of old.
Please share your own comments on this below. God bless.