Mary in Prayer - St. Bernard's

Mary in Prayer

Jan 5, 2021

Jennifer Hughes

All who follow Christ believe in developing a relationship with God and praying to God as a means of connection. Christians agree with using the words that Jesus gave us to pray, known as the “Our Father” or the “Lord’s Prayer.” A disagreement and misunderstanding happens when non-Catholics witness or hear about Catholics praying to Mary, the Mother of God. Developing a relationship with Mary in one’s prayer life has many benefits and is not idolatry when the reasoning and true beliefs of Catholics and their Marian prayers are fully understood.

Why do Catholics pray to Mary?

Simply, they don’t! Catholics do not pray to Mary, they ask for her intercession and prayers on their behalf. When Catholics say they are praying to Mary, they are really asking for her intercession and inspiration on their behalf, as God is the only one that can grant the graces asked for in prayers. Mary is being asked to pray for the intentions or give prayers of thanksgiving too. As Mary is not prayed to as a deity who will provide these graces and gifts herself, it is not idolatry or goddess worship. As Joe Paprocki explains, “We do not worship her, rather we honor her. We do not pray to her, but rather we pray with her and through her.”[1]. While Catholics may occasionally use the wrong words to describe their relationship with Mary, Catholics are asking Mary to join us in prayer and help us to become close to her Son, and therefor closer to God.

Why should someone ask Mary to intercede on their behalf?

Mary is the perfect example of a human who lived their whole life open to listening and following God. God had plans for Mary to be the bearer of Christ, but as she was wholly human, she had the free will and choice to sin or say “Yes” to opportunities and graces offered to her. With the grace of the Holy Spirit and her faith, she remained a virgin, sinless, and continued to choose to follow God’s will. James Campbell states, “Because Christianity is based on communion with God and others in Jesus Christ, Christian are called to care for one another in the deepest way, especially in praying for one another.”[2] Christians can ask for prayers from one another, and offer prayers on behalf of other’s intentions as a way of being part of the community. Mary is a part of the community of the followers of Jesus Christ and a significant person in the communion of saints who participate in Christ’s Church, so it is fitting to ask her to pray for intentions as well.

Why ask Mary to intercede when one can pray to God directly?

Christians can pray to God and ask for Mary’s intercession; you can do both! John Paul II in Rosarium Virginis Mariae said, “But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his Mother.”[3] She knew the whole person of Jesus in both his humanity and his divinity. Mary has this incredible closeness to God, shown in the trust to carry Jesus, and a closeness to Jesus as she is His mother and first disciple. She believed in His divinity from the very beginning. “If Jesus, the one Mediator, is the Way of our prayer, then Mary, his purest and most transparent reflection, shows us the Way.”[4] Mary continues to be the perfect intercessor to Jesus, as she continues to be oriented towards Jesus and is with Him in heaven.

Does a relationship with Mary compete with a relationship with Jesus?

By developing a relationship with Mary, Christians will not be cheating Jesus out love. Love is not pie. When you give away a slice of pie, you have less pie. God’s love is limitless and everlasting[5]. As humans are made in God’s image and given the gift of love, love is limitless. There is no end to the amount of love that an individual can give. Christians can also see getting to know Mary as a way of getting to know God through one of God’s loved ones. When one has a significant other, getting to know their family and developing a relationship with them is a big part of advancing a relationship. Building on the idea of love not being finite, loving one’s significant other’s little brother as one’s own does not make one love the significant other less. In fact, it may increase the love as more is learned about them.[6] The same thing is true with Mary. Getting to know Mary is getting to know someone who God cares about and trusts immensely. Developing a relationship with the Mother of God, and letting her lead you to a deeper relationship with God, can only be beneficial to one’s own relationship with God.

Is Praising Mary Idolatry?

As established previously, Catholics are not praying to Mary, but asking for Mary’s prayers on their behalf. They do not pray to Mary for the graces only God can give. Catholics do have various names for Mary that include titles such as Queen, that can add to the confusion of idolatry, but upon closer inspection, one can see that the titles of Mary always lead towards Jesus and God. Kreeft explains that:

"Every single one of the titles the Church has given to Mary is there to protect and exalt the divinity of her Son. 'Mother of God' is the classic example. If Mary is not the Mother of God, then either Christ is not God (and that is a denial of his divinity- the Arian heresy), or Mary is not his Mother (and that is the denial of his humanity- the Docetism heresy). The names she has directly lead to God or the Son."[7]

All of the names given to Mary are to praise her role in God’s kingdom. Mary is not given her own kingdom, nor are Catholics claiming that she has one by these titles. Instead, the titles recognize Mary as having a significant place in God’s kingdom as one who is close relationship with God.

A closer relationship, friendship, love, and devotion to God is what Catholics desire, and Mary is the human example of perfection of someone who has developed and maintains a close relationship with God. As our world becomes more uncertain and tumultuous, I invite you to develop or deepen your relationship with Mary in order to deepen your relationship with God. God is the constant in all the uncertainty, and if you are like me, more certainly and prayers are always welcome. Mary as the perfect pray-er is someone I love having on my side and praying on my behalf.

Jennifer is a current student at St. Bernard’s pursuing her Master’s of Theological Studies. She has a B.S. in Psychology & Fine Art from St. Thomas Aquinas College and Masters in Professional Studies in Art Therapy from School of Visual Arts. Jennifer is in her 5th year working in ministry in the Diocese of Rochester, and in August began a new position as Faith Formation Coordinator for 7th-12th grade at Church of the Assumption & Church of the Resurrection in Fairport. When not studying or working, Jennifer enjoys creating soft pastel paintings and portraits, reading, and cooking.

. Joe Paprocki. A Well-Build Faith: A Catholic’s Guide to Knowing and Sharing What We Believe (Chicago. IL: Loyola Press, 2008), 42

[2]. James P Cambell. Companions on the Journey: Mary and the Saints (Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2001), 34

[3]. John Paul II. Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 14

[4]. Ibid., 16

[5]. Jeremiah 31:3

[6]. Fr. Mike Schmitz, “Why Catholics Call Mary Their Mother”. YouTube video, 09:18. Posted [March 2019]

[7]. Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Catholic Apologetics: Reasoned Answers to Questions of Faith (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2009), 438