By Rev. Clete Hux
Have you ever been in the position of trying to educate someone on what their particular religion believes and practices? As a teacher of comparative religions for over thirty years, I’ve been confronted with that situation many times. It happens often with Catholics, especially on the topic of Mary.
Today, Mary, the mother of Jesus , is increasingly being given a prominence in Roman Catholicism which finds little or no support in the Bible. When a contrast is made between the biblical Mary and the Mary of Roman Catholic tradition, the result is two very different portraits of Mary. The Roman Catholic portrayal quite often obscures Christ. In many respects, the Mary of Rome is portrayed as a female parallel to Jesus.
For example, consider the following Catholic teachings: Jesus was born without sin; Mary was conceived without original sin. Jesus was sinless; Mary lived a sinless life. Jesus ascended to heaven following His resurrection; Mary was bodily assumed into heaven at the end of her earthly life. Jesus is a Mediator; Mary is Mediatrix. Jesus is a redeemer; Mary is co-redeemer. Jesus is the King; Mary is the queen of heaven.(1)
These things are true with regard to what the Catholic Church believes and teaches about Mary. And while each one deserves much more space than is available in this article, we will concern ourselves here only with Catholicism’s teaching that Mary was sinless along with the practice of praying to her. See here for more information on other points about Mary: https://arcapologetics.org/will-the-real-mary-please-stand-up/(2)
MARY WAS A SINNER
It has been my experience over the years that some Catholics do not understand the “immaculate conception” of Mary. Some have believed that this refers to Mary being impregnated by the Holy Spirit without carnal sex so she could give birth to Jesus. Somehow they have missed that this doctrine is not referring to Jesus’ conception, but rather the conception of Mary herself. However, folk Catholicism is not official Catholicism. The official position is that Mary, in her immaculate conception, was preserved from original sin. As such, she was miraculously preserved from the pollution of sin inherited from Adam. In both body and soul, she is believed by Catholics to be holy, stainless, spotless, undefiled, pure and innocent in every way. In his papal Bull Ineffabilis of 1854, Pope Pius IX defined Mary’s immaculate conception as follows:
Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” (3)
This is not a suggestion by the Pope, rather an edict, something to be obeyed by all Catholics. How serious is it to reject this? The same Pope said, “Hence, if anyone shall dare–which God forbid–to think otherwise than has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart.”(4)
Virtually, all catechisms of the Catholic Church teach the sinless perfection of Mary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, affirms the same. On page 252, paragraph 966, it says,” Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory,…”(5) Not only does the Roman Catholic Church teach she was without sin, it teaches she never died.
TO PRAY OR NOT TO PRAY TO MARY
It is logical for Catholics to make a connection between Mary’s sinless human nature and praying to her. All Catholics are not necessarily in agreement on all things including praying to Mary. However, we should not kid ourselves about language. Some say they don’t pray to Mary, but they ask Mary to pray for them either to the Father or to the Son. Whether it is asking Mary or the saints in heaven to pray for them, it is still using words that are in fact the same as praying. Asking, beseeching, urging, appealing, petitioning, communing with, talking to, etc., are all used as synonyms for praying.
Although some do not want to admit they are praying to Mary, the Catholic Church openly endorses praying to Mary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, says, “Mary is the perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, …We can pray with her and to her. The Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.”(6)
Also, consider the following from the third novena of another Catholic source: “O Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of all the gifts which God grants to us miserable sinners; and for this end He has made thee so powerful, so rich, and so bountiful, in order that thou mayest help us in our misery. Thou art the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to thee.
In thy hands I place my eternal salvation, and to thee I entrust my soul. Count me among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy protection, and it is enough for me. For, if thou protect me, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them; nor from the devils, because thou art more powerful than all hell together; nor even from Jesus, my judge, because by one prayer from thee He will be appeased.
But one thing I fear: that in the hour of temptation I may through negligence fail to have recourse to thee and thus perish miserably. Obtain for me, therefore, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace ever to have recourse to thee, O Mother of Perpetual Help.”(7)
The prayer above confirms what the Catholic Church teaches in regard Mary being sinless and the issue of praying to her. In reference to the latter, we encounter the issue of praying to the dead. There is no Old or New Testament approval of this. Instead, the Bible looks upon this as a pagan practice and equivalent to necromancy (conjuring of the spirits of the dead) which is condemned in Deuteronomy 18: 10-13.
Addressing Mary as ‘the dispenser of all gifts’ is to mean that no salvific benefit can come to us without her mediation. The St. Peter Catechism of the Catholic Church asks, “Did God will to make our redemption and all its consequences depend upon the free consent of the Blessed Virgin Mary?” The Catechism answers, “God willed that our redemption and all its consequences should depend on the free consent of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”(8)
Salvation through the Catholic faith is not possible without Mary. Mark Miraville, a leading advocate of Marian theology, states, “It is in the light of Mary’s unique and intimate cooperation with the Redeemer, both at the incarnation…and at the work of redemption at Calvary…that the Church has invoked Mary under the title “Coredemptrix.”(9) Also, Pope Leo XIII wrote, “Every grace granted to man has three degrees in order: for by God, it is communicated to Christ, from Christ it passes to the Virgin, and from the Virgin it descends to us.”(10)
Granting Mary or any of the saints such a prominent position in salvation means that our Lord has other competitors for His one and only advocacy for us. Having others mediating between Him and mankind is contrary to biblical theology. Scripture says, “There is only one mediator between God and man, and that is the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5). It is so because He, not Mary, angels, or saints, is qualified as our only mediator and it is to Him and Him only that we have access to our heavenly Father for salvation. As Luke says in Acts 4:12, “ And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men[a] by which we must be saved.”
- Ron Rhodes, The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say to a Catholic (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2002), 55.
- Will the Real Mary Please Stand Up, Clete Hux, https://arcapologetics.org/will-the-real-mary-please-stand-up/
- James White, Mary Another Redeemer? (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 37.
- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), 252.
- , p. 644
- Peter Catechism (Liverpool: Print Organization, 1972), question 319.
- Mark Miravalle, Mary: Coredemptrix Mediatrix Advocate (Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship Publishing Company, 1993), XV.
- Pope Leo XIII, Jucunda Semper (1894).