An Evangelical friend said, "When I go to a doctor I don't want to talk to his mother." That is an interesting analogy. However, this Evangelical talks regularly with his pastor and asks the pastor to pray for him. The pastor doesn't turn him away by saying, "Don't talk to me! Don't ask me to pray for you! Go straight to Jesus!" The pastor has compassion and "intercedes" (stands in the gap) for him. He prays for the congregation and for individuals. He has compassion and wants to assist people in their relationship with Christ. This in no way diminishes Jesus' role as the Lord and Saviour.
Heaven is not a "dead" place. Catholics believe people in heaven are alive. (Mat 19:29, 25:46, 10:17-22, Mk 10:30, Lk 10:25-30, Lk 18:18-30, Jn 3:15-16). Catholics ask Mary to pray to Jesus for us.
Mary is a "born again" Christian who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and spoke in tongues 2000 years before Pentecostals got the gift (Acts 1:14, 2:3). She knows how to pray - yes, even in tongues! In the Rosary we ask Mary to "Pray for us sinners."
We think Mary is totally alive, and is praying for us the way a faithful pastor would pray for his congregation, except much more so. She's interceding for the unborn, for mothers contemplating abortion, and for many others who are experiencing sorrows in our world, and who need Jesus.
Our Lady of Sorrows
Painting by Tianna Mallett (daughter of our friend, Mark)
Many Evangelicals think the word "pray" means "worship." So it makes sense that they think Catholics who "pray" to Mary actually "worship" her. Let's look up the word "pray" in the dictionary. Here is what Webster's says about the word pray:
(1) To utter petition to God ... (2) To make a fervent request: PLEAD (3) To beseech: implore (4) to make a devout or earnest request for.
The first thing to notice is that the word "worship" is not included in the definition of "pray." It does not mean "worship." A prayer to Mary is clearly not a petition to God. Mary is not God, and there is not one faithful Catholic since the apostles who has said she is. So clearly it is not the first meaning.
The English language is often limited in that we often have to use the same word to say different things. There are several meanings of the word "pray." When Catholics pray to God they "utter a petition to God." When they pray to Mary and the Saints they are making a "devout or earnest request for" prayers from Mary or the saints. In mediaeval times when a royal court official was asking something of a person who outranked him, he would say "I pray thee your majesty." You have to say that in an English accent to get the full effect! The person was simply making a request in a polite manner.
Catholics think Mary is a prayer warrior. That's her job. We think she was given a full-time 24/7 prayer ministry. She said, "all generations will call me Blessed" and "my soul magnifies the Lord" (Luke 1:46). Catholics think this is significant.
"The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart."There is a difference between veneration of Mary and worship of Jesus. This was formalized in writing way back in 757 AD at the Seventh General Council:
(Martin Luther, Sermon - September 1, 1522)
- Latria - adoration that is given to the Trinity alone; occurs 5 times in the Bible but always refers to God (Jn 16:2, Rm:9:4, 12:6, Heb 9:1,6)
- Hyper-dulia - veneration to Mary (as the mother of God)
- Dulia - honor paid to saints and angels; occurs 5 times in the Bible (Rm 8:15, 21; Gal 4:24, 5:1; Heb 2:15)
There are plenty of Old Testament references that distinguish veneration from worship. "Then Moses went out to meet his father in law, and he bowed down and kissed him.." (Exo 18:7)...(also 1 Chron 29:20, 1 Sam 24:8)
Some evangelicals say "consecration" shows that Catholics worship Mary. The word "consecrate" means to entrust. I entrust myself to my closest friends but only one is my Savior.
“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”
--Saint Maximilian Kolbe (a priest who died in Auschwitz as a result of taking the place of a father, who was then present at Kolbe's canonization 50 years later)
We got an email that said:
Why then would we want to take the focus off of Jesus and pray through Mary, or any one else for that matter? I also see a lot of the issues surrounding Mary as distractions.
We appreciate concern that attention paid to Mary defocuses from Jesus. It is an interesting choice of words because Mary said the opposite about herself. In the Bible, Mary clearly spells out her role in eternity:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of his maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. (Lk 1:46-49)
The Bible says Jesus is magnified by Mary's soul. A soul is not limited by life on earth. Mary reinforces her eternal ministry by saying "all generations will call me blessed." If the Bible intended Mary's ministry to end with the birth of Jesus, or at Jesus' death, or even at Mary's death, I don't think it would use that language.
A magnifying glass increases the object it is focused on, so being in relation to Mary's eternal soul does not draw focus away from Jesus, it does the opposite. It magnifies him. This is the Bible's word to the people of God.
We've heard Evangelical pastors do sermons on just about every passage of Scripture except this one. I invite you to try to remember a sermon on Luke 1:46-55. The movie "The Nativity" removed words from the Bible that referred to Mary when they flashed the passage on the screen during the final scene. I think it's crazy to remove words about Mary from the Bible to make some Christians feel more comfortable.
Catholics believe Mary's soul still "magnifies the Lord" for Christians of our generation who choose to relate to her. Currently, Catholics are pretty well the only ones upholding the biblical prophecy to call her blessed, which was intended for all generations, and for all Christians.
Our experience with Mary has actually significantly improved our relationship with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus. We think time spent with Mary is no more de-focusing than time spent with our other Church friends or with my our pastor. The logical end to the "defocusing" theory is that we should never talk to or pray with any other Christians. It suggests we shouldn't go to prayer groups, or even read the Old Testament (because it predates Christ). It suggests we should only talk with Christ alone and never even talk to another human being. That seems like a definition of a hermit and although it is a valuable calling, it's not for us.
When I (David) was a performer in the US National tour of "Cats" my mother did not want to jump on the stage and take my place in the spotlight (although that would have been pretty funny). She wanted everyone to know that her son was in "Cats." She wanted everyone to go see me. That was her role. Mary's role is not to jump on centre stage and take the place of Jesus. She just wants everyone to know about her Son Jesus and she will do anything to help that relationship.
We got an email that said:
... unlike Kings here on earth, God doesn't need a Queen. He has been, He is, and He always will be complete on His own.
Absolutely. God is complete. It is not out of Jesus' incompleteness that He has called angels and saints to join him in ministry. It is not because He is not strong enough and needs help. He could easily snap his fingers and the entire population of the world would suddenly see God and know He exists. He does not need Mary, angels, or saints. Nor does He need you or me.
It is out of his overabundance of Graces. It is his generosity, his desire to share his graces, his overflowing goodness, and his great Love for us. The Psalmist said "my cup overflows" (Ps 23). That is what God is. He is overflowing with graces that he shares with his mother and all his children. If he loves you and me so much as to invite us to join in his ministry, it is not hard to imagine that he would invite his mother to join in his ministry.
Scenario 1: If a guy falls in love with a girl he might say:
I love you so much. I love you so much that I want to spend all my time with you. I never want to talk to your mother. I never want to see your family or friends. I want you to banish them when they come around, I just want to spend my whole life with you and love you.
That's how we understand the Evangelical take on a relationship to Jesus.
Scenario 2: On the other hand he could say:
I love you so much. I love you so much that I want to spend my time with you. Your mom is welcome to visit our home. Your family is my family, your friends are my friends. The people you love, I will love. We are one flesh and I welcome everyone you welcome."
We think the second one sounds like a more authentic love. We think that is the Catholic approach to a relationship with Jesus.
We got an email that said:
Christ is the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24)...It can not be made any clearer in the scriptures that God wants to communicate with us directly, and to be cautious of those who try to step in to mediate.
1 Timothy 2 does not say that God wants us only to communicate with Jesus. It says there is only one mediator between God and man, which is a different thing. The passage does not say "be cautious" of asking people to pray for us. It doesn't do anything of the sort. The chapter begins by not only allowing intercessory prayer by third parties, but requiring it and indicating that it actually helps bring them to salvation and knowledge of truth. Any mother who prays for her children knows that.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone ...This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4. who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (Tim. 2:1-4)
We cannot read the rest of the chapter without considering that overarching idea. We think that Christians in heaven pray through Christ much better than you and me. They are much closer to Christ than you and me. Evangelicals pray for each other, and they don't say they are taking God's place. When we pray for one another we are participating in the mediation but we are not the mediator. Catholics feel that saints in heaven, including Mary, can pray for us just as well (or infinitely better) than our friends on earth.
In Hebrews 8:6, it says Jesus has obtained a more excellent ministry than any of the high priests. In 9:15 and 12:24 the passage goes on to say he is the mediator of a New Covenant, Catholics fully agree. We fully agree he is the mediator. We think Christians in heaven are a heck of a lot more aware of who Christ is than we are. The Bible says that he has helpers that participate in his ministry by his invitation. We believe he has invited Christians on both sides of heaven to do that.
When a saint enters into the joy of their Master, they are "put in charge of many things" (Mat. 25:21)
Saints are serious prayer warriors. We don't think that praying with the Saints detracts from the worship of God anymore than praying with friends detracts from worship of God. Saints are not all knowing, but they know a heck of a lot more about this spiritual game than us. They are creatures. This does not take away the tremendous benefit we can get from communing with them. Catholics think "their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world" (Catechism 2683).
If only God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, how does Mary hear "a million" requests for intercession at one time?
I (David) think the best way to respond to this "million prayers at once" objection is to describe something in my life. I have a little computerized recording studio. A friend of mine knows nothing about computers and when he heard my CD he said:
Hey how is it that you are singing all those voices and playing all those instruments at the same time. You are not omnipresent!
I explained to him that it takes me 150 hours to record a 3 minute song. With the computer I record each instrument and voice one after another and then mix them all together into this 3 minute song. So the measure of time I use to record the song is not the measure of time that people perceive when they hear the song on the radio. The recording was not made in "real time."
Heaven is not in "real (earth) time." Heaven is outside of earth time!
On one of my songs I am singing 75 voices and 60 music tracks at the same time. That does not make me "omnipresent!" If I can do this, I think heaven can figure out how to respond to multiple requests for prayer at the same time, because they are not handled according to "earth time."
Catholics don't think people have to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent in order to be in heaven. Scripture tells us there are many levels of authority in heaven (archangels, angels, cherubim, seraphim, etc.) I think Evangelicals believe angels know what is happening in different parts of the earth at the same time, yet they are not omnipresent. Mary doesn't need all knowledge or be present everywhere to hear more than one request for intercession at once.
The scientist Albert Einstein describes the physical universe (our world) in 4 dimensions, length, width, depth and time. Jesus said "My kingdom is not of this world." If "time" is part of our physical universe and Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world, it makes sense to me that heaven is outside of time. So hearing 1,000,000 requests for prayers at one time would be no problem. Just line them up (or whatever). Being out of time is more than sufficient to overcome the standard "million prayers at once" objection. Catholics believe people in heaven are out of time and are enabled to observe and hear what is going on in the earth (which is expressly indicated in Scripture - at least the observing. The "hearing" is a valid deduction). (1)
Talking to Heaven is not like calling a "help desk," where you sit in the queue waiting for them to answer while you listen to bad music on the phone.
There is no prayer queue in heaven...
Oh, and they speak English perfectly in heaven too, they understand.
The universe is a big place. The term "omnipresence" implies being everywhere in the universe and beyond. I think objecting to Mary' intercession because it implies omnipresence is as short-sighted as medieval people thinking the universe revolved around the earth. Mary's ability to hear a bunch of prayers at once doesn't mean she is omnipresent. It just means she is outside of time like everyone else in Heaven.
When I was a baby, God trusted my earthly mother to care for me. That did not make my mom omnipresent, although I thought so when I was a kid. God trusted Mary to care for her Son when He was a child. At the foot of the cross Jesus trusted her with the care of John. Catholics think in this gesture Jesus gave Mary as a mother to all humanity.
An Evangelical friend said to me (David), "I don't pray to dead people." Catholics don't think heaven is a "dead" place. Catholics believe people in heaven are alive. (Mat 19:29, 25:46, Mat 10:17-22, Mk 10:30, Lk 10:25-30, Lk 18:18-30, Jn 3:15-16). We see Lazarus alive by Abraham's side (Lk 16:22). At the transfiguration we see Moses and Elijah alive beside Jesus. (Mat 17:3) There seems to be a lot of conversing in Heaven in Revelation (i.e. Rev 4:10). The Church thinks heaven is a lively place with lots of singing and stuff. They don't think people in heaven are saying "Hey shut up with the singing will ya, I'm trying to sleep!!!" Jesus opened the gates to Heaven. "Graves of the dead were opened and they went into town to preach the Gospel." (Mat 27:52). Jesus said "Now he is a God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive." (Lk 20:39-40)
I recently read an interview with Gracia Burnham, an Evangelical missionary who was held hostage by Muslim terrorists for over a year with her missionary husband. Her husband was shot to death. In this interview she said the following:
Phil Calloway (editor of Servant Magazine-Evangelical): He sounds like an amazing guy. Is he making trouble up in heaven right now? (laughter)
Gracia: I used to tell the kids, I can just imagine your dad pulling on God's sleeves saying, "There's Gracia, she needs a car, she needs something." And then I told the kids why would almighty God who knows us and loves us and died for us need a human to tell him what we need. And I switched my thinking to God pulling on Martin's shirt sleeve and saying, "Hey Martin, look what I'm going to do for Gracia and her family." (Mission Fields Magazine spring 2004, pg 3)
It does not appear that Gracia thinks her husband is in some kind of a coma until the final judgment. Here is a perfect example of how the Catholic view on death is very prevalent among Evangelicals who have had a loved one die. Sure she distanced herself from her initial instinct of Martin praying for her in heaven, but I think her initial instinct was better. She said "Why would God need a human to tell him what we need." Yet in the same interview she attributes her escape from the terrorists to the faithful prayers of Christians back home.
In his #1 Evangelical book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren, says:
Your spiritual family is even more important than your physical family because it will last forever. Our families on the earth are wonderful gifts from God, but they are temporary and fragile, often broken by divorce, distance, growing old, and inevitably, death...our spiritual family-our relationship to other believers-will continue throughout eternity. It is a much stronger union, a more permanent bond than blood relationships. (The Purpose Driven Life, pg 118, my emphasis)
Here Pastor Rick, an Evangelical, almost perfectly describes the Catholic Dogma of the Communion of Saints.
Some Evangelicals think that asking a person in heaven to intercede for us is condemned in Deuteronomy 18:10-12. The Catholic Church believes that Deuteronomy 18:10-12 speaks about the occult, soothsayers, sorcerers, spells, ghosts and spirits. It is not about heaven, angels and Jesus. Ghosts have not entered into heaven so it would displease God to talk with them. Also this passage occurs before Jesus was on the scene so no one was in heaven. Samuel was in the ground (1 Sam 28:8-25). They were all in Sheol (dead) so the passage makes sense. Leave them in peace.
Catholics believe that it is perfectly safe to ask Christians in heaven to pray for us. Mary's place in heaven is assured and she's not going to do anything dumb like cast an evil spell on us. She's Jesus' Mother! Mary is in Heaven and as such she can be a trusted friend. All Christians are baptised into one Body. I see nothing in Scripture that tells me that that relationship ends after a Christian gets into heaven. Mary is a "born again" Christian who received the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost and spoke in tongues 2000 years before Pentecostals got the gift. (Acts 1:14, 2:3)
Martin Luther said:
There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. (Sermon, August 15, 1522)
Martin Luther also spoke to her in the first person.
No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation, 1537).
Catholics do not think of Mary as a "dead" example of faith. They think of her as a living witness to it.
We got an email citing the book of Revelation:
Then I fell at the angel's feet to worship the angel, he said ""You must not do that! [worship me] I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets ...(Rev 19:10)
This person was suggesting that it is unscriptural to communicate with anyone in Heaven except Jesus. Let us examine the relationship between John and the angel. The angel is his "fellow servant". The angel was sent by God to give a critical message to John and all Christians: "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book." The angel told John to write down what the angel showed him. What was the result?...The Book of Revelation...
The Bible, the word of God, was given through an angel.
Revelation opens with this verse...
1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John...
God used an angel, he could have done it himself. The angel didn't say "hey, don't talk to me, talk to God alone." We suggest that God uses servants...servants who know a lot more than us humans on earth. This takes nothing away from God. It simply reflects his overabundance of grace. We suggest that the communication John had with the angel was called prayer.
The passage supports the Catholic viewpoint on the role of heavenly servants rather than the contrary position held by some non-denominationalists.
Was John a peer with his "fellow servant?" obviously not! In an army, is a "private" a peer with his fellow soldier who is a "corporal?" No. There is a hierarchy in heaven... archangels, angels, seraphim, cherubim, etc... And at the bottom is us lowly fellow servants on earth. Most evangelical theologians readily preach this hierarchy in heaven and we Catholics think there is nothing whatever unscriptural about communicating with heavenly creatures. Apparently, John, Mary, Zachariah and a ton of other holy servants have no problem with it either. The Bible says so.
God commissioned us to fight the spiritual battle on earth. Catholics don't think He'll decommission us when we get to heaven. I think it is perfectly fitting that God would use the mother of Jesus and spouse of the holy spirit in this battle against Satan and his team of evil spirits. She spoke in tongues at the Pentecost (Acts 1). Scripture is plain that all generations will call Mary blessed (Lk 1:48).
Some Evangelicals are nervous about asking Christians in heaven to pray for us because the final judgment hasn't occurred yet (however, they are certain that a Christian's place in heaven is assured the moment they are "born again"). If there was any doubt about Mary being born again at the foot of the Cross, surely any Evangelical would admit Mary was "Born Again" at the Pentecost when she got hit by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14, 2:3). She spoke in tongues that day (Acts 2:6).
At Evangelical funerals we hear people saying, "He is with the Lord now." They are confident the person is in Heaven. We Catholics think the faithful guy who "dies" is dancing and singing and rejoicing in heaven. If a faithful Christian is alive in heaven, why would we not ask for them to pray for us. And Catholics don't think any Christian has ever been more faithful than Mary.
All this to say that Catholics think it is perfectly safe to ask someone in heaven to pray for us. Especially a prayer warrior like Mary.
Another thing to take into consideration before dismissing Catholics who pray with Mary (or the saints) is that in Catholicism the highest form of devotion is to Christ living in the Eucharist (those who think the Eucharist is a pagan sun-god may want to read this). Evangelicals don't believe in the "real" presence of Jesus, so any kind of honour given to Mary or a saint appears to put them on an equal footing with Jesus. Catholics believe the Eucharist is Christ in the flesh. Given this, every other form of devotion pales in comparison. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords above all else. The angels, saints and Mary are just his helpers as we Christians on earth are also helpers in Jesus' work. In the context of the Eucharist, any prayer to Mary or the saints is clearly a request for help. It is not a request for salvation. Jesus is the one and only Saviour and the Catholic Church has always taught that.
St. Louis de Montfort was probably the most "Marian" of all the Saints. He said "If devotion to our Lady distracted us from our Lord, we would have to reject it..." (True Devotion pg. 62) He goes on to say that devotion to Mary does not do this. Mary said "my soul Magnifies the Lord." She did not say "my soul obscures the Lord." She said this immediately after Elizabeth called her "Mother of my Lord" (Lk 1:43). Some Evangelicals say it is blasphemous to be "devoted" to Mary. Yet these same people would say they are "devoted" to their wives or husbands or children or even their jobs. Devotion does not deify something or someone, it only acknowledges a deep respect.
"We do not slight the Son when we honour the Mother." (Saint Louis De Montfort, "True Devotion" pg 94)
There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray "in the name" of Jesus... to invoke him. (Catechism 2665-2666)
The Catholic Church is clear about the centrality of Jesus. The Saints are simply "alumni" in the "university of life" who are there to help Jesus in the same way the angels help. Pope John Paul II wrote in his Message to World Youth day 2000 the following:
"The Cross, which seems to rise up from the earth, in actual fact reaches down from heaven, enfolding the universe in a divine embrace. The Cross reveals itself to be the centre, meaning and goal of all history and every human life."
Lumen Gentium and "Queen of Heaven"
We've snipped a few passages from the Lumen Gentium, an official document of the Church from Vatican II. It is often quoted by Evangelicals for its "Queen of Heaven" statement. I think the document accurately makes clear Jesus' authority over heaven and earth:
60. There is but one Mediator as we know from the words of the apostle, "for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all." (298) The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows his power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ. (298 1 Tim. 2, 5-6).
62. ...For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, ...The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary.
67. .. But it exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God.(23*) Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Holy Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, ... rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always look to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and piety.
Many people wish that this thing about Mary would go away and that the Church would be in greater unity with other Christians if it would.
It appears that most of the closed feelings against Mary have crept into the reform movement in the last 100 years. Many great Protestants have had strong feelings for Mary including C.S. Lewis. Most early reformers had strong positive feelings for Mary including Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Wesley. Even Martin Luther spoke to her in the first person saying:
No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity.
(Martin Luther Sermon - Feast of the Visitation, 1537)
We are not apologists. Apart from all this doctrine and stuff, the reason we believe that Mary is in heaven helping us is because each of us had an experience with Mary that we cannot refute (David's testimony here, Kirsten's testimony here). No one can tell us she is dead. We don't worship her. She is a friend who prays for us and has shown us very cool things about her Son, Jesus. We believe we are better Christians today because of Mary.
If you are afraid to talk to Mary, we invite you to:
Pray to Jesus about Mary.
Any Evangelical would say it is perfectly safe to pray to Jesus about anything. Ask Jesus what's up with Mary. Give him time to respond. We pray you have the same experience that has led to our powerful convictions about the validity of Mary as a helper for the helpless, and a great prayer warrior.
Other Topics on Mary
Mary in Scripture
Is Mary a Pagan Goddess?
Martin Luther's quotes about Mary
Mary in the early Church and today
Did Mary have a bunch of kids?
What's this Co-Redemptrix nonsense?
David's experience with Mary
(1) I got this from Dave Armstrong
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.