Responding to “Mary Worship”

The Rt. Rev. Patrick S. Fodor

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God … to a virgin …and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, O greatly graced one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ …Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste …and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.’” (Luke 1: 26-28, 40-46)

One of the most common objections and misunderstandings when many Protestants look at Anglicanism is the charge that we worship Mary. The Church condemns adoring anyone as God but the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a foundational truth. We do not adore Mary as God. But adoring God alone AS God doesn’t mean disrespecting everyone else. We love God and we love our neighbor. We’re called to adore God. We do this as part of His Family, and we relate to one another is ways that reflect that. To understand the role of Mary and of the other saints in heaven the Church, following Scripture, uses many distinctions, with various terms used to summarize Christian teaching. In all this, our primary focus is on Jesus. He is the One Who is Almighty God. Mary is not, nor are the other saints.

Let’s look at some words. Latria is the word for that adoration suitable only for God. Latria for anyone other than God is the grave sin of idolatry. Dulia is honor or veneration paid to the saints. The nature of it is honor or respect, not adoration as the Almighty Creator. We honor the saints and ask them to pray for us. As explained at the Church’s 7th Ecumenical Council, doing so, including through the use of icons, is a suitable, healthy expression of our Communion with the departed saints in Christ’s One Church. Hyperdulia is the highest form of honor for a creature, the special veneration given only to the Blessed Virgin Mary because of her unique role in the mystery of Redemption, her exceptional gifts of grace from God (Who chose His as Own Mother), and of her pre-eminence among the saints as a symbol of the Church in miniature. Hyperdulia is not the adoration (latria) given to God alone. Finally, the English term worship, strictly speaking, has no direct parallel in any of the ancient languages. It’s a contraction of “worthship” and just means “to ascribe worth or honor” to something or someone. While we usually today only use this word to mean reverence and adoration fitting for God, it wasn’t always so. The traditional English wedding includes, for example, the groom’s words to his bride: “With this Ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

So, coming back to the more specific question about Mary, notice that the archangel Gabriel had no hesitation in greeting Mary with highest honor. He isn’t being idolatrous. Gabriel is, after all, directed by God Himself. So is Elizabeth when she treats Mary as most highly venerated. She even describes Mary using words connected to the Ark of the Covenant (more on that another time). Mary herself immediately gives her Magnificat by divine inspiration: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God My Savior…” Recognizing Mary as more highly honored, more greatly graced than anyone in history isn’t idolatry but giving God praise for what He has done with and in and through her and accepting His plan for our mutual care.

Notice, too, that healthy societies honor some people in various ways all the time. We honor brave soldiers, great presidents, inventors, etc. As God Commands, we honor our mothers and fathers. We aren’t treating any of these as God. And Jesus Himself follows all the Commandments perfectly, so it’s fitting that we honor His Mother as Jesus does, following His example. We give honor to all the saints in the Family of God as those who have finished their course in faith. We ask them to pray for us, as those who are caught up in perfect love, untired and undistracted by weakness or sin any longer. We never give them latria, never adore them as God. But we accept God’s plan for our mutual love and act as one Family in heaven and earth.

Some ask, “Why pray to Mary when we can go directly to Jesus?” Yet they have no problem asking others here on earth to pray for them, which is all we’re really doing. God says He grants blessings “in answer to many prayers” (2 Cor. 1:11). If “the prayer of a righteous man on earth avails much” with God (James 5:16–18), how much more so with prayers from those who have finished the race and now reign with Christ in heaven? The “spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23), in perfect love and concern for us on earth (see 1 Cor. 2:12-26), bring our prayers to Jesus the Lamb (Rev. 5:8). Christ chooses to use creatures to intercede for one another as “God’s fellow-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). All this goes in the Spirit, Who guides all our prayers, through the Son, to the Father. Mary, as the Mother of God and disciple par excellence (Luke 1:28, 38), delights to pray for us, along with all the angels and saints. So we honor Mary. We do not engage in idolatry. Mary and all you saints of God in Glory who love us, pray for us!