Many wannabe Catholics find one little-known nugget of Catholic teaching shocking but very comforting – shocking because they never would have guessed that it was so, and comforting because they think it will help them avoid the thing they fear most. This amazing Catholic fact is that the same Catholic Church that asks catechumens and candidates to declare that they “believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God” does not require anyone to have a devotion to Mary.
Say that again?
Catholics are not required to have a devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
But… I thought Catholics were all about Mary….
Catholics are all about Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father. It is because we are all about our Lord Jesus that we take an interest in Mary. And she would be the first to tell you that.
I think the reason Mary sticks out like a sore thumb to Protestants is because, with one annual exception, she is so completely absent from their Christian experience. So are all the other saints except Paul, who because he wrote the portions of the New Testament that Protestants base most of their doctrine on, gets more than his fair share of airtime on Sunday mornings. Yet we Catholics have it on good authority that Mary’s soul “magnifies the Lord.” Who wouldn’t want to get closer to someone with a soul like that?
One thing potential converts fret over is a Catholic practice which they believe runs contrary to the clear message of Scripture. Catholics ask Mary to pray for them. We ask all the saints, as well as the angels, to pray for us, but most Protestants worry about Mary because they worry about the Rosary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” and that sort of thing. How can Catholics ask Mary to pray for them when the Bible clearly tells us:
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
Based on this verse, Protestants claim that it is simply wrong to try to go through a “saint” to get to God, and so the Rosary is patently unbiblical. There is only one way to get to God, and that is through His Son, Jesus. The Bible says so.
The Bible actually says:
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
So, as St. Paul clearly states in his letter to St. Timothy, there are two types of mediators between God and men. Only Jesus could give Himself as a ransom for all; in that capacity He is the unique Mediator – blessed be His Holy Name! Catholics have absolutely no problem grasping that concept. But Protestants have a problem grasping the second, very biblical concept of saints (that is, holy men and women) mediating on our behalf through their prayers. Asking other people to pray for us is exactly what we’ve been commanded to do. Protestants do it all the time; they have prayer meetings and prayer chains for the express purpose of getting others to bring their requests before the Throne. The Catholic position on this is simply: why not go straight to the top of the prayer chain? As St. James assured us, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” As the ultimate righteous person (Hail, Mary, FULL of grace!), Mary’s prayers are the most effective, and she loves us like the mother she is to us (Jn 19:27). Of course, there is the Protestant quibble concerning rote prayers, again answered by the Bible itself. Look up Psalm 136 – what you’re looking at is a litany, right smack-dab in the middle of the Bible, repetition and all! Matthew 6:7 is not condemning repetition in prayer; it is condemning VAIN repetition – mindlessly babbling prayers because you think there is something magical about just saying the words. There is simply nothing wrong with praying the Rosary – Catholics are asking a Christian in Heaven to pray for them (1 Tim 2:1) using a set pattern of prayer consisting of Bible verses (Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42), with a request that Mary, Mother of Jesus Who is God, pray for sinners (that would be us) now and when we are about to die. Amen.
That said, the Catholic Church doesn’t require anyone to pray the Rosary, or to have any kind of a devotion to Mary. It’s optional, so if you’re considering the claims of the Catholic Church, and our Mariology makes you nervous, don’t sweat it. Converts will be asked to assent to the Marian doctrines (that Mary was immaculately conceived, that she is a perpetual Virgin, that she is the Mother of God, that she was assumed body and soul into Heaven) just as you will be asked to assent to everything else the Church teaches, but you can live and die a Catholic in good standing and never own a set of rosary beads.
Don’t say I didn’t remind you, though, that you are shunning a practice about which it has been said:
The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description. (Venerable Fulton Sheen)
The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary. (St. Francis de Sales)
If you say the Holy Rosary every day, with a spirit of faith and love, our Lady will make sure she leads you very far along her Son’s path. (St. Josemaria Escriva)
Some people are so foolish that they think they can go through life without the help of the Blessed Mother. Love the Madonna and pray the rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today.. (St. Pio of Pietrelcina)
When we pray the Rosary, we take a walk through the events of our Savior’s life with His Mother as our guide. Meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary, we allow Mary to tutor us in faith, hope and love. The effects can be profound. When I first got up the courage to pray the Rosary, it was a Friday, so I began with the Sorrowful Mysteries. When I got to the final Mystery, Jesus’ crucifixion, I was suddenly overwhelmed with horror, because I am a mother, and I have a son. I realized that I sent Jesus to the Cross, my indifference tormented Him, my perverse love for my sins cost Him His very life, and I was kneeling there asking His Mother to pray for ME, the woman who crucified her Son.
At that moment I learned more about forgiveness than I had in the preceding 48 years of my life, as Jesus’ Mother forgave me from the depths of her heart, and took me as her own child.
No, the Catholic Church won’t require you to pursue a relationship with Mary – don’t worry about that. But her soul really does magnify the Lord. If you have any interest in getting a closer look at God, you’re going to want to begin looking at Him through Mary.
On the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary
Deo omnis gloria!