Originally published October 28, 2008.
I was recently accused of worshiping Mary. This might be the most popular accusation for Protestants to make against Catholics. The Catholic response is that we don’t worship Mary or the other saints, but we do honor them. Most non-Catholics do not understand how we can say this. We sing songs to Mary, and to other saints. We pray to them. We have statues of them in our churches, schools, and homes and often these statues are placed in shrines. Many Catholics place flowers or other gifts at the feet of these statues. We light candles to them. In the Protestant mind, these actions constitute worship, and many of them a particularly pagan style of worship.
The difference between our treatment of Mary and the other saints and our treatment of the Godhead can be understood if you understand how we think of the Eucharist. Catholics believe the bread becomes Jesus’ body and the wine becomes His blood. These are offered to God as a sacrifice, in union with the sacrifice Jesus made of Himself at Calvary. We offer this blood sacrifice to God. I learned recently that there was a heretical group in the days of the early church that did offer their Eucharist to Mary. This heresy was condemned by the Catholic church, because Catholics know that it is wrong to worship Mary. We never, ever offer the Eucharist to anyone other than God. Not Mary. Not other saints. Not angels. Only God.
Of course, Protestants do not believe the Eucharist is really Jesus’ body and blood. Because of this, the highest form of honor they give to God is to sing songs about Him and to Him, pray to Him, preach about Him, give money to promote His church, and participate in a symbolic meal. Even Protestants who believe in some form of the real presence do not believe their meal is a sacrifice being offered to anyone. This is why Protestants, who also do not want to worship Mary or other saints or angels do not sing songs to them, or talk to them/pray to them, etc.
But Protestants are perfectly comfortable singing love songs addressed to their boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Does that mean they are worshiping their boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse? We all understand that the lecture about Edgar Allan Poe I listened to in college was not remotely a form of worship. When I take flowers to my grandmother’s grave, I am not worshiping her. The images carved in the side of Mount Rushmore are not idolatrous. Does the man who talks to his dead mother, asking her to put in a good word for him on the other side, worship his mother? Has he crossed the line if he kisses her picture, or if he keeps some trinket of hers next to his heart? Surely we all know these actions do not constitute worship. They are ways of honoring people.
Catholics use these same ways of honoring people to honor Mary and the other saints. We offer our sacrifice to God alone. That is why we can say that we honor Mary and the other saints, but we do not worship them.