I recently ran across an article on a website that featured an “Ask a Priest” section. In this particular article, an upset and frustrated woman writes in and asks the priest about Marian devotion, i.e., the intense devotion, prayers and attention directed to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
I believe that this lady was more discerning and more honest with the biblical evidence than most Catholics. She explains that she and her husband were former Protestants, but had now been Catholic for years. Yet, they still struggled with all the attention Mary receives. She went on to say, “To us she receives more prayers, attention, devotion, processions and obedience than Jesus, which to us still after all these years is worship and not mere veneration.”
Yes, indeed, and it is generally referred to by Catholics as “excessive devotion.” But the Bible calls it idolatry (Acts 17:16, 22-23).
This woman tells how this teaching had been bothering them for years and she explains what happened one day when she went to confession: “For penance the priest told me to ask Mary to pardon my sins and then say five Hail Mary’s.” This, of course, seriously bothered her and she states, “… I had been struggling to go to church because of Mary, and now I never want to go back, not to any church.”
See the article here:
The Priest Responds
The priest to whom the lady wrote then answered, “… true devotion to Mary always leads us closer to her Son… But these cases of exaggeration are anomalies [i.e., something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.]”
I’m a former Catholic, and I don’t know, but from what I’ve seen, this excessive devotion seems to be the norm for many Catholics, especially those in other, mostly-Catholic, countries.
The “Ask-a-Priest” then goes on to quote official Catholic teaching on Mary’s role and how it supposedly does not obscure or diminish the role of Jesus – yet it mentions her “salvific influence.” (Lumen Gentium, No. 60)
The priest goes on to say, “Mary is important only because Jesus is much, much more important.”
But tell that to the millions who bow humbly in prayer to statues of Mary, asking HER for things like salvation, and calling HER “our life, our sweetness, our hope,” etc. Ask those millions who make pilgrimages every single year to shrines built in Mary’s honor and we can see who is more important to them.
If SHE is much, much less important than Jesus, then why are there so many more shrines in America and all around the world to her, rather than to Jesus? And why does the Catholic rosary have far more prayers addressed to Mary than prayers to Jesus/God?
The priest continues: “As for the penance you received: Perhaps the priest in his zeal misspoke when he implied that Mary would be the one to forgive you.”
“Misspoke” is a giant understatement. Don’t you think that priests (who are highly educated) should know better than to suggest such a thing as Mary forgiving sin? Have not priests taken a solemn vow to be faithful in correctly dispensing penances in the confessional?
In Catholicism, is the confessional the place to make flippant comments or show misguided zeal? Surely, Catholics will say no. So, priests need to quit making excuses for each other!
Furthermore, the priest said, “He [the priest giving penance] was probably just trying to encourage you in your relationship with Mary.”
Well, that’s the problem! Too much emphasis on Mary is the very thing that this woman was so concerned about.
Furthermore, he said, “The key thing is not to dismiss entirely the role of Mary simply because some folks might seem to take things to an unhealthy extreme.”
This “Ask-a-Priest” is bending over backward to avoid placing the blame on the Catholic Church who allows such behavior. But didn’t he just say that it was an “unhealthy extreme,” yet he seems to be ok with it? Is no one accountable in this? Is anyone ever rebuked for this idolatry?
And, I have to add, what exactly is the “role” of Mary in the church? The Bible appoints no special role to her that is different from any other believer’s role. Yes, she gave birth to and raised and nurtured the Savior, but there is no exceptional “role” for Mary in the body of Christ, especially in the exalted manner that we often see. This priest goes on to mention the “scriptural roots” of true Marian devotion. But there is no such thing!
Again, he said, “You want to be careful, too, because the devil would like to sow seeds of doubt about the Church in you, especially after your journey over the years.”
Yeah, be careful about doubting the Church, but never mind the possibility of idolatry, leading many to Hell… just be obedient to the Magisterium. It just can’t be the Church’s fault, right?
And finally, “In the meantime stay focused on Jesus in the Eucharist and in Scripture.”
Notice how the priest inserts “in the Eucharist” here. He is simply jumping from one form of idolatry to another.
Let it be known that the priest in this article never says anything about being careful in your devotion, toning it down, or warning of the likelihood of idolatry. In fact, have you ever heard of ANYONE who was punished by a pope or other Catholic official for excessive devotion to Mary? I certainly haven’t.
It seems that devoted Catholics are NEVER rebuked for this. Therefore, it is a practice that actually ends up being encouraged in the Church. Authorities may spout the official teaching of the Catholic Church, but I don’t see any negative consequences for this practice.
Defending the Problem
Another source I found is by Catholic apologist Joe Heschmeyer whose article is eloquently written and titled In Defense of Exaggerated Marian Devotion. You can find it here:
Now, just looking at this title should disturb us. Remember, the Catholic Church “officially” discourages excessive devotion, but from the very outset of his article, Joe Heschmeyer is bent on defending this behavior, instead of actually confronting it.
Joe states that these affectionate prayers and all this special attention given to Mary are “more like love letters to the Virgin Mary than they are like carefully-worded theological treatises.”
Well, no one is expected to act as a theologian when praying, but common sense and the Bible expose what is really happening here.
He also says, “Shouldn’t we be careful not to exaggerate or use over-the-top or flowery language? No. There are two reasons for this. First, it limits the fullness of human emotional expression… Second, rejecting exaggeration thwarts our ability to understand the Bible… because the Bible employs exaggeration.” (Emphasis in original)
This was the thrust of his whole article. Ok, so let’s look at this. First, he says we shouldn’t limit “the fullness of human emotional expression” in prayer. Ok, then would it be ok to add curse words and blasphemous phrases in prayer, as well… you know, since that carries a lot of emotional expression, right? No sane Catholic would suggest this. So, of course there should be limitations. And biblical prayer must indeed be limited, and it is rightly limited to God, alone (Psalm 73:25). No one should even be praying to Mary at all, much less using such exalted language toward her in prayer.
One must ask, where does all this “freedom of expression” stuff end? If the fullness of freedom has no limits, then let’s just take it to the next level and “venerate” anyone and everyone! Better yet, let’s just worship everything! Of course, that’s silly, but that’s what can happen if you erase proper biblical boundaries.
Secondly, Joe says that we shouldn’t reject exaggeration, since the Bible sometimes uses exaggeration. Ok, the Bible sometimes employs exaggeration… therefore, we should use extreme measures approaching the worship of Mary? I’m sorry, but that just does not follow. Again, what is it that properly limits this exaggeration, if not biblical principles of worship?
Very eloquent article, Joe. Too bad you’re promoting idolatry and you’ll have to answer for that. And so will the two priests mentioned above.
“Veneration” in Catholic Countries
I couldn’t find the exact quote, but the late Dave Hunt, who had travelled around the world, once said that the devotion to Mary in the United States was different than in other (mainly Catholic) countries. He basically said that American Catholics observe a more “politically correct” version, one that is toned down, as opposed to the more freely expressed version of “veneration” in other countries. In these countries, it often seems that it is simply open and outright worship of Mary.
To further confirm that idea, in another article on the Berean Call website, a questioner stated that Catholics don’t worship Mary. The host answered, in part:
“… many a Catholic has commented that, ‘Catholics in Mexico (and throughout Latin America), in their devotion to Mary, do things that we would only do when worshipping God.’”
In yet another article, a former Catholic nun shed a little more light on this:
“However, many years later I realized that if you want to know what something really is, then look at how it behaves when it is in a position of power. In America, Catholics are in the minority. To see the true spirit behind Catholicism, watch what the Catholic Church does in countries where it is in power.”
As long as the Catholic Church defends (or makes excuses for) its members who practice “excessive devotion,” they will never get rid of this problem – and more and more people will be lost for eternity.
According to Lumen Gentium 51:
“… if any abuses, excesses or defects have crept in here or there, [we urge all concerned] to do what is in their power to remove or correct them…”
I don’t see it happening, folks. I don’t see it now, nor have I ever seen this happen… and I suspect that it never will.
The faults or excesses of some people are no excuse to leave God or leave Christianity altogether, as the lady in the first article was about to do. However, when a group/system/religion purposely ignores the wrongdoing of its people and offer no discipline, the leaders of that group are at fault.
So, the bottom line is that the Catholic Church officially looks down on excessive devotion to Mary. But practically speaking, it seems that they (those “venerating” Mary) can all get away with it. The pope, as the “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church” has the power to stop all this at any time. The problem is, I don’t think he wants to.
I often wonder – what exactly would it take to cause Catholics to see through the false claims and the obvious idolatry within the Catholic Church? Has the Church so indoctrinated them, that they can no longer recognize truth?
The Bible describes a hardening process by which one suppresses the truth, and his foolish heart is darkened, little by little, until the light that he has been so graciously given dims more and more… and he ends up worshipping the creature, rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:18-25)
It appears that this may be the case in Catholic obsession with Mary and their excessive devotion to her.