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Our devotion to the blessed virgin Mary

14 Jan 2015, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Mater Dei

Our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary occupies an extraordinary place in the Catholic tradition. For none Catholics this devotion is controversial, but for us Catholics, it is special.

Before I explain the Catholic doctrine and practice regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary, let me state two facts or truths that the Church teaches most emphatically; two undeniable facts the Catholic Church holds onto and teaches with all her strength:

(1) The Church teaches that there is only one God, “the supreme, Infinite Being and him alone is to be adored and worshiped.” To worship any other thing apart from him is to commit idolatry. Therefore, the Catholic Church holds dearly on to the warnings of God recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might. With all her strength, the Catholic Church believes and teaches the fact that the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. There is no other God apart from him.

(2) The Catholic Church teaches that “Jesus Christ alone is our Mediator of Redemption. He alone, by his supreme Sacrifice, redeemed mankind”. The Catholic Church believes and teaches that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life. So, as I am about to lead you into understanding our devotion to Mary, I want you to have these two facts in your mind; that the Catholic Church believes and teaches the reality of one God and that she also believes and teaches that Jesus is the only way to the Father.

Now, since the Church teaches that there is only one God and that Jesus is the only way to the Father, you may ask; of what use then is our devotion to Mary?

Brethren,  just as St. Paul confidently said that he is not ashamed of the cross, so also the Church is telling the world that she is not ashamed to be associated

Blessed Virgin Mary

Blessed Virgin Mary

with Mary. The Church shows the world the high level of her devotion to Mary without shame or fear. We honor Mary with a great sense of pride because “God himself has, in fact, positively commanded, in his revelation to man, this honor that the natural law prescribes.” It is divinely inspired to honor our Fathers and Mothers; in fact, this is the only commandment out of the Ten commandments of God that caries extra blessing with it. God said in Ex.20:12, honor your Father and Mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.  A promise is attached to this commandment to show the importance of honoring our parents. If the bible directs and commands us to honor our Fathers and Mothers, then much more honor is expected from us for the Mother of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. Following reason and accepting the teaching of the Bible, every Christian cannot but admit this principle or truth. It is natural to honor whom honor is due; how much more, she whom God has honored himself. God has honored the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we have no choice but to honor her as well.  Mary herself said, as recorded in Luke 1:48-49, that all generations shall call her blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for her.
She said the Almighty had done great things for her! God lifted her from her lowliness and honored her. The greatest honor God has ever given to any human being; the honor of being the Mother of God incarnate; the honor of being part of the salvation story. Indeed, all generations will call her blessed.

I invite you to read the gospel of Luke 1:26-55 carefully. The poor girl (Mary) was at home, living her simple prayerful life, preparing for her simple marriage to Joseph when God sent an Angel to her. The Angel appeared to her and said, “hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Mary was shocked and wondered what this greeting might mean; she may have asked; who am I, that the almighty God would send an Angel to greet? The Angel said to Mary, relax, do not be afraid, you have found favor with the Lord; you will conceive and bear a Son, and you will name him Jesus. Again Mary was shocked; me? conceive? How? I am a virgin. The Angel said to Mary, relax, leave that to God, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; He will be called Son of God. Even your relative Elizabeth, in her old age, has conceived, and that is to tell you that nothing is impossible to God.

Mary could not keep this good news to herself; she ran to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and when Elizabeth heard her greeting, the child in her womb leaped for joy, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, Blessed are you among women, and Blessed is the fruit of your womb.

Let me stop there and go back to analyze the salutation the Catholic Church addressed to Mary: Hail Mary, Full of grace, the Lord is with you, Blessed are you amongst women and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.

The first part of this salutation is from God himself; He sent the Angel Gabriel to deliver the message. The message was not Angel Gabriel’s message; he was only a messenger to deliver God’s message. God sent him to hail Mary to tell her that she is full of grace to tell her that he is with her.
The Holy Spirit inspired the second part of the salutation. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, and with a loud voice, she exclaimed; Blessed are you amongst women, and Blessed is the fruit of your womb. So, it wasn’t just Elizabeth talking; no, she spoke those words by the power of the Holy Spirit because she was filed with the Spirit.

Since the first part of this salutation is from God, and the second part was inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is God, why should anyone tell us to stop it? Why should we not hail Mary when God himself first hailed her? Did God worship her when he hailed her?

We Catholics do not only honor Mary, but we also proudly invoke her or ask her intercession. Some people object to this; they say we should pray directly to God. Yes, we Catholics certainly pray directly to God or the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. Remember that at the beginning, I pointed out two facts that the Church teaches with all her strength; that there is only one God and that Jesus is the only way to the Father. Our invocation of Mary or calling on her to intercede for us does not in any way contradict the fact that there is only one God and that Jesus is the only way to the Father. If I a sinner can ask you a fellow sinner to intercede for me and you do; if our non-Catholic friends that are sinners can ask each other to pray for them and they do, then tell me why we should not ask the Holy Mother of Jesus enthroned in heaven to pray for us. If I can pray for you, why should Mary not pray for you? If we can pray for each other, why should Mary not pray for us?

Some will tell you that Mary is dead; why should we ask a dead person to pray for us? I always ask such people to tell me what they understand by death. Jesus said he had conquered the grave; death, therefore, has no power over us anymore; death cannot hold me a prisoner. Anyone who tells you that Mary is dead does not believe in the resurrection power, anyone who tells you, Mary, is dead does not believe that there is life after death, anyone who tells you that Mary is dead can equally tell you that Jesus is a Dead Man. We believe in the communion of Saints, we believe in the connection between the Church triumphant and the Church militant, we believe in the connection between the children of God in heaven and the children of God on earth. The so many apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary around the world have proven beyond doubt that she is alive and intercedes for sinners before her Son Jesus. We confidently and proudly ask Mary to intercede for us with her divine Son Jesus, who is the only way, the truth, and the life. We do not worship her; she is not God.

They ask if you don’t worship her, then what are you doing with her images and pictures; in fact, they say Catholics worship images against God’s commandment. But I ask you this question; is God forbids us to make images, or is he forbidding the worship of images? They are two different things; to make images and to worship images. I will show you the difference in the bible.

In Ex.32, Aaron made an image of a Calf, and the bible also tells us that in the book of Numbers 21:8f, Moses made an image. They were both images, but God was pleased with one and was angry about the other. Why? Because one was worshiped, and the other was not worshiped. The problem, therefore, is not the making of images but the worship of images. If the making of images is bad, God wouldn’t have asked Moses to make an image. They said it is against God’s law to make any image, yet the same God asked Moses to make an image of a serpent, and that image became a medium through which God’s healing power reached his people. It wasn’t the image that healed the people but God’s healing power. So, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s image in the Catholic Church is like the bronze serpent that was not worshiped but became a medium through which God’s power reaches his people….. Any Catholic who worships any image is going against the teachings of the Catholic Church and the teachings of the bible. When you see me bow before the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary or that of Jesus, it does not mean that I worship those images; far from it, my faith goes beyond those images; it rises over and above those images to unite with the reality; the one and true God.

Some may accuse us of keeping images, yet they have the images of their loved ones hanging in their homes. Do they worship them? Whenever you kiss your Mother’s picture, what are you doing? Are you just kissing a piece of paper? No, not at all; you express your love for the reality the picture stands for; YOUR MOTHER.

We are proud of our Catholic faith; the gates of hell will not prevail against it.