With apologies to Charles Dickens, these are the best of times - at least as far as relations between the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and her separated brethren. Or so the flood tide of ecumenical bilge pouring out of the Vatican would have us to believe. But is that the way things really are? Are the issues that separate us so great that they cannot be overcome if Christians would but show a little tolerance? Folks, when the Magisterium interprets Scripture, what they come up with seems, at first blush, to be very nearly what the Christian church believes. Rome projects a willingness to unite with her separated brethren, but never believe that she will budge one micron on her doctrine or dogma.
While acknowledging that Christians "think differently" concerning Scripture, the RCC does concede that the Word of God might be useful in achieving unity:
At the same time, however, they "think differently from us ... about the relationship between the Scriptures and the Church. In the Church, according to Catholic belief, an authentic teaching office plays a special role in the explanation and proclamation of the written word of God". Even so, "in [ecumenical] dialogue itself, the sacred utterances are precious instruments in the mighty hand of God for attaining that unity which the Savior holds out to all."--Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism)
Just how "differently" do Christians and the Magisterium think concerning the relationship between the Scriptures and the Church? Just for giggles, let's examine a few issues.
More than 30 years ago, Paul VI wrote:
57. Christ is the only way to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:4-11), and the ultimate example to whom the disciple must conform his own conduct (cf. Jn. 13:15), to the extent of sharing Christ's sentiments (cf. Phil. 2:5), living His life and possessing His Spirit (cf. Gal. 2:20; Rom. 8:10-11). The Church has always taught this and nothing in pastoral activity should obscure this doctrine.--Marialis Cultus, Apostolic Exhortation of Paul VI, February, 1974)
Continuing that line of thinking, the Catholic catechism teaches:
2680 Prayer is primarily addressed to the Father; it can also be directed toward Jesus, particularly by the invocation of his holy name: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.--Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), (c) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.
In Scripture, the prophet Jeremiah wrote:
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD. Let us lift up our heart with [our] hands unto God in the heavens.--Lamentations 3:40, 41
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.--Philippians 4:6
Well, from this it does not that seem there is a great difference between Christian doctrine and the teachings of Rome. Keep reading in the Catechism and you will come to this mention of praying in communion with Mary:
2682 Because of Mary's singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.--CCC; Op. cit.
Scripture is replete with examples of believers coming together in prayer and of exhortations to continue in prayer. However, I am aware of no instance where we are told of believers joining together with the dead to pray. On the other hand, we certainly can find examples of what the Lord God thinks about calling upon the dead or praying to the dead:
There shall not be found among you any one that makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. "For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you.--Deuteronomy 18:10-12 NASB
John MacArthur's comments on this passage help us to understand what the Lord thinks about those who try to contact the dead, particularly in an effort to influence the future.
18:9–12 the abominations of those nations. Moses gave a strict injunction not to copy, imitate, or do what the polytheistic Canaanites did. Nine detestable practices of the Canaanites were delineated in vv. 10, 11, namely: 1) sacrificing children in the fire (see 12:31); 2) witchcraft, seeking to determine the will of the gods by examining and interpreting omens; 3) soothsaying, attempting to control the future through power given by evil spirits; 4) interpreting omens, telling the future based on signs; 5) sorcery, inducing magical effects by drugs or some other sort of potion; 6) conjuring spells, binding other people by magical muttering; 7) being a medium, one who supposedly communicates with the dead, but actually communicates with demons; 8) being a spiritist, one who has an intimate acquaintance with the demonic, spiritual world; and 9) calling up the dead, investigating and seeking information from the dead. These evil practices were the reason the Lord was going to drive the Canaanites out of the land.--John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing 1997
There can be little doubt that that warning to the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness holds true to this day, for God does not change.
For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;--1 Timothy 2:5
There must be some mistake here,. Catholics seem always to be praying to Mary or some saint or other. In my experience, they seek the help of these dead people (or their spirits) in order to obtain all manner of boons. I have stood by as Catholics prayed to Jude for the health of a friend or family member. Catholics light candles and pray to Erasmus for the relief of abdominal pain, to Roch for their cattle, to Basilissa for healing chilblains. Coin collectors pray to Eligius. Folks bitten by dogs look to Ubald for support. Gabriel the Archangel is the patron "saint" of those who work in the telecommunications industry. (praying to angels is a whole other subject).
Rome, and those who pretend to speak for her, usually are quick to claim that Catholics do not pray to these dead people, but with them. If that is true, why is the prayer known as the Hail Mary directed to her? True, in this prayer, the petitioner is asking dead Mary to pray for him, but in order to do so, he must first pray to her.
Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour or our death. Amen
Apart from the sheer foolishness of seeking help from a dead person, the very attempt to do so appears to be flying in the face of God's warning in Deuteronomy 18. Perhaps the new catechism's teaching that Christ is the only way to God is in error and all the stuff we read and hear about praying to Mary and other dead people is the way things really are.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.--Fidei Depositum, Apostolic Constitution promulgated by Pope John Paul II, October 11, 1992
Well, if we are believe JP2, the catechism isn't wrong. That must also mean that the claims that dead Mary is mediatrix of God's grace, co-redeemer, advocate and the source of salvation must not really be the official, infallible teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Whoops!!! That can't work either, for the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals. And popes have had plenty to say about praying to Mary.
The Catholic Church, endowed with centuries of experience, recognizes in devotion to the Blessed Virgin a powerful aid for man as he strives for fulfillment. Mary, the New Woman, stands at the side of Christ, the New Man, within whose mystery the mystery of man [Cf. II Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 22: AAS 58 (1966), pp. 1042-1044.] alone finds true light; she is given to us as a pledge and guarantee that God's plan in Christ for the salvation of the whole man has already achieved realization in a creature: in her.--(Marialis Cultus; Op. cit.
Not only do We earnestly exhort all Christians to give themselves to the recital of the pious devotion of the Rosary publicly, or privately in their own house and family, and that unceasingly, but we also desire that the whole of the month of October in this year should be consecrated to the Holy Queen of the Rosary. We decree and order that in the whole Catholic world, during this year, the devotion of the Rosary shall be solemnly celebrated by special and splendid services.--Supremi Apostolatus Officio (On Devotion of the Rosary), Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII , September 1, 1883
Among the various supplications with which we successfully appeal to the Virgin Mother of God, the Holy Rosary without doubt occupies a special and distinct place. . . --Ingravescentibus Malis, Encyclical of Pope Pius XI promulgated on September 29, 1937.
We have deemed it Our duty to exhort again this year the people of Christendom to persevere in that method and formula of prayer known as the Rosary of Mary, and thereby to merit the powerful patronage of the great Mother of God.--Superiore Anno, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII promulgated on August 30, 1884
What exactly is "praying the Rosary?" For an excellent Christian look at the ritual involved in praying repeated prayers of the Rosary, click here
As a Catholic youth, I sometimes joined other Catholics in praying the Rosary. It was my observation then that many who droned the incredible string of Hail Marys involved in this ritual appeared more interested in getting it over with than worshipping. Even today, some of my Catholic relatives who go through this rite twice daily say the interminable Hail Marys at light speed. They repeat the words so quickly that they are indeed unintelligible. To me, it appears they are paying dues, not worshipping.
Why do they do it? What motivates the Catholic faithful to get on their knees, often before a lighted candle and an effigy of dead Mary, and run through 50 prayers to dead Mary and but five to Almighty God? Well, one reason might be that the infallible popes have held out a carrot. By faithfully honoring dead Mary by praying the Rosary, Catholics are promised an early release from Purgatory.
In favor of those who shall do as We have above laid down, We are pleased to open the heavenly treasure-house of the Church that they may find therein at once encouragements and rewards for their piety. We therefore grant to all those who, in the prescribed space of time, shall have taken part in the public recital of the Rosary and the Litanies, and shall have prayed for Our intention, seven years and seven times forty days of indulgence, obtainable each time. . . We remit all punishment and penalties for sins committed, in the form of a Pontifical indulgence, to all who, in the prescribed time, either publicly in the churches or privately at home (when hindered from the former by lawful cause) shall have at least twice practiced these pious exercises; and who shall have, after due confession, approached the holy table. We further grant a plenary indulgence to those who, either on the feast of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary or within its octave, after having similarly purified their souls by a salutary confession, shall have approached the table of Christ and prayed in some church according to Our intention to God and the Blessed Virgin for the necessities of the Church.--Supremi Apostolatus Officio; Op. cit.
Faithfully praying the Rosary also can solve the world's social problems, according to a papal declaration:
We do not hesitate to affirm again publicly that We put great confidence in the Holy Rosary for the healing of evils which afflict our times--Ingruentium Malorum, Encyclical of Pope Pius XII promulgated on September 15, 1951.
Shoot!!! One pope even assures us that praying the Rosary is a good way to obtain immortality.
Very admirable is this crown interwoven with the angelic salutation which is interposed in the Sunday prayer, and unites with it the obligation of interior meditation. It is an excellent manner of prayer . . . and very useful for the attainment of immortal life--Pope Leo XIII, Acta Leonis, 1898, Vol. XVIII, pp. 154,155; quoted by Pope Pius XI in Ingravescentibus Malis (Encyclical on the Rosary)
His Holiness Pope Pius XI
Praying the Rosary involves repeating the same prayers to Mary and, to a lesser extent, God the Father. Was this what Jesus had in mind when He spoke out against repetitious prayers?
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [do]: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as [it is] in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.--Matthew 6:5-13
Praying the Rosary sure looks like praying to dead Mary to me. But a pope assures us it is a different kind of praying.
We do not pray to the Blessed in the same way as to God; for we ask the Holy Trinity to have mercy on us, but we ask all the Saints to pray for us . . . Yet our manner of praying to the Blessed Virgin has something in common with our worship of God, so that the Church even addresses to her the words with which we pray to God: "Have mercy on sinners." . . For, so great is her dignity, so great her favour before God, that whosoever in his need will not have recourse to her is trying to fly without wings.--Augustissimae Virginis Mariae, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, September 12, 1897)
Why ask a dead person for help? God the Father is approachable.
The LORD [is] nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them. The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.--Psalms 145:18-20)