We Don't Worship Mary…I Think

It ,ust be obvious to Christians and others outside the Roman Church that the veneration Catholics render to the Romish version of the Virgin Mary is on a par with that given to Almighty God. In my experience, Catholics are quick to deny that this is so. Their denials generally are followed by a lesson in the semantics of Catholic worship.

"We don't worship Mary," they might argue. "We worship God, and venerate Mary." Or they might claim that the cultus they offer to Mary is just a form of honoring her. It's just a word game apparently designed to confound and confuse those who might consider the excessive, fawning adoration that is so evident in Catholic prayers and petitions to their earth-mother goddess to be the same style of worship—or more so—as that offered to God Himself.

That unusual Catholic, one who has made at least some small effort to learn something of the dogmas and doctrines of his Church, might respond by citing the different forms of worship Catholics are to render to spirit beings. In my experience, even such persons are unwilling to acknowledge that latria, hyperdulia and dulia refer to nothing more than degrees, or levels, of worship. I do not doubt that their positions are honestly taken. It seems natural to me that they should be confused on this matter, given the variety of labels attached to the different levels of worship by Catholic popes, priests and theologians in a virtual flood of Marian writings.

Now that Mother Church is pushing the ecumenicalism handcart, it appears that the some of the powers-that-be in the Vatican are using the soft pedal when addressing the cultus to be rendered to the Queen of Catholicism. Take the Code of Canon Law, for example. In the old Pio Benedictine Code (1917), which was the first-ever such code, Canon 1255 read thusly:

Can. 1255. § 1. Sanctissimae Trinitati, singulis eiusdem Personis, Christo Domino, etiam sub speciebus sacramentalibus, debetur cultus latriae; Beatae Mariae Virgini cultus hyperduliae; aliis cum Christo in caelo regnantibus cultus duliae.

§ 2. Sacris quoque reliquiis atque imaginibus veneratio et cultus debetur relativus personae ad quam reliquiae imaginesque referuntur.1917 Code of Canon Law

For those readers who were not compelled to study Latin in high school, Canon 1255 may be rendered in English as follows:

"§ 1. The worship due to the most holy Trinity, to each of the divine Persons, to our Lord Jesus Christ, even under the sacramental species, is called cultus latriae (highest kind of worship, adoration); that which is due to the blessed Virgin Mary is called cultus hyperduliae (special veneration or worship); that which is due to the others who reign with Christ in heaven is called cultus duliae (veneration or worship).

"§ 2. To sacred relics and images there is also due a veneration and worship which is relative to the persons to whom the relics and images refer." (My emphasis)

Those who remember some of what they learned in Latin Class might be quick to point out that the words in parentheses in the English rendering are not included in the Latin text. And they would be correct. The parentheticals are intended to translate the Latin terms retained in the translation.

An old encyclopedia has this to say about worship:

WORSHIP (i.e. “worth-ship,” 0. Eng. weor~scipe), honour, dignity, reverence, respect. The word is used in a special sense of the service, reverence and honour paid, by means of devotional words or acts, to God, to the gods, or to hallowed persons, such as the Virgin Mary or the saints, and hallowed objects, such as holy images or relics. In this sense, however, it must be borne in mind that the Roman Catholic Church distinguishes three kinds of worship: (I) latria, the worship due to God alone(...service, esp. the service of the gods, worship), and (2) hyperdulia, the worship or adoration due to the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God (...above, and..., service), and (3) dulia, that due to the saints...Worship, "The Encyclopedia Britannica" (1911)

Want something more Catholic? How about the old Catholic Encyclopedia? That respected document informs:

There are several degrees of this worship: if it is addressed directly to God, it is superior, absolute, supreme worship, or worship of adoration, or, according to the consecrated theological term, a worship of latria. This sovereign worship is due to God alone; addressed to a creature it would become idolatry. When worship is addressed only indirectly to God, that is, when its object is the veneration of martyrs, of angels, or of saints, it is a subordinate worship dependent on the first, and relative, in so far as it honours the creatures of God for their peculiar relations with Him; it is designated by theologians as the worship of dulia, a term denoting servitude, and implying, when used to signify our worship of distinguished servants of God, that their service to Him is their title to our veneration (cf. Chollet, loc. cit., col. 2407, and Bouquillon, Tractatus de virtute religionis, I, Bruges, 1880, 22 sq.).

As the Blessed Virgin has a separate and absolutely supereminent rank among the saints, the worship paid to her is called hyperdulia…--F. Cabrol, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV, Christian Worship, (c)1912 by Robert Appleton Company, Online Edition Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Knight, w/Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur

Hmmm. Seems the 1912 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia is in agreement with the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Let's look at another highly respected Catholic source, the Baltimore Catechism, which is used in many Catholic parishes even today.

"9. Q. What must we do to save our souls?

"A. To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.

"Worship," that is, give Him divine honor. We honor persons for their worth and excellence, and since God is the most excellent, we give Him the highest honors, differing from others not merely in degrees but in kind-divine honors that belong to Him alone. And justly so, for the vilest animal upon the earth is a thousand times more nearly our equal than the most perfect creature, man or angel, is the equal of God. In speaking of worship, theologians generally distinguish three kinds, namely: latria, or that supreme worship due to God alone, which cannot be transferred to any creature without committing the sin of idolatry; dulia, or that secondary veneration we give to saints and angels as the special friends of God; hyperdulia, or that higher veneration which we give to the Blessed Virgin as the most exalted of all God's creatures. It is higher than the veneration we give to the other saints, but infinitely inferior to the worship we give to God Himself. We show God our special honor by never doubting anything He reveals to us, therefore by "faith"; by expecting with certainty whatever He promises, therefore by "hope"; and finally by loving Him more than anyone else in the world, therefore by "charity."--The Baltimore Catechism [My emphasis]

That catechism, which has the approval of the American bishops and, of course, the Vatican, mentions three kinds of worship. So what's going on? Do Catholics worship Mary, the saints, relics, statues, etc., or don't they? I suppose the best answer would be to say that they do worship all those spirits and things, but not at the same level as the worship they render to God. The trick is getting a Catholic to acknowledge that.

The folks at Catholic Answers shed a bit of light on the cloudy subject of Catholic worship:

The word "worship" has undergone a change in meaning in English. It comes from the Old English weorthscipe, which means the condition of being worthy of honor, respect, or dignity. To worship in the older, larger sense is to ascribe honor, worth, or excellence to someone, whether a sage, a magistrate, or God...Saint Worship?, (C) Catholic Answers

Did I say "shed a bit of light?" All that tells us is that the word worship used to be understood to refer to honoring someone, man or God. A bit farther down the page, one discovers these more edifying words:

...however, the English term "worship" has been narrowed in scope to indicate only that supreme form of honor, reverence, and respect that is due to God. This change in usage is quite recent. In fact, one can still find books that use "worship" in the older, broader sense. This can lead to a significant degree of confusion, when people who are familiar only with the use of words in their own day and their own circles encounter material written in other times and other places. --Ibid. [My emphasis]

Boy Howdy! I reckon that this change can lead to a "significant degree of confusion." This is particularly true when one considers that, in October of 2002, Pope John Paul II was a veritable fountain of Marian veneration. Among his efforts to venerate Catholicism's Queen-Mother were: 1) declaring the Year of the Rosary; 2) adding five more decades of Hail Marys to the Rosary; 3) publishing the Apostolic Letter: Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary). Any one of these acts could be construed as worshipful of Mary. One Catholic Journal describes the Pope's acts in these terms:

In one of the most beautiful of his documents Pope John Paul announces the Year of the Rosary — October 2002 - October 2003. He urges us to rediscover the Rosary: to ‘contemplate with Mary the face of Christ’ (RVM 3). The Pope also announces five further mysteries of the Holy Rosary.—Denis J. Hart, Archbishop of Melbourne, Pope Announces Year of the Rosary, in the Kairos Catholic Journal

For another example of the way Catholics don't worship Mary, I invite readers to visit the ZENIT News Services article in which Catholicism's show pony Scott Hahn demonstrates how he does not worship Mary with such words as:

"The glories we honor in Mary are merely her own reflections of God's glory," says the author of books such as "Rome Sweet Home" and "Hail, Holy Queen." Here, the one-time Presbyterian minister spells out his ideas.Scott Hahn: "If We Ignore the Mother, We Can't See the Child",© Zenit News Services, Dec 25, 2002


Q: Why do you most (sic) converts to Catholicism have such an intense devotion to the Blessed Virgin?

Hahn: I can only speak for myself. I discovered the Catholic Church as not only the family of God, but as my family too. Mary is not only the mother of Jesus, but my mother too.

That's a wonderful discovery to make so late in one's life. So maybe we're making up for lost time! Or maybe we have a special affection for the practices that are distinctive to the ancient Christian faith -- the practices that we missed in our own upbringing.--Ibid.

While John Paul II and Scott Hahn are busy not worshipping the Queen-Mother of Catholicism, let us check Roget's International Thesaurus to see if it can clear up this confusion. Under the heading, "Class VI. Words Relating to the Sentient and Moral Powers," we find these tidbits:

990. Worship.

NOUN: WORSHIP, adoration, devotion, cult, aspiration, homage, service, humiliation; kneeling, genuflection, prostration; latria, dulia, hyperdulia…

VERB: WORSHIP, lift up the heart, aspire; revere [See Respect]; adore, do service, pay homage; humble oneself, kneel; bow -, bend- the knee; throw oneself on one’s knees, fall down, fall on one’s knees; prostrate oneself, bow down and worship; beat the breast…Roget’s International Thesaurus

In all fairness, it should be acknowledged that the Roget's edition available online dates to 1922. That's back in the good old days before Catholic modernists used the Second Vatican Council to make many mellowing changes to the way Mother Church operates and how she presents herself to the world. As a consequence of the changes introduced by Vatican II, confusion appears to reign among older Catholics and former Catholics on one side and post-Vatican II Catholics and converts to Catholicism as to just what worship means.

In researching this article some time ago, I stumbled across the website of a Catholic apologist who seems to have a clear grasp of the ways things were and the way they are when it comes to worship – even Marian worship.

Our doctrine regarding prayers offered to Mary and the saints draws much fire from non-Catholic Christians (NCCs). Charges of idolatry are leveled at our devotions. The position of Queen of Heaven we bestow upon Mary has helped coin the term “Mariolatry”. If you engage in debate with NCCs long enough, you’ll hear one say: “You Catholics worship Mary.

[Yep, we sure do. (my comment)]


Catholics do worship Mary and the saints. Those who accuse us of this are correct, though not for the reasons they think. The reality of a living language is that words acquire and drop meanings, much like Elizabeth Taylor’s approach to husbands. The vulgar use of “worship” does not mean the same thing as the formal Catholic theological use of the word. In fact, our most recent catechism uses worship only in the sense of that “Adoration and honor given to God” (CCC, pg904).

However, historically in Catholic theology, there are three orders of worship: “Dulia”, for the saints, “hyperdulia” for Mary, and “latria” the highest form of worship reserved to God alone. For a full treatment of this, I refer you to , which is the Catholic Encyclopedia online entry on the subject.

This said, I personally advise great care in using the word “worship” in this manner. One can easily scandalize a Catholic due to modern usage, and many Protestants will not listen beyond your apparent admission of idolatry. The full truth of this concept can be taught without using the semantic bomb that is the word “worship”. A Catholic may honestly state “We do not worship Mary, nor do we worship the saints,” because the definitions of the word in question are so vastly different.

Armed with this knowledge, one can show Catholics draw a distinction between the prayers offered to God and those offered to saints. One can use veneration to describe that respect given to the Mary and the saints, (with a “higher veneration” given to Mary (Klein, 385)) and worship being applied to God alone, and still be well within the bounds of truth. Knowledge of the old approach is useful in cases where one finds a person slightly less ignorant of Catholic doctrine.—Stanley Winchester, Catholics worship the Saints, © 2001-2002 phatmass.com

Way to go, Stanley! How refreshing to encounter a Catholic apologist who actually knows what he is talking about. His theology may be incorrect, but he certainly is able to clearly discuss Catholic doctrine concerning worship as it was and now is. I acknowledge him as a worthy and honorable antagonist.

It should be noted that Canon 1255 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law deals with ownership and transfer of property and has nothing to do with worship. The section dealing with the worship of saints and images is now found in Canons 1186-87. Not surprisingly, the new canons avoid using the word "worship,"--undoubtedly for reasons Winchester mentioned--thus providing yet another example of change in the religion that boasts the motto Semper Eadem (Always the Same).

Can. 1186 To foster the sanctification of the people of God, the Church commends to the special and filial veneration of Christ’s faithful the Blessed Mary ever-Virgin, the Mother of God, whom Christ constituted the Mother of all. The Church also promotes the true and authentic cult of the other Saints, by whose example the faithful are edified and by whose intercession they are supported.

Can. 1187 Only those servants of God may be venerated by public cult who have been numbered by ecclesiastical authority among the Saints or the Blessed.--Code of Canon Law, 1983 Ed., Book IV, Title IV, English translation (c) 1983 The Canon Law Society Trust

And now a final word from Almighty God on the subject of worship:

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.-- Exodus 20:2-6

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