Before explaining to you, my dear friend, Catholic doctrine and practice regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary, let me state two truths that the Church teaches most emphatically: (1) God alone, the Supreme, Infinite Being, must be adored. To adore any creature, however exalted, would be to commit idolatry. It is simply absurd and also grossly unfair to say that Catholics adore Mary. (2) Jesus Christ alone is our Mediator of Redemption. He alone, by his supreme sacrifice, of infinite value, redeemed and ransomed mankind.
What Honor May be Shown to Mary?
If God alone is to be adored, if Christ alone is to be worshiped as our Mediator of Redemption, may any honor be shown to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and, if so, what kind of honor?
There is an innate law engraven on the human heart that dictates that special honor should be shown to creatures who are clothed with a special dignity. Children must honor their parents; servants must revere their masters; soldiers must respect their officers; subjects must show loyalty to their rulers. God himself has, in fact, positively commanded, in his revelation to man, this honor that the natural law prescribes. Our non-Catholic friends, following reason and accepting the teaching of the Bible, cannot but admit this principle or truth. Thus it is as clear as day that, besides the supreme honor that we give God, and which we term adoration, there is an inferior honor that we not only may but must show to all creatures who are clothed with special dignity.
What, then, must be said of our duty of honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose dignity as far transcends that of any other creature as heaven excels earth? . . .
Of all creatures Mary has the unique privilege of adoring her own Child. To Mary alone can God the Son address the sweet title Mother! What a marvelous dignity, then, was conferred on the humble Virgin of Nazareth!
Scripture Teaches Devotion to Mary
I ask you, my dear friend, to read carefully the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, verse 26 to verse 55. It is very hard to understand how any Christian can study this passage and then refuse to honor Mary. Why, the "Hall Mary," which Catholics love to address to the Blessed Virgin, is explicitly given there; part of it was said by the angel Gabriel and part by Elizabeth. The angel was inspired by God and Elizabeth "was filled with the Holy Ghost" (v. 41). Let us put together the words that the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth addressed to Mary: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed are thou among women" (v. 28). "Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Here we have the salutation that Catholics address to Mary. The only addition we have made are the two names, "Mary" and "Jesus." So that, in saying the Hail, Mary, Catholics are explicitly following the Bible. I shall deal with the second part of this prayer presently.
You will notice, my dear friend, that Mary in that sublime canticle known as the Magnificat, which is recorded by the inspired writer from verse 46 to 55, declared: "Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (v. 48). Who, I ask, fulfills this prophecy: those who refuse to apply the adjective blessed to the Virgin Mary, or Catholics, who love to call Mary the Blessed Virgin?
Invocation of Mary
Not only do we honor Mary; we also invoke her or ask her intercession. Some objectors say that we should pray to God alone. Well, Catholics certainly pray directly to God, for they regard the Our Father as the best and most beautiful of all prayers and frequently recite it. But they pray also to Mary, asking her to intercede for them with her divine Son.
Our non-Catholic friends ask one another’s prayers, and in this we praise them. But, if I may say to a sinner on this earth, and he may say to me, another sinner, "Pray for me," for what reason may we not say to the sinless Mother of God enthroned in heaven, "Pray for us"? If St. Paul asked the Romans to "help him in their prayers for him to God" (Rom. 15:16); if he wrote to the Thessalonians, "Pray for us," why may we not ask Mary, who is far holier and nearer to God than the Roman and Thessalonian converts, to "pray for us"? In fact, we read in the Old Testament that God positively commanded Eliphaz and his two friends to go to the holy man Job and seek his intercession: "My servant Job shall pray for you; his face I will accept, that folly be not imputed to you" (Job 42:8).
Therefore Catholics act aright when they say: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."
Statues and Pictures of Mary
But why, someone may ask, do Catholics have statues or pictures of Mary in their churches and homes? Is it not against the first (or second) commandment to make graven images? No, it is against God’s laws to adore images, not to make them; otherwise we should have to abolish all such things as dolls, for are they not "graven images"? And does anyone imagine that it is against the first commandment to make dolls or to give them to children? God even commanded the making of certain images in the Old Law, as we read in various parts of the Old Testament. For instance, he ordered Moses to make two cherubim (angels) of beaten gold (Ex. 25:18).
If non-Catholics approve of the making and erecting of statues of Queen Victoria or King Edward or General MacArthur or Charles Dickens or Roosevelt (and in this we agree with them), how can they possibly see anything objectionable in making a statue of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the King of kings, and putting it in a prominent place? We ask our friends outside the Church to be fair and not to attempt playing "Heads I win, and tails you lose."
As to the custom of lighting candles and placing vases of flowers before the statue or picture of the Blessed Virgin, no person can reasonably object to this practice who would approve of a college boarder plucking flowers, arranging them nicely in vases, and putting them in front of her mother’s photo, which she had placed on the mantelpiece in her room. If the latter is a praiseworthy practice—as every person endowed with reason and affection admits—surely the former custom is equally laudable. Likewise, if a child may laudably kiss the photo of her absent mother, in order to show her love for her (though the child well knows that the photo itself is an inanimate, unresponsive object), so Catholics are worthy of praise when they kiss a picture or statue of Mary in order to express the love they have for the living Queen of Heaven, whom the image represents. . .
Protestant Poets and Devotion to Mary
Devotion to Mary is so beautiful a practice and fits in so harmoniously in the plan of the Christian religion that the Christian soul, untrammelled or untainted by prejudice, instinctively recognizes its truth. I have not infrequently been struck by the fact that Protestant children, who have as yet been given no bias against this devotion, quickly perceive its loveliness and are strongly attracted by it when once they are given even an elementary idea of it. And even more mature non-Catholic children are sometimes at a loss to know why they have been turned against such a sweet, appealing devotion. I once heard a Presbyterian girl of twelve, who had seen a picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel, ask her mother: "Why don’t Protestants honor the Mother of Jesus?"
Poetry helps men to shed prejudice, and so we find certain Protestant poets, in their moments of poetic rapture, writing exquisite things about the Blessed Virgin. The following beautiful lines come from the pen of Wordsworth:
Mother whose virgin bosom was uncrossed
With the least shade of thought to sin allied.
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature’s solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tossed;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses; than unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven’s blue coast.
Longfellow, another non-Catholic poet, has given us a lovely poem:
This is indeed the Blessed Mary’s land!
Virgin and Mother of our dear Redeemer;
All hearts are touched and softened at her name;
Alike the bandit, with the bloody hand,
The priest, the prince, the scholar, and the peasant,
The man of deeds, the visionary dreamer,
Pay homage to her as one ever present!
And even as children who have much offended
A too-indulgent father, in great shame,
Penitent, and yet not daring unattended
To go into his presence, at the gate
Speak with their sister, and confiding wait
Till she goes in before and intercedes;
So men, repenting of their evil deeds,
And yet, not venturing rashly to draw near
With their requests an angry father’s ear,
Offer to her their prayers and their confession,
And she for them in heaven makes intercession.
And if our faith had given us nothing more
Than this example of all womanhood,
So mild, so merciful, so strong, so good,
So patient, peaceful, loyal, loving, pure,
This were enough to prove it higher and truer
Than all the creeds the world had known before.
This excerpt was taken from Chats with Converts: Complete Explanation and Proof of Catholic Belief by Fr. M. D. Forrest, M.S.C., originally published in 1943 by Radio Replies Press and republished in 1978 by TAN Books and Publishers.