“Isn’t praying (worshipping) Mary wrong? I grew up Catholic, but now I wonder if it’s wrong to pray to Mary…1st Commandment: Thou shalt not have strange Gods before me? Just praying to Jesus seems in accordance with the Bible.”
Great question! Is praying to or worshipping Mary wrong? Nope!
There are three things worth looking at here: what praying means, what worshipping means, and who Mary is. What does it mean to pray to someone? To pray is to ask. If ever I have asked someone to pray to God for me, I have prayed to them that they would pray to God for me. We ask Mary for her to pray to God for us, in part because we ask any Christian to pray for us. If we’ve never asked anyone else to pray on our behalf, then we would be missing out on what being part of the body of Christ is all about—when I falter, I have Christian brothers and sisters who lift me up in prayer. Our brothers and sisters in Christ have gifts or positions that have special graces associated with them—Fr. Chas and Fr. Brian have been blessed by the sacrament of holy orders to pass along particular graces to us, while some parishioners have been blessed with certain charisms that they’ve been given in order to be conduits of the Holy Spirit in particular ways for us. Mary is a conduit for graces for us, too. So do we pray to Mary? Of course—God gave her a special role of bringing Jesus into the world, and she still cooperates with the Holy Spirit to bring Christ into the world.
What does it mean to worship? Wor-ship is from two words, worthy and scipe, which just means state or condition of being worthy. Worshipping is yielding ourselves to someone according to their state of worthiness. In England, they refer to some positions as “His Worship” or “Your Worship”—meaning that they have authority enough for us to yield to them in some matters. In the old rite of matrimony, one of the options for the groom to say while putting the ring on his bride was “With this ring I thee wed; this gold and silver I thee give; with my body I thee worship; and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” The groom says that he is going to yield his body to his wife—and she is worthy of being yielded to. When we worship God, we are saying that we yield everything to Him—He is the only one who deserves our full submission,
which in Greek we call latria. Other people may be yielded to in ways less in kind and degree—we call that yielding dulia. Idolatry is when we yield totally (latria) to an idol. But to saints and to people in lawful authority, it’s important to acknowledge reality—God has given us examples and authority for us to learn obedience.
Mary is a special case. We always reserve our full submission to God. God, somewhat paradoxically, submitted Himself to Mary, in waiting on her response at the Annunciation, and by being raised by her. Then on the cross, Jesus gave the beloved disciple to Mary as mother, saying, essentially, that beloved disciples are to submit to Mary as much as Jesus does. That’s why we call the special kind of yielding we do to Mary not just dulia, but hyperdulia, because Jesus tells us to treat her as He treated her. And the coolest thing about yielding to Mary is that it always, always, always leads to fuller submission to Jesus—at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary’s words to the servants are what she will keep telling us: “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” Do we worship Mary? Of course—exactly as much as Jesus yields to His mother, we are to do likewise. Does doing that endanger our relationship with Jesus? How could it? Jesus gives us His mother so we can have a relationship with her. We’d be ignoring His gift if we didn’t acknowledge Mary as mother and intercessor.