Nature of the Devotion to Mary, as Taught and Practised in the Catholic Church, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of a statue of Mary Immaculate, date and artist unknown; Tadlac Lake, Laguna, Philippines; photographed on 16 July 2013 by Ramon FVelasquez; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThe Blessed Virgin Mary having been conceived, alone among all other children of men, without the stain of original sin, and having been chosen from among all the daughters of Adam to be made the Mother of God, she assumes, in the economy of Christian salvation, a peculiar and exalted position, belonging exclusively to herself. To her, therefore, belongs a special and distinguished veneration. In order, Christian reader, that you may rightly understand this practice of Catholics, you will lay well to heart: first, that Mary is not entitled to that degree of homage or worship which belongs to God alone; secondly, that she is entitled to the same veneration which the Catholic Church gives to the other saints of God; thirdly, that to her, as being Queen of all the saints, and just because of this exalted position, there belong special modes of respect which those saints have not in common with her.

Adoration or Worship Not to be Given to the Blessed Virgin

Infinitely exalted above all His creatures is the great Creator. Compared with His infinite holiness, all human excellence, even that of the Blessed Virgin itself, is full of defects and imperfections. In presence of His infinitely glorious majesty, we must all bow down in our humility and with heart-felt sighs exclaim, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visit him?” (Psalm 8:5)

To Him, therefore alone, “to the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1st Timothy 1:17) This honor, this respect, this service, which we testify and give to God, and to Him only, is what is termed worship or adoration, and is described in theology by the word “latria.”

According to the teaching of that eminent theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas, who is always “the angelic doctor of the Church,” adoration or worship is an act of virtue and of respect for God, whereby, while adverting to and recognizing the supreme dignity and the infinite majesty of God, as well as acknowledging our own dependence on Him, we wish to be subject to God, and avow this subjection. The act of worship thus contains four things: first, a recognition and an advertency of the created intellect to the supreme excellence of God on the one side, and a corresponding recognition of the unworthiness of the creature, on the other; secondly, a practical avowal that it is just and proper to offer to God reverence and proofs of our homage, because His majesty is so supremely exalted and His excellence so perfect, and because the creature is in such a state of lowliness and of dependence on Him; thirdly, assent and consent, and a perfectly voluntary submission of our will, by reason of the infinite excellence of God and of His most sublime perfections, to remain in our subjection to Him, and in our dependence on Him; fourthly, a testimony and a sign. by which we give to understand that we submit ourselves of our own free will to God, and are willing to depend on Him in all circumstances and for all things. The external act of adoration consists in bending the knee, prostrations on the ground, or even acts purely internal and mental, but expressing the genuine act of adoration from a creature to his Creator.

From all this, dear Christian reader, you may see clearly that strict adoration is an act of religion which belongs peculiarly and exclusively to God alone, because He alone is the only eternal, independent, perfect Being, Lord, Creator, and Upholder of all things, and in Himself is infinitely happy and blessed. For Mary, too, as well as for every other creature, God is Lord, Creator, Sustainer, and Comforter. The veneration, then, that we bestow upon her, is founded upon the excellence which she received from God, upon her election to the motherhood 01 God, which was granted to her by the Eternal Father, as well as upon her own merits, which also she acquired by the help of God’s grace.

The Veneration Given to the Saints is Due Also to the Blessed Virgin

Although strict adoration belongs exclusively to the Supreme Lord of the universe, proper and suitable veneration, paid to the friends and servants of God, is not forbidden. On this point the Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches: “Were a king to prohibit, by proclamation, any individual to assume the regal character or to accept the honors due to the royal person, how unreasonable to infer from such an edict a prohibition that suitable honor and respect should be paid to his magistrates! Holy men who adored one God only are also said in Scripture to have ‘adored,’ that is, supplicated and venerated, kings. If then kings, by Whose agency God governs the world are so highly honored, shall it be deemed unlawful to honor those angelic spirits whom God has been pleased to constitute His ministers, whose service He makes use of, not only in the government of His Church, but also of the universe, by whose invisible aid we are every day delivered from the greatest dangers of soul and body? Are they not, rather, worthy a veneration greater in proportion as the dignity of these blessed spirits exceeds that of kings? Another claim on our veneration is their love of us, which, as the Scripture informs us (Daniel 10:13), prompts them to pour out their prayers for those countries over which they are placed by Providence, and for us, whose guardians they are, and whose prayers and tears they present before the throne of God.” (Tobit 12:12; Revelations 8:3)

“True, there is but one Mediator, Christ the Lord – who alone has reconciled us through His blood (1st Timothy 2:5), and who, having accomplished our redemption, and having once entered into the Holy of holies, ceases not to intercede for us (Hebrews 9:12, 7:25); but it by no means follows that it is unlawful, therefore, to have recourse to the intercession of the saints. If, because we have one Mediator, Christ Jesus, it were unlawful to ask the intercession of the saints, the Apostle would not have recommended himself with so much earnestness to the prayers of his brethren on earth. In His capacity as Mediator, the prayers of the living should derogate from the glory and dignity of Christ not less than the intercession of the saints in heaven.” (Cat. Council of Trent, Part. 3, Chapter 2)

Such, Christian reader, is the Catholic doctrine in regard to the veneration and invocation of the saints of God. It is the same that has been taught by the Church during all ages, and strenuously defended by her against all the attacks of her opponents. To the faithful it has ever been an inexhaustible fountain of grace and an unfailing source of consolation.

And shall not the saintly Mother of God be allowed to enjoy a share of this veneration and invocation, which is allowed to all the other saints and even counselled by the Church? Once granted and believed that we may and ought to venerate the saints of God, it necessarily follows that such veneration belongs in the first place to those who have an undoubted right to stand first in their ranks, and who were distinguished by the abundance of graces which they received, by their intimate union with God, by their spirit of self-sacrifice, and by their general holiness of life. Christian reader, soar aloft on the wings of truth, search throughout all the mansions of the blessed, and find, if you can, any soul that stands nearer to the throne of God, and stands there by a better right, than the Virgin “full of grace,” in whom the Lord hath done great things. For He is mighty, and holy is His name.

Multiplied, varied, and untiring have been the efforts made by the enemies of the Catholic Church and of Mary, her Queen,to impugn our doctrine and to condemn our pious practices on this point. But no heretic has yet dared to advance the proposition that while men are permitted to respect the memory of the saints and to seek their aid, yet that the Blessed Virgin has not merited and is not Worthy of a share in this devotion.

To the Blessed Virgin is Due a Special Devotion

To God alone is supreme worship due. To the saints belongs veneration. But to the blessed Mother of God we owe a special devotion, peculiarly her own.

You must, clear Christian reader, find this truth one of the easiest to be understood. Why should I seek to prove it to you, from the personal holiness and extraordinary dignity and excellence of the woman who was chosen to be God’s Mother? From the countless array of pious and learned Fathers of the Church who have written on this subject, I shall cite but one, Isidore, bishop of Thessalonica, who thus dilates on the superiority of Mary over every other child of Adam: “I state and assert in a few words, to the Blessed Virgin Mary belong prerogatives that are inconceivable to the understanding and beyond the power of the human tongue to express. She is superior to all other creatures. I may say, without fear of uttering heresy, that she, more than all the other wonders of nature combined, is calculated to lead men to a knowledge of God’s power and glory. And if from the beginning neither the angels nor the firmament, nor the heavenly bodies, nor the earth, nor the sea had been created, yet men would have attained to a good and true knowledge of the attributes of God, by the very appearance among them of this incomparable Virgin-Mother. And indeed all those grand and beautiful works of creation, even the sublimest and best endowed, when compared with that Queen who gave birth to the King of all, and thus brought to all the greatest good, pale so much before her that we cannot comprehend her exaltation. It, therefore, no other work of creation were in existence, this brightest and purest Virgin would be all-sufficient to give as much honor and as much praise to the divine creative Majesty, as if all the rest of creation were there. But I may also say that the other great works in creation were brought into existence that it might be made evident to what a high degree Mary was distinguished above them all; or to speak otherwise and more truly, that other creatures might be present on which God’s brilliant operations might be made manifest through her.”

To such an extent is the venerable Virgin the wonder of wonders, the miracle of miracles. Nothing that exists, God alone excepted, is grander or more beautiful than she.

Since, therefore, the Blessed Virgin excels all other created beings, and is lifted up above the holiest – since she it is who comes nearest to God – is it not just and proper, Christian reader, that the respect shown to her by men should bear seine proportion to her exalted state and position, to her transcendent virtues? Should not our respect for her be proportioned to the benefit for which, in a special manner, we are indebted to her? Was it not she who gave us Our Saviour? Should not our devotion to her correspond to the graces, favors and benefits of salvation? All these we have received from God through her powerful intercession. In short, should not this devotion to Mary form the fairest, most lovely and loving, most interior and most blessed spiritual occupation of every Christian soul?

Yes, all hail, O Mary! Be thou forever honored and called blessed. Thou art full of grace, more saintly than the saints, more glorious than the cherubim, more excellent than any other creature. O, purest of Virgins, most deserving art than of all honor. Treasure of innocence, jewel of sanctity, thou who surpasses the nature of all created things, lead us to God. By thy most powerful intercession, so pleasing to God, and on account of thy mother’s claims, so irresistible, lead us to thy Son, Our Lord. Amen.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898