A few days ago I wrote about “good Catholics.” It’s generally agreed among Catholics that those who follow the prescribed rules of the church – like going to mass every Sunday and going to confession regularly – are “good” Catholics. There’s a very small percentage of those “good” Catholics who take it even a step further and do things like go to mass daily or say the rosary daily.
Evangelicals know that many Catholic use rosaries but they may not know some of the details involved. The standard rosary is made up of 59 beads. When a Catholic uses the rosary they will say 53 “Hail Mary” prayers and 6 “Our Father” prayers along with some other standard prayers mixed in.
What exactly is said in the “Hail Mary” prayer? Let’s take a look:
“Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
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 of our death. Amen.”
The first portion of the Hail Mary prayer comes from excerpts from Luke 1:28 & 42 (see the Catholic Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition). The first line says Mary is “full of grace” but Bible scholars agree the meaning of the Greek text is something closer to “favored one” (NASB and ESV). Yes, Mary was favored and blessed by the Lord to bear Jesus in her womb. But Mary was a sinner as we all are and was trusting in the Lord for her salvation (“…my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – Luke 1:47)
The second portion of the prayer is a creation of the Catholic church and didn’t appear in print until Savonarola’s “Esposizione sopra l’Ave Maria” in 1495. Mary is not holy. Only God is holy. Mary was given the title, “Mother of God” ( theotokos – God bearer) in the 400s in reaction to heresy which emphasized Christ’s humanity over His divinity. The thinking was that since Jesus is God, then Mary was the mother of God, which eventually led to elevating Mary to a position of semi-deity. Catholics believe that, like God, Mary is omnipresent and able to hear the millions of prayers said to her every day throughout the world. Catholics believe Mary, the sympathetic mother, intercedes and mediates on behalf of their salvation before a harsh and judging God. God may not forgive but soft-hearted Mother Mary does and she will intercede for her followers. Catholics believe that by giving birth to Jesus and witnessing His death on the cross, Mary plays an active role in the redemption of sinners. So, Catholics believe that Mary shares Christ’s intercessory offices of Mediator and Redeemer and that she is also the channel of all of God’s graces. Catholics believe that salvation comes through their church’s sacraments which dispense grace channeled through Mary so that the partaker is able to obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church rules in order to merit Heaven. Catholics must constantly work at meriting their salvation so they pray to Mary and the saints for assistance in helping them live a good life right up until the “hour of (their) death.”
If you were a devoted Catholic and prayed the rosary every day you would spend 122 hours a year praying to Mary (20 minutes x 365 days = 7300 minutes or 122 hours). In one year you would pray 19,345 prayers to Mary (53 beads x 365 days = 19,345 prayers).
Mary was a sinner who loved the Lord and accepted Christ as her Savior like every believer. Mary is currently in Heaven worshipping her Savior. She is not omnipresent like God. She does not hear prayers. Nowhere in God’s Word does any believer pray to anyone other than God. Salvation does not come by receiving the sacraments and by obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!). The Law only shows us that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Yes, God is a Holy Judge but He is also loving and merciful. He loves us so much He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life and die for our sins. But Jesus rose from the grave, defeating sin and death and offers the free gift of salvation to all who repent of their sins and accept Him as their Savior.
Mary would be sorely grieved by all the devotion given to her. She would want you to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, just as she did, and to worship God alone.
When Catholics read the New Testament for the first time, they are surprised by how little Mary is mentioned. As the early church became increasingly institutionalized, it syncretized many of the Roman pagan beliefs and practices including worship of the mother goddess. For how Mariolatry evolved see “The Virgin: Mary’s Cult and the Re-emergence of the Goddess” by distinguished British historian, Geoffrey Ashe.