Reflection on the Role of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church May 2012
With Rev. Fr. Andrew Manickam OFM Cap
The veneration of the Virgin Mary is an important practice in Catholicism. To Catholics, the Virgin Mary holds extreme importance as the mother of God, the vessel through which God became man. However,
there is confusion and accusation, particularly from other sects of Christianity, that Catholics worship Mary, and other saints. This is a conflict that has existed for centuries, since according to
scripture, honor and worship are to be given to God alone, and “worshipping” the Virgin Mary would be in direct violation of the worship of the one God.
In fact, Catholics do not view the Virgin Mary as a God, and have never done so. But many prayers and petitions are said to Mary to ask her to intercede with her son. The nature of intercessory prayer is
that it is a request for a person in heaven to intervene with God and bring the petitioners prayers to the notice of God. The Virgin Mary, in the Hail Mary prayer is asked to “pray for us”, not to “grant
our wishes.” For a long time, especially when purgatorial views were common, it was believed that only intercessory prayers of a person in heaven could lift people from purgatory to heaven.
The Virgin Mary is viewed as the ultimate compassionate human being, and holy, in part, because of her willingness to accede to God’s wishes. For the time period in which she lived, carrying a child without
first being married was a monumental request. Further, Virgin Mary had to willingly sacrifice that child, surpassing even Abraham, in her ability not to interfere in God’s ways and means.
The teaching of the Immaculate Conception also bears mention, Mary is a virgin, is filled with God’s love, which creates Christ, and despite her virginity gives birth. She is the living example of the good
God can do if only people will obey, and she gives birth to Christianity and Catholicism. This makes her both powerful and important. Catholics do not believe that the Virgin Mary is the source of Christ’s
divinity, but instead the most willing and compassionate servant of God, other than Christ.
Another important aspect of the Virgin Mary is that she
is born without “original sin”. Today original sin is likely to be dismissed
by most as an outdated concept. Up until Vatican II, Catholics believed all
who were not baptized retained the original sin of Adam and Eve’s
disobedience to God in Genesis. Unbaptized children had to remain outside
the gates of heaven in Limbo, for eternity for failure to be baptized.
Though the Catholic Church depended on the doctrine of original sin as a
premise for baptism, insistence that Mary was born without original sin was
an important teaching. Only a sinless individual was an appropriate vessel
From a practical sense, the Virgin Mary also supports the woman’s role in
the church. Mary is a servant, a mother and lives free of sin. She does what
God tells her to do. Women should be servants, mothers, caretakers, and
strive for sinless living.
Lastly, most Catholics feel a strong personal relationship to Mary, because
she is in a sense, mother to all. To the Father, represented as God, Christ
and the Holy Spirit, you would bring your large concerns. Prayers for Mary’s
intercessions can bring up the small wounds and hurts that may not be big
enough to talk to God about. Just as a child might run to a mother for
comfort after a fall, many Catholics feel Mary is accessible in this way as
a mother figure. Catholics turn to her for support, remembering she is fully
human and not divine, and ask for her prayers, her compassion and love,
knowing her nature to be one of eternal hope and mercy.