Protestants often accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary. This is because we pray to her and sometimes use strong language to express our love for her.
As Catholics, we know that the devotion we show Our Lady is not the same as the adoration we give to God. But how do you help your non-Catholic friends understand this distinction?
Here are some tips.
Explain the meaning of worship.
Worship is honor or respect given to another person. There are two principal expressions of worship: “adoration” or “sacrifice” and “veneration” or “intercession.” In ancient Greek, these are called latria
We give latria only to God. In English, we often use the word “worship” in this restricted sense. Catholics do NOT give latria to Mary because she is not God. We do not attribute divinity to her.
We do give dulia (“veneration”) to Mary. You could also call it “worship” if you mean veneration rather than adoration. Even Old English sometimes uses the word in this way. In an older form of the Anglican wedding ceremony, the couple says that they “worship” each other with their bodies. No one who hears this thinks that the couple is committing idolatry.
Point to the Catholic liturgy.
Part of the origin of the Protestant’s understanding of worship goes back to the liturgy. Many Protestants removed the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is our highest form of worship and offered only to God. For Protestants, worship of God became a form of veneration that was hard to distinguish from the veneration of the saints. Once you restore the Eucharistic sacrifice, the vast chasm between the worship of God and the veneration of the saints, such as Mary, becomes clear.
Remind Protestants that they venerate others and ask for intercessory prayer.
Most Protestants have no problem asking their families and friends to pray for them. That’s no different than asking Mary to pray for you, except that she’s in heaven and thus even closer to God than your loved ones.
Similarly, many Protestants venerate exemplary Christians, sports icons, and other admirable figures. They know that this veneration doesn’t amount to worship. Why shouldn’t we give this same love to Mary and the other saints?
Back to our initial question, do Catholics worship Mary? The answer is “yes” and “no,” depending on what form of worship we’re talking about.
Still, since most people don’t consider this distinction, it’s usually better to reserve the word “worship” for God and use “veneration” when referring to the Blessed Mother.