Why do many Protestants attack the Catholic relationship with Mary? After eight years, the answer came to me through Evangelical....
In the book Fundamentally Catholic, (available here) we review many of the common complaints I heard from Evangelicals concerning the Catholic relationship with Mary. After spending every other weekend at a local 'mega-Church', I finally understood the source of their concern.
Do Catholics create an idol of Mary and do we then sin against God when we 'pray' to her? If the charge itself is true, then the Evangelical concern about it is certainly valid.
There are many references in the Catechism and elsewhere that Catholics do not worship Mary. My favorite comes from paragraph 970 of the Catechism, "Mary's function…in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. (It) flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it." "No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer…”
But the Protestant arguments continue nonetheless. Why? We can pass it off simply by saying the arguments are more anti-Catholic than against Mary. But the real answer is that many Protestants use the word pray in a very specific way, which for them always equates to ‘worship’. Sure, the traditional uses of the word ‘pray’ include other definitions, such as simply asking for something, i.e. “I pray sir, would you might giving me a hand?” But Protestants have only one meaning in mind when they think of prayer.
Their view has developed from the way many Protestants are taught to pray. They learn that all proper prayer includes four steps summarized by the word, ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. When they pray, they are to adore God (adoration is the technical work for worship), they are to confess our sins to God since he is the one we sin against and the one who can forgive. They are to thank God for what he has blessed us with out of his own power, and they are to ask God (in ‘supplication’) to provide for our needs out of his own power.
Where Protestants often get tripped up is in the words we Catholics use (and often the 'shorthand' we employ). Here is a line from the prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, "O Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth, I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart, to succour me in this necessity; there are none that can withstand your power."
Understanding ACTS from the Protestant mind-set, we can now understand they can read "none can withstand your power' within this prayer and assume Catholics believe we can go to Mary alone, and not through Jesus to the Father, to grant us our desire. That she can answer our needs out of her own power and therefore we can essentially 'worship' her to gain her favor and the desires of our own hearts, placing her as an idol above God.
The bottom line, however, is that we Catholics do none of the four things covered by ACTS when when we ‘pray’ to Mary or the Saints. We do not adore (worship) Mary but honor (venerate) her. We do not confess our sins to her as if she is our Savior, we do not thank her as if she has the power to grant us anything without God and we do not ask he to grant us anything out of her own power.
We merely ask Mary and the Saints to intercede for us, to pray for our needs to God just as we ask each other to pray to God for our needs. By explaining the Catholic view through the use of ACTS, you can break through the Protestant arguments against Mary and knock down at least one of the bricks separating Christians from one another.
For more information such as this, consider the Kindle Version of Fundamentally Catholic, available here.