Where Does the Road to Rome Lead Ch. 3
Jesus said that the truth will set us free. (John 8:32) However, He did not say that the truth would necessarily be easy to accept. It was painful for me to learn the information that I am about to share with you, but it was also liberating and it led to a closer relationship with God.
As a faithful Catholic, and later as a nun, I was devoted to Mary. The prayers and practices were so familiar. They were taught to me by sincere people. I prayed the rosary, including rosary novenas. I wore a Brown Scapular and a Miraculous Medal. I visited shrines that honor Mary. I had beautiful statues of Mary. I attended special services where we prayed to Mary and recited a litany of titles honoring her. I read books about apparitions of Mary, and dreamed of visiting Lourdes and Fatima. I participated in processions honoring Mary. A statue of Mary was put on a platform that was decorated with flowers. There were poles on the platform, so that men could carry it on their shoulders. The men walked through the streets, carrying the statue on the platform. We walked behind the statue, singing songs in Mary’s honor.
Was this worship? At the time, that question never occurred to me. Now, looking back on what I did, I believe that it was.
If modern Catholic teachings and doctrines about Mary are true, then they will not be contrary to Scripture, the writings of the Early Fathers, or the decrees of past popes. For a devout Catholic to question these issues and put them to the test can be painful. It certainly was for me. However, it would be far more painful to have God correct us when we face Him on Judgment Day.
Devotion to Mary
If you want to see what a person's real priorities are, then watch what they do when their life, or the life of a loved one, is in danger. When Pope John Paul II was shot, while the ambulance was rushing him to the hospital, the Pope was not praying to God or calling on the name of Jesus. He kept saying, over and over, “Mary, my mother!” Polish pilgrims placed a picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa on the throne where the Pope normally sat. People gathered around the picture. Vatican loudspeakers broadcasted the prayers of the rosary. When the Pope recovered, he gave Mary all the glory for saving his life, and he made a pilgrimage to Fatima to publicly thank her.1
Jesus said, “[W]here your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34) Vast sums of money are spent on jeweled crowns and lavish clothing for some special statues of Mary. You can see pictures of them in the Catholic devotional book, Miraculous Images of Our Lady.2
In Spain, a statue of Our Lady of the Forsaken has elegant gowns and mantles decorated with gold and jewels. It has a large collection of jewels, including $50,000 worth of jewels that are a gift from Queen Isabella II.4
Our Lady of Guadalupe is best known for a painting in Mexico, but there is also a statue in Spain that wears gold and jewels. It has a sunburst headdress with 30,000 jewels.5
In Germany, a statue of Our Lady of Alötting has a gold crown covered with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds. It wears a necklace of pearls and rubies, and a gown that is decorated with gold, pearls, diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. The statue is in a shrine with a silver altar and walls that are decorated with silver.6
In Spain, a statue of Our Lady of the Pillar wears clothing decorated with gold and jewels, and a large gold crown covered with jewels. There is a sunburst (halo) behind the statue with a diameter that is larger than the height of the statue. A full-color, close-up picture of the crown and sunburst shows that they are covered with diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. (There are so many jewels that I can’t see the gold underneath them.) On the wall behind the statue are 148 gold stars; 80 of them are set with jewels.7
Even paintings of Mary can wear jewels. In Russia, there is a painting of Our Lady of Kazan that is covered with a rizza (a structure of gold that covers the entire painting except for the faces of Mary and baby Jesus). This rizza has more than 1,000 diamonds, rubies, pearls, and sapphires on it.8
In Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico, preparations are underway to construct a huge statue of Our Lady of the Rosary. Inside the base of the statue there will be chapels, conference rooms, apartments, a food court, and radio and TV stations. There will also be observation decks. This statue will be part of a 500-acre “Mystical City” complex. According to an article in Caribbean Business, this statue “will top at 1,500 feet.” According to an article by the Associated Press, the statue will be 305 feet high.9
The discrepancy in numbers can be explained by looking at the Statue of Liberty, which is a 151 foot statue on top of a 154 foot base. Some sources say that the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet high (which includes the height of the base) and some say that it is 151 feet high (which is the height of the actual statue). What we probably have in Sabana Grande is a 305 foot statue with a 1,200 foot base.
I have personally participated in American processions which honored Mary. We walked through the streets following a statue of Mary which was carried on a platform, high up where it was clearly visible. We sang songs in Mary’s honor. We prayed rosaries and other prayers to her. These were small processions. At Fatima, Portugal, crowds of over a million people gather on the anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. The celebration includes a procession of a million people following a statue of Mary and singing her praises.10
One popular prayer in Mary’s honor is the “Hail Holy Queen,” which is known in Latin as the Salve Regina. It is traditionally included as part of praying the rosary.
For Catholics who are reading this, please try to overcome your familiarity with this text and really look at the words. Doesn’t this sound like worship?
Alfonsus de Liguori (1696-1787) was a principal proponent of the Marianist Movement, which glorifies Mary. He wrote a book titled The Glories of Mary which is famous, influential and widely read. In this book, de Liguori says that Mary was given rulership over one half of the kingdom of God—Mary rules over the kingdom of mercy and Jesus rules over the kingdom of justice. De Liguori said that people should pray to Mary as a mediator and look to her as an object of trust for answered prayer. The book even says that there is no salvation outside of Mary.11
Some people suggest that these views are extreme and not representative of Catholic Church teaching. However, instead of silencing de Liguori as a heretic, the Catholic Church canonized him as a saint and declared him to be a “doctor of the Church” (a person whose teachings carry weight and authority). Furthermore, his book is openly and officially promoted by the Catholic Church, and his teachings have influenced popes.12
Pope Benedict XV said of Mary that “[O]ne can justly say that with Christ, she herself redeemed mankind.” 13 Pope Pius IX said, “Our salvation is based upon the holy Virgin…” 14
A lay movement called Vox Populi (“Voice of the People”) gathers signed petitions to send to the Pope, seeking to have him officially declare that Mary is Co‑Redemptrix. As of the year 2000, over six million signatures had been sent to him, representing 138 countries and all seven continents. This doctrine is supported by over 40 cardinals and 600 bishops worldwide.15
The Catholic Church exalts Mary as an idealized, larger-than-life, perfect mother. However, the Bible shows that at one point Mary misunderstood Jesus’ calling to the point that she thought He was insane and she tried to prevent Him from doing what God wanted Him to do. Look at Mark 3:20-34.
According to Strong’s Greek/Hebrew Dictionary, the Greek word translated “his friends” has a variety of meanings, including “kinsmen.” However, we don’t have to depend on the exact meaning of the word here because it will be made clear in verse 31. Strong’s defines “lay hold on” as “to use strength, i.e. seize or retain.” It defines “beside himself” as “become astounded, insane.”
Verses 22 through 30 describe a confrontation between Jesus and the scribes. Then we get back to what is happening with the people who thought that Jesus was out of His mind and were so concerned that they were coming to “lay hold on him” (seize him).
Catholic Doctrines about Mary
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION — According to Catholic doctrine, Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin from the first instant of her conception.16
In Luke 1:46-47, Mary said: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Mary knew that she needed a savior.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was first introduced by a heretic (a man whose teachings were officially declared to be contrary to Church doctrine). For centuries this doctrine was unanimously rejected by popes, Fathers and theologians of the Catholic Church.17
ALL-HOLY — According to Catholic doctrine, Mary, “the All-Holy,” lived a perfectly sinless life.18
Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Revelation 15:4 says, “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy.” Romans 3:10 says, “There is none righteous, no, not one.”
Jesus is the only person who is referred to in Scripture as sinless. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 1 Peter 2:22 says, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.”
In contrast, Mary said that God is her Savior. (Luke 1:47) If God was her Savior, then Mary was not sinless. Sinless people do not need a Savior.
In the Book of Revelation, when they were searching for someone who was worthy to break the seals and open the scroll, the only person who was found to be worthy was Jesus. Nobody else in Heaven or on earth (including Mary) was worthy to open the scroll or even look inside it. (Revelation 5:1-5)
PERPETUAL VIRGINITY ‑— According to Catholic doctrine, Mary was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Christ.19
Matthew 1:24-25 says, “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” “Till” (until) means that after that point, Joseph did “know” (have sexual relations with) Mary. (See Genesis 4:1 where Adam “knew” Eve and she conceived and had a son.)
Jesus had brothers and sisters. The Bible even tells us their names. Matthew says,
Other Scripture verses which specifically refer to Jesus’ brothers are: Matthew 12:46; John 2:12; John 7:3; Acts 1:14; and Galatians 1:19.
I was always taught that “brothers” and “sisters” were general terms that really could refer to any kind of kinsman, including cousins. This is true in the Hebrew language. However, the New Testament is written in Greek, which is an extremely precise language. It makes a clear distinction between the words used to describe family relationships. There is a Greek word which refers to people who are relatives but not of the immediate family, such as aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and cousins. There are other Greek words which refer specifically to a person’s brother or sister within a family.20
MOTHER OF GOD — According to Catholic doctrine, because she is the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, therefore Mary is the Mother of God.21
The Incarnation means that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Mary was only the mother of Jesus as man, and not the mother of Jesus as God. According to the Bible, the world was created through Jesus. The Bible says,
Jesus existed before Abraham was born. That means that He also existed before Mary was born. Jesus said,
So Jesus existed even before the world began. Jesus came first—not Mary.
MOTHER OF THE CHURCH — According to Catholic doctrine, Mary is the Mother of the Church.22
The Book of Acts gives a picture of a group of people praying together. Mary is mentioned as one of them, but nothing indicates any special prominence.
Mary was probably in the Upper Room when the tongues of fire fell upon the 120 disciples. However, she is never mentioned again in the Book of Acts, which is our only historical record of how the Church was born. She is also not specifically identified in the epistles. Paul did send greetings to “Mary,” but that was a common name. (In the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, she is referred to as “Mary the mother of Jesus” to distinguish her from other women named Mary.)
It is notable that John, who took Mary into his home after Jesus was crucified, does not mention her in his epistles, and he only mentions her on two occasions in his Gospel (the wedding at Cana and the crucifixion of Jesus). John mentions Mary Magdalene more than he mentions Jesus’ mother.
ASSUMPTION — According to Catholic doctrine, at the end of her life, Mary was taken up (“assumed”) body and soul into Heaven.23
There is no biblical reference to the assumption of Mary. The Gospel of John was written around 90 A.D., which is more than 100 years after Mary was born. (Surely Mary was more than ten years old when Jesus was conceived.) If Mary had been supernaturally assumed into Heaven, wouldn’t John (the disciple that Mary lived with) have mentioned it? When Enoch and Elijah were taken up to Heaven, the Bible recorded it. With Elijah it was recorded in some detail. (See Genesis 6:24 and 2 Kings 2:1‑18.)
The Assumption of Mary was officially declared to be a dogma of the Roman Catholic faith in 1950. This means that every Roman Catholic is required to believe this doctrine without questioning it. However, as we will see, the teaching of the Assumption originated with heretical writings which were officially condemned by the early Church.
In 495 A.D., Pope Gelasius issued a decree which rejected this teaching as heresy and its proponents as heretics. In the sixth century, Pope Hormisdas also condemned as heretics those authors who taught the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. The early Church clearly considered the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary to be a heresy worthy of condemnation. Here we have “infallible” popes declaring something to be a heresy. Then in 1950, Pope Pius XII, another “infallible” pope, declared it to be official Roman Catholic doctrine.24
CO-MEDIATOR — According to Catholic doctrine, Mary is the Co-Mediator to whom we can entrust all our cares and petitions.25
There is only one mediator and that is Jesus. The Bible says,
If Jesus is constantly interceding for us and He is able to save us “to the uttermost,” (utterly, completely) then He doesn’t need Mary’s help. If we can approach God with “boldness” and “confidence” because of our faith in Jesus, then we don't need Mary’s help either.
QUEEN OF HEAVEN — According to Catholic doctrine, God has exalted Mary in heavenly glory as Queen of Heaven and earth.26 She is to be praised with special devotion.27
The Bible says,
This makes it quite clear that only God’s name (not Mary’s) is to be exalted. (In Catholic Bibles the numbering of the chapters and verses of some of the Psalms is slightly different.)
When people tried to give Mary special honor and pre-eminence because she was His mother, Jesus corrected them.
In chapters four and five of the Book of Revelation, we are given a quite detailed picture of Heaven. God is seated on the throne, surrounded by 24 elders and four living creatures. The Lamb (Jesus) is standing in the center of the throne. Thousands upon thousands of angels circle the throne, singing God's praises. And Mary is not in the picture at all.
How Did We Get Here?
How did modern Catholic doctrine about Mary wander so far away from the teachings of the Bible and the Early Fathers? Two reasons are the importance given to Church tradition, and the doctrine of papal infallibility.
The Catholic Church officially states that Church tradition is equal in authority to the Bible.28 There are two problems with this.
First, Catholic tradition consists of various expressions of worship and belief of the Catholic people.29 It is nebulous. It keeps changing. You cannot find it written in one place. You can’t really put your hands on exactly what it is.
Second, what happens when Scripture and tradition contradict one another? Which one takes priority? In real life, you can’t treat them as being equal. When there is a conflict in what they teach, then one of them has greater weight than the other.
The Early Fathers used Scripture as the standard against which they tested Church tradition. The modern Catholic doctrine that Church tradition is equal in authority with the Bible is contrary to the writings of the Early Fathers.30
This is discussed more fully in Chapters 11 and 12 (“Tradition” and “Infallibility”).
Apparitions of Mary
On May 13, 1981, a man shot Pope John Paul II. As the ambulance carried him to the hospital, the Pope kept praying, “Mary, my mother! Mary, my mother!” One year later, the Pope made a pilgrimage to Fatima to thank Our Lady of Fatima for saving his life and to consecrate the entire human race to her.31 The video Catholicism: Crisis of Faith shows the Pope kissing the feet of a statue of Mary.32
Millions of pilgrims go to shrines which honor apparitions of Mary. Every year fifteen to twenty million pilgrims go to Guadalupe in Mexico, five and a half million go to Lourdes in France, five million go to Czestochowa (Jasna Gora) in Poland, and four and a half million go to Fatima in Portugal. Special dates draw huge crowds. On August 15, half a million pilgrims go to Czestochowa. On October 13, a million people go to Fatima. On December 12, 1999, five million pilgrims went to Mexico to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.33
Are these pilgrims worshiping Mary? You can observe them and see for yourself, thanks to a video titled Messages from Heaven. If you watch the video (which is available online) you will see the Pope bow in front of a painting of Mary and cover the area with incense. You will see a million pilgrims walking in a procession, following a statue of Our Lady of Fatima and singing songs in her honor. You will see several million people in a procession following a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You will see people weeping and raising their arms towards Mary. You will see the largest assembly of bishops and cardinals since the Second Vatican Council, gathered together to join Pope John Paul II in solemnly consecrating the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.34
Kinds of Worship
There are many traditional ways of expressing devotion to Mary. You can read about some of them online and decide for yourself whether or not these constitute worship.35
Catholic theologians speak of three degrees of homage, which have Latin words. Latria is the kind of worship which is due to God alone. Dulia is appropriate for honoring the saints. Hyperdulia is appropriate for honoring Mary. It is higher than dulia but not latria. Therefore, Catholic theologians say that Catholics do not worship Mary.
However, in the practical, down-to-earth, real world, these theological distinctions don’t work. Most Catholics have never heard of these words. Of those who have, how many know how to apply them in practical ways? Catholics are not told how to engage in hyperdulia without crossing a line that results in actually practicing latria towards Mary without realizing it.
When asked about praying to Mary and the saints, I always used to say that actually I was just asking them to pray for me, like I would ask a friend. Well, that is not really accurate, because when I talk to my friends I am not talking to people who have died. Also, I just ask them directly for what I want. I would never begin talking to my friends by saying something like: “Hail holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.”
I personally participated in many kinds of Marian devotions. (“Marian” means something relating to the Virgin Mary.) I prayed the Rosary, which uses beads to keep track of the prayers. There are ten “Hail Mary’s” for every “Our Father” (the Lord’s Prayer). The words of the Hail Mary are: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among 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.”
I wore the Brown Scapular (two pieces of cloth attached with strings, worn in honor of Mary). I also wore the Miraculous Medal. Both the Brown Scapular and the Miraculous Medal resulted from apparitions of Mary. There are special prayers associated with them. The apparitions of Mary promised to help people who were faithful to these devotions.
I went to special services where we recited litanies (a series of titles honoring Mary), prayed to her, and sang songs in her honor, or else recited the words of the songs. I participated in a procession where people carried a statue of Mary, and we all followed it, singing songs in her honor. I visited several Marian shrines. I read books about apparitions of Mary, and dreamed of some day going to Lourdes.
I did not realize that what I was doing was actually a form of worship. I thought that it was pleasing to God. I thought that Jesus wanted us to honor His mother in this way.
Our minds can be deceived, and so can the minds of bishops and popes. Only the Bible is totally trustworthy. When religious traditions conflict with the plain meaning of Scripture, then we need to discard those traditions. We cannot afford to do otherwise, because our eternal destiny is at stake.The Apostles told the religious leaders of their day, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29b) As an old hymn says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”