Catholics are often accused of worshipping false gods because we pray to Mary and the Saints. Most of this confusion comes because of how we use the word “pray”. For many non-Catholic Christians the word “pray” is synonymous with the word “worship”. Given this extremely narrow and modern definition of the word it is understandable why many non-Catholics believe we worship people other than God. The Catholic Church is not a modern creation. It is over two thousand years old. To us, the word “pray” has a much broader and deeper definition.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines five types of prayer. These are:
1: Prayers Blessing and Adoration
2: Prayers of Petition
3: Prayers of Intercession
4: Prayers of Thanksgiving
5: Prayers of Praise
A detailed explanation of these forms of prayer can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Four, Section One. I offer the following as a basic definition for sake of this discussion:
1: Prayers of Blessing expresses the basic movement of Christian prayer. Our blessing ascends in the Holy Spirit, through Christ, to the Father. We bless him for having blessed us. A prayer of blessing also asks for the grace of the Holy Spirit to descend upon us from the Father through Christ. “Blessing” is the English translation of the Latin word “benedictionem” which means “to say well of”.
Prayers of Adoration acknowledge that man is a creature before his creator and exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us. True adoration is worship and due to God alone. Many who accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary have no problem telling their significant other or children how much they adore them.
2: Prayers of Petition come in the form of supplications and lamentations. Supplications are prayers asking for our every need, from forgiveness, to strength, to healing, and even our worldly desires.
Lamentations are passionate expressions of grief or sorrow. Jesus prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane are a perfect example of a lamentation.
3: Prayers of Intercession are like prayers of petition except we are asking for the needs of others. Jesus is the one and only intercessor to the Father and our prayers of intercession are directed towards Jesus. We can ask others to pray for us, to add their prayers of intercession to Christ on our behalf. When I had my heart surgery I had thousands of people praying to Christ that he would intercede with the Father and grant me a safe surgery and a complete recovery. I attribute the speed at which I recovered to God answering those prayers of intercession.
4: Prayers of Thanksgiving are prayers of gratitude to a Lord that provides all things to his people. Everything we have, including our very breath, is a gift from God and we offer constant thanks in the form of prayer.
5: Prayers of Praise offer glory to God simply because He Is. In Prayer of Praise we recognize and acknowledge that God is God and is due all glory, honor, and praise we are capable of.
Even for non-Catholic Christians who believe the word prayer is synonymous with the word worship will realize that they offer these five types of prayer when they pray. Catholics believe prayer is all of the above and more. For us it is also a means of spiritual communication. God has a family consisting of his believers here on earth as well as all persons living in heaven. The definition of a Saint is any person, angelic or human, living with God in heaven.
Just as I can ask any of you to pray for me to our Lord I can also ask any of my brothers and sisters in heaven to pray for me as well. This is where prayer as a means of spiritual communication takes place. God alone can hear our prayers. If I direct a prayer to a Saint in heaven God allows that Saint to hear my prayer and intercede on my behalf. Saints can offer prayers to Jesus for me just as any of you can offer prayers to Jesus on my behalf. Saints are perfected persons living in heaven in God’s sight. Their intercession for us is great.
Mary is a very special person. She is the mother of Jesus and the greatest of all of the Saints, either angelic or human. Jesus loves his mother and will do whatever she asks of him. I can pray to Christ and my prayer will be heard but if his mother prays for me he will give the request much greater attention. Because of this we pray to Mary for her intercession to Christ on our behalf.
Catholics do not worship Mary. We venerate her as the mother of Jesus. Sometimes that veneration can be so strong that it could be mistaken as worship. Mary is not God and not worthy of our worship but she is the greatest example of what a human person is called to be like. When we honor Mary we honor her son through her. If someone were to honor and respect my mother I would go out of my way to make sure that person knew how much I appreciated the action. How much more do we please Jesus when we honor and respect his mother?
Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you.