I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about the Catholic understanding of Mary...
It felt kind of surreal because I honestly thought I sounded like a nutcase. Do I really believe this stuff? It's an important question I often take for granted. I have to admit, I go back & forth. I mean, I like proof. I like logic. Sometimes being a Catholic denies me both and I just want to walk away. Being a Christian these days is hard enough, and Catholicism demands so much more simply because there's a lot of superstition & false information out there to wade through. But it also has this oddly consistent habit of leading me back toward God & for that reason, I hang on.
So. Back to my friend. She wanted to know what the Hail Mary said.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women & blessed is the Fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now & at the hour of our death, Amen.
She asked why I would pray to Mary when I'm supposed to pray to Jesus? Actually, I don't remember anywhere in the Bible where Jesus says we're supposed to pray specifically to Him. Wasn't He always saying something about being gathered in His name, asking in His Name, etc., but only praying to the Father? He always told us the Father was greater & that someday we would approach the Father directly with our requests. Yet we pray to Jesus because we understand Him to be the second Person of the Trinity, and thus... God.
So if we can pray to Jesus, why not Mary also? The answer I always got from my non-Catholic friends was something along the lines of “She's dead, she can't hear you” or, “There's only one mediator between God & man & that's Jesus”. I have no argument with the second one. I don't believe Mary is equal to the Trinity, and I do believe Jesus is the only Mediator between God & man. But the Bible never tells us there can be no mediator between man & Jesus. Don't we all participate in that role when we intercede for one another?
I liken praying to Mary to being in a crowded room & seeing someone you don't know (yet). Your friend happens to know this person, so you ask your friend to go talk to them on your behalf, to find out more about them & maybe introduce you at some point. Now since Mary was Jesus' Mother on earth, she has more intimate knowledge about Him than any other human being. She maintains that intimacy with Him & has His ear, even in Heaven. We can pray to Mary & any of the Saints because they're our intercessors on the “other side”.
Of course, here's where we could debate whether Mary & the Saints are even alive in Heaven, IF they can hear us & HOW they hear us if they aren't omnipotent, omnipresent, etc., like God. But I don't know if that's something anyone can really know with certainty at this point in the game. I know the Catholic Church doesn't require one to pray to Mary or the Saints. And I know from Hebrews 12:1 that we're surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (those who went before us in the faith). But those guys were long dead when Hebrews was written. Since a witness typically has to be alive in order to fulfill the office of witness... one can only assume they are (spiritually) still alive in Heaven, as Saints who watch over & intercede for us.
Maybe it would help to think of them like the folks who dug a hole in some poor guy's roof. They lowered their paralytic friend down to Jesus because there was no other way in. What happened? Did Jesus reprimand them for stealing His glory? No. He saw their faith & healed the paralytic. Again, what about the parents who came to Jesus & begged Him to heal their children? Did He tell them to pray to God instead? No. He healed them. Those parents were intercessors in the same way Mary & the Saints are for us. And yes, I believe we have direct access to Jesus, but who hasn't experienced difficulty approaching Him from time to time, especially when we know we've sinned? One last thought: when we pray alone, if we ask for the intercession of Mary & the Saints, don't we then become “two or more gathered in His name”? And didn't Jesus say He would be there in our midst? How cool is that? I don't know if it actually works that way, but it might change the way we think about prayer if it did...
The final question my friend had was why pray the Hail Mary over & over in a Rosary? My response was that the prayer is a type of place holder, almost like saying “One alligator... two alligator” to space things out. I try to get a mental image in my mind & then I use my imagination to interact with the events of each mystery. I might imagine myself at the nativity... standing next to a few stinky shepherds in the middle of the night as I look at Jesus, swaddled & drooling in the trough. How might that experience affect my life in the present? I think about it for a minute or two, commit the scene to memory & then pray the Hail Mary as I continue to mull over the event in my head. It allows me adequate time to think & gets the focus off of me. It helps keep me from rambling & getting lost down rabbit trails as I pray (you know what I'm talking about. We've all been there). The Rosary is another thing that's not required by the Catholic Church, but it's out there for anyone because it honours Mary's obedience to God. It makes the humble request of her that she “pray for us sinners” while we meditate on the events of each mystery. And, if we take the time to pray it well, the Rosary, like Mary, will lead us straight to Jesus every time.
"What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ." CCC 487