Why is it proper to honor Mary?

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To begin with, the Bible shows us that it is. Beyond this there are two basic reasons why it is proper to honor her:

  • because she is the mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God;
  • because she is a model of obedient submission to God.

Honoring Mary does not mean we “worship” her.

i. The Bible shows us that it is proper to honor Mary

The angel Gabriel honoured Mary when he came to announce that she would bear a Son: “And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

God honoured Mary. Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Luke 1:30).

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, honoured Mary. When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth greeted her, saying: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:42, 43).

Mary herself prophesied: “… henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).

Jesus honoured Mary. We can be sure of this because He obeyed the Ten Commandments perfectly, the fifth commandment being, “You shall honor your father and your mother.”

Conclusion: If Mary was held in honor by God, by Gabriel, by Elizabeth, and by our Lord Himself, then those who follow Him should do likewise. If not, they may have to answer to Him for it someday.

 ii. We honor Mary because she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God

Mary was specially chosen and prepared by God to fulfil this task. She had a holiness and spirituality that made her pleasing to God. She was not just “in the right place at the right time.”

Because of this she holds a special place in our salvation as the means through which the Son of God came into our world as a man.

This was a very great honor that remains uniquely hers forever. This is why the Church calls her “more honourable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim.”

The terms “Mother of God” and “God-bearer” are also proper titles for Mary.

  • These terms have been especially crucial to the Church ever since the fifth century when it was faced with attack of a heretic named Nestorius.
  • These terms were not originally employed in order to exalt Mary, but rather to exalt Christ and to protect the true Christian belief about Him.
  • If Christ was truly God and if Mary was Christ’s mother, then it follows that she can rightly be called the Mother of God or the God-bearer.
  • This does not mean that she had anything to do with His eternal existence as God or with originating His divinity.
  • It means that the very same person she gave birth to in Bethlehem 2000 years ago was also the eternal Son of God who existed before all ages.
  • It means that no one can say, as Nestorius was attempting to say, that Jesus-who was Mary’s son and God’s eternal Son-was really two different persons.
  • Referring to Mary as the “Mother of God” protects and preserves the mystery of the Incarnation. As such, then, it is not an optional title of devotion, but a dogma that lies at the very heart of the Christian faith.

Conclusion: Because of Mary’s special role in our salvation as the mother of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all Christians should give her due honor. Protestants need to understand the term “Mother of God” and confess her as such. Those who cannot or will not do so show that they may not understand who Jesus Christ truly is.

iii. We honor Mary because she is a model of obedient submission to God.

  1. Later in Jesus’ ministry, a woman cried out to Him from the crowd, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” (Luke 11:27). But Jesus replied, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Jesus was not dishonouring His mother here. Rather, He was giving an even greater reason for honouring her, for Mary was one who had heard the word of God and keep it. Another legitimate translation of Jesus’ reply could be: “Yes, indeed, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
  2. When Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she was to bear the Son of God, though troubled and unclear as to what all this would mean, she nevertheless replied: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
  • Without this willing cooperation on the part of Mary, Christ could not have been born to save the world.
  • But because of this obedient cooperation, Mary became a model and a picture of Christian submission and obedience to God.
  • Moreover, Christ dwelling within her and being born from her became a picture of the fruit that can come from such cooperation with the will of God.

Conclusion: Because of Mary’s special role in submitting to the will of God so that Christ could be born into the world, she has become a picture and a model for every Christian; for without such voluntary and humble submission to God, no one can bring forth fruits of righteousness. Many Christians would benefit by re-establishing Mary as a role model of the faith in place of the teenage idols and Hollywood stars that they and their children put on pedestals and posters.

 Iv. Honoring Mary does not mean we “worship” her

  1. Worship belongs to God alone.
  2. The honor shown to Mary means we give her special esteem and hold her in high regard above all others.
  • The Orthodox Church has always been careful to maintain this distinction. The Church uses the Greek word latreia to define the worship reserved for God alone and douleia for the honor proper to Mary and other saints.
  • In English, we can show this distinction by distinguishing between the words “worship” and “honor,” or “worship” and “veneration.”

C. Many Protestants, though, do not even honor Mary at all, but have actually dishonoured her by ignoring her special place in the Church.

  • They have done this in reaction to what they have seen as abuses within the Roman Catholic Church.
  • But in so doing they have “thrown the baby out with the bath water.”
  • The tradition of the Orthodox Church has remained free from these abuses. For example, Orthodox tradition does not hold to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as it was formulated by Pope Pius IX in 1854. (This teaches that Mary herself was conceived and born without original sin.)

Conclusion: Protestants need to stop dishonouring Mary and return to honouring her rightly. This will not rob God of worship; rather, it will bring Him greater glory by recognizing those whom He has glorified with His grace.

In summary, we can show that it is proper to honor Mary because this is consistent with certain examples in the Bible; because she is the Mother of our Lord; and because, through her humble cooperation and submission to the will of God, she became a fitting role model for all Christians to follow. Furthermore, Protestants need to realize that the terms “Mother of God” and “God-bearer,” while honouring Mary, are meant foremost to exalt Christ and to protect the true belief about His Incarnation. Then they need to confess Mary as such and come in line with the long-standing belief and practice of the Church. Those who have dishonoured Mary by ignoring her or even speaking ill of her need to repent and begin to honor her rightly in place of the godless role models that are exalted by our present culture, even in the homes of some Christians.

Father Marc Dunaway

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