A reader has a Protestant friend who is worried about Mary

A reader has a Protestant friend who is worried about Mary July 15, 2015

She writes:

My evangelical friend is struggling with Catholic devotion to Mary. In particular he has a problem with what St. Louis DeMontfort said when he said:

Devotion to our Blessed Lady is necessary for salvation,and that (even in the opinion of Oecolampadius and some other heretics) it is an infallible mark of reprobation to have no esteem and love for the holy Virgin; while on the other hand, it is an infallible mark of predestination to be entirely and truly devoted to her.

He’s really bothered by that idea — that we must be devoted to Mary or we are reprobate — and I’m wondering how I can help him. I’ve always thought that devotion to Mary was an extremely beneficial but still entirely optional devotion. Am I wrong? How are we supposed to understand St. Louis’ words here?

I think the mistake here is turning the language of love into the language of law. St. Louis writes in love, like a devoted son, and cannot imagine the idea that somebody, laboring under all sorts of false apprehensions about Catholic theology, might be genuinely frightened that Marian devotion is a form of idolatry, a snare, and a deception.  So such language strikes many a Protestant ear as a form of spiritual strong-arming: an attempt to intimidate a troubled conscience into knuckling under to goddess worship.  It is virtually guaranteed to provoke a hardening response in the troubled Protestant’s heart.  That is certainly not what St. Louis intends, but it is the almost universal response nonetheless in Mary-fearing Protestants.

I think the better approach, which I tried to use in Mary, Mother of the Son, is to walk with the Protestant with all his fears and questions, doubts and misunderstandings of Marian devotion until it becomes clear that there is no There there when it comes to supposed “Mary worship” and that, in fact, the point of Marian devotion and doctrine is to point to and guard the truth about who Jesus is and about who we are as disciples.  Once this is seen–and once it is seen that it is to us Jesus speaks when he says, “Behold your mother”, then we can return to the language of love and realize that a healthy Christian life means, in the words of Mother Teresa, “Love Mary as Jesus loves Mary and loving Jesus as Mary loves Jesus.”  If we are serious about being disciples, who would not want that?  If we are not serious about being disciples, we will continue to ask “What is the absolutely least I have to do to be saved?”  At that point, the issue is no longer Mary, but the question of whether we are really interested in following Jesus completely or just in taking the bits and pieces of the gospel we like and ignoring the rest.

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  • capaxdei

    Devotion to Mary is not optional. Devotions to Mary are.

    As for St. Louis, my advice is that Protestants who are struggling with Catholic devotion to Mary not read him and stick to more doctrinal and dispassionate sources. Plenty of Catholics — in his own lifetime as well as today — don’t get St. Louis either.

    The particular quotation is not Catholic doctrine, in that the Church doesn’t teach that giving due honor to Mary is categorically necessary for salvation (much less that it’s sufficient). It is, though, wrong and contrary to God’s will to fail to give due honor to Mary; that follows directly from the meaning of the words “to give due honor.” In some, even most instances, it may not be culpably sinful, depending on what a person knows, believes, and wills. But if someone knows and believes what the Church teaches about honoring Mary, and still wills to do otherwise, they sin, and I suppose there are circumstances in which it could be mortal sin.

    Devotion to Mary follows from the doctrine of the Incarnation, as feeding the hungry follows from the second greatest commandment. I may fail to feed someone who is hungry because I don’t know he is hungry; I may fail to give due honor to Mary because I don’t know what honor she is due.

    The real stumbling block, which seems to be where a lot of people start on this question even though it’s found pretty far down the doctrinal path, comes with the answer to, “How much honor is due Mary?” The answer is that a whacking great lot of honor is due her, way way way more than seems sensible or balanced to someone coming at it out of curiosity or intellectual questioning.

    And it is nonsensical and imbalanced, unless you set it next to the answer to the question, “How much worship is due God?” Eventually, you come to see that honoring Mary not only follows from worshiping God, it leads back to it, even that, while distinguishable, the two acts are inseparable. As St. Louis de Montfort put it, true devotion to Mary is simply a means (the very best means, in his opinion) of keeping your baptismal promises.

    • Tweck

      Can you explain the difference between “devotion” and “devotions”? (As you say one is optional and the other is not)

      I pray the rosary – try to nightly, following the various mysteries. As a recent revert I’m confused as far as what I should do, or what is necessary to honor the Blessed Mother. I’d greatly appreciate some more input.

      • Doyle

        Try personalizing her. You have another mother, given to you by Jesus; she loves you. Simply welcome that love in your heart as you pray the Rosary, knowing Jesus explicitly entrusted you to her from the cross. I believe she will help you the rest of the way.

        • Tweck

          Just to clarify… you mean… talk ~directly~ to Mary? Oh my, I have always talked to God, and talk to Jesus during the day, and prayed rosaries formally, but always putting my intentions up to God initially… but have never directly spoken TO her, specifically I mean, informally.

          I think you just cleared something up for me that I hadn’t understood. Talk to her like a son would a mother! Ask her questions? Express my love and devotion… Wow!

          How wonderful!! 🙂 🙂 I can’t believe I completely missed something so simple and beautiful.

          Thank you.

      • capaxdei

        Lumen Gentium Chapter 8 is a good place to start reading about “the duties of redeemed mankind toward the Mother of God.”

        St. John Paul II’s 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae is pretty good on the Rosary as the “School of Mary,” the general idea being to learn to see the mysteries of Jesus’ life from the perspective of Mary.

        What I meant by “devotion” vs. “devotions” is that we are obligated to love and honor Mary, but we are not obligated to use a particular means of devotion, like the Rosary, litanies, Immaculate Heart devotion, and so forth.

        • Tweck

          I see! Thank you so much for your input and recommendations. Much appreciated. 🙂 This is all clearing things up big time for me. I’ll check out Lumen Gentium Chapter 8 and St. John Paul II’s letter too! Much appreciated!

  • I balk at the idea of one human being telling another human being that he has infallible knowledge of God’s will. It is presumption and probably blasphemous.

    That said, I have had my own personal experience of the presence of the Blessed Virgin and would never deny her presence and compassion.

  • Smithgift

    I’ve had a lot of trouble with St. Louis myself. I find it important to remember that being a saint does not make one infallible. I quote the Catholic Encyclopedia.

    “That we can never in this life be certain of our final perseverance is defined by the Council of Trent
    (Sess. VI, can. xvi): “Si quis magnum illud usque in finem
    perseverantiae donum se certo habiturum, absoluta et infallibili
    certitudine dixerit, nisi hoc ex speciali revelatione dedicerit,
    anathema sit”.”

    • capaxdei

      Sure, if you read St. Louis as though he were contradicting Trent (note Trent’s exception, by the way), he will give you a lot of trouble.

  • Paul

    What Mark said….. and I would add that the Church’s recognition of an individual as a saint is not the same thing as endorsing the writings or actions that may have occurred by that individual during their lifetime…..
    …… I mean St. Augustine was no angel……does the fact that he was canonized mean the Church endorses running around and sleeping with every woman one can find?

  • jrb16915

    The Jews in the old Testament treated the Ark of the Covenant with great respect, but no one ever confused that with idolatry. Mary is clearly the Ark of the New Covenant. I don’t know why it isn’t obvious to all Christians that she is worthy of more respect than the Ark of the Covenant, which if I remember correctly was kept in a place called the Holy of Holies.

  • Marthe Lépine

    But what about someone who has had a difficult family life, particularly with a mentally unbalanced mother who was often verbally abusive? It can be difficult to think of Mary as a mother for someone who does not have a good model of motherly love. And trusting Mary is also difficult for someone who could not really trust one’s own mother when something very difficult came up. Such hurts and emotions, with roots deep into childhood and even buried into one’s subconscious mind, can be very difficult to leave behind, even after much counselling and prayer.

    • capaxdei

      Yes, and it can be difficult for someone with an absent or abusive father to think of God as a Father.

      Mary is not only my spiritual mother. She is also the Mother of God, whom we can come to know through her actions, joys, and sorrows during her earthly life. If any thought of a mother is troublesome, Mary is Queen of Heaven and Earth — though I once saw someone say they can’t relate to queens.

      The Litany of Loreto, to pick one source, also presents Mary as Mirror of justice, Seat of wisdom, Cause of our joy, Spiritual vessel, Vessel of honor, Singular vessel of devotion, Mystical rose, Tower of David, Tower of ivory, House of gold, Ark of the covenant, Gate of heaven, Morning star, Health of the sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, and Help of Christians. If the tradition of the Church offers no means at all for someone to relate to Mary, I’m not sure what to say; maybe it’s for that person to provide the tradition with a new way.

  • Mark R

    A protestant should also reconsider what idolatry is: worshipping an imaged of a merely presumed deity. The case with Christianity is that it is incarnational and to apprehend the role of Mary the Mother of God and images of the Christ and the saints involve delving into the mystery of the Incarnation and of the body of Christians in the Church as the mystical Body of Christ. Matter and specifially the human being is so elevated by the Incarnation that all of humanity is subject to the Resurrection of the Dead and the Last Judgement…and not Christians only.

  • “turning the language of love into the language of law”


    I’m going to be borrowing that.

  • Robin Warchol

    I think one has to read “True devotion to Mary” in it’s entirety. I thought in the beginning of the book, he clearly states that true devotion to Mary bring one closer to Jesus and end up to being truly devoted to Jesus.