The Father William Most Collection
Devotion to Our Lady and the Saints
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
1. Worship: Do Catholics worship her? Protestants often claim that. But let us examine the command of Our Lord: "Judge Not".
We distinguish two things: a) the objective rating of an action, e.g., murder is gravely sinful. We can say this independently of the interior dispositions of anyone who does it. If I see someone put a gun to another's head and pull the trigger, it is not "judging" to say I saw murder.
b) The interior dispositions of the sinner - here we must not judge, for at least in general, we cannot know much if anything of the interior. It is to this that the Gospel command applies.
Therefore: as to Marian devotion: a) the forms it takes, asking her to intercede with her Son, lighting candles, etc. - these are not in themselves worship. What of the eternal flame at the grave of JFK?
b) The interior attitudes of Catholics: to insist they mean it to be worship, i. e., the kind of honor due to God alone - this is simply rash judgment, and is forbidden by "Judge not." So those who make the charge are guilty of objective sin, and of violating the Gospel.
2. Honor in general: Jesus obeyed the fourth commandment to honor Father and Mother, for He went down to Nazareth and was even subject to them. If He honored her, we can and should imitate Him. God Himself has honored her so greatly. For anyone to say: I reject her, will not honor her, would be an affront to His judgment.
3. Only One Mediator: 1 Tim 2:5: That is true in three senses: a) There is only one who is by nature a mediator, having both divine and human natures; b) there is only one whose mediation is strictly needed; c) there is only one who can mediate by His own power. -- Others, including Our Lady and the Saints, can act only by His power. So to say they do it does not detract from Him, but rather shows the greatness of His power in that He can even make creatures capable of doing something, not of course the same as what He does, as we have said.
4. Need?: In itself, She and the Saints would not be needed at all. But Our Father loves good order. He likes to have one thing in place to serve as the reason or title for doing the second (cf. St. Thomas, Summa I.19.5.c) Thus though He could grant prayers simply, He preferred to bind Himself by the promise:
Ask and you shall receive." Similarly with the covenant.
In redeeming us, He had several options to choose from:
a) forgive all sin without any makeup. But this would not satisfy His love of good order, nor be so rich for us.
b) Appoint any human to do any religious act, perhaps an animal sacrifice, and then count it as redemption, even though it would be less than the weight of all sin.
c) Send His Son to be born in a palace, with every possible luxury. He would not need to die. The mere fact of becoming man would be enough to earn all grace and to make satisfaction, for an incarnation is a "comedown" for a divine Person. He could have added a little prayer, "Father, forgive them", and then He could have ascended without death. This would be infinite in worth. But Our Father in His love of good order and love of us wanted to go beyond infinity and He did it.
d) Go beyond the palace to the stable, beyond a short prayer to the terrible death of the cross. Then He could not only forgive, but do it lavishly, which is what He does. For He gave to the Apostles and their successors the power to act in His name: "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them." (For someone to attempt to bypass His generous arrangement is of course wrong, to ask Him to forget the means He established, and just forgive without it).
e) He did not need Our Lady for anything but to furnish the flesh, of the human family, in which He could die. But He chose to use her much more. Starting with St. Justin Martyr, c. 145-150, the Fathers speak of her as the New Eve: Just as the first Eve really shared in bringing down original sin, so the New Eve would really share, by her obedient acceptance of God's plan, in reversing the damage. Today, the Church sees still more, that He willed to have her obedience joined with that of her Son (Rom 5:19) on Calvary. This would melt, as it were, with His to form the obedience which is the covenant condition of the New Covenant. In that, of course, she could do nothing on her own, but it shows His power that He could and did will to associate her with Him, to make all richer for good order and richer for us.
Thomas Aquinas expressed this principle well in Summa I.19.5.c: God in His love of good order likes to have one thing in place to serve as a reason for His giving of the second, even though that reason or title does not move Him. In the OT God promised to accept the prayer of Job for his three "friends" who were not worthy in themselves" Job 42:8. Often Moses reminded God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - would refer to His promises to them, but probably also to their intercession or merits.
5. The Saints: Only Our Lady was taken into the objective redemption, the great sacrifice, the once for all earning of a title or claim to all forgiveness and grace. But in the process of giving out those fruits, the subjective redemption, it pleased our Father again to bring still others into the work. Hence, the other Saints, and her too of course.
Calvary earned all grace and forgiveness infinitely. But He wanted to provide, in the subjective redemption, a title for the giving out of the fruits of Calvary. So He ordered: "Do this in memory of me". He wanted us to join with His dispositions, to form part of the condition for giving out that which was once earned. This is accord with St. Paul's picture of the Christian regime, the syn Christo theme: We are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him: cf. Romans 8:17: "We are heirs with Him, provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." St. Paul in Col 1.24 said:
"I fill up the things that are lacking to the tribulations of Christ in my body, for His body, which is the Church." There is nothing lacking of course to the sufferings of Christ the Head. But there can be lacking the things our Father wills, for rebalancing the objective order, in members of Christ. By the unity of the Mystical Body, one can make up for another. St. Paul did much of that.