The Roman Catholic Church’s veneration of Mary started centuries ago in the church’s battle with Gnosticism, a belief that separated the spirit of a man from his flesh. Flesh was evil, and the spirit was good.
As part of this belief, a person could basically sin as much as they wanted in the flesh, because the spirit remained pure, a view hinted at and condemned by Paul in Romans 6:1.
The Gnostics also believed that because of the Lord’s sinless life, Jesus could not have been human or born in flesh, and that He appeared on earth in spirit form.
As this heresy spread in the early church, Christ’s humanity, became a test for the spirits;
2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (1 John 4:3 NIV)
To counter this heresy, the church began to push and exalt Mary, Jesus’s earthly mother, as evidence of Christ’s human birth.
But by the third and fourth century, it had evolved into almost a form of Mary worship in some quarters.
The Roman Catholic Church has three levels of worship or veneration, as it tries to call it. According to Got Questions, the first level is called dulia which is the honor Catholics reserve for the saints. The second level, hyper dulia, is reserved for Mary, and the third level, Latria, is reserved for God alone.
Though Catholics insist this veneration or honouring is not actual worship, in practice some would argue it has crossed that line, as seen in prayers to Mary. For example, in a prayer entitled, Hail Holy Queen, its opening line reads, “Hail holy Queen, mother of Mercy. Our life, our sweetness and our hope,” and the Morning Consecration to Mary, starts with “My queen, my mother, I offer myself entirely to thee.”
The Bible is clear that we are to only honor and worship God (1 Chronicles 29:11) and when people tried to worship Peter (Acts 10:25-26), Peter and Barnabas (Acts 14:15) and even an angel as the Apostle John did (Revelation 19:10), they were quickly shut down.
As part of this hyper dulia of Mary, several erroneous doctrines eventually emerged.
Mary, the Mother of God
As the mother of Jesus, Mary is declared to be the Mother of God, and she has particular influence with her Son, which is why Catholics will often pray to her instead of Jesus. In reality, she was the mother of Jesus’ humanity, not the Lord’s divinity.
Mary’s Immaculate conception
It is believed that Mary, like Jesus, did not sin. She was born without original sin.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Christ and remained a virgin after the Lord’s birth. Though married to Joseph, the two did not have sex, and Mary did not give birth to any other children. Of course, this sullying of married life, falls in line with Catholic Priests also not being allowed to marry.
Assumption of Mary
Mary takes on Jesus-like qualities in her assumption. The basic belief is that Mary was taken up to heaven at the end of her life, and she exists in heaven in bodily form.
There are two traditions on how she got there. One held by the Coptic church states that she died, was buried and was raised from the dead on the third day and then taken to heaven. They even have Mary’s empty tomb located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem as evidence.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that just prior to her death, Mary was assumed to heaven. The statement is vague, and could be interpreted that she was dead when taken to heaven. But most Catholics believe Mary was taken to heaven prior to her death.
The coronation of Mary as Queen of heaven
In 1954, Pope Pius XII officially declared Mary the Queen of heaven. But centuries earlier, this view was widely seen in paintings found in Catholic churches around the world of angels and often of Christ and even God, the Father, placing a crown on Mary’s head.
Regina Coeli, as it was called in Latin, was first mentioned in the 12th century.
August 22 has been declared the date to celebrate her coronation. Some Catholic point to Psalm 45:1-16, as scriptural support for her unique position in heaven. And Rosary prayers such as “Hail Holy Queen” point to this exalted position.
What does the Bible say?
Now it is easy for protestants to throw the baby out with the bathwater and react negatively to Mary.
The Angel who delivered the message to Mary about Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:28).
The Greek word for favored is ‘charitoo’ and does not refer to something a person has earned but rather as a gift, unmerited favor, and because of this she is described as blessed among women.
And when Mary visited, her cousin, Elizabeth, she prophetically declared to Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
It was this unmerited and undeserved favor shown by God that made Mary special. Nothing in these verses hints at anything more or validates the veneration that the Roman Catholic Church poured upon Mary.
Though chosen by God for this unprecedented role in human history, Mary was not perfect.
Around the time, that the scribes were accusing Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebub (Mark 3:22), Jesus’ family showed up to put him away thinking he was out of his mind:
21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21 ESV).
This group included his mother, Mary and Jesus recognized this rejection coming from his family, and recognized that at this point, the disciples were the Lord’s true family:
31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:31-34 ESV)
Though Mary would eventually understand who Jesus was, there were moments she questioned her firstborn.
This leads to our second issue on Mary’s perpetual virginity.
The Greek word, ‘adelphos’, used in these verses and translated as brothers, literally means ‘connected in the womb.’ It primarily refers to actual physical brothers, but can also go further back and refers to a connection in the womb through grandparents, i.e. cousins. The Roman Catholic Church insists this latter meaning is what these passages are referring to.
However, in Matthew 13:55, the Gospel writer names Christ’s brothers as James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas and considering this is done in the context of Mary being Jesus’ mother, there is no doubt this is referring to Christ’s physical brothers. Then in the following verse, we read that Jesus also had sisters (Matthew 13:56).
There is also a Greek word, ‘anepsios’, that specifically describes a cousin or nephew. In the context, of naming the Lord’s brothers, ‘anepsios’ would have been used if they were in fact cousins.
And in Galatians 1:19, the apostle Paul describes James as the brother (adelphos) of Jesus and again to avoid confusion he would have used ‘anepsios’, or cousin, if that was James’ relationship to Christ.
As for the assertions that Mary was taken to heaven, we don’t have any mention of her death by the Biblical writers, as she would have undoubtedly died in the lifetime of the apostles.
And if she had been taken into heaven before her death, such a noteworthy event would have certainly been recorded, and it is generally believed she lived in the home of the Apostle John until her death (John 19:27).
In fact, other than being used to prove the humanity of Jesus, Mary is rarely mentioned by the Gospel writers after Jesus’ ascension.
I remember years ago, while my wife and I were in Peru, we got to know a young man Hugo and his wife, who were involved in the Roman Catholic Charismatic movement.
We were visiting in their home and got into a bit of a discussion about the Roman Catholic Church’s veneration of Mary, which he supported.
The conversation took a turn when I asked if Mary was emphasized much by the Holy Spirit during their Charismatic meetings.
He said no, she wasn’t and that admission seemed to end our discussion.