Why do Catholics put so much emphasis on Mary and the saints?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Monday 04, April 2016 | Category:   Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Mary and the saints

Since some Catholics in their spiritual practice have little truck with saints or Marian devotion, it's more accurate to say that Catholic tradition holds Mary and the saints in high esteem. To answer this inquiry thoughtfully requires the introduction of key terms. The first is hyperdulia: it means "more than service," and it's the special honor Roman Catholic tradition renders to Mary as the Virgin Mother of Jesus and therefore Mother of God (theotokos in Greek).

This title, by the way, is a sensitive spot in historical relations with the Orthodox tradition, which prefers to call Mary the Mother of Christ (christotokos)—a distinction dear to theologians. That God/Christ has a mother thanks to the incarnation of Jesus is, by any measure, a remarkable consideration. Once you ponder that, you begin to appreciate what it means for a woman to collaborate with God in the world's salvation, to carry divinity within her body, or to raise God's son as her own. You might want to treat such a woman with respect.

The special honor we show to Mary is not to be confused with the singular and highest honor due to God. To be specific: We worship and adore God alone (latria, Greek for worship). We honor Mary in a unique way (hyperdulia) as Mother of God and foremost saint (sancta, holy person). We show proper veneration (dulia) to all the saints, since by their lives they demonstrate the activity of God in the world. In the end, all of these forms of honor are directed toward God as manifest to us in various ways and degrees through the response of these holy ones. 

For many Catholics, these ideas have translated throughout history into a desire to engage these signature personalities and benefit from their guidance and example. Devotions toward homegrown saints or particular facets of Mary's life sprang up spontaneously and fulfill a need to connect with our more accomplished fellow travelers among "the communion of saints," as we say. We are sisters and brothers in faith whether living on earth or in heaven, as our belief in eternal life declares. If you had a talented and well-connected relative who could mentor you in your given field, wouldn't you take advantage of that relationship? As we share a common vocation to be saints, having ready-made saints to lean on and get help from is a benefit many are glad to have.

Scriptures: Acts of the Apostles 20:32; 26:18;2 Corinthians 13:12; Ephesians 1:1-2; 5:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:13;  2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 18:20

Books: Saints: Men and Women of Exceptional Faith - Jacques Duquesne (Paris: Flammarion, 2012).                            Dictionary of Mary - ed. Alphonse Bossard, S.M.M., transl. John Otto (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1991).

 

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