Catholicism & Devotion to Mary

Note: Sorry for the long post. This post is not typical for this blog.

The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) has been a bit of a lightning rod through the centuries, with much pro-and anti-catholic rhetoric being written. Emotional arguments are common. Complicating the problem is that the RCC is quite large, has been around for a long time, and has published much. Nailing down exact, official teachings on any given subject can take more than a little study, since much confusion on official teachings can be found in many sources, both pro and con.

The RCC has an official teaching office called the teaching magisterium. This is the office that has the formal responsibility to define the doctrines of the church. The only official source of RCC doctrine comes from those given authority by this office.  Further complicating matters is the RCC use of theological Latin terminology that goes back to the early years of the church.

For many centuries, most especially since the Reformation in the 1500s, critics have attacked RCC teachings. Some of the areas most often criticized are the mixing of faith and works for justification before God, the veneration of and prayers to Mary, and grace coming through the sacramental acts. The RCC has published many nuanced explanations of its doctrines, and to fully understand its position, one would have to study these sources.

For example, the RCC has a high view of Mary, to the point of praying to Mary, holding her sinless, and referring to her as the Mother of God and co-redemptrix with Christ. Protestants find these teachings especially odious, equating prayer with worship, and maintaining that Jesus alone should have such emphasis. Catholics respond, for example, by pointing out fine distinctions in prayer, distinguishing between terms such as latria, dulia, and hyperdulia (worship, honor, and highest honor).  In official Catholic teaching,  they are not worshiping Mary, they are giving her the highest honor.

However, the RCC member in the local church will never see the explanations in technical theological books in the library. What they will see is what the local priest tells them, which in practice can vary from official teaching, whether in emphasis or in fact.

As examples, I submit the quotes below. These are from teaching materials given to lay RCC members, which I obtained from the resource section inside one of my local RCC churches. Therefore these are not anti-catholic, but are presumably blessed by the only official representative of the church the average person sees, the local priest. This is representative of the type of information that is taught to the average Roman Catholic. (Comment follows; caps and emphasis in originals).

RCC 001With Rosary and Scapular Thru Mary to Jesus (Imprimatur: Most Rev. George W. Ahr, S.T.D., Bishop of Trenton, reprint of 1945 article)

  • “. . . Our Lady came again — at Fatima. “Only the Blessed Virgin can save the world,” She said, before revealing Her identity.”
  • “She was saying: The reign of Christ will be established on the earth, if you will but come to me!”
  • “She had come to say that She would save the world. And we remember the prophecy of Saint Dominic: “One day, by the Rosary and the Scapular, She will save the world.””
  • “It is these things that are the Scapular and Rosary devotions — fathomless, almost infinite possibilities of self-purification and of mysticism.”
  • “We cannot fully understand the Scapular until we understand what it means to be so closely united to Mary as to be predestined.”
  • “The first approach to this highway which Our Lady has built to the throne of Christ, from the very sinew and flesh of Her Immaculate Heart, is humility.”
  • “There are too few who are willing to believe that Our Lady would save the world by such “little things.””
  • “And even in the spiritual realm, why would Our Lady promise to save us by a pair of beads and a pair of tabs when we have the Mass? Indeed, why should we be saved by Our Lady at all when we have Christ with us forever? Why should we have to go to Him at all through Our Lady –however wonderful She is–when He has already come to us?”
  • “There are too many “big” souls who are too preoccupied with the Wonder of the Incarnation in a manger to notice the significance of the The Woman through whom God wrought the Incarnation. There are too many “big” souls looking (whether they know it or not) for Christ to come on a cloud to see that Our Lady is bringing Him forth in every heart on the earth that has reached out to Her through Her Rosary and Scapular.”
  • “The mysteries of the Rosary, says Pope Leo XIII, contain all the essential mysteries of our faith.”
  • “. . .we should always do the little things well because we want to please God, through Her.”
  • “Our Lady asked this, with regard to the Scapular . . .First, we must wear the Scapular . . . Second, we must pray every day in Her honor . . . Third, we must observe Chastity . . .(which results in amendment and bettering of our lives every day). If we do these three things, Our Lady has promised that we shall be saints, and that She will free us from Purgatory by the first Saturday after death.”
  • “It is up to all little souls . . . to fulfill Our Lady’s simple Fatima requests to the very best of their ability . . . Then will the Reign of Christ be established on the earth. . . Then, and only then, will the King of Kings descend from His Cross to the throne of all human hearts –and there will be peace.”

RCC 003Attach Great Importance To Your Scapular: It is An Assurance of Salvation (imprimatur: Thomas M. O’Leary, D.D., Bishop of Springfield)

  • “”Whoever dies clothed in this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” –Mary’s promise to St. Simon Stock, July 16, 1251″
  • “Wear it devoutly and perseveringly . . . I, in turn, am always thinking of you and helping you to secure eternal life.”
  • “. . . Her servants wear Her Scapular as a mark that they have dedicated themselves to Her service, and are members of the Family of the Mother of God.”
  • “Our Lord taught us the Our Father. Mary taught us the value of the Scaplar. When we use it as a prayer, Our Lady draws us to the Sacred Heart of Her Divine Son.”
  • “The evil spirit is utterly powerless when a Scapular-wearer, besides his silent devotion, faces temptation calling upon Mary.”
  • “Many Catholics may not know that it is the wish of the Holy Father, the Pope, that the SCAPULAR MEDAL should not be worn in place of the CLOTH SCAPULAR without sufficient reason. Mary cannot be pleased with anyone who substitutes the medal out of vanity, or out of fear of making an open profession of faith. Such persons run the risk of not receiving the Promise. . . . Pope Benedict XV granted a partial indulgence each time the scapular is kissed. MARY’S MOTHERHOOD is not limited to Catholics: it is extended to all men.
  • “She has attached Her protection to the Scapular: ‘Whosoever dies clothed in this shall not suffer eternal fire’.”

RCC 002Children, Your Mother is Calling (Nihil Obstat: Ernest Langenhorst; Imprimatur: Thomas K. Gorman, Co-adjutor to the Bishop of Dallas, 12/24/53)

  • “I am Mother of the part of you that never dies, Mother of the most important part of you. As the Mother of your soul, it is my place to guard your soul, to take care of it, to bring it up, to protect it, and one day bring it back to God.”
  • “Please listen to me and be obedient to me; because God, your loving and kind Father, wants you to be.”
  • “I came to the little children of Fatima. NOW, I come to you, and ask you to give yourselves to me entirely — to give every bit of yourselves to me, every bit of you from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Give me every thought, every word, every action, every indulgence you gain–everything! I MUST ask you for everything so that you can help me save the world, help me to save all the souls that are going to hell!”
  • “Your good actions, your good deeds, the Indulgences you gain are like roses. Please give me those roses. I take these fragrant blossoms and beautifully dress the souls of sinners with them. You see, children, these roses are graces of repentance that you earn for sinners. When you are good and earn graces, and then give them all to me to use as I see they are most needed, you are helping me to save sinners that otherwise would go to hell. “
  • “Remember, I told you these flowers are graces that you earn by being good. NOW, there are enough beautiful roses for yourself, for your friend, and for all those other souls whom I wish to save from hell.”
  • Mary then asks us to pray a lengthy prayer to her, the first of which is to renounce Satan and give myself entirely to Jesus Christ. Then Mary asks me to pray to her that “I deliver and consecrate to thee, as thy slave, my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions, past, present and future; leaving to thee the entire and full right of disposing of me, and all that belongs to me, without exception, according to thy good pleasure, for the greater glory of God, in time and eternity.”

So we can say that the information above represents what the RCC teaches its members, since it bears the imprimatur of educated, office-holding Catholics, and is found in RCC churches. To summarize what is taught:

  1. If we wear the two brown cloth patches called a scapular, with one cloth on our chest and the other on our back, say the rosary every day, then we can get out of purgatory by the Saturday after we die. Indeed, you will not go to hell.
  2. There is some connection with forgiveness of sins, for wearing and kissing a scapular can get us a partial indulgence.
  3. Mary views her task as saving the world. She built a road to the throne of Christ.
  4. Jesus cannot get off of His cross or make His kingdom on earth until “all the little souls” practice the rosary and scapular.
  5. For us, through the rosary, some degree of self-purification is possible.
  6. The passage is especially troublesome where it compares approaching Christ through Mary even though Christ has already approached us.
  7. Too many people are focused on the first and second comings of Jesus, rather than Mary.
  8. The rosary contains all the mysteries of the Christian faith.
  9. We should strive to go through Mary to please God.
  10. We are to be slaves of Mary, in her service, and in the family of the Mother of God.
  11. Wearing the scapular gives us power over evil spirits.
  12. The scapular medal is not sufficient. It only works with the brown cloth one.
  13. The power of the scapular even works for non-Catholics.
  14. We can be good and earn “graces.” If we give them to Mary, she can use them to save sinners.
  15. Mary asks me to give her the “entire and full right of disposing of me” even in eternity.

Of course, all these things are extremely distasteful to anyone who has studied Biblical theology, especially to protestants. To refute them individually would take a much longer post, and this one is too long already. Here, I will merely say the Bible disagrees with this teaching.

The idea of taking such emphasis away from Jesus and onto any creature, even Mary, is the opposite of the warp and woof of the scriptures. The Bible is a Jesus book, and the main point is Him from beginning to end.

With these teachings, we can say that the Roman Catholic Church has significant aberrant teachings. While the official teaching magisterium makes fine distinctions in theology, such distinctions do not filter down to the average person in the church. The only teaching magisterium the average person sees is the local priest, who might have an emphasis on anything. Each of the fifteen items above touch on essential Biblical doctrines, and can be refuted with a careful  handling of scripture.

What is communicated by the sources and practices of the RCC is a works-based salvation. To be fair, official RCC doctrine vigorously denies this, and is much more nuanced and precise than what is shown here. However, the point of this post is that like the average protestant, the average catholic is not nuanced and precise…..all they know is what is taught by the local priest, which is why I focused on what I found in my local RCC church. At its core, the RCCs official teaching is mostly sound, so we do not label it a theological heresy or cult.

However, in the quotes above, prayers to Mary are mingled with prayers to God, works of God are mixed with works of Mary and works of men. My opinion is that the confusions in the materials presented here are representative of many of the doctrines of the RCC, e.g., confusion between the official teachings and what the average catholic is taught. This is why the discerning Christian should be quite wary before joining the Roman Catholic Church, and why I cannot recommend it.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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4 Responses to Catholicism & Devotion to Mary

  1. Outstanding collection of citations!! This post is a keeper; thanks for putting it together.

  2. Glenn,

    Thank you for providing this, and for your generally careful handling of the subject on your blog. The brown scapular was one of the first things I had thrown in my face when I made the suggestion that perhaps the Catholic view of salvation was not completely heretical haha.

    What I have found is that popular piety in Roman Catholicism can be very confusing from an Evangelical point of view. RC is not as “two-story” as Evangelicalism – it’s not just “me and Jesus” – it is more like “me, my family, parish, priest, bishop, all other Catholics, the Pope, Saints, Angels, and Jesus.” The whole body is considered important. Thus, your concern that “works of God are mixed with works of men” is misplaced. This is just what follows from the fact that, although he did not have to, Jesus has chosen to use the members of his body to accomplish his work (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5 and 1 Cor. 9:22). Because of this, hundreds of personal devotional activities have sprung up over the millennia concerning the more holy members of the body (James 5:16). Those concerning Mary – the Mother of God – are especially popular, and things like the Brown Scapular are part of that.

    Now on to the problem of official vs. popular teaching. Four times in your article you say that Catholics only see what the local priest tells them, which in practice can vary from official teaching. First, this is ironic given that the tract you quote from was written by the Bishop – not the priest – of the diocese! 🙂 Second, while you imply that the official teaching is hidden away in some obscure Latin documents, Catholic study Bibles, books, websites, and other lay-level sources abound. Further, Catholics primarily learn the faith from Mass, not obscure documents of canon law.

    This is important because the bullet points you quoted are advertising the benefits of an official rite – not just guidelines for someone to privately interpret. During that official process, one learns that the act involves much more than wearing a piece of cloth. Just as baptism is not just getting dunked, and the Lord’s Supper is not just eating a snack, sacramentals cannot simply be appropriated by performing the physical act associated with them. The brown scapular is a sign and seal of a deeper promise and devotional practice. If you read how the Catholic Encyclopedia describes it, you will see that one has to be among the faithful to receive the benefits of the scapular (it is not a magical object!).

    So while it may be true that such a practice is “extremely distasteful to protestants,” it should be evaluated according to what the Church actually teaches in the official rite, and not how an Evangelical might understand a brief pamphlet on it.

    • humblesmith says:

      I generally don’t see much benefit in tit-for-tat discussions online, so I will make one brief comment here and on your blog, then let this be. What I showed here is given by a local priest, and has Bishops quoting Popes, teaching me about doctrinal issues of salvation for people inside and outside the church. Separate and apart from anyone’s personal “deeper promise and devotional practice” is the implications taught here regarding works and salvation, such as who is responsible for acts attributed to God. The best such a response can do is again tie together works and salvation, which is the issue in the first place.

      Doug, I am not defending John Macarthur, James White, Jack Chick, or anyone else. I have no dog in this fight. My wife was catholic when we married, and I still have many RCC relatives that I respect, as I do you and Jason. I can only urge you both to step back here and ponder the situation: you have a brother with concerns for you. The doctrinal issues here are profound, deep, and significant, and the doctrine taught here by the RCC presents profound error, which you have apparently accepted.

  3. Pingback: Roman Catholic Worship of Objects | Thomistic Bent

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