Why is it proper to honor Mary?
A. To begin with, the Bible shows us it is. Beyond this, there are two basic reasons it is proper to honor her:
- because she is the mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God;
- because she is a model of obedient submission to God.
Honoring Mary does not mean we “worship” her.
I. The Bible shows us it is proper to honor Mary
A. The angel Gabriel honored Mary when he came to announce that she would bear a Son: “And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed [Greek eulogeméne, “spoken well of, praised”] are you among women!’ ” (Luke 1:28).
B. God honored Mary. Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).
C. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, honored Mary. When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth greeted her, saying, “Blessed [Greek eulogeméne] are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42, 43).
D. Mary herself prophesied, “henceforth all generations will call me blessed [Greek makariousin]” (Luke 1:48).
E. Jesus honored Mary. We can be sure of this because He obeyed the Ten Commandments perfectly, the fifth commandment being, “You shall honor your father and your mother.”
Conclusion: If Mary was held in honor by God, by Gabriel, by Elizabeth, and by our Lord Himself, then those who follow Him should do likewise. If not, they may have to answer to Him for it someday.
II. We honor Mary because she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God
A. Mary was specially chosen and prepared by God to fulfill this task. She had a holiness and spirituality that made her pleasing to God. She was not just “in the right place at the right time.”
B. Because of this she holds a special place in our salvation as the means through which the Son of God came into our world as a man.
C. This was a very great honor that remains uniquely hers forever. This is why the Church calls her “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim.”
D. The terms “Mother of God” and “God-bearer” [Greek Theotokos] are also proper titles for Mary.
- These terms have been especially crucial to the Church ever since the fifth century, when the Church was faced with the attack of a heretic named Nestorius.
- These terms were not originally employed in order to exalt Mary, but rather in order to exalt Christ and to protect the true Christian belief about Him.
- If Christ was truly God and if Mary was Christ’s mother, then it follows that she can rightly be called the Mother of God or the God-bearer.
a. This does not mean she had anything to do with His eternal existence as God or with originating His divinity.
b. It means the very same person she gave birth to in Bethlehem two thousand years ago was also the eternal Son of God who existed before all ages.
c. It means that no one can say, as Nestorius was attempting to say, that Jesus—who was Mary’s son and God’s eternal Son—was really two different persons.
- Referring to Mary as the “Mother of God” protects and preserves the mystery of the Incarnation. As such, then, it is not an optional title of devotion, but a dogma that lies at the very heart of the Christian faith.
Conclusion: Because of Mary’s special role in our salvation as the mother of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all Christians should give her due honor. Protestants need to understand the term “Mother of God” and confess her as such. Those who cannot or will not do so show they may not understand who Jesus Christ truly is.
III. We honor Mary because she is a model of obedient submission to God
A. Later in Jesus’ ministry, a woman cried out to Him from a crowd, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” (Luke 11:27). But Jesus replied, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (v. 28). Jesus was not dishonoring His mother here. Rather, He was giving an even greater reason for honoring her, for Mary was one who had heard the word of God and kept it. Another legitimate translation of Jesus’ reply could be, “Yes, indeed, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” (Compare Romans 10:18 and Philippians 3:8 for other places where the Greek word menounge is translated “Yes, indeed.”)
B. When Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she was to bear the Son of God, though troubled and unclear as to what all this would mean, she nevertheless replied, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
- Without this willing cooperation on Mary’s part, Christ could not have been born to save the world.
- Because of this obedient cooperation, Mary became a model and a picture of Christian submission and obedience to God.
- Moreover, Christ dwelling within her and being born from her became a picture of the fruit that can come from such cooperation with the will of God.
Conclusion: Because of Mary’s special role in submitting to the will of God so that Christ could be born into the world, she has become a picture and a model for every Christian; for without such voluntary and humble submission to God, no one can bring forth fruits of righteousness. Many Christians would benefit by re-establishing Mary as a role model of the faith.
IV. Honoring Mary does not mean we “worship” her
A. Worship belongs to God alone.
B. The honor shown to Mary means we give her special esteem and hold her in high regard above all others.
- The Orthodox Church has always been careful to maintain this distinction. The Church uses the Greek word latreia to define the worship reserved for God alone and douleia for the honor proper to Mary and other saints.
- In English, we can show this distinction by distinguishing between the words “worship” and “honor,” or “worship” and “veneration.”
C. Many Protestants, though, do not even honor Mary at all, but have actually dishonored her by ignoring her special place in the Church.
- They have done this in reaction to what they have seen as abuses within the Roman Catholic Church.
- But in so doing they have “thrown the baby out with the bath water.”
- The tradition of the Orthodox Church has remained free from these abuses. For example, Orthodox tradition does not hold to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as it was formulated by Pope Pius IX in 1854. (This teaches that Mary herself was conceived and born without original sin.)
Conclusion: Protestants need to stop dishonoring Mary and return to honoring her rightly. This will not rob God of worship; rather, it will bring Him greater glory as we recognize those whom He has glorified with His grace.
In summary, we can show that it is proper to honor Mary because this is consistent with certain examples in the Bible; because she is the Mother of our Lord; and because, through her humble cooperation and submission to the will of God, she became a fitting role model for all Christians to follow. Furthermore, Protestants need to realize that the terms “Mother of God” and “God-bearer,” while honoring Mary, are meant foremost to exalt Christ and to protect the true belief about His Incarnation. Then they need to confess Mary as God’s Mother and come in line with the long-standing belief and practice of the Church.