Anonymous in the diocese
For those who are unfamiliar with the Catholic Church’s devotion to the Blessed Mother, Mary the mother of Jesus, it may seem like the Catholic Church is lifting her up as a god. After all, many churches are adorned with pictures, statues, and images of the Blessed Mother, as well as other saints. So, what is the difference then of worshiping and venerating, in particular with regard to the Blessed Virgin Mary?
The Catholic Church recognizes that there is only One Triune God — the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Church also recognizes that only through God are all things created, kept in existence, and saved so that we may have the hope of eternal life in Heaven with God. So, we do only teach that God is God and no one else is.
We do, however, also recognize that Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection demonstrated to us that God uses intermediaries in this earthly life to help draw others to Himself. He does not do this because He needs to, but because in His love and generosity, He invites us to be a part of His ongoing plan. So, when we look throughout Scripture, and throughout the long history and tradition of the Catholic Church, we see Christ, and His Church, lifting up specific people who have demonstrated by their own lives what it means to be an authentic follower of Christ. Furthermore, since we believe in the Communion of Saints, we recognize that even after a person’s earthly death, they are still connected to us through God, and by the power of God are allowed to intercede for us and help us follow the Lord.
Therefore, the Catholic Church teaches there are three levels of devotion. First is latria which is what we would know and understand as true worship. This is worship and devotion due only to God and God alone, recognizing Jesus as our savior.
The next two are devotion not in the sense of worship but rather extreme honor because the Lord lifted them up as part of His plan of salvation. First, there is the Blessed Mother Mary because she was conceived without original sin in order to be the mother of Christ (the Immaculate Conception). She is recognized with the highest respect of created things. We call this respect and devotion, hyperdulia. The saints, because they can intercede for us and pray for us, are given a great respect and devotion that we call dulia. Neither dulia nor hyperdulia are worship, for worship is due to God alone, but rather, a way to remember that God, who created all things, often uses those things He creates to draw us closer to Himself.
Father Marty Smith is pastor at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Jerseyville and St. Patrick Parish in Grafton and is an associate vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.