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Is prayer to Mary and the saints an example of idolatry?

Prayers said to Mary and the saints are not an example of idolatry as long as our ultimate focus is on God. If we lose this focus, then it is possible to forget that the holiness and eternal glory enjoyed by Mary and the saints is a gift of God.

There are many today who state that it is wrong to pray to Mary and the saints under many circumstances. They sometimes quote the passage from the First Letter to Timothy, which read: "God is one. One also is the mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ." If, as this passage maintains, Jesus is the one mediator between God and men, then why pray to Mary and the saints?

The reason we pray to Mary and the saints is that they are our spiritual friends in heaven. There are many instances when Scripture encourages us to pray for one another. The Catholic teaching on the Communion of Saints points out that those who have died in Christ still belong to the Church. When we ask Mary and the saints to pray for us, we are inviting them, as our spiritual friends in the Church, to intercede for us as Scripture encourages us to do.
Prayer and meditation directed to Mary and the saints without any reference to God could become harmful. It might be helpful to draw an analogy from our earthly experience to understand better what can happen. Many times we find it helpful not only to pray with a friend, but to share with one another how we understand the workings of God in our lives. We ask questions of one another; we listen and learn from one another. This is one of the ways the Holy Spirit helps us grow, and it is no different with Mary and the saints.

By meditating on their lives, and, in the case of certain saints, on their writings, we can come to a better understanding of how God works in our lives. In other words, we do not pray to them as a substitute for God, but as friends who can help us learn more about ourselves and our God.
In our human relationships, this process of praying with one another and learning from one another is healthy unless it becomes cultish. In the case of a cult, we give too much regard to another person and his ideas about God. This sometimes happens with regard to Mary and the saints as well. There are people whose devotion to Mary or to one of the saints is so strong that they lose their focus on Christ. Such excesses in devotion may rightly be called cultish -- perhaps even idolatrous.

As with everything else in the spiritual life, there must be a balance in our devotions. If we ignore Mary and the saints completely, we deny ourselves friendship with important models of love and holiness; if we focus on Mary or a saint too exclusively, we run the risk of a cultish kind of devotion. Our hearts were made for God, and Mary and the saints would have no other way.

To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission