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Catholics, Protestants, and Immaculate Mary Print E-mail
By David G. Bonagura, Jr.   
Saturday, 08 December 2012

Do Catholics worship Mary? This question is as old as the Protestant Reformation itself, and it rests, like other disputed doctrinal points, on a false premise that has been turned into a wedge: the veneration of Mary detracts from the worship of Christ.

This seeming opposition between Mary and Christ is symptomatic of the Protestant tendency, begun by Luther, to view the entirety of Christian life through a dialectical lens – a lens of conflict and division. With the Reformation the integrity of Christianity is broken and its formerly coherent elements are now set in opposition. The Gospel versus the Law. Faith versus Works. Scripture versus Tradition. Authority versus Individuality. Faith versus Reason. Christ versus Mary.

The Catholic tradition rightly sees the mutual complementarity of these elements of the faith, as they all contribute to our ultimate end – living with God now and in eternity. To choose any one of these is to choose them all.

By contrast, to assert that Catholics worship Mary along with or in place of Christ, or that praying to Mary somehow impedes Christ’s role as “the one mediator between God and men” (1 Tim 2:5) is to create a false dichotomy between the Word made flesh and the woman who gave the Word his flesh. No such opposition exists. The one Mediator entrusted his mediation to the will and womb of Mary. She does not impede his mediation – she helps to make it possible.

Within this context we see the ancillary role that the ancilla Domini plays in her divine Son’s mission. Mary’s is not a surrogate womb rented and then forgotten in God’s plan. She is physically connected to Christ and his life, and because of this she is even more deeply connected to him in the order of grace. She is, in fact, “full of grace,” as only one who is redeemed by Christ could be.

The feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception celebrates the very first act of salvation by Christ in the world. Redemption is made possible for all by his precious blood shed on the cross. Yet Mary’s role in the Savior’s life and mission is so critical and so unique that God saw it necessary to wash her in the blood of the Lamb in advance, at the first moment of her conception.

Called (from the series Woman) ©2006 Bruce Herman
  [oil on wood, 65 x 48”; collection of Bjorn and Barbara Iwarsson] For more information visit http://bruceherman.com

This reality could not be more Biblical: the angel greets Mary as “full of grace” (Luke 1:28), which is literally rendered as “already graced” (kecharitōmenē). Following Mary, the Church has “pondered what sort of greeting this might be” for centuries. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, ultimately defined in 1854, is nothing other than a rational expression of the angel’s greeting contained in Scripture: Mary is “already graced” with Christ’s redemption at the very moment of her creation.

Because God called Mary to the unique vocation of serving as the Mother of God, it is not just her soul that is graced, as is the case for us when we receive the sacraments. Mary’s entire being, body and soul, is full of grace so that she may be a worthy ark for the New Covenant. And just as the ark of the old covenant was adorned with gold to be a worthy house for God’s word, Mary is conceived without original sin to be the living and holy house for God’s Word.

Thus Mary is not only conceived immaculately, that is, without stain of sin. She also is the Immaculate Conception. Her entire being was specifically created by God with unique privilege so that she could fulfill her role in God’s plan of salvation. “Free from sin,” both original and personal, is the necessary consequence of being “full of grace.”

Protestants claim that veneration of Mary as it is practiced by Catholics is not biblical. St. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Paul is not holding himself up as the end goal, but as a means to Christ, the true end. And if a person is imitated, he is simultaneously venerated.

If we should imitate Paul, how much more should we imitate Mary, who fulfilled God’s will to the greatest degree a human being could. Throughout her life she humbled herself so that God could be exalted, and because of this, Christ has fulfilled his promise by exalting his lowly mother to the seat closest to him in God’s kingdom.

Mary is the model of humility, charity, and openness to the will of God. She allows a sword to pierce her heart for the sake of the world’s salvation. She shows us the greatness to which we are called: a life free from sin and filled with God’s grace that leads to union with God in Heaven. She is the model disciple, and therefore worthy of imitation and veneration, not as an end in herself, but as the means to the very purpose of her – and our – existence: Christ himself.

God’s lowly handmaiden would not want it any other way.

 
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor of theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, New York.       
 
 
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written by Ib, December 07, 2012
There is a lot of misunderstanding of St. Mary's role in the Roman Catholic faith. Dr. Bonagura does a super job outlining it here in this post. I only would like to append a quote from Lumen gentium (nn. 61-62):

... in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she [St. Mary] cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope, and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls. As a result she is our Mother in the order of grace.

This motherhood of Mary in the economy of grace lasts without interruption, from the consent which she gave in faith at the annunciation, and which she unhesitatingly bore with under the cross, even to the perpetual consummation of all the elect. For after being assumed into heaven, she has not put aside this saving function, but by her manifold intercession, she continues to win the gifts of eternal salvation for us. By her motherly love, she takes care of the brothers of her Son who are still in pilgrimage and in dangers and difficulties, until they be led through to the happy fatherland. For this reason, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adiutrix, and Mediatrix. This however it to be so understood that it takes nothing away, or adds nothing to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature can ever be put on the same level with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer...."
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written by Other Joe, December 08, 2012
Yes. I have heard otherwise bright Protestant leaders assert that Catholics worship statues, saints (as gods), Mary and stained glass windows! The thing that defeats the notional wedge of dialectical opposition (well noted by Professor Bonagura) is the solvent of love. If an individual is with God, that individual is one with God through the experience of infinite love in a manner that cannot be grasped in earthly terms, analogies and rhetoric. The Trinity is not a dialectic relationship. It is relationship in love. Love dissolves boundaries so that two become one flesh in marriage and all become one body in the church - imperfectly (sometimes heartbreakingly so) in this world. If we discover evidence that one who has died is with God, it is right and just to pray to that individual for guidance, intercession, and enlightenment. Prayers are nothing more than communications directed in hope and faith to the spiritual dimensions in which the unity of the Body of Christ is perfected. In the spiritual dimensions, Mary and all of the saints are with God and participate in the unity of God’s love. They are not God, but they are one with God because there are no earthly limitations to the expression and reception of infinite love. It is becoming clearer that the Protestant movement bore away with it the seeds of dialectical materialism. If the individual conscience is made superior to the unity of the body of Christ, conflict is inevitable with the individual conscience of others.

The idea that Catholics worship stained glass windows or statues is laughably ill-informed.
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written by Manfred, December 08, 2012
In 1958, in the village of Lourdes, it is reported that Bernadette Soubirous has seen apparitons of a lady. She is told to ask the lady her name the next time she sees her. The bishop sends a ranking cleric to the village to investigate. "Did you see the lady and ask her her name?" "Yes, sir. She told me but I did not understand it."
"Tell me what she said my child." "She said: I am the Immaculate Conception." No mention of the APPROVED by the Church apparitions,Mr. Bonagura? Mainline Protestantism is dead in the U.S. The debate has moved to the reality of Hell. Ralph Martin has written "Will Many be Saved?" and he has been politely challenged by Fr. Robert Barron on it. It was the appearance of the Mother of God (and our Mother)who came to warn us, her children if we would only believe her, at Fatima in 1917 that: Hell exists and human beings going there. She did this by showing three children a vision of Hell. Fatima has been declared by the Church credible. It is the Mother of God, not Christ, who comes to warn us at Paris (1830), Lourdes, Fatima (1917), and Akita (1973). The fact that she appears and not Christ or the Holy Spirit, demonstrates clearly it is the Divine Will to sweep Protestantism and all its heresies from the world.
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written by Clement Williams, December 08, 2012
Recently, I read an article in a science magazine which says that the cells of the fetus do pass the placental barrier into the maternal circulation and some end up in the mother's heart, lungs, liver and the brain, where, being totipotent or pluripotent in the presence of immune suppression caused by the pregnancy, these fetal cells do grow and become a part of the mother's body. This is, for me at least, is another reason to continue to believe that Our Lady is indeed our mediatrix with God.
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written by Louise, December 08, 2012
David, your second paragraph is especially insightful. I have never seen Protestantism so succintly described.
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written by Manfred, December 08, 2012
A footnote: Bernadette Soubirous, who saw the Immaculate Conception eighteen times(!)became a religious Sister and died in 1879. She was declared a saint on December 8, 1933. If you go to to her convent in Nevers, France, you can see Bernadette Soubirous as her INCORRUPT body lies in a glass shrine. It is miracles such as these, when God sees fit to grant them, that has attracted people to the True Faith since the time of Christ. The next time you are conversing with a Protestant, ask him/her if their denomination/sect has ever produced anything to compare with this. When you converse with a modern "catholic", ask him/her if their religion has ever produced anything to compare with this.
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written by wayne, December 08, 2012
In defense of Protestants, it's not fair or correct to say they accuse Catholics of worshiping stained glass windows. That's making them out to be mentally ill. Now, if a non-Catholic sees a Catholic bowing before a statue, what does the non-Catholic see? He sees someone bowing before a statue. Most modern people understand that the person is not worshiping the statue, but praying to someone , or something. A 3 yr old might think the devotee is honoring the statue. Put yourself in God's shoes. What does he see? He knows your heart. But he also told us not to bow before images.
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written by Francis, December 08, 2012

Dr. Bonagura mentions several elements that are set in oppostion to each other:
The Gospel versus the Law. Faith versus Works. Scripture versus Tradition. Authority versus Individuality. Faith versus Reason. Christ versus Mary.
Another common one is "being filled with the Holy Spirit" (often vaguely defined) vs. Catholic devotions like the Rosary.
The visitation in Luke 1:41-42 is an amazing passage that addresses this and displays the wisdom of Catholic Church: "...Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb". To our separated Protestant brothers and sisters, it is the Holy Spirit that enabled Elizabeth, and now us, to say this!
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written by Dave, December 08, 2012
On not bowing before images, the point is important and so is the answer to it. Even in the Old Testament, with the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant and the fiery serpent upon which the people were to look for deliverance from poison, the prohibition against images of any sort is not absolute: clearly the command is not to worship as the representation of God or gods any graven image, as was the case of the grave sin involving the Golden Calf. And since "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," the Church has seen that iconographic or statuary depictions of Christ and the saints are not violations of the command -- first, because, in the case of Christ, we do indeed see God, and second, because, in the case of the saints, devotion shown to them is not worship -- latria -- which belongs to God alone, but veneration particularly of their holiness, which is a participation, through grace and correspondence, in the holiness of God; and the efficacy of prayer to saints, invoking their intercession or assistance, is too well-known a fact of Christian life to merit all that much comment. As the Divine Praises conclude, "Blessed be God in his angels and his saints."
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written by Jack,CT, December 08, 2012
Dear Joe,
Thanks for such a beatiful perspective,
such truth and Clarity!
Jack
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written by Ib, December 08, 2012
It's amusing that Wayne (of the Bozo avatar) defends Protestants by likening them to 3 year olds. I suppose we should take it on his testimony that that's the intellectual level of most Protestants.

I myself would never take to defending Protestantism, since it's so self-contradictory and willful, I wouldn't know how to even begin. Perhaps Wayne is right and it's best to treat it as a 3-year-old's tantrum ...
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written by Athanasius, December 08, 2012
2 comments:

1. I have heard it described that Jesus is the sun, and Mary is the moon, reflecting only the light of the sun. Thus, when we see Mary's light, it is really the light of Jesus weò are seeing as reflected by her. I think this is a simple and beautiful analogy to help explain Mary's role.

2. In John's gospel, at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary tells the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." Mary trusted in God at the Annunciation, and she continues that trust throughout her life. She did not know what Jesus would do, but she knew that it would be the right thing. My meditating on Mary as the example of supreme trust in God has helped me to trust in God at difficult times. My devotion to Mary leads me to Jesus, whom I adore as my eternal Lord and Savior.
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written by Ib, December 08, 2012
The recent controversy between Fr. Barron (Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary, Chicago) and lay theologian Ralph Martin, S.T.D. (Director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit) on Professor Martin's recent book "How Many Will Be Saved?" is very important. I'm glad Manfred brought it up.

Professor Martin's book shows that the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, n 16, warns that many people may not be saved even if they think they are. According to him, this clear dogma has been obscured primarily because of academic theology in the last 50 years, which has misread the passage. The contemporary misreading encourages a sense of universal salvation which is NOT what the passage actually states. He is absolutely right about this (IMHO). In other words, more people may be going to Hell than we would be led to believe by contemporary academic theology.

OTOH, Fr. Barron rightly observes that it isn't just a couple of "old hippy-dippy" theologians (i.e., Rahner and Von Balthasar) who think that for the majority of Christians Purgatory is more likely than Hell. Pope Benedict XVI writes precisely this in his encylical, "Spe Salvi" nn 45-48. And he further points out that it is possible to interpret the passage from Lumen Gentium (n 16) in a way compatible with what our present Holy Father has written in his authoritative encyclical. So maybe we should not be too quick to pack off, in our minds at least, a sizable number of humans to Hell.

Professor Martin responds by observing that not all Papal writings hold the same weight. In his opinion, "Spe Salvi" -- although a papal encyclical and so of the highest level of papal teaching -- often consists of mere theological reflections and that "clarification is needed" in order to determine how it affects Lumen Gentium, n 16.

Who is right? Perhaps we can turn to the encyclicals of John Paul II and earlier Popes for help here. John Paul II wrote in Redemptor Hominis (18 d) that the need for salvation arises universally, and explicitly refers to Lumen Gentium, 16. But he continues by writing that "This is why the Church of our time-a time particularly hungry for the Spirit, because it is hungry for justice, peace, love, goodness, fortitude, responsibility, and human dignity-must concentrate and gather around that Mystery, finding in it the light and the strength that are indispensable for her mission." Does this help clarify?

In any case, the Protestant editors at Baker Book House are waxing rhapsodic over Professor Martin's book. They write "I was deeply impressed with this book and Martin’s argument. It is an important book which deserves to be read widely by both Catholics and Protestants." Can a book which questions a papal encyclical, is praised by Protestants, criticized by a leading Roman Catholic priest, and is published not by a Roman Catholic publisher, but by Eerdmans, be a good Roman Catholic book? You decide!
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, December 09, 2012
“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin”

- Martin Luther’s Sermon “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527
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written by John, December 09, 2012
Re: Mr Paterson-Seymour. Love it when the entirety of protestant Marian thinking can be turned on its head by a quote from the man who is so often misquoted and misrepresented by centuries of followers. Nice post, Michael.
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written by Frank, December 09, 2012
The issue of our Blessed Mother is a huge stumbling block to Protestants. Trust me, I know having been a former Protestant. When as a Protestant, all I was told that, "The Catholics engage in idolatry by worshiping Mary," tell that one long enough and frequently enough and voila, it becomes a ingrained "truth." And once again, I would submit that the age old problem of Protestants embracing "Sola Scriptura" and the Catholics embracing "Tradition" is where I think a conflicting nexus akin to mixing oil and water occurs. Replace the word tradition with fullness and the debate might turn (but don't hold your breath). What I love about being a Catholic is that our Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scholars do not translate scripture in the context of the present but when the text was actually written. Thus, what I get is the context of the writing in the historical context. Of course, we can apply that scripture from then to now. As long as our Protestant friends predominantly cling to a Sola Scripture through English, they'll never understand the Catholic Faith and will miss a wonderful theology that simultaneously challenges the mind while lovingly comforting the heart!
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written by Manfred, December 09, 2012
I appreciate lb's comments on Dr. Martin's and Father Barron's exchange on WILL MANY BE SAVED? Msgr Charles Pope of the A'diocese of Washington did a review on its website.
He quotes John Paul II:"..it is necessary to keep these two truths together,namely,the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind, and the necessity of the Church for salvation" (page 5 in the book)
Excuse me! How could both these positions be true.If I could possibly accomplish salvation as a non-believer, why would I ever join a religion which says I cannot divorce and remarry, I cannot have sex out of wedlock, I cannot contracept, etc.? Martin's whole thesis (as I understand it) is that if we are confused as to the necessity to become Catholic and follow ALL the Church's teachings, how could we ever be firm in evangelizing anyone, INCLUDING Catholics? BTW, Msgr Pope states that the "book is well attested by a large number of our current bishops to include..." Cdl Dolan, Cdl George,Cdl Wuerl,Cdl Turkson,Abp Augustine, Di Noia, "and others."
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written by Ib, December 09, 2012
@manfred

I agree with Ralph Martin's thesis in his recent book, "Will Many Be Saved?" I wrote my remarks trying to be somewhat evenhanded and neutral. But, even so, I also think that the Pope has a point, as well. Why? Because there's a distinction that Fr. Barron doesn't make in his post, and which Dr. Martin doesn't mention either. "Lumen Gentium," n 16, is referring to humanity in its entirety, while "Spe Salvi" nn 45-47 is talking particularly about Roman Catholics (in their entirety). So there is a difference in the subject that each is writing about. An analogy might be if someone where to refer to professional baseball players, while another writer referred only to the New York Yankees. It would certainly be the case that some statements made about the latter would not be true of the former. My hunch is that is where the Pope's remarks fit in with Lumen Gentium.

As for John Paul II's statement from page 5 of Dr. Martin's book, it is in paragraph 9 of "Redemptoris Missio". As you note, by itself it sounds a little strange. That's why it should be read in the context of John Paul II's encyclical, and not take it at face value out of context. The section it comes from is titled "The Church As Sign and Instrument of Salvation" and is precisely arguing that except in rare instances, the Catholic Church is the way that God established for salvation from sin. In fact the next sentences after the one you refer to are: "This is God's will, and this is why he established the Church and made her a part of his plan of salvation. Referring to 'this messianic people,' the Council says; 'It has been set up by Christ as a communion of life, love and truth; by him too it is taken up as the instrument of salvation for all, and sent on a mission to the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.' (Lumen Gentium, 9)."

As I read it, and also from the more obscure quote from Redemptor Hominis (18 d) I included in my earlier comment, God wills that all be saved, and humanity universally desires salvation, and so that's why the Catholic Church was set up by Christ. The Catholic Church is the primary way of salvation for humankind. It is possible for someone to receive the grace from Christ directly for salvation IF "the social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit" them "to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or to enter the Church" (Redemptoris Missio, 10). But in order for this possibility to become a reality they must "sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. (Lumen Gentium 16)." IMHO, this would happen nearly never and certainly could not happen in any but the most remote areas of the globe these days.

Anyway, these are simply how I put the texts together to make sense at this point. I don't think it's good to oppose one dogmatically authoritative document against another -- that's what Luther and Calvin did in order to justify their heresies -- but to try and harmonize them as best we can.

I am keeping my ears open to hear what the next round of this controversy brings!
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written by florante sioson, December 11, 2012
I feel sorry for those protestant, they do not experience the help that the Blessed Mother can give them when you have problems in life.
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written by Graham Combs, December 11, 2012
Some time ago I found myself in conversation with two Catholic women, fiftysomething. I mentioned that as a convert I had been surprised by my growing devotion to Our Lady. Both accused me of "worshiping Mary." Admittedly this is the Archdiocese of Detroit. Prof. Martin represents one faction of the seminary faculty from my passing acquaintance with it. Feminism has made its inroads in the Church and consequently, maybe even paradoxically, has attempted to diminish her status. Protestantism is impoverished by her absence although Anglicanism is not so consistent. Witness the English Shrines to Our Lady of Walsingham -- Anglican and Catholic cooperate in devotion.

Statues of the Blessed Mother were once numerous here in metropolitan Detroit but you see one now and again. I still believe that the legal assaults on the Nativity are not based on any constitutional advocacy but on removing the very image of the Holy Family from the commons. What is Christmas without Jesus, Mary and Joseph? What is Christianity?
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written by Philip M. Wright, December 31, 2012
I've been Roman Catholic my whole life, I belong to and am active in a parish, and work part-time for the Diocese. There is Mary Worship all over the place. There is the usual BS about it being 'honoring' or 'venerating' but regardless how they rationalize it looks like worship to everyone else including other Catholics. Every time I turn around it seems there is some new strange belief or tid-bit of mythology, none of which come from the Gospels. It has gone past the point of being ludicrous to the point of being offensive and blasphemous. Christ himself warned against this idiocy when a woman yelled at Him 'blessed are the breasts who nursed you' and he replies 'Blessed are those who hear God's Word and keep it.'
Maybe you should follow His lead. If you want to practice Isis worship go right ahead, just stop calling yourself 'Christian' and doing in it in His Church. Mary Worship will be the death of the Church. I hope you feel proud in doing your part to help speed the process right along to the grave.
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written by Christopher Lake, January 11, 2013
Philip M. Wright, you claim that there is "Mary Worship all over the place" in the Catholic Church. In that light, I must ask you-- given the fact that throughout history, many canonized Saints of the Church have had a strong devotion to Mary, by what process of evaluation do you believe yourself to be capable of determining just what is, and is not, "Mary Worship"? Is your process of evaluation on this matter better than that of the teaching authority of the Pope and Magisterium?

Have you studied what the Church believes about Mary from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition? Do you know why we believe what we do about Mary as Catholics? Do you accept the Marian dogmas which all Catholics are required to accept?

You seem to make a veiled objection to the "Hail Mary" prayer by quoting the words of Jesus ("Blessed are those who hear God's Word..."). However, the Hail Mary, itself, is based on Scripture-- namely, the words of the angel to Mary in Luke, chapter 1, particularly, verses 28-31 . Similarly, the Church's teaching that Mary is "Queen of Heaven" is based on the description of the woman "clothed with the sun" in Revelation, chapter 12, verses 1-17.

Marian devotion has been part of the Catholic faith since the early centuries of the Church. It is historically Christian. It is Biblical. It is not "worship" of Mary. The Church has repeatedly condemned worship of anyone and anything other than God.

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