The largest denomination of Christendom teaches its members to pray to Mary as a mediatrix. But does Jesus Christ want us to pray to His physical mother?
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
This is a daily prayer, often called the “Hail Mary,” repeated by millions of Roman Catholics around the world. It is a part of a larger sequence of devotions called the rosary, which derives its name from a Latin word meaning a wreath or garland of roses. According to tradition, whenever it is recited, Mary’s head is crowned with a wreath of flowers in heaven.
The full rosary consists of more than 200 “Hail Marys” and 20 “Our Fathers” interspersed between other statements and prayers. Traditionally, devotees pray one fourth of this each day, including five of the 20 “mysteries.”
Catholics keep track of where they are in this litany through a string of beads. Many popes have endorsed the practice, as did (supposedly) Mary herself—who is said to have appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. According to the children, one of her consistent messages throughout six separate apparitions was the need for humanity to recite the rosary daily to bring world peace.
Why do Catholics pray to Mary?
If you’re a non-Catholic, you may be curious why Catholics pray to Mary. In My Catholic Faith (a basic, yet detailed book explaining Catholic doctrine), Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow writes:
“We pay special honor to the Blessed Virgin because she is the Mother of God, and our Mother. God has exalted her above all other creatures. Her intercession is more powerful with God than that of any other saint. No man refuses his mother a favor; so God does not refuse any request of Mary” (1958, p. 198).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
“Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. … Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”
Essentially, the belief is that Mary’s body was taken to heaven before she experienced physical death (“the Assumption”) where she was crowned and exalted as queen of heaven and continues to function as the mother of God in heaven. They’re convinced that Christ shows dutiful favor to any request she makes of Him—and therefore their prayers are most effective when they are made through Mary as a mediatrix (feminine form of mediator).
Catholics consider that just as a Christian on earth may ask a fellow believer to pray about something for them, they can also solicit help from the saints in heaven as mediators between themselves and God.
But the Bible does not teach this. Of course, Catholics do not consider Scripture to be the only authoritative source for doctrine. They believe church tradition is also authoritative and that God has revealed to the Roman Catholic Church other truths not found in the Bible.
What does the Bible say? Consider these three biblical reasons for not praying to Mary:
1. Mary is not in heaven.
The entire practice of praying to Mary is based on the premise that Mary (and all the other saints) are in heaven. In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared ex cathedra (meaning it is considered infallible) that “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”—a statement that is not supported by Scripture.
Since Christ’s ascension was such a momentous event, the Bible vividly describes it (Acts 1:9). The Bible, however, makes no mention of Mary ascending to heaven because she never did. Instead, Scripture plainly states that “no one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). The Bible also says that “it is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27) and that all who have died will be resurrected after Jesus returns (John 5:28-29).
The real Mary, who was a true servant of God, died like the rest of humanity before and after her. She sleeps in death, awaiting the resurrection at Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). Since the Bible is clear that “the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5), she cannot hear the thousands of prayers that are recited to her every day.
To learn more of what the Bible says about death, read our free booklet The Last Enemy: What Really Happens After Death?
2. The Bible tells us to pray to the Father.
Prayer is not a peripheral topic in the Bible. The words prayer, pray and prayed are found in hundreds of biblical passages. When you study the many examples of righteous people in the Bible—from Abraham (Genesis 20:17) to Paul (2 Timothy 1:3; Philemon 1:4)—you will not find one single example of them praying to anyone other than God.
When asked by His disciples, Jesus gave them guidelines about how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-4). He emphasized first that prayer should primarily be done in private, and second, it should not be a “meaningless repetition” (Matthew 6:7, New American Standard Bible). Sadly, much of today’s Christendom ignores both principles.
Jesus then said, “In this manner, therefore, pray” (verse 9).
Notice that He didn’t present multiple formats—such as prayers to His mother or saints—He gave one model. Prayer is to be directed to “our Father in heaven.”
To learn more about the biblical teaching on prayer, read “Do You Pray the Way Jesus Taught?”
3. Jesus Christ is the sole Mediator between God and man.
We should trust what the Bible teaches on prayer: God the Father is all-powerful and Christ is a loving, kind and powerful “Advocate” on our behalf (1 John 2:1). You can pray directly to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, and have total assurance that “His ears are open” to righteous Christians’ prayers (1 Peter 3:12).After His ascension to heaven, Jesus Christ was given the role as our heavenly “High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14-15). The book of Hebrews explains clearly that we should pray to the Father “through Him” because He “lives to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25).
Paul taught there is only “one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). If you study every scripture where this responsibility of Christ is discussed, you will notice that embedded in the context is singularity—Christ is the sole Mediator between the Father and human beings (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24).
We should trust what the Bible teaches on prayer: God the Father is all-powerful and Christ is a loving, kind and powerful “Advocate” on our behalf (1 John 2:1). You can pray directly to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, and have total assurance that “His ears are open” to righteous Christians’ prayers (1 Peter 3:12).
Praying to Mary (or other saints) as mediators is meaningless and contradicts the teaching of Christ and the examples of scores of men and women of the Bible.
A correct perspective on Mary
If you walk into any Catholic cathedral, you will see numerous statues and paintings venerating an image that is supposed to be the mother of Jesus (though probably bearing little resemblance to a first-century Jewish woman). Currently there are four Marian dogmas in Catholic theology (see the infographic “The Four Marian Dogmas vs. the Bible”), and there is currently a movement to add a fifth: Mary as co-redemptrix (the belief that she has a role with Jesus in the redemption of humanity).
But if you study Mary in the Bible, you won’t find the same emphasis or any hint of her being prayed to. You will find a godly woman who was blessed to be chosen to carry the Christ in her womb—despite needing a savior from her own sins. You will find a woman who had other children after she gave birth to Jesus. You will find a woman who had to witness the brutal beating and execution of her firstborn Son, Jesus.
You will find a woman who continued to be a dedicated pillar in the early Church. Though the Bible does not give details, there is no indication that she did not continue to be faithful for the rest of her life. She eventually died and now awaits the resurrection.
At one point in His ministry, a woman interrupted Jesus with a statement about how blessed His mother was to bear Him (Luke 11:27). Jesus’ response was, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (verse 28).
Instead of praying to or venerating Mary, follow her example of lifelong dedication to hearing the Word of God and keeping it!
To learn more, read “The Real Mary” and “Should We Pray to Saints?”
See also our related infographic “The Four Marian Dogmas vs. the Bible.”