Question: When Catholics pray that Mary is “our life, our sweetness, and our hope,” that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that they do indeed worship Mary. To say that Mary is your life and your sweetness and your hope is to elevate her above Jesus, because Jesus is actually the life, the sweetness, and the hope of all true Christians.
Answer: You are taking that quote about Mary being "our life, our sweetness, and our hope," from one prayer that Catholics are known to pray. This prayer is known as the "Hail, Holy Queen."
I find it curious that you would take one line, from one prayer, that not all Catholics even know, and use that one line from that one prayer to portray Catholics as elevating Mary to a place above Jesus. May I ask if you have ever bothered to read the Catechism — the official teaching of the Catholic Church — to see what it says about whether or not we consider Mary to be divine? Or have you read the documents of any Church Councils, Vatican Council II in particular, or any papal encyclicals or any other such official Church documents to see what they say about whether or not Catholics consider Mary to be divine? No, of course not.
You, as a non-Catholic, read one line, in one prayer, and you think you know what Catholics believe and teach about Mary? Well, let’s go through that whole prayer, shall we…and I will tell you what it means to a Catholic. As a Catholic, I think I have the right to explain what a Catholic prayer means to me, don’t I?
1. Hail Holy Queen: Mary, as mother of the King, is Queen Mother, is she not? And, she is with Jesus in Heaven, therefore, she is holy, isn’t she?
2. Mother of Mercy: Jesus is mercy, and Mary is His mother. So, we can indeed say she is the Mother of Mercy.
3. Our life: She is our life in that she undid what Eve had done. As sin entered the world through one woman’s disobedience, so Life entered the world through one woman’s obedience. Mary gave us the One Who is Life itself. She gave us Life. God sent Life to us through Mary.
4. Our sweetness: Mary, united to Christ from the moment of His conception, is indeed our sweetness. Wouldn’t Jesus think the same of His mother? Do you think Jesus may have, at some point in His life, said something about His "sweet" mother? Are we not to imitate Christ in His feelings for His mother? She is our sweetness, again, because from her, absolute Sweetness came into the world.
5. And our hope: We believe Mary was raised, body and soul, into Heaven to be with her Son. That, too, is our hope…to be raised, body and soul, into Heaven to be with her Son. We hope that her Son will one day raise us up to Himself, as He did His mother. In that sense, she is our hope, because Christ did for her what we hope He will do for us.
6. To thee do we cry: We ask Mary to intercede for us, just as we ask any member of the Body of Christ to intercede for us. What is wrong with that? Will you pray for me that I will be saved? If so, you have interceded for me through prayer…does that mean I worship you because I asked you for prayer? Absolutely not.
7. Poor banished children of Eve: That’s who we are. We are currently banished from Paradise, from our homeland, and it is to there that we strive to return.
8. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping: We ask Mary to intercede for us, but we also share our trials and struggles with her, as any child does with their mother.
9. Turn then, O most gracious advocate…Wait a minute! I thought Catholics believed Mary is a goddess of some sort! That she could grant us our every wish and desire? But, she’s just an advocate…an advocate with whom? Or should I say with Whom? Why don’t you latch onto that line of the prayer to portray what Catholics really believe about the relationship between Jesus and Mary and us? Doesn’t fit what you want people to believe about us, does it?
10. Thine eyes of mercy towards us: Mary, as a member of the Body of Christ, perfectly united to Christ in Heaven, is merciful and takes pity upon us.
11. And, after this our exile: We are indeed exiles here on Earth.
12. Show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus: Why, if we Catholics put Mary above Jesus, would we be asking her help in reaching Jesus?
13. O clement, o loving, o sweet virgin Mary: she is indeed all of those things.
That is the prayer that many Catholics pray. There is nothing theologically wrong with it. There is nothing un-Christian about it. There is nothing in it that elevates Mary above Jesus. Unless of course, one is ignorant of the whole, or many parts, of Catholic teaching and wants to pluck a line or two from this prayer and use it out of context.
Is it fair to Catholics for non-Catholics to decide for us what we mean when we say something? If I say to you that I believe it’s raining cats and dogs outside, are you justified in telling people that Catholics believe cats and dogs fall from the sky like rain? If you don’t know our teachings, if you don’t know our faith, if you don’t know our language, then you don’t know us. Please do not presume to tell a Catholic what he "really" believes, when you are so uninformed regarding our teachings.
John Martignoniis a nationally-known Catholic apologist and Bible scholar. He is the Founder and President of the Bible Christian Society, where you can find lots of free apologetics materials — CD’s, mp3 downloads, e-newsletters, and more, and host of EWTN’s “Open Line” airing on Mondays at 3 p.m. EST.