While all Christianity honors Mary as the mother of Jesus, not all denominations hold Mary in the same regard as we Catholics do. Many Protestants misunderstand what we believe about Mary. Some of them interpret our devotion to Mary as giving worship to Mary. We do not worship Mary. We worship only God. We venerate Mary (and all the saints.)
Our understanding and devotion to Mary is rooted in the Bible. To demonstrate this, I would like to show how the words of the Hail Mary prayer come from the Bible. First, I quote the entire prayer:
Hail, Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
The words, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you,” are almost a direct quote from the story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her she had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. This first line of the Hail Mary is found in Luke 1:28.
From there, the next line of the prayer, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus,” come from the story of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). In Luke 1:42, Elizabeth calls both Mary and the fruit of her womb “blessed”.
The next line of the Hail Mary calls Mary “holy” and “mother of God.” “Mother of God” flows from Luke 1:43 where Elizabeth calls Mary the mother of her Lord. The description of Mary as “holy” comes from Luke 1:48 where Mary says all generations will call her blessed.
The last line of the Hail Mary asks Mary to pray for us. We see Mary as one who intercedes for the people in the story of the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). (cf. We hear of the prayers of the holy ones in Revelation 5:8 and 8:3).
So, there are the biblical roots of the Hail Mary prayer. What about other parts of our Catholic understanding of Mary?
For instance, why do we call Mary our Mother? Here again we turn to the Bible, specifically John 19:26-27. Jesus is on the Cross. Mary and the beloved disciple are there at the foot of the Cross. The beloved disciple is not named as he symbolizes all of us. Jesus tells him to “Behold your mother.” Jesus declares Mary to be mother of all of us.
Not along do we call Mary our Mother, we call her “Mother of God.” In fact, we have a holy day of obligation on January 1st to specifically honor her as “Mother of God.” Mary is human. How can she be the mother of God, God who is eternal? Here we must understand calling her “Mother of God” is NOT making her to be God. It is recognizing that Jesus is both human and divine. Jesus is consubstantial with God. As the second person of the Trinity, He is God. Thus, we call Mary, “Mother of God” because of who we believe Jesus to be.
There are two remaining components of our understanding of Mary that I feel deserve to be included here. Why do we call Mary “queen” and why do we say she is ever-virgin? Protestants share our belief that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus but not after. For the response to these, I point you to an article I wrote two years ago, “Some Insights on Our Catholic Understand of Mary” that address Mary’s queenship and her virginity.