“How can you focus on Christ when you Catholics honor Mary so much?” It might be surprising to Catholics that devotions such as our Litany of Loreto, in which we extol Mary with honorific titles (all of them rooted in Christ, by the way), appear to non-Catholics as strange and unbiblical.
The funny thing is, the Bible doesn’t really support such an opinion. Scripture doesn’t pit praising God to the exclusion of extolling his mighty works in creation. On the contrary, Scripture sees recognizing, praising and extolling God’s works in creation as just another way to honor and glorify God.
Case in point is how the Old Testament speaks of the city of Jerusalem. Even though Jerusalem is just another man-made city, Scripture praises it in many extravagant ways. It is called “the city of God” (Psalms 46:4; 48:1), “the city of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:14), “the city of the great king” (Psalms 48:2; Matthew 5:35), “city of righteousness” (Isaiah 1:26), “the city of truth” (Zechariah 8:3), “holy city” (Nehemiah 11:1, Isaiah 48:2, Matthew 4:5), “the throne of the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:17), “Zion of the holy one of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14), “the all-beautiful city,” and “the joy of the whole earth” (Psalms 48:1-3, Lamentations 2:15). Jerusalem is said to be “highly praised” (Psalms 48:1), and the abode of Justice and the holy hill (Jeremiah 31:23). Psalms 137:6 goes so far as to say, “May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.”
How can Scripture give such incredible praise to a mere created thing? Jerusalem is praised and placed “above my chief joy” because God has done great things for Jerusalem. He dwelt within it.
Mary is a lot like Jerusalem in this respect. In fact, if you read closely Luke’s account of the Annunciation, you’ll find Mary is described in a way similar to how God addressed “Zion” (i.e., Jerusalem) in Zephaniah 3:14-18.
For example, at the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel addresses Mary, not with the customary “Peace” (Shalom), but with “Rejoice!” This mirrors the same way God address Jerusalem in Zephaniah, “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” (Zephaniah 3:14).
The reason Zion is to rejoice is because “the Lord is in your midst” (Zephaniah 3:15), much like Gabriel’s words to Mary, “…the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).
Furthermore, Mary was troubled and pondered what sort of greeting this was. The angel then tells her, “Don’t be afraid…” (Luke 1:30). Likewise, Zephaniah 3:16 says, “On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!”
The last contact with Zephaniah is difficult to see in English. Zephaniah says to Jerusalem, “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.” Literally, “Yahweh, a mighty savior, is in your midst.” The Hebrew word translated “in your midst” can also be translated “in your womb” depending on whether it applies to a person or an objection. Since Zephaniah is speaking about
Jerusalem, translators render the word “in your midst.” But if this passage is applied to Mary, it would mean “in your womb.”
Here is where things get interesting: Gabriel tells Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31). Mary is going to conceive Jesus in
her womb. Now, the name Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshua. It is a compound of two words: “Yahweh,” the divine name of God, and “Savoir.” It means “Yahweh-Savoir” or “Yahweh Saves.” In other
words, Mary will have “Yah[weh]-Savior” in her womb just like Zephaniah’s word to Jerusalem that Yahweh, a mighty savoir, is in Jerusalem’s midst.
Gabriel speaks to Mary as Zephaniah spoke to Jerusalem. Therefore, if the Old Testament can highly praise and exalt Jerusalem because God dwelt within it, it is perfectly in-line with Scripture for Catholics to praise, exalt, and magnify Mary because God has done great things for her (Luke 1:49), and raise her above our “chief joy.”
Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.