Q: So why do Catholics worship Mary, the Saints, and the Angels (idols for that matter)?
A: This is perhaps the most misunderstood of all Catholicism. No Catholic priest (or nuns, etc.) will say that they worship Mary or the Saints or the Angels. We may look like we're doing it when we kneel down facing a statue and saying prayers to them. However, the way we pray to Mary is different from the way we pray to God.
- We pray to God in worship - meaning that we recognize him as our Creator, our Father, our Lord, our Savior, our Friend, and so on. We would " love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. (Mt 22:37)". God is the one great all-powerful and all-knowing being. He is Good. But we were bad. Despite that, God still loved us and wants very much to be with us. Since we are sinners, that isn't possible. So then God sends down His only Son through whom God will make one new and everlasting Covenant with us. If we believe in Him, we may become God's friends again and then we can be with God again. That is why we worship God: because He created everything and because He loved us so much that He deserves all the respect.
- Praying to Mary, on the other hand, is different. Very different. She is our Mother. Our praying to her is one in which we are talking to someone important and whom we give some respect to, someone who can give us guidance. Yes, same thing with God. The Catholic Church also allows prayers to our Guardian Angels. Most Christians (I would think) believes that each one of us has a guardian angel. They are there to be our guardians.They are our special friends. Our prayers to them is a special way of communicating with them and it is different from the regular kind of communicating we humans do to each other. We can see each other, but we can't see the angels. Talking to Mary and the Saints is the same way as talking to our guardian angels but we are not worshipping any of them. The Saints and the Angels didn't create us and they certainly aren't all-powerful or anything even close to that. The Saints and the Angels are just there to help us out in life as we struggle to know the Lord and keep with him. We know Mary has gone up to heaven (more will be said about that later down below). Just because we can't see her body doesn't mean we can't talk to her or she can't hear us. Why? Since she is in heaven (and not asleep or something), her soul is "awake" and she can see us even though we can't see her because of our physical eyes (most of the times). So then we can ask her for her help if we so need it or if we choose to. And she will be willing to help us because we're still here on earth. We are still under the influence of time, physical pain, and temptation. She's not; she's gone through all that. God may not allow a great deal of physical interaction going on between us humans and the ones above because the ones in heaven above are forever free of pain and being in the Glory of God while most of us are NOT privileged enough to have actual interactions with the ones from heaven. If Mary knows what we need, she can pray with and for us to God to answer our prayers. She doesn't have the ability to do what God can do. But she can pray. And God may listen to her (up to a certain extent of course), exactly the same way as when someone in need asks you to pray for them. It's just that we can't see her. Again just a reminder, we are physically - adapted beings; we tend to believe in things that we can see, but it is harder for us to believe in things we can not see. When we pray with faith to God (and if the requests are compatible to His will), He'll answer. We also believe Mary has extra intercessory powers above us and possibly above the other Saints. Why - because when, at the wedding feast in Cana, there was no more wine, Mary told Jesus. But then Jesus said,"Don't tell me what to do, my time has not yet come" (Jn 2:4) And then Mary told the disciples to do whatever he (Jesus) tells them to do. And so then Jesus told the disciples to get jars of water and bring them to the priest. When the jars reached the priest, the water had already turned into wine (John 2). And so it was because of Mary's intercession that Jesus worked his first public miracle. When we ask Mary for help, God may listen to her (since she was His Mother and good servant and is saved) so as to (what Chinese would say) "bay meen" - give face; just as by the name of Jesus Christ that God may answer our prayers. Because of the things that Mary did for God, God is forever grateful and so Mary is blessed with God's Graces. Also, since Mary is the Mother of our Lord, she must be honoured, not in a worshipping spirit, but in gratefulness for raising the Child up as all good mothers would do for their own children. We all know that the Son became fully human. As humans of this world, we have to respect our parents because they played their part in bringing us to the world to live. Same thing with Jesus; He listens to his parents and honors them. Anyhow, the bottom line is that Mary is just another person who can pray for us but her prayers would be more powerful and effective because the Bible says,"The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." [Js 5:16]. And so it is also with the Saints and Angels. In them, we see the Glory and Love of God by their practises and so we respect them. We also rejoice and are glad for them because they no longer have to worry about not being able to enjoy eternal life. Also, it doesn't mean that we pray to everyone that dies, we only do it to those who we firmly believe are in heaven and can intercede for us .
- As for idols, I take it that that means statues and pictures. One must understand that we are human beings who are physically-adapted beings. We need to be able to sense something with one of our senses. We don't worship the Bible when we kneel down to read it. A statue is there for our most important physical sense, the sense of sight. The statue is not god; it didn't make us, we made it. So how can it be worthy of our respect in worship? If the statue helps to indicate a presence of the one we want to pray to, then we can use the statue for that purpose. I remember a phrase made by someone who I can't remember the name of but he said, "our eyes see the work of an artist, but our hearts see the love of Mary..." The Bible tells us " Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth (Ex 20:4; Deut 5:8)". And yet, human beings have been making pictures and statues since cavemen! So does that mean we all broke the first commandment? And besides, this is what I personally think: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting. For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him (John 3:14-17)". I think that when the sick people looked at that statue of the snake, they got better; likewise when those who look to the statue of Jesus with hope and faith, they believed and were thus redeemed.