One of the biggest stumbling blocks for Protestants who are trying to truly understand the Catholic faith is any prayer relating to Mary. After all, Jesus Christ is God, not Mary. So, if that is the case, then why bother asking Mary for anything? Why not go directly to Jesus Christ? At best, it seems like an unnecessary step.
At worst, it seems like idolatry.
To this, Catholics often have these huge, rambling explanations based on biblical history, sacred tradition, and other theological texts, which are incredibly well-researched.
But, honestly? Even I have trouble following those theological discourses about Mary and her role as intercessor. They’re pretty thick to wade through! Which begged the question… was there any simple, straightforward explanation about the intercession of Mary?
And thus, I was really, really pleased to stumble across this beautiful painting, which essentially diagrams this whole confusing point in a very succinct and straightforward way!
In this picture, you can see the Holy Trinity in communion with each other. God the Father and Jesus the Son look to each other while the Holy Spirit seems to pour out graces in between them. However!
This is not just a static image of the Holy Trinity! Instead, Jesus seems far off and is kneeling so as to be closer to the people who are at his feet and kneeling and praying to Him. He looks directly at the Father, pointing to the wound on His side and gesturing to the people, and speaks directly to the God the Father, saying, “My Father, let those be saved for whom you wished me to suffer the Passion.”
Notice! The people are looking to Jesus. They are kneeling to Him. They are praying to Him. After all, He is the Mediator and speaks directly to God the Father for them, as the bible states!
And yet, in this devotional image, Mary also plays a key role. She too is there, one arm stretched out to the people, almost as if she helped bring them there in the first place. With her other hand she gestures to herself and says, “Dearest son, because of the milk that I gave you, have mercy on them.”
And this emphasizes her role as Queen Mother! I’ve already written about this before, but in biblical times, the mother of the king had a special role to listen to the people and bring to her son the various concerns of the people, with additional pleas for mercy. Mind you! It was up to the king whether he would help the people brought by the queen mother or not. The king, after all, is still a king and his authority stood. However, the very fact that the queen mother would ask her son for something generally meant that, so long as the request wasn’t completely unreasonable, the king would do whatever in his power to make his mom happy.
And thus, this is the relationship that is illustrated here! Mary prays for mercy for the people directly to Jesus, while the people also pray to Jesus for mercy.
This does not mean that Jesus is unimportant, or that people can sneak to Heaven through Mary while completely ignoring Jesus. Jesus still is King and what He decides is final. Mary’s ability to go to Jesus is absolutely reliant on the power of God, and not through her own special power. Thus, in this image, Mary presents the people to Jesus, who chooses to do with them as He wills. Note also that the people are turned to Jesus in supplication, not Mary. Though they might have asked Mary for her prayers, they do so knowing that they will face the Lord in worship.
Nor is this a type of idolatry — her ability to intercede at this basic level in which she can bring, through prayer, matters before Jesus, is based on her special relationship with Jesus, who is God, and not on her own independent powers. She is no goddess. It is only through Christ’s power in which anything can be accomplished.
Instead, our trust in Mary’s ability to bring matters to Christ is an acknowledgement of her own intimate role in salvation history and her own special relationship with her son, Jesus Christ. She accepted the Lord from the very beginning with her Fiat when she consented to bear the Christ in her womb. She was there with Him at His death, when Christ gave her to His Beloved Disciple to be Mother. She was there at the very beginning of the Church at Pentecost. And we believe that she is there with Him in Heaven.
And because we believe that the power of prayer is real and that, when we pray for each other, it can truly make a difference, we ask her to pray for us, even as we pray to Jesus Christ and acknowledge that He is Lord and King over all.
Because, let’s face it: we need all the prayers we can get.