Catholicism is truly a “Taste and See” kind of religion. Most religions are, to some extent, I suppose, but this is really true of Catholicism to an extent that truly gives me pause sometimes. I used to study when I didn’t know something about the faith, or didn’t understand it. Now, instead of studying, I practice it.
This poses challenges when it comes to sharing the faith. I remember a friend crying out on Facebook once: “Am I not your creature? Why will you not converse with me?” The only answer I could offer (and didn’t because I didn’t think it would help was, “conversation presupposes conversion.”
Atheists and agnostics say “You can’t prove there is a God, and that He loves me. I cannot trust something that isn’t proven.” The reality is the other way round. You cannot prove something without trusting it. I cannot prove the rope except by climbing it, or swinging from it. I cannot prove the parachute except by jumping it. I can’t even know the bread turned out well without cutting into it. We can test and retest and make checklists and follow procedures until we are blue in the face, but even in this mundane world of the physical, we don’t know until we trust. How much more in the world of friendship and human knowing? I cannot know my brother, my friend, or my wife is trustworthy until I trust her. That is precisely how I know.
Nowhere have I found this principle more in evidence than in my relationship with the Blessed Mother, and in talking about her with non-Catholics. I caveat by saying that I struggled, and still struggle, to understand her place in the economy of salvation. I started out firmly on the nervous “this-seems-a-little-too-much-like-worship-for-a-mere-creature” side of the fence. Again, it is not something you can parse your way through. You have to practice it.
After several decades of saying the rosary on the daily basis, if not always every single day (it was not a habit I had as a teenager. In fact, looking back at my prayer life as a teenager I know beyond a doubt that someone must have been praying for me a lot, because I sure wasn’t) I can say I have come to understand by experience in a way I never achieved through the many books on the topic.
It is an experience of praying with a person, to another Person. There is no question of anyone who prays the rosary regularly and with anything like attention worshiping Mary, because you will find yourself joining her in worshiping Him.
I cannot put it any more clearly than that. Worshiping Mary would be rather like worshiping the little old lady who seems practically to live at her parish church… you know the one, who still wears a mini-veil, attends every weekday Mass, leads the rosary before Mass, knits baby hats and blankets.
Then I read a few weeks ago (yes, I still read) in Brant Pitre’s “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary” a statement to the effect that part of the reason why Protestants have such a hard time understanding the difference between the worship we offer to God and the veneration we have for Mary, is because they have no sacraments. That clicked for me as well. To an ancient Jew, “worship” meant sacrifice. It meant animals killed, blood drained, fat and offal discarded and burned. It was a visceral experience, and more than that it was an objective act of taking some of your livestock, which was your wealth and livelihood, and giving it to the priests to slaughter, butcher and burn.
The early Christians would have come from the same world and would have continued with the same assumption. Worship means sacrifice, only now, there is only one sacrifice, once and for all, the Eternal Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross of His Body and Blood. It was this sacrifice which He bound into the Last Supper, and which the Church has participated in ever since in the Eucharist. It was this Sacrifice that Mary herself witnessed and participated in, and she worshiped her Son as He hung on the cross, and for the rest of her life in the Eucharist. We follow Jesus’ command to “Eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood” but no one has ever claimed to eat Mary’s flesh, or drink her blood.
This fits with the experience of hundreds of hours spent with the rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I do not worship Mary. I kneel beside her as she worships her Son. In fact, I kneel with a great cloud of witnesses, all worshiping her Son with her. When I prepare for Communion I ask her to help me to prepare as she prepared to receive the Body of Jesus.
It does not solve any particular apologetic conundrums, I don’t think, but nevertheless, I think it may help others to think about it. It certainly helps me. It is one more reason to invite others, even those who are not Catholic but want to know Jesus to spend time praying the Rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament.