Why Catholics Pray To The Blessed Virgin part 2. BY THE RIGHT REV. MONSIGNOR CANON MOYES, D.D

But then her critics, even if they graciously granted that Nina was not an idolatress, would no doubt contend that she was making the Blessed Virgin the object of most of her prayers, and that in that way she was putting Christ in the background, whereas she “ought to have gone straight to God and prayed to Him alone.” But who has told them that she has not prayed to God, and to her Saviour? In that very Rosary she has just been saying she has been thinking prayerfully of the Incarnation and the sufferings and the glory of her crucified Lord. And five times over she has lifted up her heart in thanksgiving to God for all His love and mercy in the words of the “ Our Father “ and of the doxology, “ Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.” Even in every Hail Mary she has repeated God’s own message to Our Lady, and in blessing the mother she has in the same breath blessed the Incarnate God for His goodness in becoming the fruit of her womb. That is not precisely putting her Saviour in the background.
And, did they but know it, early that morning when those who looked down superciliously from the balcony were still in bed, and being served with tea- or what the Italians call tea!- in their bedrooms, Nina had climbed all the way up, to the parish church, and had heard Mass and received her Lord in Holy Communion. What is the Mass if not the Supreme Act of Divine worship, which, as every Catholic knows, can only be offered to God, and to God alone? What is the Mass but the adoring of Christ as the Victim of our Salvation ? And thus the people in the balcony, after the indulgence of their long sleep and their late breakfast and their leisurely day, could afford in the evening to read Nina a lecture for putting her Saviour in the background! She could well have told them that she has prayed to her God, and that she has been glad to receive her Saviour and to make Him all her own as the guest of her soul, and to ask His loving help and mercy in all her daily struggles and difficulties. But, in it all, she has asked the Blessed Mother, whom He loved so well, to pray with her and for her, because she has felt that her own poor prayers would be none the worse, and all the more acceptable, when united with and backed by the prayers of her whom God Himself has made His Mother, and thereby has honoured in a way that goes far beyond any honour that men or angels will ever succeed in giving her.
But here, perhaps, some doctrinal pedant may say that in these, her private devotions, she was not obliged to ask the prayers of the Blessed Virgin or the saints. As if it were a question of obligation! As if almost all the best and noblest things in life and worship were not things which are done out of the fulness and freedom of the heart, and are uplifted far above the level of mere obligation! When the Catholic Church tells us that it is salutary and helpful to do so, we are not narrow-souled enough to think or speak of”obligations,” any more than we do when we ask the prayers of our fellow- Christians here on earth. A good son starting for the front is not obliged to ask the prayers of his mother. But it is enough for him and for us that we shall please our God and obtain more easily what we desire if we follow God’s precept of praying one for another, knowing that a mother’s prayer pierceth the clouds, and that the prayer of the just “availeth much.”
If I wish to go to Liverpool I can get there easily and rapidly by train or motor-car. Of course, I can be seclusive and can avoid my fellow-men and all such helps, and make the journey on foot, if I am fool enough to do so. There is no “obligation.” If any Catholic were so silly and so un-catholic as to exclude Our Lady or the saints from his private prayers, he knows, or ought to know, that it is he and not they that would lose by it.
Thus, in all that Nina felt and said, in the fervour of her simple faith, when praying at the shrine, she was but utilising and bringing practically home to the pressing needs of her daily life the sublime and consoling doctrine of the Communion of Saints as taught by the Catholic Church. She was realizing with faith-lit eyes the beautiful and blessed bond of mutual honour and love and helpfulness in which the good God has interwoven His children on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven, uniting all to all from the poorest peasant mother here below to the glorious Mother above who stands as close to His throne as she did to His Cross- the great sign appearing in Heaven, the “ Woman, clothed with the sun, and the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Apoc. xii. i.).
Let us go a stage further. If the group of critics in the balcony could not only have come down and interrogated Nina, but, better still, have gone up the hill and asked the meaning of it all from the parish priest in the presbytery (as a matter of fact, one of them later on actually did so in characteristic fashion) they would no doubt have received fuller explanations of the current objections which came readily to their lips. “Why make so much of the Virgin Mary? After all she is only a creature!”
“Only a creature!” But that is precisely the reason why we honour her as we do. We honour our God because He is our God and has all that is good in Himself. We honour the creature because it is God’s handiwork, and has received from God all that it has. To praise a book is to praise the author, and to praise a picture is to praise the artist, and the praise of the work is the praising of the workman. If the Blessed Virgin had not been created by God, and had not received from His hands all that she possesses, Catholics would have no honour to give to her. Put God and what He has done for her, even for a moment, out of our mental view, and all her glory, and all the honour which we give her instantly collapse. Nay, it is just the fact of her being a creature, and having received so much from her Creator that is the very basis and rationale of all Catholic devotion to Mary.
We honour her gladly and abundantly, but if we honour her at all, it is because God has made her what she is and “He that is mighty” has done to her “great things and holy is His Name.”
More than that, it is just that very fact of Our Lady being a creature that is the essential charm of all her glory. The perfection of any being must lie in its harmony with the law of its essence. Just as it is the special glory of God to exist of Himself, so it is the special glory of the creature to exist not of itself, but from God, and to hold all that it has in dependence upon Him. If we could ascend to heaven and behold all the splendour, the beauty, the power with which God has clothed His Blessed Mother, and if we could ask her what in it all is it that she herself prizes most, she would certainly answer that that which is the very joy of her joy and the very glory of her glory is the consciousness that in it all there is absolutely nothing which she has not received from the loving hands of her Maker, and that for all that she is and all that she has, His own everlasting and unchangeable love is the glorious source to which she owes it, and the magnificent title and lease upon which she holds it. The whole Catholic Church, from the highest angel in heaven- with his clear intuition- to the poorest peasant on earth- with his implicit recognition- rejoices with Our Lady that she “is only a creature.”
Nor does the fact of her createdness mean any lessening of her dignity or of the honour which Catholics rightly pay to her. Of course, she is “only a creature.” What else could she possibly be? There is no thinkable mid-term between the Creator and that which is created. If she were more than a creature she would be a second God, which would be not only a monstrous impossibility, but a blasphemy against which every Catholic would shut his ears in abhorrence. But within the domain of creation God has a free and ample hand, and while that which He creates must ever be finite and dependent on Him, and infinitely less than Himself, no one may set limits to His Bounty and say, “Thus far, and no farther.” If all the glory of the angels in heaven were concentrated into one alone, and if the glory of that one were multiplied by God a hundredfold for each grain of sand on the seashore, and for each drop of water in the ocean, that angel so glorified would still be “only a creature.” The Blessed Virgin might be, as St. Cyril of Alexandria said, uplifted above the Cherubim and the Seraphim, and her glory might be, as some spiritual writers have said, greater than that of all the angels and the Blessed put together, and yet she would be, not only a creature, but one who rejoices in her createdness as the very foundation of all her happiness. Hence the phrase “only a creature” does not go far in the way of disparagement. If the reward which our God has prepared in heaven for even the least soul that enters there is above all that eye hath seen or the heart of man can conceive, it is plain that all that Catholic preachers or writers have ever said or written about the glory with which God has crowned His Mother, so far from being excessive, must ever fall utterly short of the reality.
Then there is that other question, “Why do you make so much of her?” With all reverence, be it said, that is a question which ought to be addressed to God Himself rather than to us. It is He that has made so much of her- made most of her—and we, in all that we do are only, in our own feeble way, following His example. Out of all the daughters of men, God chose her to be the Mother of His Son. Of all the honours that could be conferred upon a creature in heaven or on earth, there is none which can be compared unto that! When we put together all that the Catholic Church from the very beginning has done to do her honour, and all that Councils, Fathers, theologians, saints, and the pious faithful have said in her praise, it is all as nothing to what God Himself has done when He chose her as the one in whom the Incarnation was fulfilled and declared her to be “Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.” Our best, at the most, goes but a tiny way where God Himself has gone so gloriously far!
And here, the sincere Protestant would no doubt say, “We do not complain of your praising the excellence of the reward of glory which God has given to His saints, or to the angels, or to the Virgin, for that, of course, is something which in itself can hardly be exaggerated. What we condemn is that you turn them into mediators, and attribute to them what belongs to God alone.”
But surely not. If to pray for others, and to ask others to pray for us is to turn ourselves and others into “ mediators “ then indeed are we all mediators, and Holy Scripture has told us to be so, saying, “Pray one for another that you may be saved” (St. James v. i6). The mother who prays for her son at the front is “mediating” with God for him, and the boy himself, whose heart is praying all day long that he may be spared to see her dear face again, is, in his own genuine way, “mediating” for her.
Mediation of that kind, far from violating God’s loving law, fulfills it, and just because it is a law of God’s love it holds good in heaven as on earth, and more in heaven than on earth. If I can ask my neighbour here on earth to pray for me, I can ask my neighbour in heaven. If my neighbour on earth can pray for me so can my neighbour in heaven, and if the gracious God wishes him to pray for me, He, in the light of His countenance, can make him know my request. But in reality all such praying and asking for prayers is not what is properly called “mediation.” It is intercession, and all we, whether in heaven or on earth, being brethren, are intercessors each for the other, interceding for one another and asking one another to intercede for us. Hence our neighbour here on earth, and our neighbour in heaven- that is to say, the Blessed, the angels, and the Mother of God- are not rival givers with God- for there is but One Supreme Giver of all good gifts—but fellow-askers with ourselves, and the reason we ask them to pray for us is not that they can give more readily than God- which would be absurd- but that they can obtain more readily than ourselves, because it stands to sense that their prayers are more perfect than our own. In God’s sight they are “just” to a degree that we are not, and it is the prayer of the “just” that”availeth much” (St. James v.16).
Mediation in the real sense of the word- in the sense of redemption- is a totally and widely different matter. It means the reconciliation of man to God by which we are redeemed and made partakers of His grace here and His glory hereafter. In that sense it means our salvation, and that is wholly and solely the finished work of the dear Lord who paid the price of our iniquity on the cross. Just as He is our one and sole Saviour and Redeemer, so He is our one and sole Mediator. No gift in the order of salvation can ever reach the soul of man, except through Him and the merits of His sacred Passion. Hence all prayer that is made here below, and all prayer made by the saints, the angels, or the Blessed Virgin above, to have any value at all, must be made through the One Mediator, “through Christ, our Lord.” The whole reason on which we believe in the power and the efficacy of the prayers of the blessed, and especially of those of Our Lady, is precisely that their prayers and her prayers are offered for us to God the Father, through the merits of the One Mediator. It is thus that the One Mediatorship of Christ is the doctrine upon which is based the whole teaching and practice of the Catholic Church concerning the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the saints. And every act of such intercession by its nature puts into use, and glorifies the Divine Mediatorship.
When, for instance, we ask Our Lady to pray for us we know that if she prays for us at all she must do so through her Divine Son and Saviour. So far then from derogating from the sole Mediatorship of Christ we are actually asking her to have recourse to it, and pray through it on our behalf.
Then, as to “going to excess, and giving to them what belongs to God alone,” the sincere Protestant, if he wishes to be fair, must take our doctrines not merely as they may exist in his mind, but as they exist in our own. The volume of praise and honour and invocation and of continual intercession in which the Catholic Church on earth turns to the angels and the saints and the Blessed Virgin is undoubtedly great, and it would be for the honour of God, if it were still greater! But the whole of it, from the beginning to the end, is based and bounded and governed by three great convictions that are ever present, and are immovably entrenched in the conscience and consciousness of every Catholic. I know of no Catholic, in any part of the world, who has ever denied them or ever called them in question. The first is that the angels and saints and the Mother of God are creatures who have and hold from God, their Creator, all that they are and have. The second is that they can give to us nothing which they do not first of all receive from His loving hands. The third is that in all the glory which they enjoy, and in all the gifts of grace which they obtain for us, there is or can be nothing which does not come to them and to us through the one sole source of all salvation, our Mediator, Christ, and through the merits of the Blood which He shed for us on Calvary. Such, I take it, would have been, in substance, the exposition of the Catholic doctrine, which the enquirers would have received from the Curato or any other Catholic priest in Christendom. It might be in other words—far more eloquent words—but the great principles and their meaning would be absolutely the same.
In conclusion, a word as to the sequel of the incident. It is very possible that all these explanations which in one form or another are so familiar to Catholics, would have failed to reassure the people in the loggia. Prejudices and preconceived ideas bound up and entwined with early associations are not so easily refuted or uprooted. Happily Divine Providence has other ways of working and holds in reserve methods which are often more winning and convincing than those of verbal argumentation. And so it happened that the youngest of the daughters took it into her head to explore the village. Being the youngest, and therefore the most independent of control, she was pleased to wander at large, alone and unescorted- to the amazement of the villagers!- through the labyrinth of canyon-like streets with their cavernous doors and mystic staircases. She discovered Nina, and became a welcome visitor in the small household. In her trans-atlantic Italian she talked with all and sundry whom she met, and asked innumerable questions. At all times her charity was even greater than her curiosity- which is really saying a great deal! She even cross-examined the Sindaco, and interviewed and theologically heckled the parish priest. She saw Catholicism at work in the life and the homes of the people. In the light of her sympathy and personal good-doing, she came to understand much that her family could not see through the operaglass from the loggia. In the years that followed, God’s grace did the rest. It was to her somewhat racy account of what she saw and heard when, in her own quaint phrase, she “spiritually struck oil in that dilapidated old village in the Abruzzi,” that I owe the knowledge of the incident which I have ventured to cite by way of illustration. And not a little of what is written above in explanation of Catholic doctrine is but the echo of her inimitable rehearsal of the dramatic and plentifully gesticulated discourses which she loved to elicit from the good Curato.