My Catholic in-laws get together one Saturday each month to break bread and to pray the rosary. They always invite me and my wife to join them – in hope, I suspect, that my wife will return to the Catholic faith of her youth and that her husband, a lifelong Protestant, will convert.
With the start of the new year, we decided we would attend the family’s very first montly gathering. And I very much enjoyed spending time with my in-laws.
But during the almost hour-long, ritualistic praying of the rosary, I never felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, with each “Hail Mary” recited that evening, a nagging question would come to mind.
And were I not wary of offending my in-laws, were I not concerned that I might put them on the defensive about their Catholic faith, I would have asked them, respectfully, the following questions:
Why do Catholics deify the Virgin Mary?
Catholics refer to Mary as, variously, the “Mother of God” and the “Queen of Heaven.”
The Church teaches that Mary was immaculately conceived, without the stain of original sin inherited from Adam and Eve. It also teaches that, at the end of life here on earth, Mary did not die, but was “assumed” – taken up into heaven by God.
Now, the Bible tells us that Jesus was immaculately conceived. It also tells us that Enoch and Elijah never knew death, but were taken up, alive, to heaven. But nowhere does the Bible mention Mary’s Immaculate Conception or Assumption.
The same goes for the Catholic notion that Mary is the “Queen of Heaven.” The Bible never refers to her as such.
The Gospel According to Luke tells us the angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary, telling her she was blessed among women and that the Lord was with her. But the angel of the Lord never told the handmaiden of God she was anything other than mortal; that she had any kind of otherworldly powers.
Moreover, her Son, Jesus, certainly didn’t suggest that His earthly mother should be exalted, as evidenced by a passage from the Gospel According to Matthew.
As the Lord Christ was addressing a multitude, His disciple, Matthew, recounted, “His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him.” When the Lord was informed, He responded, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” Then He stretched His hand toward his disciples and said, pointedly, “Here are My mother and My brothers.”
So, it seems clear, the Lord never intended his followers to worship His earthly mother, Mary, like some sort of goddess.
Would Jesus approve of the rosary?
The Gospel According to Luke tells us that, “it came to pass, as Jesus was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John (the Baptist) also taught his disciples.’”
Jesus taught them what we know today as the “Lord’s Prayer.” He didn’t also teach them to recite the rosary while clutching prayer beads.
Moreover, the ritualistic recital of the rosary seems to this Protestant to be contrary to the Lord’s admonition against rote prayer.
Indeed, in the Gospel According to Matthew, the Lord cautioned his followers that, “when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think they will be heard for their many words.”
Then there’s the matter of praying in the name of Mary – rather than in Jesus’ name – for intercession with God.
That practice owes its origin to the Catholic “tradition” that the rosary was given to St. Dominic de Guzman, a Spanish priest, when the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared to him in 1214.
That was followed, in 1569, by a so-called “papal bull” issued by Pope Pius V, which officially established the Catholic Church’s devotion to the rosary.
Then, in 1883, Pope Leo XIII declared the Virgin Mary’s apparition to St. Dominic six centuries earlier not merely a Catholic “tradition,” but a historically established “fact.”
His Holiness also declared the rosary as the one – and only – road to God for the faithful: First to Mary, then through her to Christ, then through Christ to God.
But neither the declarations of Pope Leo XIII, the papal bull issued by Pope Pius V, or the Catholic “tradition” of St. Dominic comport with the Epistle to the Hebrews, which tells us “we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God,” who intercedes for us with the Father.
There is no Biblical mention of Mary being a great high priestess who intercedes for us with Jesus, who then intercedes for us with God.
Why do Catholics fail to observe the Second Commandment?
No one knows what became of the tablets Moses received on Mt.Sinai. But we know what God inscribed on those tablets – the Ten Commandments – because it is recorded in the Torah, which was written by Moses.
The Second Commandment declares: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness or any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”
The early Catholic Church was faithful to the Second Commandment.
In 305, the Synod of Elvira pronounced, “Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration.” And in 730, Pope Leo III forbade the veneration of religious symbols, declaring it a “craft of idolatry.”
But that all changed in 842, when the Synod of Constantinople restored “icons” to the Catholic Church, going so far as to decree that the repudiation of the Second Commandment should be commemorated each year with a so-called “Feast of Orthodoxy.”
Twelve hundred years later, the worship and adoration of “icons,” the veneration of religious symbols, is endemic to the Catholic Church.
The Catholic faithful bow before statues of Mary; they kiss the feet of statues of Jesus. They cherish their graven images depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe (or Fatima or Lourdes) or the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
No less disturbing to this Protestant are the medals bearing the likenesses of dead “patron saints” to whom the Catholic faithful pray for heavenly intercession. That includes the well-known St. Jude, supposed patron of hopeless causes, and St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers.
It also includes the not-so-well-known St. Martin de Porres, patron of hairdressers, St. Fiacre, patron of cab drivers, St. Bernardine of Siena, patron of gamblers, and St. Nicholas, patron of pawnbrokers.
And even Catholics are embarrassed about St. Guinefort, a greyhound “venerated” by French Catholics during the thirteenth century, which was a supposed protector of infants. The cult of the so-called “dog saint” reportedly lasted all the way up until the 1930s.
Has the Vatican succumbed to the influence of the evil one?
In the Gospel According to Matthew, Christ warned his followers to beware of deceivers, who appear pious, but are spiritually corrupt.
“You will know them by their fruits,” He advised. “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”
So what does that say about the Holy Roman Catholic Church, which has been beset by scandal?
Father Gabriele Amorth, who has been the Holy See’s chief exorcist (that’s right) for the past three decades, has gone so far as to declare, “The Devil resides in the Vatican and you can see the consequences.”
The influence of the evil one at the highest levels of the Catholic hierarchy, he told the Telegraph newspaper, is evident by the legion of “cardinals who do not believe in Jesus and bishops who are linked to the demon.”
Father Gabriele also attributed the epidemic “violence and pedophilia” committed by Catholic priests to the work of the Devil.
Pope Francis actually addressed himself this month to the Catholic priest scandal. “Are we all ashamed of those scandals, of those failings of priests, bishops, laity?” he asked.
The pontiff suggested that the Catholic Church, itself, bears no blame; that the stain resides with the individual priests guilty of molesting children, who, he explained, “did not have a relationship with God.”
Meanwhile, in the same week in which Pope Francis delivered his homily, disassociating himself with “corrupt priests,” he inexplicably granted a private audience to Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired Los Angeles prelate, who covered up hundreds of sex crimes committed by clerics in his diocese. Mahony actualy boasted about it on his blog.
Those corrupt priests, and the cardinal who concealed their crimes, are bad fruit. And the tree that bore them, every one, is the Catholic Church.
Do Catholics consider Protestants their brothers and sisters in Christ?
I understand there is still vestigial resentment of Martin Luther within the Catholic Church, nearly 500 years after the Augustinian friar nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany, setting in motion the Protestant Reformation.
Today, the official view of the Vatican, which was affirmed in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI, is that the 800 million of us worldwide that are Protestants do not belong to true “churches,” but to inferior “ecclesiastical communities.”
Some Catholic “traditionalists” are even blunter, like Marian Horvat, a columnist for the Daily Catholic.
“Every time I hear the term Christian used for Protestants, I cringe,” she wrote. “Its usage clearly nourishes a trend toward a dangerous religious indifferentism, which denies the duty of man to worship God by believing and practicing the one true Catholic Religion.”
When I reflect upon Pope Benedict’s pronouncement, when I consider the dogmatism of Catholic traditionalists like Horvat (and like my in-laws, I’m afraid), I’m reminded of the incident at Antioch, which is recounted in the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.
“When Peter came to Antioch,” Paul wrote, “I opposed him to his face, because he was to be blamed.”
That’s because, “before certain men came from James,” leader of the nascent Christian church in Jerusalem, Peter “would eat with the Gentiles.”
But when the Jerusalem delegation arrived in Antioch, “Peter withdrew and separated himself,” fearing condemnation from the Jerusalem Church for associating with Gentile Christians, who did not observe Jewish law, nor follow Jewish tradition.
Is not the Catholic Church today like the Jerusalem church of two thousand years ago, looking askance upon non-Catholic Christians that do not observe its dictates, nor follow its traditions?
The Holy See should be reminded of the Council of Jerusalem, which is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.
Tacitly conceding his hypocrisy in the incident at Antioch, Peter rose up and addressed the gathering of apostles and elders on the matter of whether Gentiles had to convert to Judaism as a condition of becoming Christians.
“God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them (Gentiles),” said Peter, “by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”
And so it is that God has acknowledged those of us who are Protestants by giving us the Holy Spirit and purifying our hearts by faith. In so doing, He confirmed that we are members of the Body of Christ and full heirs to the Kingdom.