The Trouble with Mary (Part II of II): Pray Tell

Author Paul McCusker
Trouble with Mary

Life, As I Find It

I was in my RCIA Class one evening and the speaker stood up to teach about Mary and the Communion of the Saints. At one point she said confidently, “Now, all Catholics know that we don’t actually pray to Mary or the Saints. We only ever pray to God.” I was instantly confused. I knew over the past several months that I’d heard the word “pray” used in connection with how we communicate to Mary and the Saints. My hand shot up to inquire about the statement.

Admittedly, the Catholic Church hasn’t done their PR very well when it comes to certain things. The word “pray” seems to be the word often used when it comes to our communication with Mary. So most Protestants think, “Aha! Caught you! You said you pray to Mary and to pray is meant for God alone so that means you think Mary is the same as God! You really do worship her like we always said!”

Well, okay – but not really.

As it turns out, the deficiency isn’t with the activity but with the word “pray.” I don’t know how it works in other languages since I only speak two: English and American, but all I can say is that English is a deficient language when it comes to certain things. For example, did you know that there are a lot of Greek words for the one English word “Light.” There’s one for illumination, another for a light-giver, another for the metaphor of light, another for the degree of illumination (brightness), another for enlightenment, another for kindling a fire for light, another for burning, another for a flash of light, another for something that is easy to bear weight-wise, another for carelessness (to make light of something), and so on. Imagine that: one English word – with all those meanings behind it.

There are several Greek words for “Pray,” as well. One means communication with God alone, another means to “ask”, another to “beseech” as in calling to one’s aid. Do those last two ring a bell? They sure do for me as my mind races back to all those English classes about William Shakespeare. “Pray thee…” a character would say. Or maybe “Prith’ee” or “prithy” in some versions.

I suspect most of the people in Shakespeare’s audience didn’t leap to their feet to accuse William of worshipping Hamlet or Juliet or Henry the Fifth because he used that word with them. They knew what it meant in context. They understood the English language uses single words with lots of meanings. And it’s that flaw that has become heightened over the past couple of centuries, giving Protestants another excuse to accuse Catholics of distorting the Truth.

Admittedly, many Catholics are not well educated about the Church’s teaching, which makes the whole situation even more confused. Some people are reading this now and feel shocked. They’ve been praying to Mary their entire lives and had no idea anyone thought it was wrong.

I pointed out to my RCIA class that the Catholic Church has had 500 years to come up with an alternative to the word “pray” for communication with Mary and the Saints, if only to alleviate the confusion with Protestants. But have they? No. With all the redefinitions of words going on these days, you’d think someone would come up with an alternative word we could use to put an end to this quibbling.

Maybe I’ll ask the Supreme Court.

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