By Luke Lancaster
Catholicism is very misunderstood when it comes to Marian veneration. The world wonders why Catholics seem to pray to her, have pictures of her, and talk about her all the time. Why do we honor her so much? Such a question needs to be answered, and an answer we will give. Let's try to delve into this topic by looking at the words of the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth.
In Luke 1, the Gospel tells us that God sent His angel, Gabriel, to Mary. He was sent to this young, Jewish virgin living in Nazareth because God had great plans for her. The angel said to her, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women" (King James Version, Lk. 1:28). God's words to Mary sound like high praise, don't they? It could be imagined that the angel was almost bowing down before this young woman. For his words indicate that this woman was very, very special.
I mean, when's the last time you greeted somebody with "Hail"? This greeting is literally the same word that the Romans sarcastically called Jesus. For when they put a crown of thorns on him and clothed him in royal purple, they mockingly bowed down in homage saying, "Hail, King of the Jews" (John 19:3). They acted like He was a king by using the royal word, "Hail," and then the royal title, "King of the Jews." The angel Gabriel greeted Mary with this same royal word, "Hail."
After greeting Mary with "Hail," the angel called her "highly favoured." Just as the Romans referred to Jesus with "Hail" and then a title (King of the Jews), so Gabriel did the same thing. For a name or title usually follows such a lofty greeting. Mary was titled "highly favoured," for she had been chosen and prepared to be the Mother of the Son of God.
The Greek word here for "highly favoured" is Kecharitomene, which could be translated as "highly favoured," but more likely "full of grace." For the root word is "charis," which means "grace." The book "Greek Grammar of the New Testament" by Blass and DeBrunner said of this word, "It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace." Mary was titled by God through the angel with this glorious word Greek word. She had been blessed profoundly by being chosen as the Mother God's Son. Mary was therefore filled with God's grace in order to fulfil this task.
We have to ask ourselves this question, if an angel of God Most High could bestow such glorious honor to Mary, why can't we? In fact, if this is the way God loved Mary, shouldn't we do the same? Mary's cousin Elizabeth took this to heart, and praised Mary to the skies when she saw her. Elizabeth said,
"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk. 1:42-45).
Just as Gabriel honored Mary, so also Elizabeth honored her. Keep in mind, Elizabeth was much more advanced in age than Mary, for she was at an "old age" according to Scripture (Lk. 1:36). Shouldn't Mary be the one giving these words to her cousin Elizabeth, showing respect to her elder? Then why was Elizabeth practically falling over herself in giving this lavish praise to Mary? She questioned why she had been so blessed to have the "mother of my Lord" come to her! This is truly Marian veneration.
As we have seen, the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth gave great honor and glory to Mary. This prompts us to ask, did anybody else follow in their steps? Certainly. Jesus honored Mary as well. For when Jesus was born of Mary, He would have obeyed the Ten Commandments, which said to "honor your father and your mother" or to bestow glory on your parents (Exodus 20:12). Jesus was perfect, so He would have done a glorious job at this. Shouldn't we also honor Mary, then, in imitation of Jesus? For if we are the "Body of Christ" on earth (1 Cor. 12:27), then our Mother would be Mary, the true Mother of the Body of Christ. So let us "bestow glory" on her as well, in imitation of Gabriel, Elizabeth, and Jesus.