Meet the Most Famous Woman in History:

What Catholics Believe About Mary

It's All About Jesus

Jesus’ mother Mary has inspired more art and music than any other woman in history. And even in the modern age, she fascinates the imaginations of men and women of all faiths. In fact, Mary has appeared on the cover of Time magazine more than any other person. What Catholics believe about this woman is very simple: Mary points us to Jesus.

Mary Misunderstood: Do Catholics Worship Mary?

The simple answer is no, Catholics don’t worship Mary. We pray to Mary, but not in the same way we pray to God—and not to worship her as a god.

Jesus loved and honored his mother, and so we, too, love and honor her.

Think of it in this way: If you got sick and asked a friend to pray for you, they probably would. Our relationship with Mary operates under this same principle. We believe that Mary (and the saints) are dead to this world, but we also believe they live on with God for eternity in the next world.

And we believe that their prayers are just as powerful now that they are in heaven—even more powerful—than they were when they were here on earth. We are essentially saying to them, “We have problems down here. You know what it’s like, because you’ve been here. Please, pray for us!”

Add to that Mary’s unique perspective on the life of Jesus. Imagine the incredible insights we can gain by praying to her! Too often we squeeze the humanity out of our spiritual perspectives and exercises. Mary was a woman, a wife, a mother, a human—and the mother of Jesus. She laughed and cried, made dinner, changed diapers, and suffered anguish we will never know. If Mary invited you to lunch, what would you ask her?

A mother has a unique perspective. Nobody sees the life of a child the way that child’s mother does—not even the father. This is Mary’s perspective of Jesus’ life.

Mary has a unique perspective. It seems that every genuine Christian, not just Catholics, should be interested in that perspective—and not just interested, but fascinated.

What Do Catholics Actually Believe About Mary?

The Catholic Church has always celebrated Mary. Everything we believe leads us closer to Jesus. What Catholics believe about Mary can be summarized in 5 key teachings:

  1. Theotokos: Mary is the Mother of God.
  2. Perpetual Virginity: Mary was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus.
  3. Immaculate Conception: Mary was conceived without original sin.
  4. Assumption: Mary was taken body and soul into heaven.
  5. Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate: Mary plays a unique role in redemption.

Mary, Mother of God

If Mary is the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, then Mary is the Mother of God. Saying Mary isn’t the Mother of God denies the divinity of Jesus. This teaching is called “theotokos,” which literally means “God-bearer.”

By affirming Mary is the Mother of God, we are affirming the most fundamental Christian truth: Jesus is God.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

God became man in Mary’s womb. Mary fulfilled Old Testament prophecies by miraculously conceiving and giving birth to Jesus as a virgin, and she maintained her virginity throughout the rest of her time on earth. Her perpetual virginity celebrates that amazing moment when God became man.

“Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.’”

Luke 1:34-35

The Immaculate Conception

Mary was different from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb. While we inherited the sin and brokenness of Adam and Eve, Mary was saved from that original sin.

God saved Mary from ever having sin and brokenness in the first place. How appropriate that the woman who carried God in her womb would be pure and sinless!

Now, that doesn’t mean she did not need redemption. Mary did need redemption. Jesus redeemed all of us by his suffering and death on the cross. Those saving graces simply redeemed Mary in a special way.

God used the graces from the cross to save Mary from the stain of all sin at the moment of her conception. How is this possible? God exists outside of time, so he can apply the graces of redemption at different times of history, as he did with Mary.

The Assumption of Mary

God granted Mary yet another gift. At the end of her time on earth, Mary was taken (or “assumed”) body and soul into heaven. This means Jesus and Mary are the only two people in heaven who are there in both body and soul. Jesus chose to honor and give his mother this glory in heaven.

“A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

Revelation 12:1

Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate

Mary suffered with Jesus. As co-redemptrix, we acknowledge her intimate cooperation with Jesus in the redemption of humanity, in his amazing sacrifice for us on the cross. She bore him, raised him, supported him in his ministry, and walked with him every step of the way to his passion and death.

“Woman, here is your son . . . Here is your mother.”

John 19:26b

Now in heaven, our mother loves us as mediatrix and advocate. This means Mary tirelessly brings our needs to her son, and gives us his graces. Whatever we’re struggling with or whatever our loved ones are struggling with, we can bring to Mary.

Apparitions of Mary

People around the world have reported appearances of Mary. We hear messages of hope and healing, and, most importantly, messages calling us back to her son. The Church evaluates these appearances and carefully approves ones believed to be true.

Key apparitions of Mary include:

Miraculous Medal – Mary appeared as Our Lady of Grace in 1830 to St. Catherine Labouré in Paris. She revealed the image of the Miraculous Medal, promising special graces to anyone who wears it. Mary also gave this prayer to be included on the medal, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Lourdes – In 1858, Mary appeared to 14-year-old St. Bernadette in the small French town of Lourdes. Our Lady appeared 18 times, encouraging people to pray and return to God. She urged people to pray the rosary, and called herself the Immaculate Conception. Mary also helped St. Bernadette find a miraculous spring with healing waters.

Fatima – Mary appeared six times to three young shepherd children in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal. Mary urgently called for people to return to God and to pray the Rosary.

Devotion to Mary

There are many ways to focus our relationship with God. Love and devotion to Mary has been a part of Christianity that can be traced back to the very first Christians. Many holy men and women of monumental virtue considered Mary to be a sure path to a deep relationship with God. They have surrendered themselves completely to Mary’s protection and guidance, begging her to lead them ever closer to her son.

Popular devotions include:

  • Wearing the Miraculous Medal
  • Praying novenas (a nine-day set of prayers for a specific intention)
  • Consecrating themselves to Jesus through Mary
  • Praying the Rosary

Follow Mary to Her Son

It’s all about Jesus. Just as we learn much about the life, teachings, and person of Jesus from the Gospels, we can learn much about Jesus from Mary. She has a unique perspective. She can tell us things about Jesus, and teach us things that nobody else can. Everything Mary does and is brings us closer to Jesus.