Why Catholics Pray To The Blessed Virgin part 1. BY THE RIGHT REV. MONSIGNOR CANON MOYES, D.D

THIS is not in the least a tale, but merely the relation of an incident which really took place, and it has no particular interest save that it serves as an actual setting to a few words upon a well known point of Catholic doctrine. Away in the Abruzzi, some sixty miles from Rome, there is a village, or townlet- one of the many that one sees everywhere in Italy. It is perched, of course, on the side of a precipitous hill, and the houses stand tier over tier, until they find their fitting crown in the parish church, with its tall campanile. Some speculator greatly daring, built at the lower end a large modern hotel. In his prospectus he said many persuasive things, and amongst them one which was quite true, namely, that from its windows there could be obtained a superb view of the white peaks of the Gran Sasso d’ Italia.
Some twenty years ago there came to this hotel a party of American tourists—the father and mother, some daughters with a governess, and some boys with a tutor. In the evening, after dinner, they sat in the loggia or verandah. When they had tired of admiring the Gran Sasso, they leaned over the parapet and saw about a hundred feet down below, where the road winds round the hill, a little wayside shrine of Our Lady- just an altar and statue roofed over- and a peasant woman kneeling very lowly before it. They passed from hand to hand an opera-glass and expressed their minds very fully and plainly upon the “deplorable ignorance and superstition in priest-ridden Italy.” The mother, an estimable and goodhearted woman, who in her sincerity took her own religion very seriously, denounced what she saw as “rank idolatry,” and added- what was quite true- that it was not the religion she had been taught in New England.
Even the tutor, who was, or ought to have been, a Catholic, but who knew more about Greek plays than he did about his catechism, timidly chimed in, and spoke of the abuses owing to the ignorance of the masses, of “excessive devotions to the saints,” and the absence of any strict obligation in private devotions to pray to any one but God alone. Altogether, the jury in the loggia found their verdict without leaving the box.
Nina Fabretti was the wife of a poor shoemaker. Her husband, Pasquale, was genial and picturesque, but not over industrious, and it was only by taking in work from outside, and labouring hard and late, that Nina could make ends meet and feed and clothe her family. Her chief rest and relaxation was to go out for half an hour in the cool of the evening, after the Ave bell, and kneel at the little shrine and pour out her sorrows and solicitudes to God and to Our Lady. She first of all said her Rosary. In the Joyful mysteries, the thought of the love-lit domestic life of our Lord in His poverty-pinched home at Nazareth rang true to her life, and brought her courage and solace in her own domestic trials and anxieties. The good Jesus must have had people like Nina in His mind when He chose to live thirty years under the roof of a poor carpenter! In thinking over the mysteries of Our Lord’s death and Passion, her own fears and troubles seemed to grow less and less, and to fall into their due proportion. And when, in the Glorious mysteries, she recalled her Lord’s risen beauty and majesty, she felt ready to endure anything if only at the end He would hold out His crucified hands to welcome her home to heaven, and would place on her brow the crown of endless peace and joy as He did to His own blessed Mother.
Then, after the Rosary, she just talked to Our Lady, as one mother would talk to another, and told her all the troubles and trials of the little household up the street, knowing that the Mother of her God would understand, and would not fail to give generously the help of her intercession and sympathy. She prayed for her Pasquale, and asked Our Lady to make him just a little more like the industrious St. Joseph. Then especially she asked her to plead with Jesus for her two boys, Giovanni and Francesco, both soldiers, away out at the front in distant Africa (the disastrous war with Abyssinia was just then at its worst). She could hardly spell out their letters, but she carried them over her heart and loved to look at the paper that their hands had touched. She appealed most of all for the next- her favourite boy, Luigi, who lay sick at home in the
*Reprinted with additions from The Westminster Cathedral Chronicle, Feb. 1916. last stages of consumption. She wanted so badly for him the small delicacies she could so ill afford to procure. She prayed for her youngest- Pepe and Teresa- who were as lovable and troublesome and teasing as children of twelve or thirteen are apt to be in Italy, or any other country. In her wistful earnestness as she spoke of each of these dear ones to the Blessed Mother, and, asked her to commend them to the loving tenderness of her Son, she unconsciously bent lower and lower so that when she came to the tiresome Teresa, her head was all but touching the ground. It was at that moment that the opera glass from above was trained upon her, revealing with all its prismatic clearness the perpetration of the “rank idolatry.”
There is nothing more plain and unmistakable than the teaching of the Catholic Church on the matter of God’s worship.
It may be stated as follows:
There is only one God, who made us and all things else. We, and all things, depend upon Him for all that we have and all that we are and for all that we ever will be. He alone is our First Beginning. He alone is our Last End. He alone is our continual Preserver all the way between. Our reason and conscience tell us that we are bound to honour Him and to recognize His supreme dominion over us, and our absolute dependence upon Him. In other words, we honour Him as our God. That is what we call Divine honour, or supreme Worship, or more commonly, Adoration.
There is another way- a fuller and more Christian way- in which we may express the same thing. God, alone, is our Creator. The highest angel in Heaven could not create even a grain of dust. God alone is our Redeemer. No one but He could have paid the Divine ransom which has saved our souls. God alone is our Sanctifier. He alone is the author of the light of grace by which our souls can please God in this world, and of the light of glory by which we shall behold Him face to face in the next.
When we turn to our God to honour and thank Him as our Maker, and as our Redeemer, and as our Sanctifier, our worship is Divine Worship. It is Divine Worship because it is given to our God as our God, and to Him only. It stands to sense that it is, by its nature, unique and exclusive. That is to say, it could not be given to anyone but God. Observe how that is written in its very meaning. God alone is our First Beginning, alone our Last End, alone our continual Preserver, alone our Creator, alone our Saviour, alone our Sanctifier. Hence the Catholic Church teaches plainly, publicly, peremptorily to her people in all parts of the world that Supreme or Divine Worship is to be given to the one true God alone, and that in that worship no creature, no angel, no saint, not even the Blessed Virgin, can have any part or share.
It stands equally to reason that besides the Divine honour which we give to God, there is an honour which we give to our neighbour, because, like ourselves, he is the likeness of God. The very reason why we must love our neighbour as ourselves is because he has in him the same likeness of God that we ourselves have. Just as religion includes the love of God and in it the love of our neighbour, so, too, it necessarily requires the honour due to God, and with it the honour due to our neighbour, for any love that is not founded on honour and respect can never be worthy of the name. Obviously, the honour given to God and that which is given to our neighbour are immeasurably different- different by all the difference that lies between what is due to the Creator and that which is due to the creature. But, all the same, we are bound to both, and in dealing with God we must not dare to be selfish or seclusive or individualistic. In loving Him we must love our neighbour, and in honouring Him we must not exclude the honour which for His sake is due to our neighbour. That is what the Catholic Church calls inferior worship, that is to say, “worship” in the old sense of the term which meant reverence or respect. It is not mere civil or social respect, for it is based on a religious motive- the likeness of God- and is given as a duty of religion and from a supernatural motive. Divine worship is necessarily exclusive of any Divine worship being given to any one but God, but on the other hand it is inclusive of the inferior worship we give to our fellow creature. That is only to say that the love of God requires the love, and therefore the honour, due to our neighbour.
When, therefore, the Church speaks of Divine worship and inferior worship, the distinction is so plain that no one can fail to understand her. Divine worship is the worship which the creature owes to the Creator. Inferior worship is the worship or reverence which a creature owes to its fellow-creature. These are two separate and incommensurable planes, and all the honour which we give to our neighbour, the angels and saints and to the Blessed Mother of God herself, stands upon the lower one, and however great it may be, never even touches or approaches the upper one. Why?
Because, even in the case of the poorest Catholic peasant, the attitude of mind in the giving of the one and the other is totally different. Let us get to the root of the difference. We are told that there are Turks who look upon Christ as a great prophet, and that they will even salaam to a representation of Our Lady. Let us suppose that a Turk stands before a picture of Christ and wishes to pay Him reverence. He might bow even to the ground, and he might use every gesture and every term of Oriental per fervid speech to do honour to Christ. But taking it all at its most and at its best, his reverence could never be supreme or Divine worship. Or, to come nearer home, a Unitarian might honour Christ, might even kneel before His image and use towards Our Lord, whom it represents, the most unmeasured language of love and praise. Yet his worship would not be Divine worship. And that for two very plain reasons. He does not believe that Christ is his God, and secondly, whatever his words or posture may be, he has no intention whatever of honouring Him as God. And without the belief that that which one worships is God and the intention of worshipping it as God, one’s worship cannot be supreme or Divine worship, and nothing ever can make it so. And, obviously, while we believe that what we honour is a creature, and we intend to honour it as such, our worship is necessarily inferior worship or reverence, and no posture or language of love that we may use can ever make it to be more than that.
Hence, belief and intention are necessarily the essential criterion or distinguishing test which marks out the one kind of worship from the other. For this reason, the distinction is too plain and too palpable that any confusion between them could with any degree of probability exist in the minds of even the least instructed Catholics. To grasp the distinction they only require to be in possession of their senses. When we have made a tour of inspection through the Catholic countries, and when we have diligently searched through the “benighted masses,” and have finally discovered some peasant who really believes that the Blessed Virgin is the God who made him and the world, and who really intends to worship her as his Maker, then- and not till then- shall we have found a genuine case of idolatry.
One can imagine the bewildered amazement of poor Nina if her critics could have descended from their balcony and have asked her if she really believed that the Blessed Virgin is the God who created her and the universe, or that the Madonna is the Saviour who died for her salvation, or the Holy Spirit who was given to her in baptism? With her innate Italian courtesy, she would certainly not have laughed outright, nor have allowed the faintest sign to show that the question had recalled to her mind the wondrous tales that Pasquale had told her of the occasional “madness” of the forestieri.”Ah, no, signora, the Madonna is not God, but she is the Mother of God. She did not die for us on the Cross, but she stood at the foot of the Cross on which the good Lord died for us. And she is now at the foot of His Throne in heaven, and she pleads with her dear Gesu, her Divine Son, who is her God, to bless and to help us poor souls who are suffering down here on earth. And she, like a good mother, prays to Him for us, and joins her prayers with our own.” In saying so, Nina would point in proof to the inscription in large letters over the shrine: “SANCTA MARIA, ORA PRO NOBIS.”