The veneration of the Virgin Mary is an important practice in Catholicism. To Catholics, the Virgin Mary holds extreme importance as the mother of God, the vessel through which God became man. However, there is confusion and accusation, particularly from other sects of Christianity, that Catholics worship Mary, and other saints. This is a conflict that has existed for centuries, since according to scripture, honor and worship are to be given to God alone, and “worshipping” the Virgin Mary would be in direct violation of the worship of the one God.
In fact, Catholics do not view Mary as a God, and have never done so. But many prayers and petitions are said to Mary to ask her to intercede with her son. The nature of intercessory prayer is that it is a request for a person in heaven to intervene with God and bring the petitioners prayers to the notice of God. The Virgin Mary, in the Hail Mary prayer is asked to “pray for us,” not to "grant our wishes." For a long time, especially when purgatorial views were common, it was believed that only the intercessory prayers of a person in heaven could lift people from purgatory to heaven.
The Virgin Mary is viewed as the ultimate compassionate human being, and holy, in part, because of her willingness to accede to God’s wishes. For the time period in which she lived, carrying a child without first being married was a monumental request. Further, Mary had to willingly sacrifice that child, surpassing even Abraham, in her ability not to interfere in God’s ways and means.
The teaching of the Immaculate Conception also bears mention. Mary is a virgin, is filled with God’s love, which creates Christ, and despite her virginity gives birth. She is the living example of the good God can do if only people will obey, and she gives birth to Christianity and Catholicism. This makes her both powerful and important. Catholics do not believe Mary is the source of Christ’s divinity, but instead the most willing and compassionate servant of God, save Christ.
Another important aspect of the Virgin Mary is that she is born without "original sin." Today original sin is likely to be dismissed by most Catholics as an outdated concept. Up until Vatican II, Catholics believed all who were not baptized retained the original sin of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in Genesis. Unbaptized children had to remain outside the gates of heaven in Limbo, for eternity for failure to be baptized.
Though the Catholic Church depended on the doctrine of original sin as a premise for baptism, insistence that Mary was born without original sin was an important teaching. Only a sinless individual was an appropriate vessel for Christ. There is considerable dispute on Mary's sexual relationship with Joseph after the birth of Christ. While some Catholics believe she retained her virginity, most think Jesus had siblings.
In a practical sense, Mary also supports the woman’s role in the church. Mary is a servant, a mother and lives free of sin. She does what God tells her to do. Women should be servants, mothers, caretakers, and strive for sinless living. Copying Mary assumes that women do not take a leadership role in the Church, but instead a role of servitude. This reinforces Catholic doctrine that women are not meant to be priests.
Lastly, most Catholics feel a strong personal relationship to Mary, because she is in a sense, mother to all. To the Father, represented as God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, you would bring your large concerns. Prayers for Mary’s intercessions can bring up the small wounds and hurts that may not be big enough to talk to God about. Just as a child might run to a mother for comfort after a fall, many Catholics feel Mary is accessible in this way as a mother figure. Catholics turn to her for support, remembering she is fully human and not divine, and ask for her prayers, her compassion and love, knowing her nature to be one of eternal hope and mercy.