There are some excellent explanations about the origin and orthodoxy of Marian devotion available on the web, not least at the excellent Lonely Pilgrim, and I don’t want to trespass on his territory here, but rather to concentrate on one aspect of Marian devotion – the humility of the Blessed Virgin herself.
No one knows when devotion to Our Lady began – it is as old as our Faith. For those who say it is un-Biblical, all one can say is that the great archangel Gabriel himself started in there in Luke 1:28. The Greek, ‘Kaire Kecharitomene’ is not easily translated into English – ‘Hail full of Divine Life’, or ‘Hail Full of Grace’ captures it well. St. Luke, who clearly talked to Our Lady (imagine that!) repeats what the Angel said: she was pure, she was full of Grace, she was without sin. As it its wont, the Catholic Church has defined this age-old teaching in a series of dogma; as it its wont, the Eastern Churches have simply recorded that she was without sin and full of Grace: all agree on her purity; all agree on her humility.
We know, too, from St. Luke, that St. Mary herself recognised, in all humility, the Grace conferred upon her: He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. There is what I find an unpleasant strain in some Protestantism which seems to imply that the Virgin Mary had no choice in the matter; those who think so should think what they are saying about the Holy Spirit and repent of their sin. Mary had a choice – which she expressed thus: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” The notion in some Protestant teaching that this is somehow incidental strikes me as a forcing of the plain sense of how to read Luke.
There she is, this innocent and pure young woman, probably scarcely out of puberty, betrothed to a good man and waiting her wedding. She has a vision, she is told she will become pregnant and that the prophecies of Isaiah will be fulfilled in her. She does not question the Angel, nor does she fall dumb and terrified like her relative, Zechariah. She accepts it all: that it is an Angel; that it is God’s will; and that she will do His will. It is not through struggle and will-power that she acheives her purpose – but through perfect humility and obedience. It is so counter-cultural that is no wonder we have so much trouble with it; but it is so all the same, and we would do well to heed its message.
To those who say that too much devotion is paid to Our Lady, the only question is ‘what is too much for her who carried in her womb the Saviour of the world?’ There is also the human reaction to the fate of that young girl.
She is almost set aside by her betrothed; and who knows what the neighbours said? She is a widow by the time her Son begins His ministry. She has the anxieties of any mother watching her Son undertake a perilous mission. She has the unknoweable anguish of watching Him die in agony on the Cross. And for these things it is possible to honour her too much?