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Yesterday I was privileged to attend Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Of all the things which people ignorant of history say about the Catholic Church say, the thing I understand the least is the allegation that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. No, we worship God, we don;t worship human beings. Quite why this is so hard to understand escapes me. Perhaps modern Westerners no longer understand language and its ranges and nuances, or perhaps some people don’t want to, or perhaps they just think they understand what people believe better than the people concerned. The whole dogma of the Immaculate Conception is proof no one worships Our Lady.

People sometimes get mixed up and suppose that it has something to do with the Virgin birth. It doesn’t, of course. What it does refer to is the very fact that Our Lady herself, as a human being, needed to be saved from the consequences of sin by her Son. I suppose there are some odd Christians who suppose that God is not omnipotent and cannot do anything, but Catholics are not among them. Clearly Our Lord was without sin, we know this from Scripture. Yet, since he was fully human (as well as fully divine) he ought to have inherited the effects of Original Sin – all humans have done so, so how could Our Lord be fully human and not have inherited its effects? That’s where the dogma of the Immaculate Conception comes in. Our Lady was, from the moment of her conception, redeemed from the effects of Original Sin by her Son. If you think God could not do that, I’m not quite sure what sort of God you believe in, but it’s not the God revealed in Scripture.

Of course, if you confuse ‘Immaculate Conception’ with ‘Impeccability’ you’ll find yourself in trouble. Being redeemed from the effects of Original Sin does not mean that in her life Our Lady made no mistakes or did nothing wrong – although, since Scripture records no such moments, I am free to believe, as I do, that she was indeed free of such human errors; but not being Immaculately conceived, I may be wrong, and may be misled by the love I have for the mother of my Saviour. But I’m happy to be misled in that way. What I don’t do, is mislead others and claim that Catholics worship anyone except God.

I do find it hard to understand how anyone could not love the Virgin Mary we meet in Scripture. The simple girl who accepted the task she was given by God; and example ti us all in terms of obedience. The tender mother who nursed and loved her special Son. The mother who stayed with him to the bitter end. The mother who knew him resurrected and as her – and our -redeemer. I can’t see what is not to love. Perhaps there is some misogyny there? Perhaps people don’t understand the difference between worshipping Our One Redeemer and calling His mother blessed? If you tell me you know better than me what I believe and that if, to you, my veneration looks like worship, I can only reply that your comment looks like idiocy. But who knows, and frankly, who cares? People believe the oddest things when they want not to see what is simplicity itself – which is that those of us who confess our faith in the Lord, the Redeemer of mankind, love that lowly maiden who bore Him. We love the Son and the mother; how can one not? A mystery to be sure. But as I prayed at Mass last night, I knew she was listening, and I thanked her for all she has done for me. That was what people call gratitude, it was not worship.