Mariolatry is defined as “excessive veneration or worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus.” The word literally means “Mary-worship.” Protestants often accuse Catholics of Mariolatry, and Catholics deny the charge, insisting that they venerate Mary but stop short of giving her divine worship. The official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that God alone deserves “adoration,” also called latria; however, saints are worthy of a lesser honor called “veneration” or dulia. Catholic doctrine goes on to say that God has exalted the Virgin Mary above all other saints, and she should thus receive the highest form of dulia, called hyperdulia. But, Catholics are careful to say, hyperdulia is inferior to latria. Catholics claim that, since they do not give Mary the adoration that only the Creator can receive, they are not guilty of Mariolatry. The Eastern Orthodox Church also venerates Mary as the foremost saint, calling her the “Most Holy Virgin Mary,” singing hymns to her, praying to her, and kissing her icon.
As a form of idolatry, Mariolatry is sinful. The Bible lists idolatry with other sins such as sorcery, jealousy, divination, sexual immorality, and enmity—these are works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20). An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God or that is given equal honor. Idolatry was expressly forbidden in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3–4). The Israelites were warned that “the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24).
Mariolatry holds Jesus’ mother up as an object of trust, veneration, and deification. There are biblical warnings against worshiping anyone other than God. Mary was a natural woman. She has no power to connect us to God, heal us, or hear our prayers. Do the Catholic and Orthodox Churches promote Mariolatry? They deny they do; however, the difference between “adoration” and “highest veneration” is difficult to see. Elevating Mary with titles such as Mediatrix, Co-redemptrix, Cause of Our Salvation, Most Holy Mother of God, Our Immaculate Lady, and Queen of Heaven cannot help but foster Mariolatry. Singing hymns to Mary, praying to her, kissing her picture, parading her image through the streets, and bowing down before her statue reflect a degree of reverence that certainly imitates idolatry and might as well be called Mariolatry.