Catholics do not worship Mary; rather, we venerate her as the mother of God, giving her first honors. Catholics, like all Christians, worship God alone. The first three commandments focus on our worship of the one true God, his name, and his day. In Latin, the term for the worship of God is latria. In addition to the Commandments, both professions of faith, the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, speak of the belief in one God. Catholic Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Benediction, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the celebration of the other six sacraments all give worship, glory, and honor to the Triune God. In our doctrine, liturgy, church law, belief and worship of the one God is tantamount to what it means to be Catholic and Christian.
The Church uses the Latin word hyperdulia to indicate the relationship we have with the mother of God. It means that we give first honors after Almighty God to Mary because of her role in salvation history. Hyperdulia is not worship; rather, it is respect we give to an important figure. In American history we give honor and respect to the founding fathers of our country, and we give especially high regard to George Washington, our first president. Similarly, we give first admiration to Mary above all the saints. First, because she said “yes,” or in Latin “fiat,” which means, “thy will be done.” By her affirmative acclamation, she became the mother of God. All of Mary’s titles, attributes, and privileges center on this theological fact. Second, she is a model for all Christians to follow on how to attain heaven and be close to her Son. Third, as Mother of the Redeemer and saint in heaven, she is a powerful advocate and intercessor for us on earth. Think of the first public miracle of Jesus, the wedding feast of Cana. The family went to Mary with the problem of wine. She instructed, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” She began her prayers for us at that wedding.
In American history, after we honor George Washington, then we pay tribute to the other signers of the Constitution for how they witnessed to our rights to liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness. Similarly, dulia is the affection we give to all other saints besides Mary. In our Catholic faith, Saint Joseph is the first to receive dulia. As with hyper-dulia, it is not worship but acclamation of the fact that this person in her life lived the quality of the Gospel to the fullest and is a living testimony of how we can follow Jesus by his living examples and testimony. A Catholic worships only God, and reveres Mary and the saints.