Often Catholics who have devotions to Mary or to the saints are mistakenly understood to be idolaters. Idolatry, the worship of false gods, goes against the first commandment:
“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:3-6)
As seen in the above passage and throughout history, idol building and worshipping clearly angers God. So what is going on? How can the statues, pictures and prayers to Mary, and the saints be justified? Catholics make the claim that they reserve worship alone for God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, but they allow veneration for Mary, saints, and earthy heroes. From an outside perspective, this does seem hypocritical, or at least somewhat shady. However, by looking at the definitions that the dictionary offers, it is clear that the words “worship” and “veneration” are very distinct from another, and are appropriately applied.
Worship: 1) reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred. 2) formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage.
Veneration: 1) a feeling or expression of awe or reverence. 2) the act of venerating or the state of being venerated.
Terminology and action properly understood, the honor given to God is different than respect given to others. God is the Creator. Without Him, there is nothing. Every creature owes their entire self to Him and in “worship” must render their whole self in gratitude. Meanwhile, it is permissible to respect others and see the good in them. This what society does to earthly heroes— someone, who models virtue that ought to be imitated. These heroes are “raised up”, in a way, and are given to the world as an example. Catholics do this with Mary and the saints, and look to them as virtuous models who have successfully run the race. (1 Corinthians 9:25) Just as a statue might be erected of a political reformer, images are made, or photos are kept of loved and respected ones. Catholics do not worship the pictures of their family members— the reminders are just reminders.
Even so, there still remains the question of prayer. Catholics speak of praying to the saints. Isn’t prayer a form of worship, and thus, reserved for God alone? In this way, surely they break the first commandment.
A serious look at the word prayer’s meaning (an earnest request, petition, or entreaty) and its origins, it is clear that prayer is not exclusively limited to “communication with God”. The word was originally derived from the Latin precarious: “obtained by begging”. Therefore, when Catholics pray to Mary, they in actuality are simply begging Mary to intercede on their behalf to God; for surely, Jesus would not refuse His Mother. (John 2) Also, Jesus asked His disciples to adopt His Mother as their own.
And he said to this disciple, "Here is your mother." And from then on this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:27)
Jesus wants His family to love every member of His family. This love is not limited by death and it is not possible without communication. When Catholics converse with Mary, the angels and saints (both on earth and in heaven), they are building a deeper relationship with the Body of Christ.