Roman Catholics do not worship Mary in the same sense that they worship God — or at least, they are not permitted by the teachings of the church to do so! To distinguish between levels of honor (“worship”), the Latin terms “latria”, “dulia”, and “hyperdulia” are used. Latria is the worship that is due to God alone. Only God, Jesus Christ (who is God), and a consecrated host (which according to the church is really Jesus Christ, who is God) may be treated as objects of “latrian” worship. To wit, There is no creature — including Mary! — to whom a Catholic may justly offer latria. For this reason, it is probably best in the current English usage to render only latria as “worship”. To translate “hyperdulia” and “dulia” as “worship” today would be grossly misleading.
Dulia is the honor given to the Angels and Saints, and hyperdulia is the special honor given to one particular Saint, namely, Mary the Mother of God. If one were to translate “hyperdulia” (or “dulia”) as “worship” (as do some English renderings of Latin devotional texts), then there is a sense in which Catholics do “worship” Mary and the Angels and Saints — however, this “worship” is not the same worship that is due to God alone! Mary and the Angels and Saints are mere creatures. They are not the “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), the “ocean of being” (St John Damascene) “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). To offer latria (“worship”) to Mary and the Angels and Saints would indeed be idolatry. However, what is offered to Mary and the Angels and Saints — their peculiar honor, or (depending on one’s choice of translation) “worship” — is a hyperdulia and dulia that differs fundamentally from the worship offered to the One God.
In conclusion, while it might be etymologically defensible to say that Catholics “worship” Mary (on the basis of certain translations from Latin texts), but in the current English diction, this would probably not be accurate in terms of its connotations. Catholics do indeed honor Mary (just as many Reformed Christians accord no small deal of honor to John Calvin), but they do not accord to Mary the special honor due to the Trinity alone. Roman Catholics, therefore, are not permitted to offer Mary worship (latria), but they are obligated to offer Mary “worship” (hyperdulia). The flexibility of words in the English language is of tantamount importance when treating these questions, and those who ignore critical linguistic nuances are unlikely to find well-reasoned answers to them.
- Lumen Gentium, paragraph 66, accessible here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html
- St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 103, Article 3, accessible here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3103.htm#article3
- Catechism of the Catholic Church 971, accessible here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p6.htm
- Pope St John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, accessible here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031987_redemptoris-mater.html
- Fr. Aidan Nichols, There is No Rose: The Mariology of the Catholic Church, available for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/There-No-Rose-Mariology-Catholic/dp/1451484461
- Fr. Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Roman Catholicism. The book includes a description of Catholic Mariology. It is available for purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Light-Christ-Introduction-Catholicism/dp/0813229715