“[F]or behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”
It is obvious Mary has a special place in the Church; we even have many titles for her such as “Blessed Virgin Mary”, “Mother of God”, “Mother of all Christians”, “Mother of the Church” and “All Holy”. He have litanies prayed to her and pray the Rosary and prayers like Ave Maria, Salve Regina and the Memorare to her. This may all seem strange to the Protestant who is used to the concept that we must pray to God alone and that any sign of praying to angels or saints is idolatry or the worship of false gods. Mary is not a goddess in our Catholic faith; she receives hyperdulia which is intensified veneration, but divine adoration is given to God alone who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (rf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 971).
In the early Church Christians gathered with the Holy Mother to pray and worship God (rf. Acts 1:14). She was that physical connection to her Son our Lord God and Savior. This devotion did not die down. A letter allegedly written by Saint Ignatius of Antioch was sent to the Mother of God and she responded with “cling to them [teachings], and hold fast the profession of that Christianity which you have embraced, and conform your habits and life to your profession.” In the 1st century we already see a clear sign of Christians asking for help from Mary who replies with an answer as she does in various approved apparitions. It is similar in the case of the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus and His disciples were there along with His Mother and they found out they were out of wine; so Mary announced this to Jesus who changed water into wine but shortly before that she told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). The following is a 3rd century petition to Mary.
We fly to your patronage,
O holy Mother of God,
despise not our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us from all dangers.
O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.
Even the adoration of the Magi passively mentions the veneration of Mary as they found her with Jesus and paid Him homage (rf. Matthew 2:11). It would have been normal to pay respects to a woman who just gave birth to a child, especially a son and a divine and messianic one at that. Many early Christian frescos depict the Madonna and Child, some including the Magi as seen in the Roman Catacombs.
We see Judith as a type of Mary, meaning she foreshadows the Blessed Virgin. The Israelites venerated Judith, saying, “The Lord hath blessed thee by his power, because by thee he hath brought our enemies to nought” (13:22), and titles like “the glory of Jerusalem”, “the joy of Israel”, and “the honour of our people” (15:10). In festivity they danced and played music. We see this fulfilled in Mary by whom God the Son brought our enemies to nought and these are the demons; so Mary is “the glory of Jerusalem”, “the joy of Israel”, and “the honour of our people”. We already see an early reference to Mary as the New Even through whom salvation came.
“(The Son of God) became man through the Virgin that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same way in which it had originated. For Eve, while a virgin incorrupt, conceived the word which proceeded from the serpent, and brought forth disobedience and death.” ~ Saint Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 100).
Saint Irenaeus of Lyons mentions that Mary became “the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race” (cf. Adversus Haereses, Bk. 3). So, it is well established in early Christianity that Mary was very highly revered. We give her honor because of her role in our salvation. Because of this we pray the following.
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee to we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.