The Immaculate Conception:
Roman Catholics believe that at the moment Mary was conceived she was gifted by the grace of the Holy Spirit to remove the stain of original sin. This is church doctrine but it is not considered necessary to believe in the immaculate conception to be in full communion with the Catholic church (Eastern Catholics reject it). I had never heard of this doctrine until a couple years ago. I have no problem with it since the idea is that Mary had no sin stain because of God's grace. Most Protestants who are bothered by the doctrine don't understand this point. Moreover, just as in the old testament the ark bearers needed to be purified, it makes sense that the God-bearer would need to be so as well. Though I'm not sure this needed to happen at the moment of conception. (God can do things how he wants to).
After her death because Mary was sinless she did not suffer decay but instead was assumed into Heaven. In Heaven she has a special place, she is sometimes referred to as the Queen of Angels or Queen of Heaven. The title Queen of Heaven bothers many Protestants because there was an ancient Babylonian goddess known as the Queen of Heaven. Israelites are condemned for worshiping the Queen of Heaven in the book of Jeremiah. But the assumption itself is easy to agree with. After all, if God could take Enoch and Elijah to Heaven why not Mary. Many Protestants are confused by this doctrine because we are told Catholics believe that Mary ascended into Heaven which implies that it was by her own power. I do wonder why the Catholic church insists that belief in the assumption is necessary to be in full communion with the church.
Mother of God:
Of course God the Father had no mother, he is without beginning. But Mary is the mother of Christ, and Christ is God. So she is the mother of God. This title affirms that Jesus was fully God as well as fully man.
This belief is bothersome to many Protestants because the belief in perpetual virginity seems to imply that sex is in itself somehow sinful. Plus there is the mention of Christ's brothers in the Bible. Plus "and he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son." There are several different theories about Jesus' brothers. And until means simply that it did not happen before, this doesn't mean it did happen afterward. Until is often used in this sense in the Bible. But the first part? It seems that Catholic tradition holds that Mary was pledged to be a virgin all her life. To break that vow would be sin. So then I ask, was she really married to Joseph?
Spouse of the Holy Spirit:
If Mary was pledged to remain a virgin in the service of God, it does not seem unreasonable to call her this. I do not believe that God loved Mary more than others, but because of her purity and faithfulness she is able to be united to God in a special way. Her example as the first Christian shows us all how to be the Bride of Christ.
Prayers to Mary (and to the saints in general):
No Catholics do not pray to Mary or to any other saint in the same sense they pray to God. Really they are asking Mary to pray for them. In the same way, we ask our friends to pray for us here on earth. Still there is a possibility of trouble arising. It is possible to spend to much time asking our friends to pray for us, and neglect actually spending time communing with God. Perhaps when people don't feel comfortable going straight to God, they ought to ask themselves why. But I totally commend asking for help, as long as this danger is avoided.
Catholic doctrine teaches that we should venerate Mary but not adore her. She is to be honored, not worshiped. This is very clear. Nonetheless, Mary worship is occurring and is a very real problem. It has been documented since the second century and still occurs today. It is especially common in cultures where goddess worship was the norm before Christian theology was introduced. I think it would make us protestants feel a lot better to hear Catholics say "Yes , there are people who worship Mary and we realize how terrible this is! We totally condemn the worship of anyone but God" I think this would make us feel better than discussions of dulia and hyper-dulia.
Over time many people have seen visions of Mary. Some of these are endorsed by the Catholic church. Some of them are crazy. I don't know about you, but personally if I saw the virgin Mary on my grilled cheese sandwich, I would want to get my head examined. And I certainly wouldn't save the sandwich for years (I'd sell it on ebay as quickly as possible to turn a profit --or maybe not). And when the blessed Virgin appeared in oil stains on an overpass it caused major traffic jams to what end? Now, I don't discount that there are authentic visions by truly pious people. But what is up with all these Marian appearances? Surely the Mother of God has better things to do than show up on cheese sandwiches. Please tell me you Catholics are in agreement on this one!