If a Protestant asked me, “Why do you love and honor Mary? Isn’t that taking away from your love for Jesus?” I would say, “Don’t you believe in having a personal relationship with Jesus? How better to improve upon accepting a Christian ideology to developing a person-to-person love for him?” Drawing close to Mary is the most perfect way to draw close to Jesus. Who loves him more? No one–no one-loved Jesus as much as Mary did. Being in her company is the most delightful and sure path to an intimate love for her Son.
What about the complicated dogmas such as Mary being ever-virgin, being immaculately conceived, or assumed into heaven? Why do we pray to her?
Excellent explanations for these are in the book, Fundamentalism and Catholicism by Carl Keating. The essence of the answer is that while Mary needed saving (like all of us do), God saw fit to save her at the moment of her conception and preserve her from sin. He did this so that she could be the Ark of the Covenant, a proper vessel to house the Son of God himself. He preserved her from sin so that Jesus would have a mother who did not pass sin onto him. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is all about Jesus. It is not to elevate her as competition with Jesus, but to say, Jesus needed a mother who have been saved before the rest of us are. This has dramatic implications for how important mothers are and how much their spiritual state impacts their children.
The dogma of the Assumption is the corollary: if sin results in death, and Mary was preserved from sin, then did she die? The Church does not say one way or another, but says she may have been assumed into heaven, body and soul, without having undergone a death like all of ours.
We pray to Mary, not to suggest that she may be worshipped or confused with God. No, she is a creature and not at all part of the Godhead. But “pray” just means “talk to” when it involves someone in heaven. The Book of Hebrews talks about the “cloud of witnesses” cheering us on. That means everyday women and men who love Jesus and are in heaven can see us, pray for us, and encourage us. Why could we not pray back to them? I ask my close Christian friends to pray for me. I also remind them how much I love them, see Jesus in them, and appreciate them. It is on this same logic that I reach out to Mary, asking for her help and prayers, and honor her as bearing the mark of Christ so beautifully.