As independent, free 21st-century Americans, we resent the idea of being placed back into that time, but we must be careful not to judge our Christian ancestors, they had no choice. This culture is where Marian Dogma was born. They chose to honor Mary as Queen Mother as a statement to the Romans that their true allegiance was not to an earthly kingdom, but to a Christian kingdom. They were forced to kiss the king's ring, but they chose to kiss the hands of their bishops in full view of the Roman officers as a symbol of their true freedom in Christ as their King of Kings.
Early Christians believed that those great men and women who died by torture for their faith were honored by God in heaven (II Tim. 2:11, 12, "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him...." See also Rom. 8:17) They were given the responsibility to help those who remained on earth. Mary, as Queen Mother in heaven, is also there helping in the salvation of mankind. (This is reflected in the New Testament idea that we are a nations of priests, a royal priesthood. I Peter 2:9) So we can "pray" to these saints (translation: plead, petition, ask, beseech) these people to pray for us in the exact same way that we are to ask our earthly family, friends and spiritual mentors to pray for us. The Apostle Paul was constantly "praying" for those who he wrote letters to pray for him and each other.
Asking Mary to pray for us in no way substitutes for prayer to God. Mary is just a human like we are. But the saints in heaven are not idle. They are busy ministering to us just like the angels. Because many American Catholics understand the usage confusion in the word "pray" to Mary, they avoid using it. Catholics would never want anyone to think they are worshipping Mary.
Last year I was reminded that not too long ago in America the word pray was more general. When I was standing in court after a traffic ticket, I was advised to "pray" to the judge for leniency because of my past record. It is officially called a "prayer for judgment."
Some older Catholics (pre-Vatican II) still kneel in front of statues of saints in heaven and invoke their prayers. Again, this goes back to the days when you knelt before your superiors. It is meant as an honor and not worship. Catholics believe that we all are the body of Christ--both the saints on earth and the ones in heaven. As His Body we actively participate in the salvation of others. However, we are not Christ; we become invisible as we point others to Christ. Our prayers for each other, our honor of each other--what we do for each other is done for and to Him. So honoring Mary does not take away honor for Christ anymore than honor for a man's son takes away honor from the man. It IS honoring Christ when we honor His mother and His children. So when we ask Mary to pray for us, we are asking her--as a human to another human friend, to pray for us and in unity we lift up the Corpus Christi.