Anglicans, Catholics reach agreement on Mary's role in Christian life


By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – While some Roman Catholics may need to exercise more care in their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, honoring her and seeking her help are not practices that should separate Catholics and Anglicans, says a new joint statement.

The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission released its statement of agreement, “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ,” May 16.

The document said, “We believe there is no continuing theological reason for ecclesial division on these matters.”

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, often seen as a distinctively Roman Catholic or Orthodox practice, has roots in Scripture and the early Christian tradition, which make it part of Anglicans’ heritage as well, the document said.

In their liturgical calendars, both Anglicans and Roman Catholics mark major events in the life of Mary, and in their formal prayers both refer to her as “ever virgin” and as “Mother of God Incarnate,” the document said.

By examining “our shared belief concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary,” the document said, members of the dialogue team hoped to provide a “context for a common appreciation of the Marian dogmas” of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, which have divided Anglicans and Roman Catholics for 150 years.

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From Anglican Communion News Service:
How does Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ set forth foundations from which to address the two Marian dogmas?**

Since its inception, ARCIC has sought to carry out a dialogue ‘founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions’ (Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, 1966), thus attempting to ‘discover and develop our common inheritance of faith’ (paragraph 4). This attentiveness to our common foundations gives shape to the first two sections of the document.

The first major section of the document (paragraphs 6-30) traces the place of Mary in the Scriptures. Constituting almost 1/3 of the entire statement, this section could be used independently of the rest of the document, as a study of the place of Mary in Scripture (cf. paragraph 80). The text notes that the Scriptures ‘bear normative witness to God’s plan of salvation’, so they are the natural starting point for ARCIC’s reflections. The text concludes by noting that ‘it is impossible to be faithful to Scripture without giving due attention to the person of Mary’ (paragraph 77). The treatment of Mary in the Scriptures is summarized in paragraph 30:

“The scriptural witness summons all believers in every generation to call Mary ‘blessed’; this Jewish woman of humble status, this daughter of Israel living in hope of justice for the poor, whom God has graced and chosen to become the virgin mother of his Son through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. We are to bless her as the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ who gave her unqualified assent to the fulfilment of God’s saving plan, as the mother who pondered all things in her heart, as the refugee seeking asylum in a foreign land, as the mother pierced by the innocent suffering of her own child, and as the woman to whom Jesus entrusted his friends. We are at one with her and the apostles, as they pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the nascent Church, the eschatological family of Christ. And we may even glimpse in her the final destiny of God�s people to share in her son’s victory over the powers of evil and death.”

The second section of the text deals first (paragraphs 31-40) with Mary in the ‘ancient common traditions’, that is, in the early Church Councils which are authoritative for both Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and in the writings of the ‘Fathers of the Church’, theologians of the first centuries of Christianity. The text stresses the central importance of the early Church’s understanding of Mary as Theotókos (the Mother of God the Word incarnate, the ‘God bearer’). The text then proceeds (paragraphs 41-46) to review ‘the growth of devotion to Mary in the medieval centuries, and the theological controversies associated with them’, showing ‘how some excesses in late medieval devotion, and reactions against them by the Reformers, contributed to the breach of communion between us’ (summary from paragraph 77). Finally, the section concludes (paragraphs 47-51) by tracing subsequent developments within both Anglicanism and the Roman Catholic Church, and notes the importance of seeing Mary as inseparably linked with Christ and the Church.


From Anglican Communion News Service:

How does the Mary document approach the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception (defined in 1854) and the Assumption of Mary (defined in 1950)? What agreement is ARCIC able to reach in this regard? What can we affirm together?

The convergence which is set forward in the first two sections of the text provides foundations within which to approach the two dogmas. The third section begins by looking at Mary and her role in the history of salvation within the framework of ‘a theology of grace and hope’. The text appeals to St Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:30), wherein he sets forward a pattern of grace and hope operative in the relationship between God and humanity: ‘those whom God predestined he also called; those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Romans 8:30).

This pattern is clearly seen in the life of Mary. She was ‘marked out from the beginning as the one chosen, called and graced by God through the Holy Spirit for the task that lay ahead of her’ (paragraph 54). In Mary’s freely uttered fiat - “let it be done to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38) - we see 'the fruit of her prior preparation, signified in Gabriel’s affirmation of her as ‘graced’” (paragraph 55). In paragraph 59, the text links this affirmation to what is being professed in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary:

“In view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One (Luke 1:35), we can affirm together that Christ’s redeeming work reached 'back in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings. This is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and can only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize in this what is affirmed by the dogma - namely ‘preserved from all stain of original sin’ and ‘from the first moment of her conception.’”

In turn, the document proposes that just as grace was operative and the beginning of Mary’s life, so too does Scripture offer foundations for trusting that those who follow God’s purposes faithfully will be drawn into God’s presence. While ‘there is no direct testimony in Scripture concerning the end of Mary�s life’ (paragraph 56), ‘when Christians from East and West through the generations have pondered God’s work in Mary, they have discerned in faith … that it is fitting that the Lord gathered her wholly to himself: in Christ, she is already a new creation…’ (paragraph 58). Again making a connection between this understanding of grace and hope operative in Mary’s life and the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, the text notes:

we can affirm together the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture and that it can, indeed, only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize that this teaching about Mary is contained in the dogma” (paragraph 58).

The Commission does not entirely resolve the differences between Anglicans and Catholics regarding the two dogmas, for the above conclusions pertain to the Marian content of the dogmas, not the authority by which they were defined. Nonetheless, ARCIC’s drafters feel confident in proposing that if the arguments laid forth in the Mary document were accepted by the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, this ‘would place the questions about authority which arise from the two definitions of 1854 and 1950 in a new ecumenical context’ (paragraph 78; cf. paragraphs 61-63).


From Anglican Communion News Service:

What does the text say about Marian devotion?

The final major section of the document (paragraphs 64-75) addresses the place of Mary in the life of the Church, touching on questions pertaining to Marian devotion. The section begins with a strong affirmation: ‘We together agree that in understanding Mary as the fullest human example of the life of grace, we are called to reflect on the lessons of her life recorded in Scripture and to join with her as one indeed not dead, but truly alive in Christ’ (paragraph 65). The text stresses that Marian devotion and the invocation of Mary are not in any way to obscure or diminish the unique mediation of Christ. It concludes:

“Affirming together unambiguously Christ’s unique mediation, which bears fruit in the life of the Church, we do not consider the practice of asking Mary and the saints to pray for us as communion dividing… we believe that there is no continuing theological reason for ecclesial division on these matters.”

The conclusion (paragraphs 76-80) pulls together what the dialogue commission is convinced that it has achieved in Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. After reaffirming the agreements that were set forth in the 1981 document referred to above, the text concludes by expressing ARCIC’s conviction that ‘the present statement significantly deepens and extends these agreements, setting them within a comprehensive study of doctrine and devotion associated with Mary’ (paragraph 76).

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