Monday, May 16, 2005

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.

While the Vatican and the Anglican Communion office authorized publication of the new document for study and discussion, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion do not consider it an official statement until the Vatican and the Anglicans' Lambeth Conference officially approve it.

In their introduction, the Catholic co-chairman, Archbishop Alexander J. Brunett of Seattle, and the Anglican co-chairman, Archbishop Peter F. Carnley of Perth, Australia, wrote, "In this statement we have had to face squarely dogmatic definitions which are integral to the faith of Roman Catholics but largely foreign to the faith of Anglicans."

Invoking papal infallibility, the Catholic Church solemnly proclaimed in 1854 that Mary had been conceived free from original sin and in 1950 that she was taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her life.

Because Anglicans and other non-Catholics do not recognize the infallibility of the pope and because Mary's conception and assumption are not mentioned explicitly in Scripture, the two dogmas have been considered major obstacles to Christian unity.

In the five years they spent working on the document, members of ARCIC did not try to tackle the question of papal infallibility, but rather looked at the content of the two dogmas, particularly in reference to Scripture, early church theologians and the statements of church councils held before Roman Catholics and Anglicans split.

"It is impossible to be faithful to Scripture and not to take Mary seriously," the document said.

"Anglicans and Roman Catholics together affirm" that Mary was biologically Jesus' mother, that she was a virgin and that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, the document said.

Early church theologians taught that Mary remained a virgin, it said. "In their reflection, virginity was understood not only as physical integrity, but as an interior disposition of openness, obedience and single-hearted fidelity to Christ."

By the 16th century, however, reformers were calling for greater restraint in Marian devotion that had seemed to move far beyond Scripture and tradition, ARCIC said.

"In popular religion, Mary came widely to be viewed as an intermediary between God and humanity, and even as a worker of miracles with powers that verged on the divine," it said.

The reformers reacted "against devotional practices which approached Mary as a mediatrix (mediator) alongside Christ or sometimes even in his place," the document said.

The reformers' emphasis on Jesus Christ as the only mediator between God and humanity led them to reject the "real and perceived abuses surrounding devotion to Mary. It also led to the loss of some positive aspects of devotion and the diminution of her place in the life of the church," it said.

"To be Roman Catholic came to be identified by an emphasis on devotion to Mary," the statement said. And the growth in devotion contributed to the consensus among Roman Catholics that led to the solemn definitions of Mary's Immaculate Conception and Assumption.

While Anglicans may object to the way the dogmas were proclaimed, ARCIC members said the teachings make sense when seen in the light of a scriptural pattern through which God prepares those he has called to fulfill a special mission and rewards those who wholeheartedly cooperate with him.

ARCIC members encouraged Roman Catholics and Anglicans to look at the dogmas in the context of the eighth chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, which affirms that those whom God "foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. ... And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified."

"Mary is 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," the document said.

ARCIC members said that in proclaiming the Immaculate Conception the Catholic Church specifically explained that Mary was conceived free of sin "in view of the merits of Jesus Christ," thereby affirming that Mary, like all people who came before and would come after Christ, was saved through his passion, death and resurrection.

Therefore, the dialogue members said, "we can affirm together that Christ's redeeming work reached 'back' in Mary to the depths of her being and to her earliest beginnings."

ARCIC members also said that while there is no direct reference in the Bible to the end of Mary's life, the Bible does mention other great followers of God -- including Elijah and Enoch -- being drawn into God's presence at the end of their earthly lives.

"We note that the dogma (of the Assumption) does not adopt a particular position on how Mary's life ended, nor does it use about her the language of death and resurrection, but celebrates the action of God in her," the statement said.

"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," the dialogue commission said.

ARCIC also looked at differences in the devotional practices of Anglicans and Roman Catholics, particularly the Catholic practice of asking Mary to pray for or intercede for them.

The dialogue commission underlined Christian teaching that Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity. However, it also noted that asking a friend, a pastor or even someone who has died to pray for someone does not deny the fact that God alone answers people's prayers.

But because Roman Catholics and Anglicans believe that Mary now lives with Jesus, whom she bore, "she is believed to exercise a distinctive ministry of assisting others through her active prayer," it said.



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