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Global Launch of ARCIC Document on Mary

Posted on: May 27, 2005 4:19 PM
Canon Donald Bolen, Archbishop Alex Brunett, Archbishop Peter Carnley, Canon Gregory Cameron at the launch press conference
Photo Credit: ACNS
Related Categories: ARCIC, Ecumenical, Roman Catholic

Celebrating the completion of ARCIC's work on MARY has included launching the book on three major occasions.

On May 16 the principal launch took place in the Cathedral of St James (Roman Catholic) in Seattle, with the ARCIC Co-Chairs leading the celebration. Anglican Co-Chair Archbishop Peter Carnley of Australia preached at Solemn Vespers following a press launch in the Chancery Office, with wide press and media coverage both nationally and internationally as a result. Roman Catholic Co-Chair Archbishop Alex Brunett hosted the day and presided at the service.

The Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey was the prestigious location for the London launch on May 19 with ARCIC members Abbey Canon Nicholas Sagovsky (Anglican) and Bishop Michael McMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham, addressing the gathering. Guests included representatives of Walsingham, the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary and many others.

Address by Canon Nicholas Sagovsky

A warm welcome to all who have come today to this celebration of the publication of Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. I am speaking here at the British launch of our report, following the US launch on Monday, as an Anglican member of ARCIC based in this country and as a signatory of Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. I am delighted to be speaking alongside Bishop Malcolm McMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham.

The Jerusalem Chamber is an appropriate place for us to meet because here sections of the Authorised Version of the Bible were translated, and there are links with two later versions in English. Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ will show the extent to which we rooted our dialogue in reading the Bible together, and how a fresh Biblical perspective has helped our dialogue forward.

Fr Bill Mc Loughlin, Ecumenical Society of the BVM, with Fr Philip North, Administrator of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, at the May 19th launch in Westminster Abbey
Photo Credit: ACNS

The publication of Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ completes the work of ARCIC II. We can expect before long a second volume of collected ARCIC statements (a sequel to The Final Report!), covering the Church as communion, justification, morals, authority, and Mary.

As members of ARCIC we do our work because we believe that divisions between Christians, especially those divisions which stop us sharing the eucharist together, are contrary to the will of Christ who prayed that his disciples might be one. As Anglicans and Roman Catholics, we believe that through our baptism into Christ we already share a deep unity and we look forward in prayer and hope to the day when we shall no longer be separated at the eucharist.

ARCIC does not and cannot speak for our respective church authorities. We together offer joint agreed statements to those authorities. These are not statements which have been agreed by a majority of members of the Commission but unanimous statements made in common. However, it is for our authorities to say whether they recognise in them the Christian Faith as it is held within that particular communion.

Whether the agreements claimed by ARCIC II, and in particular the agreement on Mary, are fully affirmed by the authorities of our two communions or not, taken together they show a remarkable convergence amongst Roman Catholic and Anglican theologians on issues which have long been painfully divisive. We are now one more significant step along the road to unity and that is something truly to celebrate. But we must recognise that this is only a step and we cannot and should not pretend we yet have all the answers or have fully addressed the questions in some very difficult areas. We are delighted with our constructive debate and dialogue so far - but we do not underestimate the challenges to come.

The 'ARCIC method', which is by now well tried and tested, is to go behind entrenched positions or statements of doctrines which have proved divisive and to see, as much as we can, what as Anglican and Roman Catholic Christians, we hold in common. Often ARCIC has used new language or perspectives, or revisited old language and perspectives, to bring out what we have in common and what we can say together. This is what we have done when faced with the questions over Mary which have proved divisive between our two communions. In the work of ARCIC as a whole the theme of communion has held much of our work together. In our work on Mary it was often the insights of the East (Mary as 'all-holy'; the 'dormition' of Mary) which helped us approach the problems that have divided the West. However, the truly fresh perspective we have brought to our work is that of Pauline theology: we have reflected on the place of Mary in our shared Christian faith in the light of the the Scriptural themes of grace and hope in Christ.

ARCIC does not set its own agenda. We worked on Mary because we were asked for 'a study of Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church' and because of the acknowledged differences between our two Communions over Mariological teaching. For an Anglican like myself this was a voyage of discovery. As we studied the place of Mary in the devotion of the early centuries, amongst the Orthodox and among catholic Christians of the West, I began to realise that in much Anglican worship this devotion is conspicuous by its absence. Yet Mary is prominent in the New Testament and many Anglican churches have an ancient dedication to St Mary. The larger ones, especially the cathedrals, almost always have their Lady Chapel. After the recent revisions of the liturgy a feast of Mary is widely celebrated on August 15 throughout the Anglican Communion.

From our study of Scripture we have seen the crucial role Mary plays in the Gospel story. She has a prominent place at so many key points: the annunciation; the birth of Jesus; Jesus' first miracle; the developing understanding of what it means to be the 'family of Jesus'; the death of Jesus; the coming of the Holy Spirit. We have seen how illuminating it is to read Mary's own story in the light of Paul's teaching about election and hope: she was indeed 'predestined ... called ... justified ... glorified' (Rom 8:28). In this way she can be seen as a 'type' of the whole Church and of the individual believer. Given Mary's unique place amongst the disciples of Jesus, we approached the Church's teaching about Mary by reflecting on this pattern of grace and hope in Christ.

The study of Mary has taken us into an area that was a centre of controversy at the time of the Reformation and has subsequently been an obvious area of division between our two Communions. The use of prayers like the 'Ave Maria' and the saying of the Rosary has been seen as typically 'Catholic'. The definition of the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption (1950), outside the context of an Ecumenical Council, put new stumbling blocks on the path to reconciliation. From an Anglican point of view, the key questions are two: can such devotional practice and the definition of these two Marian dogmas be reconciled with the reading of Scripture and with the tradition of Christian teaching that has been received from the early centuries in East and West? And...Would it be necessary for Anglicans to subscribe to these two Marian dogmas before Anglicans and Catholics could once more share the eucharist together?

What we have achieved, we suggest, is an answer to the first question and a partial answer to the second. We have shown that our two traditions are nothing like so far apart on Mary as we might have thought. We have shown that Scripture bears witness to a pattern of grace and hope in God's working which the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption reflect: this is the pattern of grace and hope in Christ to which we refer in our title of our report. We found it helpful to consider first the teaching that 'God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory' and then to see how the sanctifying grace of God filled her life from the beginning, how 'Christ's redeeming work reached "back" in Mary to the depths of her being and to her earliest beginnings'. This was our way of approaching the two Marian doctrines in the light of our reading of Scripture. If we are right - that it is legitimate to approach the dogmas in this way - then Anglicans should not reject Roman Catholic Marian doctrine out of hand as 'unscriptural'. Through our study, we also show that Roman Catholics should not reject the Anglican tradition out of hand as lacking in Marian devotion. In addition, we have clarified our agreement on what we mean when we ask Mary and the Saints, who are 'truly alive in Christ and freed from sin', to pray for us: we pray with Mary to God. We quote precedents to show that Roman Catholic authorities have in specific circumstances recognised that what one partner to an ecumenical agreement has defined as de fide can be expressed by another partner in a different way

There was a real sense for the members of ARCIC that by the time the document was written, we had come, with the help of Pauline theology, to a fresh understanding of the place of Mary in the Christian faith. Our view is that Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ represents one more significant step along the road to unity. We think ARCIC is pointing a way forward, when we suggest to our authorities that, though diversity of Marian doctrine and understanding exists and will doubtless continue to exist within and between our Communions, the breadth of that diversity is not such as to justify continued separation at the eucharist.

On Trinity Sunday May 22 Roman Catholic Bishop Brian Farrell of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity presided at Vespers in All Saints Anglican Church, Rome alongside the Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Bishop John  Flack.

Homily at Vespers

Young acolyte lights a candle at the image of Mary in St. James Cathedral, Seattle just before the Vespers service on May 16
Photo Credit: ACNS

Gathering this evening to give thanks to God for the work of the Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission over the past six years, I thank all of you for your presence at this Vespers celebration.

The document Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ gives us cause to rejoice. As it is read and studied, it must be our profound hope and prayer that it will serve as an instrument of reconciliation, providing further theological foundations upon which relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church can be strengthened. At this stage, the document remains the work of the ARCIC Commission, and has not been formally endorsed by the Catholic Church or by the churches of the Anglican Communion. We will follow this reception process closely and with great interest. But already upon its publication, we are confident that to have arrived at this point is a generous gift of God, for which we are here to give thanks.

As with all of ARCIC's work, the Mary document came about as Catholic and Anglican scholars gathered together to rediscover and ponder the testimony about Mary in the Scriptures and in our ancient common traditions. For 450 years, we have lived with the understanding that there were important teachings about Mary regarding which we differed; we have lived with the consequences of not sharing a common faith about the one we both believed to be the Mother of God. With a view to addressing these obstacles, the Commission worked its way calmly and systematically through the Scriptures and through the Tradition, asking to what extent a common understanding of the place of Mary in the economy of salvation could now be stated.

The two readings which we have heard proclaimed today play a central role in the document's portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The document reflects at length on the Gospel we have just heard proclaimed, Luke's account of the Annunciation, focussing especially on Mary's fiat: "let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Her fiat is the "supreme instance" of a believer's embrace of God's will, a "free and unqualified consent in utter self-giving and trust" as she receives the Word "in her heart and in her body" (paras 5, 11). In the simplest and clearest of terms, the text notes that Mary's response to God's calling makes way for all that follows from it: "The Incarnation and all that it entailed, including the passion, death and resurrection of Christ and the birth of the Church, came about by way of Mary's freely uttered fiat" (para.5).

In the Annunciation account, the angel Gabriel calls Mary the Lord's 'favoured one', that is, 'one who has been and remains endowed with grace'; the Mary document notes that this implies "a prior sanctification by divine grace with a view to her calling". 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" (paras 54-55).

The text stresses the Trinitarian pattern of divine action in the Annunciation, a focus we are right to draw attention to as we celebrate Trinity Sunday: "the Incarnation of the Son is initiated by the Father's election of the Blessed Virgin and is mediated by the Holy Spirit."

While Mary's call to give birth to the Messiah is unique, the pattern of God's work present in her is not exclusively hers: it is also "a model for every disciple and for the life of the Church" (para. 64). In developing this notion of a pattern of God's grace evident in Scriptures, the Mary document turns to our first reading from St Paul's letter to the Romans. Those whom God foreknew, he "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son... And those whom God predestined he also called; those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified" (8:29-30).

In this progression - foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified - we see the pattern of grace and hope which is operative in all of God's relations with his chosen people. This is the pattern which the document sees clearly realised in the life of Mary. It is from within this Scriptural framework that the ARCIC document is able to make its most important statements about what we can say together about the Marian dogmas.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception concerns Mary's preparation for her sacred calling. The ARCIC document lays the ground for its treatment of the dogma by noting the Scriptural pattern of God calling particular persons to carry out special tasks so that God's will and purpose can be fulfilled. This is above all true of Mary, the one who, in Anglican poet John Donne's words, was "her maker's maker", the blessed one "whose womb was a strange heaven, for there God clothed himself, and grew...."

The ARCIC text strongly affirms that "Christ's redeeming work reached 'back' in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings." It links this affirmation to what is being professed in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, concluding that the Marian content of the dogma is "not contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and can only be understood in the light of Scripture." (Para. 59).

In turn, the document proposes that just as grace was operative at the beginning of Mary's life, it is also the case that there are Scriptural reasons for affirming that at the end of her life Mary, who bore God incarnate in her womb and continues to hold "the pre-eminent place within the communion of saints", was 'glorified', drawn fully into God's presence. Here again, the text notes a Scriptural pattern - evident in Elijah, in Enoch, in Stephen - wherein those who are faithful to their calling are, at the end of their lives, drawn into God's presence.

While "there is no direct testimony in Scripture concerning the end of Mary's life", the text notes that "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..." (paras 56, 58). Again making a connection between this affirmation 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.

What is needed now is a wide-ranging reflection on the document itself, so that Anglicans and Catholics alike may feel drawn to conclude that the document "expresses our common faith about the one who, of all believers, is closest to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (para.1; cf. para.63).

As we gather today on the solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity, we thank God for the wonderful gift of the Incarnation, God's gift of self to us, which comes by way of Mary's fiat. In singing the Magnificat, we join her in praising God. In praying to Mary, we see her in relation to Christ and to the Church, forever pointing us to the unique saving role of her Son. In asking her assistance as we strive to further our relations through dialogue, prayer and common witness, we acknowledge her as 'mother of the faithful', who prays for and desires our unity, that we may be one in her Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit who gives life to us all. Amen.

Homily written by Cardinal Kasper of the Pontifical Coumcil for Promoting Christian Unity for the Vespers service in Rome on May 22