Mary Grace and Hope in Christ

Fr Rodney Smyth sm of Blenheim has been following the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission which has been meeting over the past 35 years and has found their reflections and statements to be of real quality. ARCIC’s latest document

Rodney Smyth sm

I have taken an interest in the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) which has been meeting over the past 35 years, and have found their theological reflections and agreed statements to be of real quality and very stimulating for the ecumenical journey. This is also true of the latest document on Mary which was published in May of this year: Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. However I do suspect that many will find this document rather more challenging than previous ones, since the place of Mary and devotion surrounding her is a particularly sensitive issue outside the Catholic tradition.

The methodology of ARCIC attempts to use language that reflects what the churches have in common and which transcends the controversies of the past. ARCIC has sought to get behind opposed or entrenched positions and to seek a clarification of our common inheritance of faith. This leads to a possible re-reception by both Anglican and Catholics of the faith of the church.

The concept of re-reception is used quite frequently in this document. Re-reception is the result of dialogue, a true listening to each other and reflection on the concerns of each other. It invites us not simply to repeat what our present position is, but to look at issues in a new light and from a new perspective.

This is what the document on Mary leads us to and it is a sensitive process on the ecumenical journey.

The document is divided into four main sections: Mary according to the scriptures; Mary in Christian tradition; Mary within the pattern of grace and hope; Mary in the life of the church. It then draws a number of conclusions.

I was particularly struck by the statement in the section on Mary according to the scriptures: ‘It is impossible to be faithful to scripture and not to take Mary seriously’. The document carefully reflects on the witness of scripture to the action of God’s grace and uses the concept of a Trajectory of Grace and Hope as a way of expressing the action of grace at the origin and also the end of our being. This concept of a Trajectory of Grace and Hope is a key to the theological reflection in the document.

The document carefully traces the development of Marian doctrine and devotion in the life of the Church, both what Anglicans and Catholics have in common and also how differences developed since the time of the Reformation. In the Anglican tradition Mary is seen primarily as a model of faith and obedience, whereas in the Catholic tradition there has developed a strong focus on Mary as being an intercessor or mediator for us.

The document also reflects on the two papal definitions:

• The Assumption by Pope Pius XII in 1950, and

• The Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

It is carefully stated that these definitions do not place Mary outside the redeeming work of Christ, but rather are an expression of Catholic belief that Mary is redeemed in a unique way since she is the Mother of the Redeemer. The suggestion is that these definitions are consonant with scripture and can only be understood in the light of scripture, which witness to God’s grace and the place of Mary in the economy of hope and grace.

An important statement towards the end of the document is:

‘Our hope is that the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion will recognise a common faith in the agreement concerning Mary which we here offer. Such a re-reception would mean that Marian teaching and devotion within our respective communities, including difference of emphasis, would be seen to be authentic expressions of Christian belief’.

The document is the result of five years of study and reflection and is now offered to the churches for their response. From discussion with some of my Anglican friends, I think that the more evangelical Anglican will be challenged by this statement more than the mainstream Catholic, although Catholics who place emphasis on private revelations will also be challenged.

I have found the document well worth study and I see it as a sign of hope on the Anglican/Catholic ecumenical journey.