Vol 41 No 1
WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL?
THE VOCATIONS PROJECT IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
THE FAMILY IN AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY: Christianity's contribution to understanding the family and its role
Francine and Byron Pirola
MARRIAGE IN THE LIFE OF THE PARISH: He sent them out two by two ... Luke 10:1
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
Marie Farrell RSM
ECUMENICAL CONSENSUS ON MARY
Desmond O'Donnell OMI
A LENTEN MEDITATION
consensus on Mary
MARIE FARRELL RSM
IN CELEBRATING the fortieth anniversary of the close of Vatican Council
II, it has been both rewarding and instructive for Catholics to re-visit
Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium (the Constitution on the Church)The
Role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ
and the Church. An important insight from this chapter is recognition
that the apostolic work of the Church for the regeneration of humanity
should rightly look to Mary.1
One of the many fruits of the Council was the establishment of bilateral
dialogue by means of the Anglican and Roman Catholic International Commission
(ARCIC). Both communions are now rejoicing in what is surely a significant
moment in our ecumenical relationship, namely, the joint statement on
doctrines concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary: Grace and Hope in
Launched on the Feast of Christs Presentation, February 2nd, 2005,
Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ had a long gestation period occasioned
by the prior need for ARCIC to address matters of Church authority, and
especially that of papal infallibility. According to its first statement
on authority (1977), ARCIC realized that difficulties arose for Anglicans
because of the Catholic dogmas of Marys Immaculate Conception and
Assumptionnot because of their teaching per se, but because of doubt
among Anglicans whether it was appropriate to define these beliefs as
essential to the faith of believers since neither dogma was sufficiently
supported by Scripture. Nevertheless, Authority in the Church II (1981)
acknowledged the unique role of Mary in the Christian dispensation.
Under the general topic of infallibility seven points of agreement
about Mary were itemized: her role must not obscure the fact that Jesus
Christ is the one and only Mediator between God and humanity; Christian
understanding of Mary is inseparably linked with the doctrines of Christ
and the Church; as Mother of God (Theotókos, literally God-bearer)
she received a unique vocation; she was prepared by divine grace to be
Mother of the Saviour by whom she was herself redeemed; she has already
entered into to the glory of heaven; she is honoured in the communion
of saints by both Churches who celebrate her feasts; she is a model
of holiness, obedience and faith for all Christians, and can therefore
be regarded as a prophetic figure of the Church.2 As we shall see,
Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ has been judiciously designed to bypass
the issue of papal infallibility as these same points are considered..
As an Agreed Statement, and not an authoritative declaration, the document
is open for further refinement. It should prove to be a valuable tool
for parish discussion groups.
The Statement places a great deal of importance upon contextespecially
to influences affecting processes involved in the development of doctrine,
to those behind previous ARCIC statements, and to liturgical and devotional
experiences of the Commission members themselves during the five years
of their coming together.3 Appreciation of differing contexts has obviously
heightened sensitivity among the Commission members themselves. The Preface
to the Statement signed by Archbishop Alexander J. Brunett (Roman Catholic
Co-Chair) and Archbishop Peter F. Carnley (Anglican Communion Co-Chair)
states clearly that:
[In] framing this agreed statement we have drawn on the Scriptures and
the common tradition which predates the Reformation and the Counter Reformation
have attempted to use language that reflects what we have in common and
transcends the controversies of the past. At the same time
had to face squarely dogmatic definitions which are integral to the faith
of Roman Catholics but largely foreign to the faith of Anglicans. The
members of ARCIC over time have sought to embrace one anothers ways
of doing theology and have considered together the historical context
in which certain doctrines have developed. In so doing, we have learned
to receive anew our own traditions, illumined and deepened by the understanding
of and appreciation for each others tradition.4
Compass readers will be interested to learn that besides Archbishop Peter
Carnley (Perth), other Australians on the Commission for Mary: Grace and
Hope in Christ were Rev Canon Dr Charles Sherlock (Melbourne) and Rev
Fr Dr Peter Cross (Melbourne).5
The Introduction (15)6
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb (Lk
1:42) is chosen well as expressing our common faith about the one
who, of all believers, is closest to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.7
The Introduction wisely lays out the entire landscape against which the
task of the Commission was to be carried out in response to a request
from Roman Catholic and Anglican Bishops for a study of Mary in the life
and doctrine of the Church. Such a task could only come to fruition when,
with entrenched positions put aside, Marys person and role are understood
within the whole history of salvation that is embraced in the light
of a theology of divine grace and hope
deeply rooted in the enduring
experience of Christian worship and devotion.8
Mary in Scripture (630)
Appropriately, initial attention is given to the scriptural foundations
of marian theology since they furnish the normative witness to Gods
plan of salvation. Avoiding the limitations of any one method of interpreting
scripture, the Commission drew upon the whole scriptural tradition of
the Church. Readers will appreciate how this statement reflects both ecumenical
and ecclesial influences operating during the dialogue.
The rubric of covenant has been carefully chosen for interpreting
the Old Testament typologically. A sense of the universality of the divine
economia is established to demonstrate clearly how the line
reaching from Noah, through Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and the elect
Israel including Sarah and Hannah has, in the fullness of time,
culminated in Christ born of Mary. Placed masterfully just at the threshold
where the Old Testament consideration crosses into that of the New Testament,
is the text of Romans 8:28-30. Here St Paul expresses astonishment at
Gods gracious favour towards those who are called according to divine
purpose, and who are predestined, justified and glorified. Already there
is anticipation of eschatological emphases to be reinforced throughout
Reflection on the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives follows naturally
from the trajectory of grace and hope emerging from Old Testament. Focus
on the newness of the Christ-event invites wonder at the mystery
of the Incarnation. Emphasis is given to the way human boundaries of the
covenant are stretched in Marys conception of Jesus by the Spirit.
Two important theological observations are made concerning the virginal
conception of Jesus. First, that it is a sign of the presence and work
of the Holy Spirit and not about the absence of a human father9 and, secondly,
for believers it is an eloquent sign of the divine Sonship of Christ and
of new life through the Spirit. Seen in this way, the virginal conception
becomes a powerful expression of what the Church believes about Christ
as Saviour rather than about a miracle in the body of Mary.
A strong sense of the presence of a future already mysteriously fulfilledthat
is, of realised eschatologyis stressed as the role of
the Holy Spirit in the mystery of Mary is considered. We are alerted to
the Spirits overshadowing of Mary at the Annunciation,
to her presence at the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit,
and how in her hearing and keeping of the word of God she was so graced
as to meet the demands incumbent upon members of the true family
of Jesus (Luke 8:21).
Reflection on the symbolic theology of the fourth Gospel reinforces the
synoptic proclamation of divine initiative in the mystery of the Incarnation;
for all who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of
the will of man, but of God (Jn 1:13) can apply to the birth of Jesus.
References to the narratives of Cana (Jn 2:1-12) and Calvary (Jn 19: 25-27)
underscore Marys maternal role in the messianic community in such
a way that her reciprocal roles of woman and disciple
are related to the identity of the Church.
This section of the study leaves us with the conclusion that it is impossible
to be faithful to Scripture without giving due attention to the person
of Mary.10 Moreover, it is evident that:
Following through the trajectory of the grace of God and the hope for
a perfect human response
Christians have, in line with the New Testament
writers, seen its culmination in the obedience of Christ. Within this
Christological context they have discerned a similar pattern in the one
who would receive the Word in her heart and in her body.11
Mary in Christian Tradition (3151)
Focus is now directed to the centrality of Christology for marian theology.
We applaud the Commission for the remarkably succinct summary of the Christological
controversies of the first five centuries and for illustrating how associated
marian traditions originated. Clearly Anglicans and Roman Catholics can
testify unequivocally to the faith of the ancient church in the true divinity
and true humanity of Jesus Christ. The designation of Mary as Theotókos
is re-affirmed; under the banner of this title theological reflection
will develop in the remainder of the statement.
In order to balance the Christological approach to Mary just established,
paragraphs 35 40 of the statement shift concentration to the celebration
of Mary in the early Church. Devotional themes affiliated with various
titlesNew Eve, Ever-Virgin and Panhagia
(All Holy One)are proposed as examples of how patristic
exegetes delighted in drawing feminine imagery from the Scriptures
to contemplate the significance both of the Church and Mary. One
can identify easily how seeds sown in early piety gave rise to a high
or privileged marian theology dependent upon the fundamental principles
of the Divine Motherhood and of Mary as Archetype of the Church.
Review of the effects of popular piety augmented by apocryphal legends
is helpful in exemplifying the extent to which marian doctrine of the
Middle Ages displaced the centre of gravity from Christ to Mary-in-herself.
Thus, instead of representing the faithful Church, Mary became in effect
a dispenser of grace to the faithfula distortion only recently repudiated
when a move was rejected to declare dogmatically that Mary is Mediatrix
of grace. The statement describes accurately how excessive marian piety
from the late Middle Ages threatened faith in Jesus Christ as the one
and only Mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim:2:5).
The Commission is also to be applauded for its survey of the history of
marian piety from the Reformation to the present. Anglican and Roman Catholic
communions can now engage in radical re-reception of our common tradition
and of Scripture as the fundamental touchstone of divine revelation.
This section pinpoints significant moments that have enabled our communions
to endorse sound marian theology. Anglican re-reception has involved renewal
of prayer books, insertion of the name of Mary into Eucharistic prayers,
re-establishment of liturgical celebration of the Assumption, and development
of resources for use in marian festivals. For Catholics, Lumen Gentium:
8 and Marialis Cultus of Pope Paul VI are identified as having been critical
in re-setting devotion to Mary within orthodox bounds of Scripture and
This section confirms Marys place in the prophetic tradition of
Christianity where she is inseparably linked with Christ and the Church.
Mary Within the Pattern of Grace and Hope (52 63)
Here is where the eschatological motif of the document is most skillfully
concentrated. Paragraph 52 states something that, in recent times had
apparently become less than obvious:
view the economy of grace from its fulfillment in Christ back
into history, rather than forward from its beginning in fallen
creation towards the future in Christ. This perspective offers fresh light
in which to consider the place of Mary.
A coherent cluster of New Testament citations denoting the ultimate destiny
of the Church, sets the scene for understanding Mary within the context
of divine grace.12
Mary is again acknowledged as embodying Israel, the elect;
the pattern of grace seen in her life mirrors the destiny of the Church.
The Commission affirms that having been prepared by Gods prevenient
grace from within the womb, Mary is both personally and representatively
Gods workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which
God prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10). From within a template
of grace afforded by biblical accounts of Elijah, Enoch, the penitent
thief and Stephen martyr, Mary can also be seen as a faithful disciple
now fully present with God in Christ and as a sign of hope for all humanity.
In faith, therefore, Christians can discern how fitting it is that Mary
has been wholly gathered to the Lord where she takes her place
among the entire cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1).
Given the problem of papal infallibility for Anglicans, the subtlety of
this part of the document is quite extraordinary in enabling the theological
meaning of the dogmas of Marys Immaculate Conception and Assumption
to be isolated from the formulae of definition. Concerning the present
place of Mary in glory, the Commission declares that:
[W]e 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.13
Reference to the Immaculate Conception places positive stress on the glorious
grace that favoured Mary from her beginning. In anticipation of
Marys vocation as Theotókos, the Commission states that:
We can affirm together that Christs 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.14
Questions are raised about whether the dogmas of Marys holiness
and glorification have been divinely revealed, and therefore, whether
they would necessarily be of faith for Anglicans should there
be full ecclesial union in the future. It is noted how both communions
understand that these beliefs depend entirely upon Marys identity
as Theotókos a belief that is itself totally dependent upon
faith in the divinely revealed doctrine of the Incarnation.15
Mary in the Life of the Church (64 75)
The significance of Mary within the patterns of grace and hope already
established now proceeds to examination of Marys role in the life
of the Church. The final section of the statement is situated with superb
theological delicacy in the context of Gods Yes in Christ
and our Amen through him to the glory of God (2 Cor 1:20;
Col 1:27). When Marys fiat given freely in the Spirit
is interpreted as being spoken by a unique member of Jesus eschatological
family, then her Amen becomes a model of the Amen
of every disciple and for the whole Church.
One outcome of the study has been to identify differing influences concerning
the role of Marys ministry within the Church. In nutshell, Anglicans
are represented as tending to appropriate Mary into their devotional lives
as an inspirational model; Catholics as tending to be conscious her ongoing
ministry in the life of the Church. Aware of these differences among their
members, the Commission has been able to agree that:
in understanding Mary as the fullest 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.
In doing so we walk together as pilgrims in communion with Mary, Christs
foremost disciple, and all those whose participation in the new creation
encourages us to be faithful to our calling.16
Conscious of the fact that although various ways of honoring Mary in liturgy
and prayer are common to both our communions, the Commission saw further
need to address the problem of how prayerful intercession to Mary might,
even today, threaten the doctrine of Christs mediation. Assurance
is given that any intercessory prayer seen to blur the Trinitarian economy
of grace and hope must be rejected as failing to meet the criteria of
Scripture or the ancient tradition. Hence Marys distinctive ministry
within the Church is presented as assisting others through her active
Christian experiences of the ministry of Mary are surveyed briefly using
the lens of her maternal images drawn especially from the fourth Gospel.
Caution is expressed and careful discernment advised lest new exaggerations
of marian piety associated with private revelations should recur in our
The ministry of Mary as witnessed in her visitation to Elizabeth and in
the Magnificat (Lk 1:39-56) is lauded for having inspired communities
of men and women in various cultures to work for justice among the poor
and oppressed. Brief, but necessary comment regrets that the witness of
Marys obedience to Gods will has sometimes been used
to encourage passivity and impose servitude on women.17
This section ends with an unambiguous affirmation that the practice of
calling upon Mary and the saints to pray for us is not communion-dividing.
Another positive step in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations has been achieved.
Reviews have revealed mixed reactions to the theological method of the
Agreed Statement.18 It has been branded as too cerebral, and as engaging
in theological fudge in an attempt to relate the two recent
marian dogmas to Scripture. An Orthodox scholar regretted that the statement
was not bold enough in speaking of Marys active role in salvation.
Generally, though, the fine use of biblical and eschatological themes
permeating the work has been welcomed.
In keeping so strictly to a privileged theology of Mary derived
from her vocation as Theotókos, the statement has, I suggest, fallen
somewhat short of situating Mary firmly within (vs above or
greater than) the Church. Since the 60s and under the
influence of modern biblical scholarship, there has been a groundswell
in advancing a marian theology from below. This anthropological
turn using a paradigm of discipleship, has in no way diminished
belief in the uniqueness of Marys divine motherhood, but it has
redressed a certain abstract quality whereby Mary of Nazareth had become
so idealized as to distance her from other disciples. The
from below theology demonstrates well how the entire mystery
of Mary may be derived from her resolute faith. Mary of Nazareth was a
daughter of Abraham before she was called to be Theotókos. Contemporary
use of a discipleship paradigm has meant that many who were oppressed
by the predominant pre-Vatican II theology of Mary, have been freed
to discover her as truly our sister19 and pilgrim-companion
in the journey of faith.
Recent controversies within the Anglican community, that have also affected
relations with the Catholic Church, cannot cloud the significance of what
is a fitting conclusion to the work of ARCIC II. This five-year project
of deeply committed ecumenists is a tangible sign of new horizon of hope
opening towards visible communion between our Churches. Mary: Grace and
Hope in Christ instills confidence that Mary can be, and is, a symbol
of communion rather than a sign of contradiction among Christians.
Sr Marie T Farrell is a Mercy Sister who is
a Senior Lecturer with the Sydney College of Divinity and who teaches
theology at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
1. Lumen Gentium:8, 65.
2. See Edward Yarnold SJ (a member of both ARCIC 1 & ARCIC 2), Mary
in the ARCIC I Final Report, One in Christ 21:1, 1985, 70-72.
3. Commission meetings were marked by daily celebration of the prayer
of the Church with pre-Reformation marian readings and with Evening Prayer
accompanied by the Magnificat. See Sara Butler, The Catholic Contributors
View, The Tablet 21/5/05, 8.
4. For full text of MGHC see Origins, June 2, 2005, Vol.35:3, 33-50.
5. We dedicate this paper to the memory of Peter Cross who died on June
6. Numbers in parenthesis indicate paragraph nos. of the MGHC text.
7. MGHC, 1.
8. MGHC 6.
9. Notes 2 and 3 address problems of interpretation re the Churchs
claim about the virginal conception of Jesus.
10. See par. 77 for conclusion drawn from pars 6-30.
11. MGHC, 11.
12. 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4-6; 5:5; Eph 1:3-5,14; 2:6; 5:27; 1Cor 15:42-49; Rom
5:21-22; 6:1-6; 8:17,30; 11:26; Col 3:1.
13. Emphasis mine.
14. Emphasis mine.
15. Differences re full re-reception among Anglicans await re-reception
of matters pertaining to Church authority.
16. MGHC, 65.
17. MGHC, 74.
18. E.g. Ruth Gledhill, Cracks in Anglican Dissent over Mary,
The Times 17/05/2005; John Jillons, Call Her Blessed, The
Tablet 25/3/2006; Alana Harris & Harriet, Ecclesiology 2:3, 339-356.
19. See Pope Paul VI, Marialis cultus, n 56.