In a joint Anglican-Roman Catholic statement in Seattle in 2004, the ARCIC group declared that: ‘it is impossible to be faithful to Scripture and not to take Mary seriously’. It is no accident that the Ordinariate for former Anglicans who are Catholic is named after Our Lady of Walsingham, for it is, at least in part, in taking Our Lady seriously, that the bridge across which they travelled was created.
If, as Catholic Anglicans have always held, Tradition and Scripture are in the same continuum, then it is that continuum which tells us both what books are Scripture, and how to take Our Lady seriously. We start with things Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics hold in common, and we move on to those they do not – and we find more common ground than anyone supposed at the start of the journey.
We begin where Christianity begins, with that staggering statement of faith in God from that young girl confronted with the news that she was to be the mother of the Messiah:
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her
When the priest Zechariah had been told that his wife, Elizabeth, would become pregnant, he queried the angel’s tidings – and was duly struck dumb. Mary, with no priestly training, or, indeed, as far as we know, nothing in the way of education behind her, responded simply and positively – and later she gave forth that great hymn of praise we call the Magnificat. We see, here at the beginning of the story, how Mary’s faith is the foundation of what is to come. There are, and I fear our contributor Bosco is one of them, those who say Mary had no choice; I cannot think they are aware of what they are saying about God, if they think that. Mary’s choice, for such it was, shows how we should receive God’s grace, and the joy it rightly calls forth; from the beginning she is our mother in the faith, our example. If we could respond as she did to God, then the world would be better than it is.
Mary’s cooperation makes her the instrument through which God brings the Word Incarnate into the world of men; her ‘yes’ begins our final salvation. Her faith is not, however, unreflective, as we are told that she kept wat she had seen in her heart and she pondered them. She knows, too, that she will suffer, even as she also knows that all generations will call her blessed; her heart is not daunted by the first, nor her head turned by the last; she does her duty faithfully – as we all must. But there is, if we examine it, more to it than even this.
Luke tells us she was called kecharitõmenē –‘one who has been and remains endowed with grace’. We are being told here that God has given her a special grace. We know that she will become incarnate not by any man, but by the Holy Spirit, and her cousin Elizabeth confirms the divine Sonship: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Here we have the action of the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Son – we have here, at the very beginning if we read aright, the Trinity in operation.
So, if we read this aright, we see why the Church has proclaimed the Immaculate Conception as a dogma. It is inherent in the grace she was granted by God. Mankind is fallen, we are victims of Original Sin, and how could it be that the one without sin could be conceived by the Holy Spirit in one who was still with sin? Could the sinless one lie in the womb of a sinner? No, Mary, who needed saving as we all need saving, was saved by the same source we are all saved – her precious and life-giving Son. There is nothing unscriptural in that, indeed, it is logical and inevitable – if we are to believe that her Son was like us in all things save sin, and if we are to believe what Luke records – that she was blessed with grace from God. But what, then, of some of the passages in Scripture which some use to suggest that Jesus did not regard her as in any way special? Here, if we read in the tradition of the Church, we find another source of unity.