By Graham Glover –
Justification? Not yet.
Ecclesiology? Yeah, right.
Sanctification. Not even close.
After 500 years of fierce division, those Christians separated from the Bishop of Rome remain ever committed to their unique reformations and peculiar revolutions. The issues that separate the many Christian communions are vast, with little hope of unity in sight. While I think the most divisive issue is that of authority, that is, a disagreement about who or what decides what is orthodox Christian doctrine, the fact remains that there are multiple issues on which Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics are unable to find common ground.
That being the case, is the hope for unity a lost cause? Is there so much that separates Christendom that the dream of a united Church is but a fantasy? Some think so. Others say outward unity is inconsequential. But I remain hopeful.
And I think the place – the issue – on which the Church could unite is the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yes, the Holy Mother is what I think offers the best means for unity between Christians.
Why? Why not? Nothing else seems to have worked, so why not try focusing on the one our Lord commended to the apostle John as the Mother of us all?
I can hear my Lutheran and other Protestant friends gasp at such a thought. Blasphemy, they are likely to cry! We worship the Christ and not the woman that birthed him, the common refrain goes. But hear me out rebellious ones. Consider how a conversation and focus on the New Eve could allow for a reformation that brings unity instead of division.
One place to begin this conversation is with the prayer known as the, “Hail Mary”.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Taken almost entirely from the Gospel of St. Luke, the Hail Mary reinforces the Protestant focus on the primacy of the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, the prayer affirms the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431 as, Mother of God, reinforcing the Roman Catholic focus on the authority of the Church. The prayer acknowledges that the Blessed Mother is indeed full of grace, something Christians in large part have affirmed as a special grace given to Mary in her conception, playing tribute to the Roman dogma of the Immaculate Conception. But note that this grace is not of Mary’s own doing, rather it is a gift entirely of God, emanating from the Child that Mary carries in her womb, playing tribute to the Protestant emphasis on all theology being Christology. Yes, the prayer asks Mary to pray for us, but Lutherans should take no exception to such a plea, as our own Confessions affirm that Mary continues to pray for the Church. Furthermore, the prayer reminds us that our life will one day come to an end and that when such hour awaits us, we are indeed in need of the One who makes us righteous to hear our prayers, and asking the saints that make up His Church, especially the Saint of saints, shouldn’t be met with trepidation by any Christian. Such pleas for prayer among the faithful are commonplace among every denomination. And who is more faithful than the Mother of God?
As this prayer makes abundantly clear, to speak of the Blessed Virgin Mary is to speak of Christ. To honor her is to honor her Son. To venerate her unique role in the salvific history of the Church is to do nothing else than to venerate the One whom she bore, the One with whom she was present at His first miracle, His crucifixion, and at the Day of Pentecost.
So why not begin a conversation about Mary? Why not explore how understanding her might allow us to better understand the role and authority of the Scriptures and the Church? Why not consider how her justification could be way for us to understand ours? Why not look to her to gain a more nuanced understanding of the Church that is the means of her Son’s grace? Can she not teach us about what sanctification truly is and not what we make it out to be?
Why not look to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the means for Christian unity?