Unity Through the Blessed Virgin Mary

By Graham Glover –

Authority? Nope.

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.

mary

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?

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27 thoughts on “Unity Through the Blessed Virgin Mary

  1. The answer to your question “Why not look to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the means for Christian Unity” is simple: the issue of Christian unity–or rather, disunity– goes back to the Schism of 1054. Until Christendom enjoys unity on the the universal Creed, everything else is peeing into the wind.

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  2. This is laughable in its absurdity. The lived out faith of each confession’s normal laity is the best barometer of what is truly believed, taught, and confessed. The Hail Mary, prayer to saints in general, and purgatory are inextricably bound up in the Roman Catholic mind with the rosary, which forms the backbone of Roman Catholic lay piety. Lutherans don’t pray to the saints. In the back of LSB there is no list of prayers you can say and the corresponding number of years you get off purgatory for saying them as there is in the back of Roman Catholic missals. The chasm between us specifically on this point is wide and deep. And it is a chasm resulting from a very different view of Christ and His merit.

    Of course, these points are self-evident to all but the willfully blind.

    All the best,
    Rev. H. R. Curtis
    Worden IL

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    1. H.R., call me willfully blind.
      I concur that the chasm between Rome and Lutherans is deep. I admit this in the article. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I’m looking for a new means of dialogue between our communions and I think this could be one. Our Confessions clearly concede that the Blessed Mother continues to pray for the Church, our own Luther believed in her Immaculate Conception, and the prayer itself is almost entirely biblical. I’m not talking about purgatory here. I don’t even address the issue of prayer to other saints, much less the rosary. I’m talking about using the one who is to be called blessed, the Mother of God, as a starting point for ecumenism. I’m sorry you find that laughable.

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      1. “I don’t even address the issue of prayer to other saints, much less the rosary.”

        Here in lies your willful blindness. If one saint can hear your prayers, why not all of them? And when you talk about the Hail Mary you most certainly are talking about the rosary and purgatory, as those are inextricably linked in Roman Catholic piety.

        The Lutheran – Roman Catholic dialogues over the years have actually been quite fruitful. And now that the MO Synod/ILC is back at the table in a new series of talks, there may well be more progress still. Praying to our Lord Jesus Christ for the men involved in those talks will do vastly more for Christian unity than trying to convince Protestant to pray to Mary.

        All the best,
        +HRC

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      2. Graham, I like a lot of your posts, and I always appreciate the way in which you respond to and interact with the comments. However, I have to say that I believer the Right Reverend Curtis (why is it always the “right” reverend so and so?) is correct to say that this post is just a tad absurd.

        Please take this as wounds from a friend and not an attack from an adversary.

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  3. “And who is more faithful than the Mother of God?” So, how much saving faith is “more”? “less”? “not enough”? Is one saved through a given amount of faith? Do we need to gather it? Does God remove some of it when we sin? What defines a “special” grace as opposed to the humdrum grace received through the sacraments? Is the grace of our baptism other than “full”? Is the Lord also not with thee and me? When we are weak, does He not rise to save us and support us? Does He do that even though or because we are less holy, more sinful, and less favored than Mary? or is it because we need His grace every bit as much as Mary? Why should we ask Mary, in particular to pray for us? or any particular saint? Do we not confess that all the saints pray for the whole church on earth? Would it not make sense to choose continued prayer with one who we are familiar with, one we knew on earth who is now in heaven, one we prayed with, to continue praying with us and for us? Does not this person’s prayer mean everything to God? Is there reason to believe that one person in heaven matters less than another, is less blessed, is eternally less significant? You see, if she has a store of merit to expend or even carte blanche or can’t be refused (pick you Catholic poison), it makes sense to go to her, directly, because you don’t have these things. But, if God hears your prayers, holds you as precious as He promises to hold you, then this form of prayer has no meaning. Go to their assumptions, don’t let them wiggle out of it, have them confess what they believe. Not what their catechism reads, not what they’ve heard but what they practice, what they pray, and how they speak to each other.

    It is enough to say that God chose Mary for this role and she fulfilled His purposes. But it is also true that we were created anew for His great purposes. Her chosen role was something that could not be repeated. For the rest of us, our role is love of God and neighbor. Poor us, doomed to the same basket of good works that the world sorely needs and God commands! We serve and we strive to keep the Law that, according to Catholics, Mary, being immaculate, never had to consider. You do realize that without original sin, there is no actual sin? That means that Mary, like Jesus, perfectly kept the Law. Are you buying that her perfect keeping, which cannot be done without the grace of God, is not viewed by Rome as part and parcel of our justification? If you are buying that, you need a rereading of Vatican II and you need to lunch with more Catholics who are neither clergy nor theologians. No matter how they spin it, Christ alone is lost on their practice and beliefs.

    There is a Christian life to live. We need to live it sure of our salvation. We need to be so busy we don’t have time to worry about it. The hour of our death is the last hour of our sin. God will be there with us, fighting for us, without any requests from Mary. While we’re here, let’s pray for each other, let’s pray with each other, let’s gather and lift up the cares and concerns of our neighbors, let’s unburden our daily lives and talk with God, let us call upon his Name as the Law would have us do. Really! God gives us His name so we can pray to “Tony” to find lost things, litanies to Mary, Jude for lost causes, Nicholas for prostitutes and sailors (go hand in hand at any time, I guess) ? Maybe I should find a patron that God loves more than me or at least one that has a bigger grace account so God might be inclined to take away my gout!

    Finally, when looking to the church for outward unity (or any unity), Paul was not away from Corinth or the Galatian churches for 2 years when he had to sit down and correct them as they were already getting the Apostolic teachings wrong! The people, their priests, their bishops – all getting things wrong. So, what did God have him do? God had Paul set pen to paper and pass on to those churches and us the Apostolic teachings because God knows us. If there is a way to go wrong, we’ll do it. Age and time and tradition do not vindicate, that is left only to the Word of God.

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    1. Hlewis, always willing to rely on the Word of God. It is the norm which norms our faith. I hope my article didn’t suggest otherwise. I’m just trying to find a topic on which Roman Catholics and Lutherans/Protestants might use as a means for addressing the issues that divide us.

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  4. When we consider Christ, we consider a fulfillment of promises and a host of people with unique purposes, missions, prophecies before and after his birth. we can look to all of these, including Mary for great examples of faith and grace. We can see God at work so that we can learn to recognize it. But, when we reach out, when the Gospel hits the streets, it is never about Mary and what God wrought in her on your behalf but what God has done and is doing for the person standing in front of you. We should want to be like Abraham, Mary, Paul, Peter and all the faithful who have gone to their reward. In them we see the possibility of faithful lives and the assurance of the life to come. None of this and no teaching handed to us from scripture guides us to call upon any of these for help in approaching God or to approach God on our behalf. In fact, we have a High Priest and Holy Spirit pleading for us and for all who pray.

    I don’t believe Rome is ever going to separate commemoration, celebration, meditation, and honor from worship. Whatever they say, they worship Mary, carry on pious devotion to Mary, and, for the most part, are content to focus on the life of the church through a Marian lens made up of tradition.

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    1. Hlewis, I agree, it’s always about what God has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. I’m not out to make Mary a co-redemptrix (although that would be a fun post to write). But, as noted above, the Lutheran Confessions do concede that Mary prays for the Church. She most assuredly does not answer these prayers, only Christ does that.

      Unlike you, I’m not convinced Roman dogma teaches one to worship Mary. Could individual Roman Catholics do so. Of course, but where do they teach worshiping Mary?

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      1. I would recommend anything by John Paul II on the Co-Redemptrix / mediatrix of all graces. Again, as with other threads around this topic, I say “lex orandi, lex credendi.” If you say they don’t teach it, why do they promote it, speak to it, lead it, mislead the people?

        Try this document:

        “APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION OF HIS HOLINESS PAUL VI MARIALIS CULTUS FOR THE RIGHT ORDERING AND DEVELOPMENT OF DEVOTION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

        To All Bishops in Peace and Communion
        with the Apostolic See

        February 2, 1974”

        It open with “From the moment when we were called to the See of Peter, we have constantly striven to enhance devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary…this devotion forms a very noble part of the whole sphere of that sacred worship in which there intermingle the highest expressions of wisdom and of religion(1) and which is therefore the primary task of the People of God.” It features such gems like “This union of the Mother and the Son in the work of redemption…”, “Devotion to the Mother of the Lord becomes for the faithful an opportunity for growing in divine grace, and this is the ultimate aim of all pastoral activity.”

        I would liken their efforts to say they don’t pray TO Mary and the (officially canonized) saints, to the very poor Lutheran/ Protestant argument that John 6 has nothing to do with the sacrament. If you have to explain so much, you’re probably wrong. the Gospel is simple. At the very least, Paul, John, Peter, James, Jude, someone, anyone, would have had ample opportunity and been given something to say to us if such devotion were truly part of Christian life or such theological concepts were true and essential. I am very sympathetic with trying to hear with their ears, looking at their underlying assumptions, but I can’t hear anything but doublespeak, even on their own terms. They end up arguing that praying to is not praying to and worshiping is not worshiping.

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  5. H.R., I appreciate your comments and participation in the conversation.
    I suppose all of us who subscribe to the Book of Concord are guilty of what you call “willful blindness” since our on Confessions concede that the Blessed Mother prays for the Church. Again, I didn’t make the leap to other saints, but based on your logic, we Lutherans should concede such a possibility.
    Why does referencing a prayer that is almost entirely biblical, supporting a title which Lutherans affirm, and an intercession that we concede, a reference to the rosary and purgatory? In this article, I’m not interested in those topics. Rather, I use the broader issue of Mary and a specific instance of a prayer to make a case of how Lutherans and Roman Catholics might talk to one another.
    I absolutely concur on the great talks the LCMS/ILC are engaged in with Rome right now. This is a testament to our Synod and those Lutherans with whom we are in fellowship around the globe.

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    1. You are not reading carefully. Of course I believe, teach, and confess that the saints in heaven pray. But you are advocating that *we pray to saints in heaven*. These are very different things. Lutherans affirm that the saints intercede in heaven. Lutherans (and other Protestants) deny that the faithful on earth should intercede to the saints.

      It’s just that simple – and this last post of yours demonstrates that you’ve muddled them badly.

      Further, you repeat very often that the Hail Mary is “almost entirely Biblical”. Except that part where we pray to saints. Kind of like the dessert is almost entirely chocolate pudding…except the wee bit of polonium-210.

      All the best,
      +HRC

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      1. H.R., I get it, the Invocation of the Saints is a non-starter for you. It’s also clear you don’t like the Hail Mary. Fair enough.
        But why not use a conversation about Mary: the New Eve, the ever-virgin, the Immaculate, the Theotokos (all things that our beloved Luther and early Lutherans believed) to engage Roman Catholics? Don’t go so deep in the weeds that you miss the big picture of possibly finding a new means of opening dialogue.

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  6. The source of our unity is and always will be Jesus. Start with the Person of Christ and the simplest expressions of those truths. The Creeds and relating the Creeds to scripture. I think we should try that.

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    1. Hlewis, agree that the source of our unity in our Lord. I hope my article doesn’t suggest otherwise. Again, I’m looking for ways, issues, by which Roman Catholics and Lutherans (and other Protestants) might be able to begin a new type of ecumenical discourse.
      The Creeds are great too. I think a dialogue on the Nicene Creed, especially, could be very productive.

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  7. Hlewis, I’m not clear why devotion equates to worship. Roman Catholicism does not teach that Mary forgives sins, that her actions won salvation, that her merits are what win us eternal life. I’m sympathetic to the concern that such devotion can be abused (see the time of the Reformation and how the cult of the saints had all but replaced the faithful praying to Christ), but do not think it always leads to such.

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    1. When you pray TO someone, you are placing your love and trust in that someone. We should fear, love and trust in God ALONE. This is the start of God’s Law. We are to have no religious devotion to anyone other than God. The Catholic Church, in speaking of Mary (and I highly recommend reading Paul VI and JP II on the topic), they entwine Mary in God’s plan of salvation in such way that it is inconceivable without her. Certainly, she does not forgive sins but mediates God’s grace. that insinuates her into the process.

      If you wish to explore Mary, I would suggest you begin with the many points of agreement with have with what the Catholic Church teaches about her that agrees with our confession concerning the Person of Christ. Then, move on to their other teachings that we can consider perspectives. You would run into an impass that a perspective we might consider lending depth or being a possibility they want to consider a revealed truth. The New Eve is a thought worthy of consideration, a great perspective, but proclaiming this to be true because Tertullian and Irenaeus liked the idea and shoe-horned it in with explicit Pauline teaching is not right. It is true that the Catholic Church does not demand a devotion but there are hymns to, not about, the Blessed Mother in their hymnals. there is formal, public worship focused on her. I have been to churches where Mary, not even a crucifix, is lifted and centered above the altar, where there are many altars and grottoes to sit and pray to the Virgin, a few patron saints and, maybe, one statue of Christ off to the side. There should be no mistaking the focus of our worship. Don’t even get me started on the homilies. It is a rare priest who preaches Christ crucified with any regularity.

      The problem with the Catholic approach (and perhaps yours, I am not sure) is the entanglement of devotional practice with doctrine, with Church teaching. If you can find a personal perspective on Christ that flows from the Rosary, I wouldn’t stop you. But you cannot teach the Rosary as a doctrine. I would have to question “hailing” anyone, giving glory to anyone, other than God. If it is not obvious to anyone seeing the public witness of the Church that Christ is the center, if it has to be explained how Christ is the center of a public devotion, then you are creating mysteries and barriers where there ought to be none. On that note, I think it is a fair challenge to Rome asking if they were ever right. Again, Paul was not gone 2 years before Corinth was getting it wrong and he lived there among them for 18 months. Enough said. We preach the true Gospel and confess the true Church. We point to Christ in open ways without any hidden meanings.

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      1. Hlewis, I think Mary is absolutely intertwined with the plan of salvation. Could God have chosen another woman. Clearly. But he didn’t. He chose Mary. He gave her the grace to be the ark of the new covenant. Any hailing, any devotion, any grace that she has is only because of Christ. It’s always about Christ. And I think extolling her points us ever closer to her Son.

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  8. Ken, fair enough. And no worries, I welcome feedback, especially when people disagree.
    Am I pushing the envelope a bit here? Perhaps. But this is what I think allows for inroads or breakthroughs in dialogue. We can rehash the same arguments we’ve been making for 500 years, but I don’t think that gets us very far.
    Did my argument in this article work? Maybe not. But hey, at least we’re talking about its merits…

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    1. Wow Pastor. Thank you for a very good article. As a Lutheran stationed overseas for 5 years now, I will say that the Catholic church has fed me in places no one else could. It pains me to see the divisions between traditional Lutherans and Rome. I struggle with it daily. Like the Pope, I pray “That all Christians may be faithful to the Lord’s teaching by striving with prayer and fraternal charity to restore ecclesial communion and by collaborating to meet the challenges facing humanity.” An ambitious prayer, but I never want the dialog to stop. We shouldn’t be afraid to see where our faith has common ground, and opening some books, digging into the theology, and understanding what’s taught benefits everyone.

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      1. Thanks Adam. I felt the same way when we were stationed in Germany. Hope conversations like this one bear fruit some day!

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  9. So, simple question (I think). Are you advocating that we pray (communicate) with Mary directly as a means of gaining some unity/discussion with the RCC?

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    1. Justin, big picture, I’m advocating using a conversation about the Virgin Mary as a means of dialogue. As noted, the topics of authority, justification, ecclesiology, sanctification, etc. always seem to hit stumbling blocks. So, why not try Mary? I used the Hail Mary as an example of how this might work, trying to point out topics within/about the prayer that, in my opinion, bridge our two communions. Obviously, the big rub is whether the Blessed Mother prays for the Church and whether we should ask for her intercession. It’s clear where Rome and the Book of Concord come down on this. I tried to push Lutherans to consider that our own Confessions admit that Mary continues to pray for us as a way to reopen this dialogue. Did my attempt work? I’m not sure!

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      1. I think it did work…a bit. ha ha.

        Discussing this subject a tad with my own Lutheran pastor, I know it is part of Lutheran teaching (again, I think it is, I’m new to the Lutheran faith) that the saints in glory do indeed pray for us in the church here living day to day. I see that in the passage in Revelation but it seems to be to be another thing altogether for us to pray to a saint and ask him/her to pray for us when we can go directly to the Father through the Spirit who intercedes for us with his own “groanings”.

        I don’t think the first part of your “big rub” is the issue, sure Mary may indeed pray for the church but the “big rub” for me, personally anyway, is why we should ask her instead of God and is she omnipresent enough to hear it?

        Thoughts?

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  10. Justin, if one believes that the saints in heaven pray for us, then why wouldn’t we ask them to intercede on our behalf? If we don’t think they do, then to do so is meaningless. I guess you could put me in the camp of “I’m not sure”. I’m sensitive to the fact that if we commend the intercession of the saints to the faithful that they can turn away from the only one that answers our prayers, Jesus. This was clearly a problem during the Reformation. For Lutherans the problem is one of a biblical mandate. Such a mandate is dubious, at best, so with our insistence on sola scriptura, asking the departed saints to pray for us is a no-go in our circles. But if we look at the company of heaven as part of the church catholic that still does what the living do, then why not?

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  11. I guess the “why not” would be, for me, because there’s nothing in Scripture to say that praying to another person would be heard *by* that person, unless of course it were a person of the trinity.

    I can believe the saints are praying for the church *to* God but it doesn’t follow that therefore *I* can pray to them. They can pray to God without my involvement at all. As a matter of fact, I doubt Mary could even get a prayer together if she was continually listening to the prayers of others. How could a person who is finite handle all those prayers coming his/her way. 🙂

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