Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ

Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens)Image via Wikipedia
Those of you who were following last week's meeting of the Church of England's General Synod, may have heard there was a debate about the Virgin Mary.  This was based upon a paper prepared by Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ.  The following article is from the Council for Christian Unity's (CCU) Bulletin.

In February 2008, General Synod requested that the ARCIC II Reports not already considered by Synod should be debated. Church as Communion came before Synod in February 2009 and Life in Christ was the subject of group work in July 2009. The debate on the remaining report, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, took place at last week’s General Synod.

Part of the motion passed by the Synod ‘encourage(s) Anglicans to study the report with ecumenical colleagues and in particular, wherever possible, with their Roman Catholic neighbours’. Dioceses and Parishes are therefore being urged to follow up this part of the motion.

The full motion moved by The Chair of the Council for Christian Unity (The Bishop of Guildford (The Rt Revd Christopher Hill)), was as follows:
‘That this Synod, affirming the aim of Anglican – Roman Catholic theological dialogue “to discover each other’s faith as it is today and to appeal to history only for enlightenment, not as a way of perpetuating past controversy” (Preface to The Final Report, 1982), and in the light of recent steps towards setting up ARCIC III:
  1. note the theological assessment of the ARCIC report Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ in the FOAG briefing paper GS 1818 as a contribution to further dialogue;
  2. welcome exploration of how far Anglicans and Roman Catholics share a common faith and spirituality, based on the Scriptures and the early Ecumenical Councils, with regard to the Blessed Virgin Mary;
  3. request that, in the context of the quest for closer unity between our two communions, further joint study of the issues identified in GS 1818 be undertaken – in particular, the question of the authority and status of the Roman Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Anglicans; and
  4. encourage Anglicans to study the report with ecumenical colleagues and in particular, wherever possible, with their Roman Catholic neighbours.’
You can download the order paper, giving full details of the motion and amendments tabled (all of which were rejected). The motion was passed decisively, following a good quality debate, by a show of hands. The papers supporting the debate, including the text of the report, can be downloaded by clicking on these links:

GS 1818 Briefing paper by FOAG on ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ
GS Misc 872 FOAG Essays on ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ
ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ (original text)

These papers should be used as resources for studying the report, and the Church of England’s response to it, at Diocesan and Parish level. The Briefing Paper (GS 1818) gives a very succinct and useful summary of the report, as well as setting out both its positive aspects and those areas where further work is needed. The FOAG Essays (GS Misc 872) provide an in depth discussion of major themes in the report. The essays come from the full range of perspectives from within the Church of England, and are constructively critical.

In addition, the debate itself could be used as resource. In due course a transcript will be published on the Church of England website, but the audio file of the debate (Wednesday 9th February 2011, item 18) can be downloaded.

Prior to the debate, the Right Revd Christopher Hill introduced the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Westminster, the Right Revd George Stack, who presented a perspective form the Roman Catholic Church, in which he emphasised Pope John Paul II’s call for further study and discernment on the Blessed Virgin Mary. The audio file of Bishop George Stack’s address and Bishop Christopher Hill’s response can be downloaded.

Here are some suggestions for following up the motion in the Dioceses:
  • Make the General Synod Motion known to the senior staff of the diocese (a copy of the motion will also be sent to Diocesan Secretaries) for them to consider how to follow it up;
  • Approach your counterparts in partner Churches (especially the Roman Catholic Diocesan Ecumenical Officer) to discuss how the report may be studied ecumenically at intermediate and parish level.
  • Encourage parishes and deaneries, in which you are aware of a good relationship with Roman Catholic parishes, to study the report together. Remember that our other ecumenical partners may be keen also to participate.
  • A number of dioceses have successfully held study days with Roman Catholic colleagues. If you are interested in finding out more how they have approached this, please contact me.
  • At parish level, where relationships are developing well, considering issues where there are significant differences between churches, requires careful handling. The principles of Receptive Ecumenism are important here. Where there is respect, generosity and the willingness to listen and learn, such conversations can be very rewarding. If any of you have had particular experience of facilitating such conversation at parish level, it would be good to hear from you, in order to flag up examples of good practice.
Finally, here are details about ARCIC III, the areas it will cover, and details of its Anglican and Roman Catholic members.

It would be interesting to hear from Methodists who are involved in these or similar conversations.  If you are interested in participating, the place to start would be to contact your Diocesan Ecumenical Officer.
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