Mary – The Secret Joy of Christians

The difference between Anglo-Catholics and Anglican Catholics

When you come to the Holy Catholic Church Anglican Rite (HCC-AR) from some other Church you become a different kind of Christian. This is because the HCC-AR is a different kind of Church, a truly Catholic Church – as that was understood before Christendom began to break up a thousand years ago. If, before you joined the HCC-AR, you were a member of a ‘High Church’ Anglican congregation – an ‘Anglo-Catholic’ – you may have fully believed all the ancient Catholic doctrines concerning Our Lady, used all the right prayers, and followed all the traditional devotions to her. Admittedly some of your fellow Anglicans may not have approved, but you believe the same now as you did then, so what has changed? 

In the days when Christendom was still united Christians believed – and true Catholic Christians still believe – five things about Our Lady: 1. That she is the Mother of God (Theotokos, “the God bearer” in Greek). 2. That she has always remained a Virgin, even after the birth of Jesus. 3. That she was free from personal sin throughout the whole of her life on earth (Conception). 4. That she has fulfilled the WHOLE plan of God for us (Assumption). 5. That she is our intercessor in heaven. Even when Christendom broke up and Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholics would have nothing to do with each other, they all STILL believed these five things about the Virgin Mary – and they still do. The reason why they still go on believing is because God the Holy Spirit keeps on telling us these five things are true. The Holy Sprit tells us this through the Holy Tradition, his abiding, guiding presence with the Church. The Holy Spirit, through the Holy Tradition, keeps us, heart and soul, focused upon Jesus who is the source of all Truth. That Truth includes the role and destiny of the Virgin Mary, His earthly Mother. 

The five Marian doctrines tell us about the WHOLE Plan of Salvation. They tell us this through the story of the Blessed Virgin – her preparation for the role of Mother of the Saviour, her cooperation with the will and grace of God, her total dedication (in her case through a life of virginity). They tell us also what is at the end of the Way of Salvation – the complete package, so to speak. Mary has traveled even beyond the final Resurrection, she is filled with the glory of God, sharing, as far as it is possible for a human being, the divine life itself. In the Mother of God the Plan of Salvation is complete and already at work among us. Mary is still herself, she is not hidden away from us in heaven, any more than our Lord himself (who is always present with us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit). Just as she was chosen to be the earthly Mother of Jesus, so she is now the Mother of us all. Through her Son she cares for us, she prays for us, she acts to guide and help us. Anyone who does not realize this has lost out on a whole dimension of the Faith – and many have lost out because of an idea introduced many centuries ago. 

For as long as the Church on earth allowed itself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, through keeping the Holy Tradition, it remained united in a common Faith. During those first thousand years, however, an idea grew up among Christians in the West that Jesus had committed special powers to St. Peter and to his successors, the Bishops of Rome. The earliest written record of the Holy Tradition is the New Testament and this record was now interpreted as giving the Roman Pope authority over all the Christian Churches – the Holy Tradition was being set aside. What God had planned as a FAMILY the ‘Papalists’ were turning into a RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION under central control. The Bible was no longer being used as the foremost witness to the Holy Tradition but as a tool in the hands of merely human opinion and ideology. 

By the end of the Middle Ages the Western Church was dominated by the authority of the Roman Pope. Much doctrinal waywardness and abuse of power had crept in. The Western Church, however, still maintained the five Marian doctrines, a constant reminder that the Church is a FAMILY and not an ORGANIZATION. Reform was needed but when it came it led many Christians even further away from the true understanding of the Church. The leaders of the Protestant Reformation set out to purify the Church and looked to the Bible to provide the blue-print for reform. Just as the Papalists had used the New Testament to support their ideas of what the Church should be, so now the Reformers did the same. Anything that was not in the Bible (as they interpreted it) had to be taken out of the Church. The guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Holy Tradition was ignored and purely human ideas prevailed. Yes, Jesus Christ was still worshipped and gratefully acknowledged as God and Saviour, but the Marian doctrines were thrown out, along with papal authority, as being ‘contrary to Scripture’. The Reformers believed they were returning to the pure Faith; in fact, like the Papalists, they were reinforcing the spirit of rationalism – of merely human opinion – for them the Church remained an ORGANIZATION run on ‘scriptural’ instead of ‘papal’ lines. 

Among the Churches of the Reformation, the Anglican Church retained many of the ancient ways and traditions, preserving many things which more zealous Reformers rejected as ‘Romish’. It was on the basis of this heritage that, more than a century and a half ago, the ‘Anglo-Catholic’ movement began to restore the ancient Faith. The Anglo-Catholics faced bitter opposition from Protestant-minded members of the Anglican Church, but made headway nevertheless – even achieving the fight to acknowledge the Marian doctrines. Even so the restored doctrines were established, not as the belief of the whole Anglican Church in harmony with the Holy Tradition, but as the ‘private opinion’ of those who were satisfied that there was a ‘biblical foundation’ for them. This is why so many ‘traditionalist’ Anglo-Catholics have been prepared to stay on in the Anglican Communion – while they are allowed to continue in their ‘private opinion’. Other Anglo-Catholics have embraced all kinds of radical changes because the ‘private opinion’ basis of belief is not only Protestant but also rationalistic (and thus captured easily by ideologies of all kinds). 

The difference between the Anglican Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic is as follows. The Anglo-Catholic will pick and chose between doctrines he regards as ‘essential to salvation’ and those which are ‘inessential’, mere pious opinions. The Marian doctrines will be placed in this second category and the Anglo-Catholic can remain in a Protestant Church – provided it is tolerant of his eccentricities. He will, of course, never ‘un-church’ those who believe otherwise because, for him, the Church is a religious ORGANIZATION based on ‘private opinion’. The Anglican Catholic, however, knows that the Faith and the Church form a ‘complete package’ based upon the Holy Tradition -the presence of the Holy Spirit himself. The Marian doctrines will thus be seen as a natural part of the total package. A Church formed by the Holy Tradition is quite different from one based on ‘private opinion’. The second is no more than a religious ORGANIZATION however much it may claim to be ‘Catholic’. The first is a manifestation of the Body of Christ, the New Life in Christ, in which, as a ‘secret joy’, we discover the presence of the Mother of God.

The Church and the Assumption of Mary

The Implications for the Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God

In spite of their many other divisions, the vast majority of Christians accept that, at the end of her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was raised from the dead and received, body and soul, into heaven. This event, although it follows the same sequence as the Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord, is not recorded in Scripture. The Assumption of Our Lady is, however, an integral and necessary element in our understanding of the Faith and of the nature of the Church. 

The lack of scriptural mention creates a serious obstacle for those entering the fullness of the Catholic Faith from a Protestant background. Protestantism demands direct Biblical evidence for any doctrine, but in the case of the Assumption this cannot be supplied. While the demand for evidence seems reasonable enough, the mistake which is being made here is the implication that only documentary evidence is acceptable. The scriptural account of Our Lord’s own Ascension is testimony to the event, but it is not proof. The reliability and acceptability depends upon the witness, the testimony, of the Apostles, and only secondarily upon the written record. The Apostolic testimony (known as the Holy Tradition) is the primary source of the Faith; it is, like all else connected with the mission of the Incarnate Lord, inseparable from the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not just with the Bible, but with the Lord, Inspirer, and sole true Interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures with whom we have to deal. It is here we must begin. 

Those who give great authority to the Scriptures must heed the words of Christ himself: “Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.” (St. John 5:39). The Scriptures are a signpost to salvation, a signpost by which the Holy Spirit points to Christ as the source of salvation – this is true as much of the New Testament as of the Old. Signposts, however, can be turned by men so that they point in the wrong direction, this is why Our Lord did not rely on the Scriptures alone, but promised his disciples the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who would lead them into ‘all truth’ (St. John 16:13). The Holy Spirit, as a result of his outpouring upon the Church, would not only guide the minds of the disciples, he would bring them the fullness of salvation by enabling them to share together in the risen life of Christ himself. 

Salvation comes by incorporation into Christ, hence the Church, the company of those who have been thus incorporated, is the Body of Christ. This term is no mere figure of speech, it is a reality; Christ is made known to the world-by the Holy Spirit – through those whom he indwells. To this kind of reality which renews and transforms our created and ‘fallen’ condition by the divine grace is given the name ‘sacramental’ – it is at this point that “… earthly things of heaven partake.” Sacramentally we may say, and say truly, that Christ and his Church are one. In baptism as St. Paul says, we die and rise with Christ (Romans 6:3ff); while the Lord himself has assured us, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” and, “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (St. John 6:53 and 57). 

The Church is not, therefore, just a collection of individual believers drawn together by a common interest, it is one body expressing the life of Christ in all its members, both those on earth and those departed from this life. Since it reflects the totality of the life of Christ – of all that Christ offers to mankind in himself – there will be members of the Church who have passed not just beyond this world into a place of ‘refreshment, light and of peace,’ but those who have already shared the resurrection of Christ (see Matthew 27:52). The Church knows also of one who has not only passed beyond the resurrection but attained to the fullness of deification – the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Church cannot be truly the Body of Christ, something is lacking until a representative of redeemed humankind has arrived at that glorification of the creation purposed by the Holy Trinity. 

The details of the event of the Assumption of Mary – the mechanics, so to speak – are not disclosed to us. We do not know for sure when this happened or how. What written records exist are comparatively late and somewhat fanciful: they do however hint at a pattern of events passed down by word of mouth and ‘written up’ at different times and in different places. In these circumstances ‘evidence,’ in the sense of literary documentation, is of small value since the ‘event’ of the Assumption, implicit in the Gospel, occurs at that point where the rules of a fallen creation are transcended by the imperatives of the New Creation. The special position accorded to the Mother of God by the Church, as the first of a fallen race to be assumed into heaven and glorified, secures for us both our understanding of the full effect of that New Creation and the destiny to which it leads. At the same time that special position recalls the quality of discipleship required in the Kingdom- “Blessed are they who hear the word of God and do it” – and the height to which cooperation with the will of God raises the redeemed creation. 

In Mary, the Mother of God, the whole course, purpose, and fulfillment of Salvation is revealed. The Church has treasured this knowledge within the Holy Tradition, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly (as far as the world is concerned) but true believers must recall constantly and act faithfully upon this knowledge lest, for them, the signpost is moved out of its place.

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