It's always wonderful news when we read of another group of Anglicans entering into full Catholic communion. But let's remember that there are countless small communities of Anglicans which are at various stages and different points along the path to Catholic communion. The road home is longer and more difficult for some than it is for others, but let's pray for all those pilgrims who, by the grace of God, are travelling in faith toward that precious destination for which they yearn.
The Blessed John Henry Newman Fellowship in Philadelphia is one such group, and it's well worth checking their website regularly for the latest news, or for an inspiring sermon.
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A Sermon preached by Bishop David Moyer on the Solemnity of the Assumption, August 19, 2012, at the Blessed John Henry Newman Fellowship in Philadelphia.
+In the Name…
From our first reading from the Revelation of St. John the Divine: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and her head a crown of twelve stars…” (12:1).
Today we honor the Mother of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as we keep the Solemnity of the Feast of the Assumption. The Assumption of the body and soul of Mary was a belief of the Church in many quarters of the East and West for centuries before it was finally declared as a dogma by the Catholic Church, Munificentissimus Deus, in 1950 by Pope Pius XII.
The Eastern Church’s theological way is that it doesn’t define things as specifically as the Western Church does. The East uses the Greek word Koimesis, which speaks of The Blessed Virgin’s “falling asleep” – implying something very different for her.
We as the Newman Fellowship have been on a pilgrimage of prayer and study as we embrace the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the way the Traditional Anglican Communion’s College of Bishops stated it in their 2007 Petition to the Holy See, as “the most complete and authentic expression and application of the catholic faith in this moment of time….the faith we aspire to teach and hold.”
This has been and remains the trajectory for us in the Newman Fellowship; and we believe it is of God for the greater unity of the Church, as our Lord prayed. We long to move forward as a community into the Catholic Church with our Anglican heritage as God navigates us through the rough and dark waters of ill-will, false information, and misunderstanding which seek to prevent us from such a good thing. The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus means, “for groups or communities of Anglicans.” Our unity here as a community of men, women, and children is something that we cherish because it is of God’s initiative. He knows what He is about, as Blessed John Henry Newman stated, so we trust in Him.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts before so many things in so many areas which comprise the fullness of the Church’s teachings. There are portions of it that immediately resonate with us, and for which we are glad in the way that such portions are expressed with such strength and clarity. But there are portions of it with which we struggle, especially from an Anglican perspective, where we have traditionally looked to the Scriptures for assurance that what is set forth is rooted in the Scriptures.
But, as we discussed in our Catechism classes, this can lead us to see different things in the Scriptures from one person to another, or to interpret the Scriptures from a certain individual or group perspective and bias.
Look, as you need not be reminded, to the plentitude of Christian churches and denominations in our country– each with a high degree of confidence that they’ve got it right!
The Catholic Church understands herself as the true Church under the Successor of St. Peter and the bishops in communion with him. It sees the Church’s vocation as that of bringing about unity of faith and belief as historic dissensions and points of separation are healed. The Catholic Church offers to the world the presentation of the Gospel and the religion of it with serious conviction, clarity, and authority through the Magisterium. Again, we have seen what happens to the Church without or a neglect of her teaching authority. We have seen fashion, fad, novelty, and ideology come into churches as the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) blows through the ranks of clergy and lay.
Yes, the Catholic Church has and has had major problems, but the Faith that is taught amidst the sins of man has not been compromised or diluted because of the sins of man. This is a testimony of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The late Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, in his final book, Magisterium, wrote the following, first quoting from Vatican II: “…sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church, in accordance with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (Dei Verbum 10).
He further writes: “Just as the Christians of the first generation had to rely on the word of the Apostles and their fellow workers, so Christians of later generations must continue to rely on the living authority of those who succeed to the place of the Apostles…Faith is never the mere self-assertion of believers but an acceptance by them of something received from others – in the last analysis from God” (p. 5).
So the Catholic Church through its Magisterium teaches that the Virgin Mary at the time of her death was taken up into heaven, as Elijah was in the sight of his successor Elisha. This is something that for many is hard to wrap one’s mind around, so let me very briefly take you to Blessed John Henry Newman for some theological assistance – he who made the spiritual and theological journey to belief in and defense of the Assumption; from skepticism to commitment and subjection to what the Catholic Church taught, well before it was set forth as dogmatic.
Newman wrote: “…if her body was not taken into heaven, where is it? How comes it that it is hidden from us? Why do we not hear of her tomb as being here or there? Why are not pilgrimages made to it? Why are not relics producible of her, as of the saints in general? Is it not even a natural instinct which makes us reverent towards the places where our dear are buried?”
Newman takes us to the Book of Genesis. He writes: “Adam and Eve were created upright and sinless, and had a large measure of God’s grace bestowed upon them, and, in consequence, their bodies would never have crumbled into dust, had they not sinned; upon which it was said to them, ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.’ If Eve, the beautiful daughter of God, never would have become dust and ashes unless she had sinned, shall we not say that Mary, having never sinned, retained the gift which Eve by sinning lost? What had Mary done to forfeit the privilege given to our first parents in the beginning? Was her comeliness to be turned into corruption, and her fine gold to become dim, without reason assigned? Impossible. Therefore we believe that, though she died for a short time, as did our Lord Himself, yet, like Him, and by His Almighty power, she was raised again from the grave.”
He then points to the Gospel of St. Matthew’s testimony of the Resurrection of Christ in which we read, “the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection, came into the Holy City, and appeared to many.”
He says that such bodies were those of the holy Prophets, Priests, and Kings of former times, and then writes:
Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaiah, or Ezekiel, should have been favoured, and not God’s own mother? Had she not a claim on the love of her Son to have what any others had? Was she not nearer to Him than the greatest of the Saints before her? And is it conceivable that the law of the grave should admit of relaxation in their case, and not in hers? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul” (the quotes are from Meditations and Devotions of the Late Cardinal Newman).
So may we in our worship, prayers, and study remain open. Openness is a hard journey because it may usher into our minds and hearts things we never expected, as it did for Blessed John Henry Newman.
Not to be open to new insights and theological understanding is an act of pride, and sometimes may be an act of prejudice. God spare any and all from that!
So today we join with over a billion Christians to praise God the Holy Trinity for the gift of Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, who, in giving herself to the will by God became the Mother of God Incarnate. In so doing, she found great sorrow, but even a greater reward in being taken up into the glory of Heaven to be with Her Son as a sign of what awaits us who say as she did, “Be it unto me according to thy Word.”