Fr. Samuel Edwards, SSM, Vicar of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Waynesville, NC (a mission of the Diocese of the Eastern United States of ACA/TAC), has written this excellent survey of Catholic doctrine about the Blessed Virgin Mary which is published here on The Anglo-Catholic with his kind permission.
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Jesus saith unto his mother, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then saith he unto the disciple, “Behold thy Mother.” And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. – John 19:26-27
For a long time, this month of May was traditionally associated with the Virgin Mother of our Lord, and thus was often called “the month of Mary.” In many places, it was in characterized by special devotions focused on our Lady, from religious processions to Maypole dances (the latter probably being a Christianized version of pre-Christian springtime rites and for that reason as roundly hated by puritanical types as were the customs of Christmastide). In the days of our grandparents and great-grandparents, “May” was often the nickname given to girls whose given name was “Mary,” though probably never so common as “Molly.” Very likely, some version of this name – Mary, Maria, Marie, Marian, Miriam, Maryam, Mariah, and so forth – is the most common given name for Christian women in all cultures, and in some cultures (such as the French) is not rare as a component of men’s names as well.
The reason for this is that in all history there is no human shadow that stretches so long as that of this slip of a Hebrew maiden – save that of One, who is also the Sun/ Son who casts the shadow. The late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose Irish wit and eloquence was matched by his theological acumen, called her “the world’s first love,” and, excepting always and only her divine Son (which exception she would be – and is – the first to insist upon) there is no one – no not one – to whom this title can be more appropriately applied. The face of Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships on a mission of vengeance and destruction, but that of Mary of Nazareth has launched millions upon millions of saints on the path to mercy and fulfillment.
A consideration of Mary to us at tiny Saint Peter’s Anglican Church in remote Waynesville, North Carolina may seem to have little importance, but in fact it is acutely relevant. As most of our members and readers surely know by now, we are a part of the Anglican Church in America, which is the American representative of the Traditional Anglican Communion. Our bishops (see story on the web page “That They May Be One”) recently made a unanimous request to the Vatican to see how the ACA might be configured as a “Personal Ordinariate” under the terms of last November’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (Groups of Anglicans) and so be admitted to full communion with the Bishop of Rome and all those in communion with him in the Catholic Church(es).
The teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the Virgin Mary is an essential component of her faith and identity, and it must be properly understood as such by Anglicans coming into full communion with her. I say, “properly understood,” because there is a great deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of that teaching by non-catholic Christians and by non-Christians. Much of this is born of ignorance; some of it comes as part of a general hostility to the Church itself; all of it conforms to the divisive purposes of Satan, who hates only One – Jesus himself – as much as he hates the Virgin Mother and all she personifies and represents – pure and focused love of God, fruitfulness, humility, marriage, virginity, obedience, courage, sanctity, and so on.
The reason many good Christians – even high-church Anglicans – shy away from veneration the Blessed Virgin Mary is that they fear that honor given to her detracts from that due to her divine Son. This might be true if love were quantifiable, but genuine love is not divided or diminished by having more than one object, though its quality and expression will differ according to the nature of its object. To say, “I cannot honor/ pray to/ praise Mary without diminishing or corrupting the honor I give to Jesus,” is substantially no different than saying you cannot admire the “Mona Lisa” without diminishing the regard you have for Leonardo, or that you cannot listen to Bach’s music lest you think less of his genius, or that you cannot commend Dickens’ books for fear that you might not adequately appreciate his greatness. Any of these are manifestly absurd, for it is through the works of Leonardo or Bach or Dickens that we know their greatness.
What is true regarding the sub-creator is supremely true of the All-Creator: To praise His work is to praise Him in His work. Indeed, His work is fully comprehended in the “great glory” for which we praise him. That includes the greatest of his created works – whom we hymn as “higher than the Cherubim, more glorious than the Seraphim” [Hymn 599] – whom Wordsworth called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast” – whose glory is derived entirely from Him, as she herself acknowledges from the first: “For he that is mighty hath magnified me.”
Now, it cannot be denied that it is possible, and that it often has happened, that devotion to Mary has become distorted. So has patriotism, and love of family, and love of food and drink, and just about anything else you can name. Idolatry is the risk God runs for creating a world filled with the signs of his presence. However, when idolatry is present, it is so because of a moral failure – and generally a failure of imagination – on the part of the idolater. Idolatry is in the idolater, not in the thing of which he makes an idol. The destruction of the thing leaves the fundamental disease untreated, and the idolater will simply shift his misdirected devotion to another object less than God. It is really no accident that many of the very churches that have defined themselves as being against the veneration of Mary and the saints and the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and in the Church have evolved into associations that deny – or make optional, which is a “soft denial” – belief in the divinity of Jesus and his saving work.