A document released recently by an international group of Anglican and Roman Catholic church leaders, which established some common ground about teachings on the Virgin Mary, is a “positive sign” that relations between the two denominations – strained by disagreements over the ordination of women and human sexuality – are on the mend, said an official at the Anglican Church of Canada.
The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), the official instrument of dialogue between Rome and the Anglican Communion, released a document in May, which concluded that their theological differences over Mary should no longer divide them. Anglicans disagree with Catholic church doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her assumption into heaven.
“What they’ve tried to do is to say that the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church about those two matters was defined in a particular way, in a particular time…and that has to be understood in itself as a contextual issue so that both Roman Catholics and Anglicans can look at what’s behind those doctrines and find that there’s truth in them,” said Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of the Anglican Church of Canada’s faith, worship and ministry department. “This is saying if you look at the Scriptural passages behind these things, if you look at the received traditions of the church there are ways in which they could be affirmed by Anglicans without getting into the controversies of the early 20th century…This is saying, if we can get beyond the controversy – this is obviously an issue if we’re going back into full communion – how could we believe different things?”
Ms. Barnett-Cowan added: “In this document, we are looking at what the teachings actually say: Don’t get too hung up on the questions of how those decisions came to be made and let’s look at what’s said about them in terms of Mary as an example of what’s going to be true for all Christians.”
The document concludes, among others, that both churches “do not consider the practice of asking Mary and the saints to pray for us as communion dividing…” and that “it is impossible to be faithful to Scripture without giving due attention to the person of Mary.”
Ms. Barnett-Cowan said the document not only offers hope but it is also significant because “we’re talking about somebody who has been so central to people’s spirituality and prayer life; it gets us talking into how we pray, how we relate to Christians who’ve come before us.”