SYDNEY, Australia, JUNE 1, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Here is an address by Father Julian Porteous, rector of seminary of the Good Shepherd of the Archdiocese of Sydney, in the videoconference on “Mariology from Vatican Council II Until Today,” organized this week by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy.
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Mary and Ecumenism
By Father Julian Porteous
The Blessed Virgin Mary has always had a special place in the hearts of Catholics of the Australian Church over its comparatively short history. The “mother church” of Australia, St Mary?s Cathedral in Sydney, first built in 1821, witnesses to the devotion of early Sydney Catholics, both clergy and laity, in being named in honor of the Blessed Virgin.
Our first bishop, John Bede Polding, had a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary, writing her initials atop all his writings. Two years after the establishment of the Australian hierarchy, Mary Help of Christians was proclaimed patroness of Australia. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, expressed in the 20th century particularly by a love of the rosary, is a strong element of Australian Catholicism.
In more recent times various devotional movements have brought about a renewed love of the Blessed Virgin Mary, following a dip in devotion in the latter quarter of the last century.
In the post Vatican II Church the challenge to ecumenism has been undertaken seriously in Australia, given that the country has been historically a mix of Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches, and since the migration after World War II embraces Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches and is currently witnessing the an increased presence of Islam and Eastern religions like Buddhism.
While being a strong element in the traditions of the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is more often than not a “sticking point” with many Christians of the evangelical persuasion.
The common accusation made against Catholics is that we are engaged in an unnecessary channel of mediation with God by invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or that devotional practices and use of images are a form of idolatry. More recently, Pentecostal churches have been particularly critical of Catholic devotion and challenge the perpetual virginity of Our Lady by asserting the existence of other children to Mary.
The Vatican Council sought to establish an ecumenical footing to ongoing dialogue with other churches, “our separated brethren,” in many of its documents. Thus, the document on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” presented Mariology as an intrinsic part of ecclesiology. The opening words of this final section of the document on the Church reveal a clear ecumenical sensitivity: “In the words of the apostle there is but one mediator: ´for there is but one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a redemption for all´ (1 Timothy 2:5-6)” (Art. 60).
The Council, though, was quick to point out that “Mary´s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ.” The goal of authentic Catholic ecumenism, as Pope John Paul II reminds us in “Ut Unum Sint,” No. 77, is to restore full visible unity among all Christians: “The greater mutual understanding and the doctrinal convergences already achieved between us, which have resulted in an affective and effective growth of communion, cannot suffice for the conscience of Christians who profess that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement is to re-establish full visible unity among all the baptized.”
No sound ecumenical effort can ignore the place of the Virgin Mary. Biblical and patristic studies reveal Mary?s place in ecclesiology and in the faith and spirituality of the Church from its earliest beginnings. Catholics cannot, in a false ecumenical sensitivity, adopt a silence about Mary. There was a tendency to do this in the early years of the grass-roots ecumenical movement.
Indeed our devotion to and honoring of Mary can become precisely a source for constructive and clarifying dialogue with, particularly, evangelical Christians. It can challenge the limits of a fundamentalist approach to faith based in a narrow interpretation of the biblical texts. It can open up the rich incarnational dimension of Catholicism. It can challenge a reluctance to explore the sacramental and ecclesial character of Christianity.
Reflection on the relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit, and Mary and the Church, can provide a possible basis for ecumenical discussion. Catholic love of and devotion to Mary can become not an obstacle toward ecumenism, but a ground for serious ecumenical discussion.