During the last forty years, there has been an increased desire between Catholics and other Christians to discuss the theological positions that have separated us. The Catholic Church’s teachings on Mary have been a crucial element in the discussions that have taken place. There are many hopeful signs of mutual understanding, including a new appreciation for the Scriptural and Patristic presentations of Mary, as well as the writings, homilies and hymns of the Reformers on Mary.
There is a better understanding of what the Catholic Church actually teaches about Mary as well as a better appreciation by Catholics of the theological questions that are raised by other Christians regarding Mary. In this environment, scholars from different traditions have reflected upon Mary’s role as a collaborator of God in salvation history as well as her role in the Communion of Saints.
One very significant effort has been that of four Lutheran, four non-Lutheran Protestants and four Catholic Biblical Scholars, which produced the book, Mary in the New Testament, (New York: Paulist, 1978). Other noteworthy ecumenical works on Mary have been: Mary for All Christians by the Anglican theologian, John Macquarrie (1990); Mary through the Centuries, lectures of the noted scholar Jaroslav Pelikan, at Yale University (1996); Mary is for Everyone, papers given at four International Congresses of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1997); and Blessed One, Protestant Perspectives on Mary, edited by Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Cynthia L. Rigby.
In reexamining the writings of the original Reformers, scholars have uncovered more sympathy among the Reformers regarding Mary than succeeding generations may have had, as the divisions hardened between what was Catholic and what was Protestant. Catholics and Protestants might be surprised to learn of Martin Luther’s reverence for Mary, as can be seen in his Commentary on the Magnificat, written in 1521.
Between 1983 and 1990, Catholics and Lutheran theologians met to discuss the issues related to intercession, the saints and Mary. The summary of these discussions was published inThe One Mediator, the Saints, and Mary: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII (1992);
Since 1937, Protestant pastors and Catholic priests from France and Switzerland have conducted an ongoing dialogue on ecumenical issues. Initially, they first met at the Cistercian abbey of Notre Dame des Dombes, twenty miles north of Lyons, from which came the name of the group. Presently the group consists of twenty Lutheran or Reformed pastors and twenty Catholic priests. They are a private association, which meets yearly. Over the years, they have issued a number of documents on various theological issues. Between 1991 and 1997, they reflected on Mary’s role in salvation. The English edition of their reflections, Mary in the Plan of God and in the Communion of Saints, was printed in 2002.
On February 2, 2004, a document was signed by the members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), entitled Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ as a statement of the commission which was then submitted to the Pontifical Commission for Promoting Christian Unity and to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council for further study and evaluation. The document was issued on May 12, 2005, to be used for further study by the churches. It is available on the Vatican website (www.vatican.va) through the Pontifical Council for promoting Christian Unity.
While much progress has been made, the efforts at dialogue need to continue. Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, has included the Church’s beliefs about Mary among the five areas where fuller study is needed before there can be consensus in faith. Two of the other areas, which the Pope identifies as principle issues,...