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Friday, November 16, 2007

Catholics, Lutherans and devotion to Mary

Pastors in the parish cannot always keep up with all of the happenings that affect their respective church bodies and how these affect the perceptions of members and non-members alike. By their call they are placed locally so local, and often personal, concerns predominate their time and efforts. A challenge and joy that happens locally comes from conversation and discussion with people, inside and outside the Church, and the subsequent learning that takes place between pastor and people.

Pastors often learn what is happening from afar, as it were, about current events. Something is gleaned from a newspaper, magazine or journal article. Something is heard in passing on the radio or seen on the television. The internet allows for quick learning. Blogs provide quick commentary. Still, pastors must often rely on others for learning and keeping up on those matters that affect the Church and those topics and issues that are of interest to them on either or both the professional and personal levels.

As a seminary student in the mid-to-late 1980s I was honored to have an article published in the student journal concerning the 450th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession (1980) and what that anniversary meant in terms of Lutheran-Roman Catholic relations. This article was one article in the journal that was wholly dedicated to the topic of the relationship between Lutheranism and the Catholic Church. My article focused mainly on the roles of both the Augsburg Confession and then the Book of Concord as a whole although it made some mention of a number of many of the topics that dominate such discussions. Another article, written by a fellow student, discussed the question of Mary. I mention this because now, looking back as a parish pastor, I marvel that I wrote the article and then saw it published. Moreso, I appreciate today how great an effect questions of devotion and practice have on how Christians look at each other. The question of devotion to Mary is one that can too easily be seen as one where the line is drawn in the sand.

All of this is simply meant to introduce the reader to an article entitled True Devotion to Mary that has appeared in the latest issue of the journal First Things. The article is undoubtedly written on the occasion of the issuing of The One Mediator, the Saints, and Mary which is the eighth volume from a dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics.

The author of the article is Catholic but don't let that keep you from reading on. The topics of Mary and Marian devotion are too big to cover in this post but these excerpts from the article provide a great introduction for the sceptic:

For example, this "maxim" regarding "rightly ordered faith and rightly ordered devotion" - "If you would draw close to Jesus, draw close to Mary; if you would draw close to Mary, draw close to Jesus." The author continues, "Anything that pits Jesus against Mary or that depicts them as rivals for devotion is disordered. The entirety of Mary's role is encapsulated in her injunction at the wedding of Cana, 'Do whatever he tells you.' These are the final words of Mary in the New Testament and, in substance, the final words of Mary forever." (p. 49)

and

"Disordered Marian devotion has been with us since the beginning of the Christian story . . . John Paul II vigorously called for 'the evangelization of popular piety.' And, of course, this is a theme powerfully underscored in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. John Paul said that devotion to Mary and other saints as expressed in patronal feasts, pilgrimages, and other forms of piety, 'should not sink to the level of a mere search for protection or for material goods or for bodily health. Rather the saints should be presented to the faithful as models of life in imitation of Christ as the sure way that leads to him.' The criterion set forth in the Catechism for rightly and wrongly ordered devotion is unequivocal: 'What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines, in turn, its faith in Christ.' Discerning what is true and what is false devotion to Mary and the other saints engages truths that are trinitarian, Christological, pneumatological, and ecclesial. Any devotion that displaces, overshadows, or obscures the triune God, that impugns the mercy of the one mediator Jesus Christ, that neglects the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, or that tends to separate a particular saint from the whole body of Christ is a disordered devotion." (p. 49)

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