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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Hailing Mary

According to “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ,” an 81-page statement released May 16 by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, Anglicans and Catholics:

• Agree that “Christ’s redeeming work reached ‘back’ in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings.”

• “Affirm ... that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture.”

• Acknowledge a common “rich tradition which recognizes Mary as ever virgin.”

• Venerate Mary as long as “the honor paid to Christ remains preeminent” because redemption lies only with Jesus Christ.

Catholic teachings say Mary was free from sin (the immaculate conception) and a lifelong virgin. Problematic for Protestants are Catholic beliefs that Mary was bodily taken into heaven at her life’s end (the assumption of Mary), and that she hears prayers and intercedes before God.

The commission’s statement acknowledges some Catholics’ “excessive exaltation” of Mary. It suggests that Anglicans needn’t accept the immaculate conception and assumption doctrines since the two churches weren’t in communion when the two dogmas were proclaimed in 1854 and 1950, respectively.

“Lutherans protested the assumption in 1950, saying there’s no biblical evidence for it,” says Eric Gritsch, professor emeritus, Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.). During his time on the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue in North America from 1971-1992, Gritsch says Lutherans “agreed with Catholics that Mary ... is an image that reflects the church. The Lutheran Confessions affirm that Mary is forever virgin and the mother of God (Book of Concord, eds., Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, page 300). But we do not expect assistance from her in a special way through prayers.”


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