Mary - The Secret Joy of Christians

The difference between Anglo-Catholics and Anglican Catholics

When you come to the Holy Catholic Church Anglican Rite (HCC-AR) from some other Church you become a different kind of Christian. This is because the HCC-AR is a different kind of Church, a truly Catholic Church - as that was understood before Christendom began to break up a thousand years ago. If, before you joined the HCC-AR, you were a member of a 'High Church' Anglican congregation - an 'Anglo-Catholic' - you may have fully believed all the ancient Catholic doctrines concerning Our Lady, used all the right prayers, and followed all the traditional devotions to her. Admittedly some of your fellow Anglicans may not have approved, but you believe the same now as you did then, so what has changed?

In the days when Christendom was still united Christians believed - and true Catholic Christians still believe - five things about Our Lady: 1. That she is the Mother of God (Theotokos, “the God bearer” in Greek). 2. That she has always remained a Virgin, even after the birth of Jesus. 3. That she was free from personal sin throughout the whole of her life on earth (Conception). 4. That she has fulfilled the WHOLE plan of God for us (Assumption). 5. That she is our intercessor in heaven. Even when Christendom broke up and Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholics would have nothing to do with each other, they all STILL believed these five things about the Virgin Mary - and they still do. The reason why they still go on believing is because God the Holy Spirit keeps on telling us these five things are true. The Holy Sprit tells us this through the Holy Tradition, his abiding, guiding presence with the Church. The Holy Spirit, through the Holy Tradition, keeps us, heart and soul, focused upon Jesus who is the source of all Truth. That Truth includes the role and destiny of the Virgin Mary, His earthly Mother.

The five Marian doctrines tell us about the WHOLE Plan of Salvation. They tell us this through the story of the Blessed Virgin - her preparation for the role of Mother of the Saviour, her cooperation with the will and grace of God, her total dedication (in her case through a life of virginity). They tell us also what is at the end of the Way of Salvation - the complete package, so to speak. Mary has traveled even beyond the final Resurrection, she is filled with the glory of God, sharing, as far as it is possible for a human being, the divine life itself. In the Mother of God the Plan of Salvation is complete and already at work among us. Mary is still herself, she is not hidden away from us in heaven, any more than our Lord himself (who is always present with us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit). Just as she was chosen to be the earthly Mother of Jesus, so she is now the Mother of us all. Through her Son she cares for us, she prays for us, she acts to guide and help us. Anyone who does not realize this has lost out on a whole dimension of the Faith - and many have lost out because of an idea introduced many centuries ago.

For as long as the Church on earth allowed itself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, through keeping the Holy Tradition, it remained united in a common Faith. During those first thousand years, however, an idea grew up among Christians in the West that Jesus had committed special powers to St. Peter and to his successors, the Bishops of Rome. The earliest written record of the Holy Tradition is the New Testament and this record was now interpreted as giving the Roman Pope authority over all the Christian Churches - the Holy Tradition was being set aside. What God had planned as a FAMILY the 'Papalists' were turning into a RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION under central control. The Bible was no longer being used as the foremost witness to the Holy Tradition but as a tool in the hands of merely human opinion and ideology.

By the end of the Middle Ages the Western Church was dominated by the authority of the Roman Pope. Much doctrinal waywardness and abuse of power had crept in. The Western Church, however, still maintained the five Marian doctrines, a constant reminder that the Church is a FAMILY and not an ORGANIZATION. Reform was needed but when it came it led many Christians even further away from the true understanding of the Church. The leaders of the Protestant Reformation set out to purify the Church and looked to the Bible to provide the blue-print for reform. Just as the Papalists had used the New Testament to support their ideas of what the Church should be, so now the Reformers did the same. Anything that was not in the Bible (as they interpreted it) had to be taken out of the Church. The guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Holy Tradition was ignored and purely human ideas prevailed. Yes, Jesus Christ was still worshipped and gratefully acknowledged as God and Saviour, but the Marian doctrines were thrown out, along with papal authority, as being 'contrary to Scripture'. The Reformers believed they were returning to the pure Faith; in fact, like the Papalists, they were reinforcing the spirit of rationalism - of merely human opinion - for them the Church remained an ORGANIZATION run on 'scriptural' instead of ‘papal’ lines.

Among the Churches of the Reformation, the Anglican Church retained many of the ancient ways and traditions, preserving many things which more zealous Reformers rejected as 'Romish'. It was on the basis of this heritage that, more than a century and a half ago, the 'Anglo-Catholic' movement began to restore the ancient Faith. The Anglo-Catholics faced bitter opposition from Protestant-minded members of the Anglican Church, but made headway nevertheless - even achieving the fight to acknowledge the Marian doctrines. Even so the restored doctrines were established, not as the belief of the whole Anglican Church in harmony with the Holy Tradition, but as the 'private opinion’ of those who were satisfied that there was a 'biblical foundation' for them. This is why so many 'traditionalist' Anglo-Catholics have been prepared to stay on in the Anglican Communion - while they are allowed to continue in their 'private opinion'. Other Anglo-Catholics have embraced all kinds of radical changes because the 'private opinion' basis of belief is not only Protestant but also rationalistic (and thus captured easily by ideologies of all kinds).

The difference between the Anglican Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic is as follows. The Anglo-Catholic will pick and chose between doctrines he regards as 'essential to salvation' and those which are ‘inessential', mere pious opinions. The Marian doctrines will be placed in this second category and the Anglo-Catholic can remain in a Protestant Church - provided it is tolerant of his eccentricities. He will, of course, never 'un-church' those who believe otherwise because, for him, the Church is a religious ORGANIZATION based on 'private opinion'. The Anglican Catholic, however, knows that the Faith and the Church form a 'complete package' based upon the Holy Tradition -the presence of the Holy Spirit himself. The Marian doctrines will thus be seen as a natural part of the total package. A Church formed by the Holy Tradition is quite different from one based on 'private opinion'. The second is no more than a religious ORGANIZATION however much it may claim to be 'Catholic'. The first is a manifestation of the Body of Christ, the New Life in Christ, in which, as a 'secret joy', we discover the presence of the Mother of God.