You may have registered on Tuesday that alternate side of the street parking was suspended for the day. Now that is hardly an unusual experience in this multi-cultural, multi-faith city where some group or another is regularly celebrating some special day. Of course, as world weary Manhattanites you might have simply thought “oh, the President is in town: more traffic chaos!” However, Tuesday August 15 happens to be the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church which as Episcopalians we keep as the Feast of St Mary the Virgin and the Orthodox as “the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.” In Catholic Europe, it is a major religious holiday and in places like Mexico it is kept with processions and fireworks.
We Episcopalians following in the Anglican tradition with our strong Protestant heritage (remember we were until relatively recently the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA) have been somewhat ambivalent towards the place of Mary in our religious practice. Growing up in Low Church Melbourne in the Fifties in a church dedicated to “St. Mary” we knew nothing of the various Marian festivals in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer which we used (the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Purification). They were simply not celebrated or preached about. Part of that for Anglo-Celtic Australians was the strong sectarianism between Catholics and Protestants at the time. Mary was for the Catholics. We believed in Jesus! However thankfully that all began to change with the Second Vatican Council and the Ecumenical Movement. For Anglicans one of the most fruitful outcomes of both events has been the work of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which has been quietly but effectively discussing the issues that have traditionally divided our communions. One of those topics is the place of Mary in our faith, prayer and worship. At the heart of the matter for Anglicans is owning up to the fact that Mary belongs to no one section of the church but is part of the biblical revelation which is foundational to the whole church. And secondly, facing up to the theological fact that without Mary there would be no Incarnation of Jesus! And thirdly acknowledging the presence and participation of Mary in the story of our Salvation from the Annunciation right through to Pentecost! And lastly the proclamation of Mary as “Theotokos” (the God bearer) at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The culmination of the ARCIC work on Mary was “The Seattle Statement” of 2004, entitled “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ” which is available online. It is well worth reading as it boldly deals with issues related to Marian doctrine that have classically divided Catholics and Anglicans.
The creation of the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin on August 15 in our 1979 Prayer book was one way in which our Episcopal Church restored Blessed Mary to her rightful place in our tradition.
The Collect provided by our Prayer Book (p.243) reads as follows:
“O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.