Turn thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned. Be favorable, O Lord, be favorable to thy people, who turn to thee in weeping, fasting, and praying. For thou are a merciful God, full of compassion, long-suffering, and of great pity. Thou sparest when we deserve punishment and in thy wrath thinkest upon mercy. Spare thy people, good Lord, spare them, and let not thine heritage be brought to confusion. Hear us, O Lord, for thy mercy is great and after the multitude of thy mercies look upon us; through the merits and mediation of thy blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Theology of Horticulture II
Therefore the only question remaining is “How do we get ourselves attached to this new Vine of Christ?” The answer is that we have to be grafted in. That means that we have to be broken off the old Vine of Adam and grafted into the New Vine of Christ, which is his living Body the Church.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:3
The Church is the visible body of Christ where the word of God is truly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. Baptism is the initial and foremost sacrament of the Church, the most fundamental of the visible Church’s God-given privileges of grace. This process of breaking a branch from the old Vine of Adam and grafting it into the new Vine of Christ is precisely what happens in Holy Baptism. And it happens every time to little babies just as surely as it happens to adults who come to the Fountain of Life as believers. It is a false dichotomy to set God’s promises against God’s sovereign freedom. Those who say that God is not bound to holy baptism because that would violate his freedom are overlooking the fact that he has declared to us that baptism is his chosen instrument of the new birth and he has bound himself by his own word to the sacrament. Those who speak of the minister as trying to have control over God by the instrument of the sacraments falsely set God’s freedom against his character. One thing is certain, God is not at our beck and call; he is free and absolutely self-determined, and theologians who use sophistical arguments to overthrow the trustworthiness of the gospel sacraments of the Church will not tame him or his Church. He keeps his word and always accomplishes what he promised. For that reason the two most perfect events in which we will ever participate, in this life, are Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion. In the first sacrament we have no freedom to bring to our Lord. But in the second sacrament, we must exercise the freedom he has given us in the first, freely offering back to him what he has freely given us. Everything we have, we have been given. Christ never gave his Church empty and ineffectual rituals, nor has he left us to our own devices. In a life that is marked by betrayals, incompletion, failure, and death, God has given us two guarantees of his love and solidarity with us in the Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.
A criticism I have heard of Anglicanism is that we do not have a magisterium as does Rome. But we do have a magisterium, that is “the teaching office of the Church,” and I cannot imagine how we could be the Church without the magisterium. Correct, we do not have a magisterium like Rome’s, which means that we do not have a Pope in the modern sense of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. I say “in the modern sense” because the Pope in Rome has not always made the universal claims that he makes today, that the Bishop of Rome is the magisterium incarnate. No other bishop of the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church has ever made such an excessive, unwarranted claim. But we do have the magisterium because Christ specifically commissioned the Apostolic Church to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel, teaching…” Our bishops embody our magisterium and their chief instrument for instructing us in Catholic worship, doctrine, and life is the classical Book of Common Prayer. The depository of common prayer is that which we must hold in common. Thus any revision of the Book of Common Prayer requires such diligence in prayer and such assiduous attention to the details of Apostolic worship, doctrine, and life that revisions should be rare and never embarked upon for superficial reasons and by no means without the sensus fidelium, the “sense of the faithful.” Thus the classical Book of Common Prayer, in one of its historic forms, interprets the meaning of the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition for our jurisdiction, our parishes, and our missions. It is the duty of the clergy to promote the worship, doctrine, and life thus deemed to be our collective “bounden duty and service.”
Now, the Book of Common Prayer refers to Mary as a “pure virgin” and due honor is afforded her. Of course one may be a virgin without being pure. St. Basil the Great wrote: “I am a virgin, I have never known a woman, but I am not chaste.” There is a quality of purity, chastity, of innocence that seems fitting for Mary; note the gravity, the calm, and the poignancy of Giovanni Bellini’s Pieta. Mary has been honored in the Church as the “Mother of God” or as the Council of Ephesus (Third Ecumenical Council) puts it “Theotokos.” The Third Ecumenical Council has never been disputed within the Ecclesia Anglicana, and though the title “Theotokos” is not used in the 1928 BCP, the truth of that title is assumed. That much is common prayer, and it is our duty as faithful Anglicans to affirm such. Devotion beyond common prayer is a matter of personal piety and may be encouraged so long as it does not contradict received dogma. Anglo-Catholics, such as I, believe that the blessed departed pray for us just as we pray for them in the Holy Communion and that would include Mary. In this sense intercessory prayer is as much a part of our identity as the Church, whether here on earth or in heaven, as is the magisterium:
Let saints on earth in concert sing
With those who work is done;
For all the servants of the King
In heave’n and earth are one.
One family we dwell in him,
One Church, above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream of death
It is a great comfort that the blessed departed continue to care and pray for us. St. James wrote, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” That being said, it is not appropriate to treat Mary or any other saint as though they mediate the grace of God. Therefore even in one’s private devotions one should not affirm worship, doctrine, or a manner of life that is at odds with orthodoxy.
Our public services of worship, whether Sunday Eucharist or Prayer Book Feasts are to be celebrated in common prayer. I am an Anglo-Catholic and my personal devotions, including a devotion to Mary, run beyond common prayer, but that devotion does not conflict with orthodoxy. Nor would I presume to introduce those devotions to others Catholics against their consciences in ordinary Sunday worship. I feel not the least impoverished spiritually by their absence in the Liturgy; nor do I see any advantage here or in the next life in wearing one’s personal piety upon one’s sleeve. Please know that I am eager to help when any of you wonder about the distinctions between personal piety and common prayer.