The Immaculate Conception and Ecumenism

Last year, in this blog post, I tried to explain, as simply as I could, what this feast is about. For days afterwards the monastery inbox was filled with questions about Catholic devotion to Our Lady and the scriptural basis of the various doctrines attached to her name. What struck me was the amount of sheer ignorance about Marian doctrine even among those who were theologically well-read. It was not malicious ignorance, it wasn’t intentional in any way; it just was; and it reminded me that there is often a huge gulf in perception between, say, Catholics and Orthodox on the one hand, and ‘everyone else’ — a gross simplification, for which I apologize, but I don’t know how else to express it.

I wonder whether it is this kind of gulf that, practically speaking, that makes ecumenical understanding quite arduous at times. Despite the ancient division between us, Catholics and Orthodox have an understanding that goes beyond words. We’re like old cousins who share the same family history and can be comfortable with each other, even though we have gone along divergent paths. If pressed, we’ll stand together, even if at other times we have the most unholy scraps. There is not always the same ease with members of other Churches. It isn’t liturgical custom or ritual which matters so much as that shared belief which underpins and shapes the liturgy itself.

I know I have not put this very well, and speed readers in particular may take great offence at what they think I am saying, but this feast of Our Lady is a good one on which to ask a fundamental question about Christian unity. I think we often have different understandings and different expectations. Because we already share so much we can be inclined to minimalize the differences. Early in the new year we shall again be dedicating an octave of prayer to attaining the unity for which Christ prayed. It is not too early to start asking ourselves whether we are praying for what Christ prayed, or something else.


14 thoughts on “The Immaculate Conception and Ecumenism”

  1. As an uncomplicated Anglican with an evangelical background I have just read last year’s blog explaining “Immaculate Conception”. It made complete sense; thank you. The concept (sorry) of a divine baptism is wonderful. Thank you.

  2. Sister, thank you for reminding me of our conversation last year. Perhaps as I grow more in Christ, I am more comfortable with the Concept of the Immaculate Conception.

    Someone gave me a Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, another concept that I struggle with. It hasn’t stopped me welcoming what it represents and it has an honoured place in our home.

    I think that I am saying that despite my difficulties and doubts, my Catholic heritage is now flavouring and enhancing my Anglican membership, and bringing me closer than I once thought possible. God be praised.

  3. I am very grateful that my parents chose a Catholic convent as my prep school. They would write CofE as their religion, although they don’t go to church except for weddings, baptisms and funerals but chose the school for academic reasons.
    The blessings of this early experience of the Catholic way of life is a great source of enrichment of my own Anglican path. I have been know to pray the “Hail Mary” and other “Catholic” prayers at times when no other words would do.
    We worship a God who is greater than we can ever know or understand, thank heavens!

  4. The Feast days of Our Lady ( including today’s ) all feature in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer, for centuries the official Anglican Prayer Book . The Anglican position on Doctrine is that Tradition and Reason, as well as Scripture help us come to to a fuller understanding of the mysteries of faith. Blessed John Newman’s concept of the development of Doctrine is akin to this . The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady from an Anglican perspective is expressed succinctly in the words of Wordsworth , who called her ” Our tainted nature’s solitary boast’
    O Sanctissima, O Purissima , ora pro nobis ! Deo Gratias.

    • Thank you for the clarification, Clare. I thought the BCP calendar called this feast the Conception of Our Lady, which is not quite the same thing. However, I think some of the Anglican responses on this page do tend to illustrate the accuracy of my own observation, that it is not liturgy or ritual custom that divides us so much as ecclesiology. For a Catholic, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not a matter for private acceptance or rejection, any more than what we believe about Holy Orders or any other aspect of the Church’s being. I think we sometimes skirt round these questions because they are difficult and take us down roads we would rather not go — not that I myself have any answers, I might add. (And I’m just waiting for an Orthodox friend to jump in and remind me that the Orthodox do not ‘do’ original sin!)

      • Ah, I was wondering whether to wade in… Orthodox do indeed “do” original sin (except when they’re trying to obnoxiously distance themselves from everything western) but not the take on it that necessitates an Immaculate Conception…

        Strangely, after reading your post from last year and a couple of other Catholic things on the Immaculate Conception yesterday, and also being aware of the liturgical texts for the forefeast of the Conception of the Mother of God by St Anne (which we celebrate today) I was left with the feeling that the Orthodox approach to the Mother of God, or at least my subjective experience of it, is very different to the Catholic one! There are commonalities but there are also fairly significant difference, both of dogma and of “feel”. Was thinking of writing about this, but I don’t know if I’ll get to it…

        • I thought I’d lure you! Although, as I’m pretty sure you realised, my subject isn’t actually the Immaculate Conception as such, nor even the Virgin Mary, but that huge question underneath.

  5. I suspect that many of us carry around bits and bobs of misconceptions about other religions, so that when ‘you’ say “A” we hear “A,b,c,”. I think Marian devotion is one such subject.

    • You are probably right, Stan. I think lots of people do forget, however, that Catholic teaching is indivisible. We can’t, for example, choose the ‘nice bits’ of Catholic Social Teaching and ignore the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life and all that follows from it.

  6. Perhaps I am a complicated Anglican but I too read
    your blog of last year as I am not aware of this Feast
    Day. Off to The Messiah tonight I shall give it some

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