Among the initial series of questions I receive from a serious inquirer about our Anglican faith is “What do y’all believe about Mary?” I welcome this question because it provides a way to demonstrate the “via media” (middle way) of Anglicanism. From our vantage point, on one extreme is a recent Pope who promoted Mary as a Co-Redeemer. And on the other extreme are those who see any devotion to her as idolatry and who rarely if ever mention her. Most Anglicans are able to find a middle, more balanced way.
To clarify, we do not see her as Co-Redeemer nor as our Mediator. The Scripture is quite clear on this point. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” ( I Tim 2:5). So we don’t have to go through Mary to approach God. And while her role in our salvation story is pivotal as the Theotokos (Mother of God), she in no more our Redeemer than is Joseph.
But second we honor her, for we are to give honor to whom honor is due (Rom 13:7). There are three holy days throughout the year that are connected to Mary directly and four when you add Christmas.
We honor her in fulfillment of her prophecy that all generations will call her blessed. (Lk 1:48). We honor her for her remarkable obedience when the will of God was revealed by the angel. We honor her because she was favored by God. (Not only did the angel say to her “Hail o favored one…” but when she was troubled by this greeting he assured her that she had indeed found favor with God ref. Lk 1: 28-30). We honor her for her wise counsel. When she was at the wedding in Cana she told the servants concerning Jesus, “Do whatever He tells you.” Her wise words should ring in our ears every day.
Hebrews 11 gives a list of heroes of the faith. Such heroes should inspire and encourage us. They are certainly more edifying as role models than sports figures or movie stars. For many Mary is the quintessential role model. When God revealed His plans through an angel, which no doubt turned her world upside down, she simply responded, “Be it unto me according to They Word.” We should pray for such humble willingness.
Because of the breadth of Anglicanism there in not universal agreement beyond what was mentioned above about her role in our lives. Some read the Articles of Religion literally and so they do not believe in the invocation of the saints. Others read in the Revelation to John of the incense in heaven representing the intercession of the saints and so they do believe that she and others in glory pray for us. Therefore some will pray a traditional rosary, others will recite biblical passages using an Anglican rosary, and some do neither. You will also not find agreement about her immaculate conception, her perpetual virginity nor her assumption into heaven. Because none of these doctrines are provable by Holy Scripture, Anglican clergy may not teach them. Individuals are free to hold them or not. We find room for disagreements on such beliefs that are not essential to the faith to be healthy.
Some argue that there is no difference between veneration and worship and so honoring saints is idolatry. This puritanical reasoning is shallow. Even a child can discern the difference between venerating our country by placing a hand over his heart and praying to God as an act of worship. Similarly we easily discern the difference between the reverence that we give to Holy Scripture and the worship we give to God. The two acts are completely unrelated. So with saints, both the living and the dead, we give honor but we reserve our worship for God alone.