Marian devotion

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is central to the story of the Presentation and became increasingly prominent in both personal prayer and liturgical worship in both Eastern and Western Christianity. Devotion to her had its germ as early as the second century and her story was elaborated during the patristic period. She was believed herself to have been miraculously conceived by aged parents and her perpetual virginity became an article of faith for the Roman tradition from Jerome onwards. The fourth-century title Theotokos (Mother of God) was, in original intent, primarily Christological, affirming the unity of the human and divine natures in Christ, but it undoubtedly stimulated veneration of Mary—eventually in a distorted manner. The term's emphasis on Christ's divinity reflected a tendency to underplay his full human reality and, in due course, by the early Middle Ages, to dwell on his awesome role as mankind's future judge. In this scenario Mary was the human, feminine figure to whom the guilty might turn for intercession with her Son. Contemporaneously there was, it is true, a new devotion to the sacred humanity of Jesus, notably in Bernard of Clairvaux and Francis of Assisi (and not found to the same extent in the Eastern church); but Marian devotion became—and has remained—immensely important in spirituality and liturgy; witness the popularity of the Hail Mary, the use of the Rosary, the singing of the 'Salve Regina' which celebrates Mary's part in redemption and sees her as the mediatrix of its victory and blessings. The Second Vatican Council took a momentous decision, in terms of the theology signalled thereby, when it included discussion of Mary in the document on the Church and not in a separate document all to herself. It also avoided the medieval title 'Mother of the Church'.

There is a modern re-thinking of the place of Mary which has led perhaps to a correction of former imbalance. Feminists have seen in devotion to her a perverse testimony to the male clerical oppression of women, who are simply to be submissive and obedient 'handmaidens' in a Church dominated by men. She has been adored, but only once she is placed on a 'safe' pedestal of virginity, and made innocuous in liturgy—quite remote from the potentially threatening women of real life. But in Latin America, people are now coming to see in her a prophetess of liberation who sang the Magnificat, who listened attentively to God's word and was open to his will, however revolutionary it might be.

The Ministry of the Word

Of another order is the tendency of the Word to dominate Protestant worship. Liturgy is a union of Word and Sacrament, but it has often been held that Christianity was born in preaching. With the tradition of the Hebrew prophets in the background, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God and the first apostles went preaching into the world, outwards from Jerusalem. The Fathers preached, as did the priests and friars of the Middle Ages, but there can be no doubt that the Reformation re-emphasized its necessity, and to some extent substituted the pulpit for the confessional (McAdoo 1949:12). Moralists, like Bishop Butler, taught through sermons, the Evangelicals (like the later Anglo-Catholics) preached to convert individuals. In Great Britain, from the last half of the nineteenth century until at least 1914, the great Free Church preachers drew such crowds that they had to build larger chapels (Munson 1991:112-14). Eloquence 'seemed to make heaven near and the invisible clearly seen', wrote J.C.Carlile. Preaching certainly overshadowed the Sacrament in Nonconformist Churches, and the primary purpose of going to church was to hear a preacher. And if the preacher had sufficient gifts and graces, they rarely came empty away, and sometimes they would emerge changed people. It is rarely so now, though Evangelicals have managed to retain the tradition of substantial preaching while also giving a greater place than in earlier days to the sacrament of Communion.

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