A FEATURE of Anglican sermons on the Blessed Virgin Mary is that, when it comes to the August festival that is traditionally associated with the end of her earthly life and the start of her heavenly one, so many preachers, for want of a sense of biblical warranty for any observations that they may make, return to the young mother of the incarnate Lord and give another sermon for the Annunciation. Even for most Anglican Catholics, Mary’s life is one in which the most has to be made of a handful of verses, such as her interventions at the Cana wedding reception and her presence at the foot of the cross.
It hardly needs to be said that Roman Catholic preachers and writers feel fewer inhibitions, even if, since the Second Vatican Council, they have been less inclined than they might once have been to fill in the gaps from non-scriptural sources. Fr Thomas Casey SJ’s book, noted in our review section this week, is an example of a meditative but not fanciful approach.
For Anglicans in middle age and later life, however, it may be providential that in Mary they can find a companion in invisibility and in bearing the charge of simply not “getting” Jesus and his mission. There are true aspects in which, although the word is over-used, she is counter-cultural. When everything has been said for the “selfie”, many Anglicans would still find it hard to conceive of Mary as pointing the smartphone at herself. They may wonder how healthy much communication is, even among Christians, at a time when the self-regarding and the self-opinionated are given every facility to indulge themselves, at the tap of a screen.
A Crockford preface-writer at the end of 1960s wrote: “There are times when we share the feelings of those who, when they were young, were told by their elders that they should be seen and not heard, and who, now that they are older, are told the same thing by their juniors.” It is a part of life to find oneself no longer in the centre of the frame, and one of the Christian’s challenges is how to accept this graciously. It is made hard when the process is accelerated. The Crockford writer’s teenagers are those now overseeing the move to turn the churches of the mainly middle-aged and elderly into youth-orientated resource churches; but there are also welcome signs of recognition that the old are not well served by today’s Church. One of the things that the young have to be reminded of is that they will not be young for ever. The handmaid of the Lord becomes the mother whose heart is pierced in middle age, and who is given by her Son to his disciple to form a new Christian “family” bond. If they are prepared to reflect on it, the life of Mary has lessons to be learnt by every generation that calls her blessed.