A Warm Protestant Welcome for Mary

More and more Protestants are welcoming the Virgin Mary back into their spiritual lives.

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The Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States, has long revered Mary, dedicating chapels to her, honoring her with holy days, and giving her a place in the liturgy. In its recent accord, "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ," the special Anglican-Catholic commission affirmed that followers of both religions could pray to Mary and that Catholic teachings on the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption were consistent with Anglican interpretations of the Bible.

Supporting role. Few other Protestant denominations are ready to adopt these doctrines. For them, Mary will continue to play a supporting role. She serves as "a powerful reminder that Jesus was truly and fully human," says Mark Roberts, senior pastor at Irvine (Calif.) Presbyterian Church.

Roberts says that Protestants have long appreciated Mary, but he credits Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ for taking that admiration to a new level, driving home Mary's motherly anguish and inspiring intense sympathy. "Nothing in church history has had a more significant impact on Protestant feeling for Mary than The Passion of the Christ," he asserts. "When we see the death of Jesus through the eyes of Mary, we feel the pain and horror of his suffering in a whole new way."

That doesn't mean that Protestants will be changing their theology or worship, says Roberts. But it does suggest that "the dividing wall of hostility between Catholics and Protestants has come down a bit."