Mary MacKillop & Canonisation

Guest blogger Richard Humphrey, The Dean of Hobart, writes:

The religious life of Australia takes a big step this weekend with the canonisation of Mary MacKillop as the first Australian Saint recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, now to be called St. Mary of the Cross.  You could hardly miss this event with the amount of publicity, even flags are flying in our streets.

I have read many comments about Mary this week and they all take a similar line.  So our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, noting her work in education and social justice said “This event recognises a courageous woman of willing spirit and deep faith. … Mary’s example lives and shines to this day”  Tim Costello from World Vision Australia said that her story resonated with Australians because of her courage and strength, her authenticity and her perseverance.

Without doubt there is much to give thanks for in her contribution to the Christian heritage of Australia.

Without wishing to be a naysayer, however, I have to wonder if this step is really one in the right direction.  For canonisation in the Roman Catholic Church is not simply recognition of a life of ministry but recognition of a supposed ongoing ministry.  So Bishop Christopher Prowse of Sale writes “There is joy because one of us, an Australian, has become a saint! …As a saint we can rely on her intercession … Saint Mary of the Cross, pray for us.”

Intercession by saints is very hard to reconcile with the biblical image of Jesus and the Holy Spirit interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:26-27) and of Jesus being the only mediator we need: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” (1Timothy 2:5-6).  To focus so much on Mary is to distract from the God she served and the Lord who saved her, Jesus Christ of the Cross.

Furthermore the whole language of “Saint” as someone special is problematic as it is the common New Testament word for all Christians as the start of most of Paul’s letters show.  All who believe in Jesus as Lord are saints, not based on what they have done but on what Jesus has done for them.  Christians are set apart by God to be holy, to live for him wherever they find themselves. 

Here Mary is a great example to us.  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson writes “… no one in this country may ever again say that genuine holiness is not for them, that they can settle for being ‘ordinary’ Christians.  If there are secrets to her holiness, then surely they consist in total integrity, in following what is right even when others condemn, in a profound generosity of spirit, and in constantly, in every new situation asking the same question, ‘What is the most loving thing I can do here?’ “

If we follow that path it will be big step in the right direction.

Also, Lent: Tiger Woods and Mary MacKillop.


Mary MacKillop & Canonisation — 2 Comments

  1. I have difficulty with the view that Jesus is the only mediator we need and the use of prayer for the world and the church by believers. If mortals can intercede for others then why not souls we recognise as saints.
    Is the Dean falling victim to the antipapist propaganda which would have mortals believe that papists equate saints with Jesus?
    As an Anglican who believes in the immortality of the soul I take issue with the concept of mortal prayer or intercession being valuable but the prayers of the departed not being so.

  2. Sorry you have difficulty with the idea but the scripture cannot be clearer as to the unique role of Jesus. By the same standard I am not a victim of “antipapist propoganda” but simply critiquing with scripture the Roman Catholic theory of saints (which does not equate saints with Jesus but certainly diminishes his place as the recent publicity around the canonisation demononstrated).
    By the standard of Scripture we to not recognise anyone as saints, saints are made by the work of Jesus and is a suitable title for all who trust in him.
    Without getting into the issue of the immortality of the soul (again not a scriptural idea, immortality is a gift of God and we look forward to a new creation, please read NT Wright Surprised by Hope) Scripture certainly pictures those awaiting the new heavens and the new earth as praying “How long” Revelation 6:10 so the souls of the departed may be interceding but we are not encouraged to ask them to intercede on our behalf. Our prayers are valuable, theirs presumably are, but we are not to pray to them. Rather we have direct access to God through Jesus who with the Holy Spirit intercedes with us.

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