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Mother of the Church

2009 October 11
by Gordon Reid

UnknownI was in Rome on November 21, 1964, when Pope Paul VI proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church, and thus brought to an end the Second Vatican Council. The Church of England had been invited to send two seminarians as part of the Anglican delegation to the Council, and it was a little ironic that in the end they picked myself from Cuddesdon College and Stanley Klores from St Stephen’s House, and so ended up with a Scottish and American Episcopalian. But the delegation was led by Bishop Moorman of Ripon and other Church of England representatives.

Stanley and I arrived in Rome early so that we could visit the city and old friends who were studying there. And of course it was the traditional Rome then, before the (unintended) effects of the Council had taken their toll. Clerics all wore cassocks; so the streets were full of the black and white of the Dominicans, the brown or grey of the Franciscans, and all the other varieties of monastic habit, including the Sisters of Charity in their vast white  headdresses. Every national seminary had its own colours, so you could tell the Scots College seminarians by their purple cassocks and scarlet cinctures, the Germans from the Teutonic College in scarlet with black cinctures, and of course the English from the Collegio Venerabile Inglese in simple black on black, which they wore with no little pride!

That is where Stanley and I stayed, and from the English College we were ferried every day to the last sessions and ceremonies of the Council, including the very moving Mass in St Peter’s, where the Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch symbolically removed the mutual excommunications which the Churches of East and West had hurled against each other at the Great Schism. We had a wonderful view of it all, since the ecumenical observers were seated in the box nearest the High Altar of St Peter’s. Our special treatment was so great that it is little wonder that several Roman Catholic Bishops were rumoured to have complained that you had to be a Lutheran or an Anglican to get decent seats!

For the last great ceremonies we were placed up on the top of the Bernini semicircle of pillars which surround the Piazza of St Peter’s, and from there we had the most marvellous view of the thousands of Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals from every corner of the world as they processed into the Basilica. We leaned over the balustrade between two of the huge statues of the saints with which the colonnade is crowned, and the whole square was a sea of tall white mitres, with here and there the more exotic crown of an Eastern Rite Catholic Bishop.

Then on November 21, the Pope crowned the image of the Blessed Virgin on the pillar near the bottom of the Spanish Steps and proclaimed her Mother of the Church. And in the decree that was written for this, he emphasized that this title was of such importance because it meant that Mary was the Mother of all Christians, even those separated from Rome. Several times he referred to the joy Pope John XXIII and he had had in presiding over an Ecumenical Council in which “separated brethren” had shared and even spoken, and which had taken very seriously the tragedy of schism and separation and had acted throughout to make reconciliation possible.

Fr Stanley Klores is now rector of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans, and I am Rector of St Clement’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and we both pray to Mary, Mother of the Church, and remember how incredibly privileged we were to be in the Eternal City when the title was solemnly proclaimed. And we both pray fervently that Our Lady’s eternal role in mothering the whole Church, the Body of Christ, will result one day in the corporate unity of the Church being achieved on earth, as it is in Heaven.

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