The Society exists to advance the study at various levels of the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Church, under Christ and of related theological questions; and in the light of such study to promote ecumenical devotion. Its aim is to show that in the Blessed Virgin Mary Christians of many traditions may find a focus in their search for unity.
Mary is to be seen as the daughter of grace, not as the mother of grace: for she too is saved only by the loving-kindness of the Word. A future development of ecumenical liturgy may well be this glad recalling of Mary as the sign of salvation. Ross Mackenzie, theologian and pastor
The Society was founded when, in 1967, a group of friends of several Christian traditions, recognising the need, met to discuss ways of ensuring that this vital element in religious experience should be given an adequate place in current dialogue. Among these friends Martin Gillett, a Roman Catholic layman, thereupon dedicated the remaining years of his life to promoting an ecumenical understanding of Mary’s place in the life of the Church. The Society quickly prospered. It has attracted membership and support from Church leaders, scholars and pastors, lay theologians, and Christian people from all walks of life.
The Society was founded in Britain, but there are now members in many countries throughout the world. There are formal branches in the United Kingdom, Dublin, Rome, and a Chapter in North America; there are also some informal groups where smaller numbers get together. Contact between members and branches is maintained especially by means of our Newsletter, which is issued to all members three times a year together with a pamphlet, normally the text of a paper given at a meeting of the Society which deserves wider circulation.
Prayer, study and fellowship form the threefold pattern of the Society’s life and work, and it is intended that at least two of these elements – Liturgy, worship and prayer; Lecture, seminar and discussion; Hospitality, fellowship and interest in other Christian traditions – should be included in every gathering of the Society.
Every form of worship should have a biblical imprint. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin cannot be exempt from this general orientation of Christian piety. What is needed is that texts of prayers and chants should draw their inspiration and their wording from the Bible, and above all that devotion to the Virgin should be imbued with the great themes of the Christian message. Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, 1974.
With regard to prayer, the Society has its own Ecumenical Office of Mary the Mother of Jesus, with material drawn from many Christian traditions and countries. It is used at meetings of the Society and in members’ personal devotions, as well as being a source-book for wider ecumenical gatherings. Every member is given a copy of this Office. Locally, pilgrimages may be made to Marian shrines. Some members have formed small prayer groups; branches have occasional quiet days or devotional meetings, and our larger conferences always include ecumenical worship, having careful regard to the practice of different traditions.
Mary is wholly one of us and wholly yielded to God, the Mother of God who through grace is the daughter of her Son. May evangelicals who rejoice in her Son’s Gospel take their proper share in calling her `blessed’, who accepted so fully that grace by which they live. John de Satgé, Anglican theologian.
Our work of study is centred particularly in our regular International Congresses, conferences and branch meetings at which formal papers on Marian and ecumenical topics are given and discussed. Many of these papers are published, either to accompany a Newsletter or in a formal collection: the most recent being Mary is for Everyone, edited by William M. McLoughlin and Jill Pinnock (Gracewing 1997). Mary and the Churches (Columba Press, 1987), and Mary in Doctrine and Devotion (Columba Press, 1990) all ed. Alberic Stacpoole OSB are also available. Some Congress papers have also been collected in whole issues of One in Christ and The Way. These publications are all obtainable from the Society: a full list of the Society’s occasional papers is also available. Members have also published their own books on Mary, for example, Michael O’Carroll CSSp, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopaedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Dominican Publications, 1984); and John Macquarrie, Mary for All Christians (Collins, 1991).
Fellowship is the third part of the pattern of the Society’s life, whether it is just a cup of tea and a chat in someone’s home after a prayer group, a pot-luck supper at a branch meeting, or shared meals and conversations at day conferences or residential International Congresses, where many new friendships are made with members from different countries and traditions; the venue is usually a cathedral/university city, and there are visits to local places of interest or pilgrimage.
From the beginning it was agreed that membership of the Society should be open to all who would be willing to give it support, and that all Christian traditions should be accorded equal respect.
Between the Mother of the Church and our present work for the unity of the Church there is a close and important link. Mary was included in the history of salvation and of the Church’s mission from the very beginning … Accordingly, we who form today’s generation of disciples of Christ all wish to unite ourselves with her in a special way. Pope John Paul II, in a letter to our Society.
The Society is governed by an elected Council, which includes, besides representatives of Branches, well-known theologians and ecumenists of various Christian traditions, who advise on the Society’s structure and future programmes: among them are Cardinal Edward Cassidy (President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity), Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, Dr John Newton (formerly Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council), and Lord Runcie (formerly Archbishop of Canterbury), with many other distinguished names. The Society is entirely self-supporting and has to pay its way: there is an annual subscription, which entitles members to receive notices of meetings and to receive publications as they appear. Each year in March there is an Annual General Meeting, at which all paid-up members are entitled to vote.