Emma Forward offers some personal reflections on the significance of Mary for all Christian women

As you will have read in last month’s new Directions, this February saw ARCIC return to be discussed at General Synod, with a specific focus on Mary.

Despite concerns, the debate and vote went surprisingly well; there were several excellent speeches by those of a Catholic tradition and by sympathizers. I was not called to speak this time, but had wanted to point out to sceptics what Our Lady can bring to the Christian experience of women. My speech for that debate is printed here.

Distinct experiences

Recent debates about gender in the Church have called us to reflect on how God created us ‘male and female’. In doing so we are reminded of how men and women are sometimes given roles distinct from one another.

Notably, there are particular experiences in life that only a woman can go through: the miracle of pregnancy, the joys and demands of motherhood, what it is to be a wife, a daughter, a sister. With these come the difficulties: the physical strain of pregnancy, the anxiety of motherhood and for some (Mary included) the indescribable pain of watching your child suffer or even of losing them completely.

Providing comfort

When facing the challenges of the roles in life that God has intended for us, we Christian women look first to Scripture for comfort and example. From the Holy Gospel, we understand

primarily Christ’s suffering for all mankind and we know that his capacity for sympathy is limitless.

Moreover, for women there is further comfort to be had by identifying in Scripture the mother of God and her direct experience of all that it is to be female. That is a gift from God to all womankind: there is a holy and perfect woman who has gone before us and knows feminine existence first hand.

Mary’s role

Let us go back to the report and the Faith and Order Advisory Group’s (FOAG’s) response. ARCIC may be well advised to keep in mind what Mary means to women, but this is not the same as is demanded in paragraph 6 of the FOAG report, which calls for engagement with ‘feminist readings’ of Mary.

The definition of ‘feminism’ is a debate for another day, but in my view its shortcomings are evident: it is outdated and reductionist. Surely Our Lady is above such a secular and political framework.

To me, her role is simple: she is someone whose femininity enabled man’s salvation. In other words, when we see Mary’s example, we see God’s view of the intrinsic value of the female condition.

So, with Mary in the picture as someone who feels the joys and struggles of womanhood from direct experience, the spiritual needs of women are heeded. With her value properly appreciated, God’s gift to us of having shared in our earthly life is made complete.