Mary Mary Quite Contrary

Mark Gilbert

Mary Mary Quite Contrary.

This English nursery rhyme dates back to Reformation times during the reign of Mary I, known popularly as Bloody Mary for her violent persecution of protestant reformers including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Archbishop Cranmer was publically executed as a heretic following a Papal trial for refusing to recant his beliefs. Those beliefs form the basis of the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles on which, together with the Bible are the foundational documents of the Anglican Church in Australia.

Thomas Cranmer was killed for opposing things such as the canonization of Saints (Article 22 of the 39 articles) . Why would someone be willing to die for a cause like that? Why would someone be willing to kill someone for opposing such a thing?

Fortunately Catholic and Protestant relations have moved a long way since then, however it would be foolish to forget that speaking against the Canonization of Saints mattered enormously then and it matters enormously now.


Mary MacKillop is being declared a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of merit. That is, on the basis of her good works here on earth and claims that she is responsible for miracles now she is dead. The Roman Catholic Church is declaring that she is definitely in heaven on the basis of the things she has done. As a result of being declared a Saint, people can pray to her and through her to God because she is up there with Him already. She has His ear.

The canonization of Mary MacKillop is not a quiet affair, it is widely publicised, millions of dollars have been spent on it. She is being declared as Australia's first Saint. Not only are most of Australia's 5.1 million Catholics going to hear about this, the rest of Australia is too. Most people in Australia will hear the Catholic Church saying - people become saints on the basis of merit.

When I surveyed 50 pilgrims from around the world who came to Australia for the Catholic World Youth Day, 75% didn't know whether they were going to heaven when they died. They were unsure because they thought you have to be good enough to get to heaven, that you get to heaven on the basis of merit.

People are made saints on the basis of grace alone by God alone. God chooses his saints from amongst us sinners based entirely on whether we trust in Him. Isn't He great!

Disagreeing with the Catholic Church’s claim that they can make people saints on the basis of merit mattered 500 years ago and it matters today.

What will you say when your Catholic friends talk about Mary being “made a saint”?

My advice: say it is a bad thing, and then tell them why. God chooses sinners not saints.