By Graham Glover -
This Friday, 15 August, the calendars of Lutherans, Anglicans, and perhaps some other liturgically minded Protestants calls for the celebration of ‘St. Mary – Mother of our Lord’. On this same day, Roman Catholics will celebrate the ‘Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ and the Orthodox the ‘Dormition of the Theotokos’.
Unfortunately, this feast does not fall on a Sunday, which means most Protestants will hear nothing of it this year. They will not meditate on the readings, the hymns, or the propers assigned for this day. I highly doubt many Lutheran parishes will even reference it in the Prayers of the Church on Sunday morning. And this is sad. For those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, it’s tragic, as venerating Mary does nothing but point people to her Son. Yet it’s hardly surprising. In fact, I think it’s emblematic of Protestantism’s greatest heresy – ignoring the role that the Blessed Virgin Mary plays in our faith.
I know this is a strong statement. It’s a stinging indictment of the movement to which I belong and a church body of which I am a pastor. But as much as I wish it weren’t true, I’m afraid it is. We Protestants say we hold the Blessed Mother in high esteem. Our calendars even have a few days set aside during the year to honor her. But this is nothing short of window dressing, as the Blessed Virgin Mary has little to do with the faith we confess. And this must change. We Protestants have to do better. To ignore the Blessed Virgin is to ignore her Son, something no follower of the Christ should ever desire to do.
For starters, I’ve always found it ironic that we who proclaim ‘Sola Scriptura’ seem to ignore the Scriptures when Mary tells us in her Magnificat: “from now on all generations will call me blessed.” But we do – that is, we Protestants almost always ignore this commendation, thereby betraying our own hermeneutic.
How often (if ever) do Protestants refer to Mary as the Blessed Virgin, the Blessed Mother, etc.? We certainly respect her, but we most assuredly do not treat her as the most noble gem in all of Christendom [after her Son], as our own Martin Luther referred to her.
Rather, we lump her together with the other saints of the New Testament. But the Blessed Mother is nothing of the sort. She is no ordinary saint. She is the saint of saints. She is the Theotokos – the Mother of God, a title given her at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and echoed in the Lutheran Book of Concord. The Blessed Mother is the example that all Christians should emulate. Her “Yes” to the angel Gabriel is an act of faith that sets the standard for all of the Church to follow. And yet when was the last time you heard a sermon, sat through a Bible Class, or read a Protestant theologian commend the Blessed Virgin Mary as such?
Protestants are quick to criticize Rome for declaring as dogma of the Church the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and the Bodily Assumption in 1950. “These things are nowhere in the Scriptures!” Protestants lament. I say, who cares? Is it that offensive to suggest that the God-Bearer was wiped clean of original sin in a single act of grace by the One whom she would bring into the world? Does is not make sense that the New Eve would be a spotless ark for her Son, the Messiah?
The Immaculate Conception isn’t about Mary, it’s about Jesus, and to speak of His Mother as sinless (as Luther and other Reformers did) is a most salutary thing to do, especially considering that she remained a virgin throughout her earthly life (a universally accepted belief even among the most radical of Protestant reformers and a teaching taught in the Lutheran Confessions). And her Bodily Assumption? I guess the examples of Enoch and Elijah mean nothing? Again, what is so theologically offensive about this teaching that is deeply rooted in the Church’s tradition? Do we Lutherans, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confessions teaches, no longer believe that this woman prays for the Church?
To ignore the Blessed Virgin Mary makes no sense. Without her our Christology is shot. Without her our hermeneutics are insignificant. Without her our understanding of sin and grace is incomplete. Without her we cannot call ourselves part of the Body of Christ. This woman is our Mother, commended to the Church by our Lord Himself. And to ignore her is something no Christian should ever do.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum!