Sunday is a day or the day (depending on your Christian tradition) to commemorate and celebrate the life and faithfulness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. My Eastern brothers and sisters call her the Theotokos, from the Greek for God-Bearer (or, roughly, Mother of God). Now, I'm a Lutheran, so for most of my life, I haven't had much to do with Mary. But I'm making up for lost time. It seems meet and right (and perhaps even salutary) that all Christians come to a renewed appreciate\ion for and devotion to Our Lady. To wit, these points and a commentary.
First, that the Western Church has all but abandoned the title Theotokos seems to me to be bizarre. At the Council of Ephesis (400-something -- sorry, my history is really bad), the Church Fathers (I know ... ) declared that the appropriate title for Jesus' mother is "Theotokos" and not (as some -- notoriously the Nestsorians -- would have had it) the "Christotokos'" -- the mother of (the) Christ. Last evening a theology-professor friend of mine argued on behalf of the Nestorian signifier because of it is less likely to offend and mislead non-Christians (notably Muslims) for whom the idea of God's being birthed is rank blasphemy. Now, I think that language is always a problem. But here doesn't language serve exactly the point we seek to make: That God took on human existence, thereby incorporating all that is human into the Godhead and all that is divine into humanity? (Remember: The "naming" controversy was not about Mary per se, but rather about Christology -- i.e., about who and of what nature/s Jesus Messiah was.)
But I think my friend does have a point on a decree of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (perhaps 500 -something) which declared the Theotokos "Ever Virgin". To the extent that that decree is used to argue that Our Lady's hymen was never punctured -- even during the birth -- seems to me to raise more questions about the humanity of Jesus than it answered. If Jesus' birth (we'll hold off on his conception, thank you) were so extraordinary that it violated all the laws of physiology, what does that say about his humanity (specifically, his " true" humanity)? Again, the Council was addressing, not the physical condition of the mother of Jesus, but rather the nature of his identity and being. But did they hand down something to us that is simply too much work to explain or revitalize or rehabilitate to be necessary? (Can anyone tell me the status of this decree in the Church?)
Lutherans have solved the problems and lost the joy and awe associated with Mary and her place in the "economy" of salvation by simply ignoring her. An interesting development: We kept the baby and threw the mother out with the bath water. That is both unwarranted and unwise. Luther knew that, and (according to the translations in the American Edition of his works) advised calling on her with these words" "O Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, ... Hail to you! Blessare are you" (LW, vol. 21, p. 322). He insisted that such prayer is part of "accord[ing] her the honor that is due her" (ibid. p. 324).
So, then, why all the hullabaloo about praying to the Theotokos? It seems to me that "the great cloud of witnesses" that surrounds and supports us in our lives of faith is not limited to the saints of our own time and place. Rather, the saints of all times and places make themselves available to us -- both by their examples (renewed in recounting their faithful lives) and by their intercessions on our behalf. (The Lutheran Confessions grant that the saints pray for us; they are, of course I grant, less supportive of our praying to them for those prayers.) And just as we may and ought to request prayers from our brothers and sisters in our individual congregations (cf. the intercessions or prayers of the people), so may we invoke the prayers of the saints in heaven -- and pre-eminent among them the mother of our Lord. The vast majority of Christians in the world recognize this simple and not-necessarily-troubling fact.
I don't mean to suggest that the saints -- or even Mary -- offer any special favor or merit; nor do I suggest that they offer any kind of access to God unavailable to us through Jesus. And certainly don't believe or suggest that we have to work through some other channel to achieve direct access to God -- Father, Son, and Spirit -- than by our own prayer.
But isn't it time we get with the system, here. We're missing out on a whole lot of important stuff if we "children of the Reformation" continue our indignity toward the mother of the Lord of the Church.
As I once said, "I shall raise my daughter to join Father Martin [Luther] in his prayer, "Ave Maria!"