An Interesting Prayer to Mary

I recently came across the following, one of three prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the new (2013) German-language official hymnal Gotteslob (“Praise of God”). Below is my translation of it. (The original German is given at the end of this post for reference.)

My first thought was: how typically postconciliar, progressive, German Catholic!

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, mind you. But it reads like the typical work of a committee in the early 21st century, with its bending over backward to emphasize, rightly, in my view, the utter dependence of Mary upon the saving grace of God. Ecumenical sensitivities are clearly uppermost. Not only is the text biblical in spirit; it is written as if to go as far as possible in meeting the objections of Protestants to historic Catholic Marian piety.

Read it and see what you think:

O blessed Virgin and Mother of God,
how very little and lowly
were you esteemed,
and yet God looked upon you
with abundant graces and riches
and has done great things for you.
Indeed, you were not at all worthy of this.
But high and wide, above and beyond your merit,
is the rich, overflowing grace of God in you.
How good, how blessed are you
for all eternity, from the moment
you found such a God!

I had to find out where this prayer came from, to see if my intuitions were correct.

Nope.

Martin Luther, 1521 – four years after the 95 Theses.

awr

 

Original:

O du selige Jungfrau und Mutter Gottes,
wie bist du so gar nichts
und gering geachtet gewesen,
und Gott hat dich dennoch so überaus gnädig
und reichlich angesehen
und große Dinge an dir gewirkt.
Du bist ja deren keines wert gewesen.
Und weit und hoch über all dein Verdienst hinaus
ist die reiche, überschwängliche
Gnade Gottes in dir.
O wohl dir, selig bist du
von der Stund an bis in Ewigkeit,
die du einen solchen Gott gefunden hast!

 

20 comments

  1. I would just correct Luther in the last sentence so it doesn’t say: “from the moment you found such a God!”, but: “from the moment such a God found you!”.

  2. Most interesting. “You were not at all worthy of this… above and beyond your merit…” suggests that Mary was a simple common girl who cooperated with God’s plan. That’s a lovely sentiment, but I’m not sure how it squares with our belief in her immaculate conception. The IC seems to suggest that she was not at all common. Is this another both/and?

    1. @Scott Pluff:
      Is sin the only thing that would make a human unworthy to be the Mother of God? I think radical other-ness between Creator and created is a proper part of the human condition, prior to and apart from the reality of sin. Mary, sinless as she was, had no claim on God to be the Mother of His Son. At least, that’s how I’d understand this.

    2. @Scott Pluff:
      I don’t see the incongruence between that sentiment and the dogma. Actually, it would be an Augustinian and a Thomist thing to say that she was chosen to be immaculately conceived without consideration of her future merit, i.e. ante praevisa merita.

      God has “looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness”, the lowliness she has without God, and since God has looked upon her, “from now on will all ages call”, her, “blessed”. Her blessedness, although it is her’s and it is highest among all living creatures, proceeds from God, and not from herself.

      So… IMO, it squares.

  3. That explains it. How utterly lovely that our Lutheran brethren are reaching back into a part of division that may never have been Luther’s!

    If it were a modern prayer: how little were you esteemed by the patriarchs of your time; and yet God chose to enter your DNA to save all of Creation, with abundant…; indeed, you could not be…; from the moment you encountered the Divine Mystery…

    A prayer that could be an icon of Wonder, as Mary was/is/shall be. Repurposed with modern lenses, i will make it so in my ministry…

  4. The moment I started reading this, I thought of Luther (and I say this as a “progressive” German Catholic). For Anthony Ruff’s purposes, maybe I was too aware of the fact that Luther was so intent on making Mary inactive and all-dependent on God (so as to be able to stress both Christ’s work and also Mary’s importance, if only in being a humble recipient) not to recognize him in this prayer right away.

  5. 1. Yes the German reflects that God had found her (not the reverse), ie Mary.

    2. The Unaltered Augsburg Confession (1530) which addresses the concerns of the Lutherans toward the 16th century papacy has this to say about Christ and Mary: “…they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did assume the human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary…”

    Just some fyis.

    1. @George Rahn:

      Here’s the last line:
      “die du einen solchen Gott gefunden hast!”

      The “du hast” is addressed to Mary, and “einen solchen Gott” is the masculine accusative. So it indeed says that Mary found such a God.

      I share the concern entirely that it’d be better to say that God found Mary. But be it noted: our concern is that Luther’s prayer doesn’t sound… Lutheran enough, and gives to much initiative to the human!

      awr

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Are you guys over-interpreting the German here, and/or judging it too much on the basis of the English you have in mind? When I say something like “Ich habe Gnade gefunden in Deinen Augen” this does not stress MY action of finding but instead means that I was blessed to discover grace (say, in the encounter with God).

  6. Luther’s use of strong conjugated past verbs definitely marks him out as a northern German. Or perhaps not? Did the split between past conjugation in northern Germany and Austro-Bavarian use of an auxiliary verb (haben) + inf already begin in the 16th century? Musing.

    Luther’s later hatred of the canon missae and more specifically the hostia, in my view, diverted more advanced Mariology which, outside of the recitation of the Magnificat in the Lutheran offices, could have cross-influenced peri-medieval Catholicism. Luther’s (not unjustified at all) distaste for the chantry perhaps diverted rivers of his intellect in a less productive direction.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:

      I regret characterizing Luther as harboring a hatred of the canon missae and the hostia. Rather, perhaps it is better to say that he hated the application of the fruits of the Mass to vain repetitions for benefactors. The better way, for Luther, came in his notion that the Verba are constitutional for the People of God. Put another way, in our baptism we are endowed with the words of the Last Supper, and do not need to find a way to express this knowledge in extra-biblical, extra-sacramental words. Is this dissimilar to Luther’s prose-poetic understanding of Mary’s arrival at her eternal role in salvation history?

      My deep adoration (fanaticism) for the hostia does often leads me to a very pejorative view of Luther and Lutheranism. It’s almost as if I think Luther “had it in” for the Canon. Rather, his emphasis on a self- realizing Mary and the self-realizing Christian required much more than the idea of Mass as a magic-trick for thalers.

      I do believe that Luther would have been quite satisfied with EP II, as often said here on PTB. This reformed eucharistic prayer blends the biblical Verba with the apostolic understanding of sacrifice. It also places Mary among the saints, and rather than in a muddy area between the Godhead and humanity. I am surprised that the Lutheran churches of the EKD, as well as sister churches elsewhere, do not use EP II often. I digress.

      Meet me for coffee for more discussion, if you please … if it’s Maxwell House in a percolator, I’ll have to politely skip.

  7. I also recognized/knew it as Luther from his commentary on the Magnificat.

    I once got a LOT of angry mail/calls for saying, once upon a time, that this was an excellent understanding of the Immaculate Conception – that Mary always stands with the saved, though the saving power of God in the Immaculate Conception was exercised as preservation from sin. She was no more or less worthy than any of us, but for God’s favor “finding” her.

  8. The prayer in question certainly has different points of emphasis than this one: “You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel; you are the fairest honor of our race.” That’s one of the antiphons given for the Canticle of Zechariah in the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday. Another: “Holy and sinless Virgin Mary, how shall I find words to praise you, for through you we have received our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the Lord!”

    Perhaps the one from Luther offers a corrective to the rather effusive and occasionally unthinking praise we Catholics tend to pile atop Mary. On the other hand, the one from Luther doesn’t seem to leave one with any reason to praise her at all.

  9. Some thirty years ago I attended mass at an Anglo-Catholic church in London on August 15, “The Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The visiting preacher quite upset the congregation by calling the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception unnecessary. “There are plenty of reasons to honor Mary without making them up.” One point of view . . .

  10. As a cradle Roman Catholic now a LCMS Lutheran Pastor, my love for the Blessed Mother is much more intense now than ever in my life. With Luther, I find no reason for the Marian dogmas, as the Holy Scripture makes quite clear the uniquensss of Mary, as well as implied by lack of exposition that she stands with us sinners as “Christ-bearers”. Without needing a dispensation for Anna and Joachim’s act of love in conceiving their daughter to make her a sinless recepticle for the prophesied Messiah, I identify with our Blessed Mother much more now than with the “plaster statue” Mary I was raised with at Blessed Sacrament School in the 1950’s. Sorry, but that’s my story.

    1. @Padre Dave the Lutheran:

      It’s a great story to share, Padre Dave. During my confirmation classes one brother pointed out that Mary is the “model Christian”. This could be a warped interpretation which exalts Mary above the Christian faithful. A right interpretation, as you note, correctly views Mary is the best example of “Christ-bearing”, whose proficiency calls out to Christians in their lives. Fr. Anthony’s publication of Luther’s poem, as well as the centrality of the Magnificat in Lutheran liturgy, witnesses Mary’s “Christ-bearing”.

      Do I cringe inside when I see overly gaudy representations of Mary? Yes, but I must realize that my prejudices against cultures blinds me to the way other cultures conceptualize “Christ-bearing”.

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