Martin Luther’s Prayer to Mary

Note: Throughout the month of October, leading up to the 500th anniversary of the legendary date of the outbreak of the Reformation on October 31, 1517, Pray Tell is publishing writings of Martin Luther reflecting his beliefs at various points in his life.

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!

(From Luther’s commentary on the Magnificat, 1521. Featured image: Cologne, 15th century.)


    1. In the context of his whole commentary on the Magnificat, Luther’s point is that Mary – apart from or outside of God’s grace – was no more or less worthy than any mortal person. Had God’s grace acted in and through any other person in the same way, that person would be similarly honored or esteemed. Not of their own merits, but of God’s grace at work. Even her “yes” at the Annunciation was, for Luther, a sign of God’s grace at work.

      This is even true for those who hold the RC dogma of the Immaculate Conception to be true. In its terse wording, the dogma defines that Mary (like all of us) was saved from sin, though not by redemption, but by preservation.

    2. And to follow up on Alan’s clarification: When the pope declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, he was at pains to emphasize that it was through the merit of CHRIST, not Mary. Here is the definition:

      “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.”
      — Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854

      To think that the worthiness or merit of Mary was her own is not the Catholic understanding.


      1. Perhaps this is another mereor problem. The dogma pertains to Mary’s salvation being in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ. But what Luther writes about (at least in this translation), is more than that. Catholic tradition speaks of God’s choice of Mary to be God-bearer as something that God deemed her worthy of/merited. The Regina Caeli’s “He whom you merited to bear” has a quite orthodox interpretation, after all…

  1. In light of this conversation, today’s collect caught my attention. In the translation printed in our missal, it presents this passage: “…make us love what you command, so that we may merit what you promise.” It seems that whatever merit we possess is initiated by God; and perhaps that we may have some cooperative role in it.

    This all seems in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.”

    Paragraph 2010 of the CCC may seem to harmonize this Catholic prayer and teaching with Luther’s view of Mary: “2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.”

    (Cf CCC 721-726 for more on Mary as a vessel and conduit for the Holy Spirit’s actions).

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