Luther thinks Mary should be honored in the same way humans honor each other, because "she is the same as us; she came to grace through the blood of Christ" (36). On the one hand, equating Mary with every other human in need of grace could help further the idea of the ultimate helplessness of mankind. For if Mary, the most perfect and pure woman to exist, still stands in need of God, then naturally the rest of the world must need his grace as well. However, on the other hand, this equalizing that Luther does feels painfully lacking, in that Mary held within her the granter of grace Himself. While he does concede that "we cannot all be the bodily Mother of God,"(36) thus acknowledging her uniqueness, it does feel as though the awe-inspiring and praise-worthy fact of Mary's pregnancy with Christ is sort of lost on Luther. If we are not to praise her for containing God, then how are we to praise her? Luther says that we are to honor her "not with many 'Hail Marys' and hymns," but rather by acknowledging "what a truly poor maiden she was" (43). He echoes this thought again, albeit in a more emphatic way a bit later: "She wants to be praised because she has nothing so why do we praise her as if she has everything?" (43). I was struck by this especially because I am not sure how Luther expects people to practically praise someone as if they have nothing. Drawing again on my experience, I think this gets worked out by simply not praising Mary at all. However, the issue that I am now seeing with focusing exclusively on Mary's lowliness is that it fails to take into accounts the heights to which God lifted her. So, I think in this way, a failure to praise Mary for carrying Christ is in fact a failure to praise the miracle of God becoming human.
In this same vein, it is interesting to me what Luther thinks the consequences will be if the people continue to praise Mary "with many 'Hail Marys' and hymns." He says that Christ is injured and that "poor needy Christians are forgotten" (35). First of all, gone is the argument of the Middle Ages that when the mother is honored, the son is honored. I think Luther's worry here is that the focus is being placed too heavily on the Virgin, which necessarily means that the focus is away from Christ. More troubling and interesting to me is the notion that excessive praise to the Virgin will cause poor Christians to be forgotten. Does he mean economically? Surely those who spend their time in praise to the Virgin understand the importance of caring for the poor. Our Lady is nothing if not caring, right? Or does he perhaps mean time-wise? I suppose that is a possibility that Luther might be entertaining, that if people spend all of their time honoring the Virgin, there will be no time to spend helping the poor. However, my mind is drawn to what we discussed when we talked about the Office of the Virgin Mary, which is that the ideal layperson is both active and contemplative. I don't know how successful the average person in living that out in daily life, but I think at least in the Office there is the expectation that action in the world must be taken as well.
Luther also makes it very clear that Mary is not to be the intercessor for our salvation. He demonstrates this with his sermon on the Wedding at Cana. Luther thinks that when Mary tries to intercede and then is harshly rebuked by Jesus is showing that "he did not let his mother's intercession move him" (55). Luther even goes so far as to say that Jesus gives us this example in the Gospel because Christ "noticed that over the course of time more honor would be given to his mother than himself" (55), and so with this foreknowledge decides to make it clear that Mary's interceding for our salvation does not in fact occur. I think again Luther attempts to equalize Mary by saying that it is just like when any one of us ask for help from God, but then must wait for him to deliver on his own time. This means that Mary's agency is entirely devalued; for Luther her part in salvation is passive - she is merely a vessel through which Christ, the agent of salvation, passes through. Luther also takes the Wedding of Cana story one step further to say that it shows that Mary erred. Personally, I can't seem to find where Mary went wrong: there was a need and Mary tried to get it met. However, Luther uses the fact of Mary's supposed error and then rebuking by Jesus to say that if Mary erred, then surely the Church and the Holy Father are not by any means infallible either.
Thus, Luther seems to use his vision of Mary to meet his own theological and political necessities. For example, Mary is an example of a human in need of grace, just like everybody needs grace. Mary also makes errors like other humans do, which goes to show that churchly institutions (like the Catholic Church, in Luther's opinion) must be open to the possibility that they might err as well. More generally, I think this equalizing that I have talked about in this blog of Mary with other humans is representative of the more individual focused religion that was a result of the Reformation. Mary ceases to be a queen worthy to be praised in lofty cathedrals, but rather becomes an example of the need for reliance on Christ's grace.