On this day, the holy Church throughout the world remembers the Blessed Virgin, celebrating the day of dormition, her falling asleep in Jesus.
Collect: Almighty God, You chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (LSB)
Readings: Isaiah 61:7-11 / Galatians 4:4-7 / Luke 1:39-55
Preface: It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, for by the Holy Spirit Your only-begotten Son was conceived in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary and brought forth in the substance of our human flesh that we might partake of His divine life. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying: Holy, holy, holy... (LSB)
From a Homily by the Blessed Arthur Carl Piepkorn upon this day:
Yet both extremes - the extreme of excessive veneration and the extreme of excessive downgrading of the Mother of God - are sources of concern and scandal to Christians who stand committed to the Book of Concord and to the Book of God. The reason for their concern in both directions finds a focus in the words of St. Elisabeth in today's Gospel: "And why is this granted me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" That is precisely the point. She is the Mother of *Our Lord*, hence Elizabeth's awed delight. But she is the *Mother* of Our Lord, so that the bright aureole that enfolds her figure is only a reflection of His blazing and unearthly glory.
The function of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Sacred Scriptures, in the history of salvation, and in the faith and worship of the Church, is to point to her Son. The noblest picture that can be painted of her is with her Child in her arms. She is the living and loving proof that when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those that were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as children. She is the living and loving proof that for us men and for our salvation the only God who is the bosom of the Father came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and was made man; that He who died for us is one of us; that the one Mediator between God and man is the man Christ Jesus, that "there is no other God besides this Man" that the merciful and faithful High Priest Whom we have in the service of God to make expiation for the sins of our fallen kind is made like us His brethren in every respect, that we have an Intercessor Who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, one Who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning, that He partook of our nature of flesh and blood so that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.
As long as the focus of the spotlight is on the Lord Jesus Christ, the richer the radiance that reflects upon His Mother the better. We are not offended that Gabriel addressed her, "Hail, O Favored One," or that St. Elisabeth by divine inspiration twice called her blessed, while expressing humble amazement that the favor should be granted her of entertaining in her home the Mother of her Lord; or that by the same inspiration the Holy Virgin should say, "All generations will call me blessed."
Nor ought we feel any particular compulsion to execrate pious opinions long held by Christians. We need not feel obligated to blacken her reputation and to invent transgressions for her to have committed as if somehow we were saved by the sinfulness of the Blessed Virgin rather than by the sinlessness of her Son.
Here we stand with Blessed Martin Luther. In his exasperated distress at the exaggerations of the medieval Mary cult, he might delcare: "I should wish that the veneration of Mary be altogether exterminated solely on account of its abuse." Yet, three years before his death he was still affirming in print the opinion that he had worked out in detail and with considerable theological ingenuity twenty-five years earlier, namely, that through the merits of her Son-to-be the Blessed Virgin was marvelously preserved from taint of sin from the first moment of her existence as a human being. We who have been reading him at least in English will recall that in the *Exposition of the Magnificat* he calls "Queen of heaven" a true enough name for her, and that elsewhere he acknowledges her as a gracious Lady exalted above all empresses.
We remember that so doughty an adherent of the Augsburg Confession as Blessed John Brenz could say of the bodily taking up of the Virgin to Heaven: "About this let everyone think as he will." And that the great Lutheran hymn-writer and preacher of the late seventeenth century, Blessed Valerius Herberger, presents a careful justification of this theological opinion in a sermon in his *Evangelische Herzpostille*. It is when these pious opinions are elevated to the status of dogmas which must be believed under pain of eternal condemnation that we delcare this kind of constraint - rather than the opinions themselves - to be antichristian and diabolical.
We Lutherans have no reluctance about apostrophizing the Blessed Virgin in our hymns and in our worship. Today's gradual repeats the inspired words of St. Elizabeth: "Blessed art Thou, O Mary, among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb; behold there shall be a performance of those things which were told thee from the Lord." In the propers for the Feast of the Annunciation, the tract is the Angelus. One hymn in our German hymnal addresses her: "Mary, God has chosen thee to become a mother." A hymn that we have sung in this summer's series of chapel services paraphrases the Eastern Church's Theotokion: "O higher than the Cherubim, More glorious than the Seraphim, Lead their praises!" And it goes on to call for her, as the Bearer of the Eternal Word, to continue to magnify the Lord as she first did in the events that we celebrate today. In one of our most popular Christmas carols we describe her as prophetically foretold "Branch of loveliest form and grace" while at least two others describe her as "undefiled."
The official editions of our Church's Symbols twice apply to her the title that the Council of Ephesus approved in 431, "The woman who gave birth to God," or, as we usually translate it into English, "Mother of God." They speak of her perpetual maidenhood and the birth of our Saviour without violation of her virgin estate. They call her "the pure, the most holy, and most praiseworthy Virgin." And they cheerfully concede that in the presence of God she is interceding for the Church upon earth.
Yet in all of this she is first and always, "the Mother *of Our Lord.*" If in our hymns we call her - as we do - "most gracious" and "full of grace," it is because God has filled her with the grace of which His Son is the Incarnate expression. And if we call her blessed, it is because we can imagine her bliss in bearing the Lord Jesus beneath her heart by reason of the operation of the same Holy Ghost in our heart....
Delivered at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (*The Church: The Selected Writings of A.C. Piepkorn*, ALPB, pp. 287-290)