Summary: "the original Protestant reformers maintained the traditional love and respect shown by and in the Church for the Blessed Virgin Mary."
Visitation of the Blessed Virgin 2018
John the Baptist was a prophet, and at the presence of Mary and the newly-conceived Jesus, his cousin, he did a little dance in his mother’s womb. Scripture scholars tell us that the OT scene evoked in the minds of first-century Jewish Christians is the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The Ark had been lost in battle to the Philistines, but when they put it into their temple as a war prize, the whole Philistine people were afflicted with a terrible physical scourge. Moreover, in their city of Ashdod, the statue of Dagon fell over prostrate in front of the Ark. You can read about it in the Books of Samuel. Eventually the Philistines sent it back to Israel, and when David brought it into Jerusalem, he danced, lightly clad, all the way into the city.
The parallel is perfect. The Ark of the Covenant is the seat of the Lord among His people. Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, the place where Jesus dwelt for nine months before birth. The vision is given a heavenly recapitulation in Revelations 11-12. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary is almost word for word what David said about the Ark: how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me? So our passage from Luke’s Gospel is one more affirmation of the divine nature of Jesus, whose very name means “The Lord is salvation.” And from it, and from Mary’s song the Magnificat, we see the Church’s early veneration of Mary as the Mother of God.
When we look back at the Protestant revolution of the sixteenth century, we are tempted to project onto those early reformers the kind of anti-Catholic, anti-Marian polemics common to Protestants today. I was listening recently to a Presbyterian preacher on the radio, and heard him refer to the apostle James as Jesus’s “younger brother.” This, of course, is an implied denial of Mary’s perpetual virginity. From the beginning, the Church has taught that the Mother of Jesus is the Mother of God, the Mother of the Messiah, and is “ever-virgin.” She had no merely human children, because she was what the Fathers call “spouse of the Holy Ghost.”
Thus, it is a surprise to Catholics, and even to Protestant scholars, that Luther, Calvin and even the radical revolutionary Zwingli all held Mary in high esteem, revering her as Mother of God, ever-virgin, and without sin! Zwingli wrote, “"The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow." Whatever the deficiencies of their other doctrines, the original Protestant reformers maintained the traditional love and respect shown by and in the Church for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
So what happened? The practical application of the other Protestant doctrinal changes perhaps made the extinction of Marian devotion among their congregations inevitable. You see, by declaring solus Christus–Christ alone being the means of salvation–the Protestant divines made it a breach of faith to ask any of the saints to intercede for human needs. So our Tuesday devotions to St. Anthony would be outlawed, as well as the Rosary, Marian novenas and the feasts of Mary. Mary was not outlawed as much as just ignored.
Then, too, since Catholics persisted in Marian devotion, and Catholics must be wrong about most anything, it becomes easier to disbelieve in Mary’s perpetual virginity, and to find Scriptures that seem to cast doubt on it. Since St. Paul said “all men have sinned and fallen short,” well, Mary must have been a sinner as well. Ultimately, you lose all the Marian doctrines. And since every Marian doctrine is a Jesus doctrine, you now find Protestant theologians and preachers denying the divine conception of Jesus, and His divine nature.
So our task is to continue to act on the clear Scripture here and make certain that all generations call Mary “Blessed,” because of the wonderful works God performed, and continues to perform, through Our Blessed Mother.