I found this one over on Francis Beckwith's blog: Lutheran pastor on the intercession of the saints: it's okay! Beckwith though is citing this source. Here was a tidbit that caught my eye:
Luther himself was quite devoted to the Virgin Mary, but the abuse of the cult of the saints in his time led him to encourage a new focus on recourse to Christ himself. Once an abuse is corrected, though, it’s okay to stress again the underlying truth that the abuse exaggerated in such a way as to render false — in this case, the truth that it is the proper work of Christians, in heaven and on earth, in time and out of time, to pray for one another.
This reminded me of a person who argues Luther was “extraordinarily devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The key of course, is the word "devoted." What exactly does it mean in the context of Luther and the saints?
Luther didn’t really place a profound emphasis on Mariology. I would deny "Luther himself was quite devoted to the Virgin Mary." This is far too strong when one actually delves into Luther’s Works. Catholic scholar William Cole concurs: “…it would be a mistake to think of Luther as being preoccupied with Mary.” It is striking how little Luther launches into deep theological discussions about the Virgin Mary, and even when he does, they are in most instances, sparse, inconsequential, passing references, or tangential comments. One would think that Luther’s "devotion" would be overly obvious, spelled out in detailed numerous treatises similar to St. Alphonsus Ligouri. Such is not the case. Treatises and passages with the depth of Luther’s early exposition on the Magnificat are few in the totality of Luther’s overall work. The main point of Luther's work on the Magnificat was not even Mariological per se, but rather a treatise to understand God’s work in law and gospel.
True, the reason for this lack of emphasis on Mary is that Luther abandoned the most significant aspect of Roman Catholic Mariology: the intercession of Mary. Truly, this is the doctrine that defines Roman Catholic Mariology. It helps defines the “devotion” Roman Catholics partake in, making Mary crucial to the Romanist layman’s normal Christian life. Catholics invoke Mary for help, protection, and praise her attributes. For them, the invocation of Mary gives deep significance to such things like Theotokos, perpetual virginity, and the Immaculate Conception. These attributes are seen as worthy of praise, and serve to show the great divide that separates a saint from an average mortal.
Luther knew that prayers to, and faith in the saints violated the First Commandment. In his understanding, the role of faith or trust in the First Commandment determines whether one worships the true God, or an idol. To have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe in Him with the whole heart. This trust and the faith of the heart alone make either God or an idol. If faith and trust are “right,” then your god is the true God. If it is wrong, then you do not have the true God. That to which the heart clings is really your God. If your heart clings and entrusts itself to something God has made, then your faith is wrong, and you are caught in your sin, and you stand under the crushing condemnation of God’s law.
No one can deny that by such saint worship we have now come to the point where we have actually made utter idols of the Mother of God and the saints, and that because of the service we have rendered and the works we have performed in their honor we have sought comfort more with them than with Christ Himself. Thereby faith in Christ has been destroyed. [Martin Luther, D.Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abteilung Werke 11:415 quoted in MartinLuther, What Luther Says, Vol. III, ed. Ewald Martin Plass (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 1254].
The Roman Catholic work, Mariology Vol. 2 notes,
Luther had set the style for Protestants when he attacked the Catholic prayer "Hail Holy Queen" which he regarded as blasphemous. "Your prayers, 0 Christian," he says, "are as dear to me as hers. And why? Because if you believe that Christ lives in you as much as in her, you can help me as much as she." Eventually Luther was led to limit the communion of saints to the Church on earth because of his complete rejection of any intercessory power on the part of the saints in heaven [Juniper B. Carol (ed.) Mariology Volume 2, 195].
If the Lutheran pastor has any historical information that Luther was simply attacking the abuse of "the proper work of Christians" in praying to dead saints, I'd like to see it. That is, if Luther positively affirmed the practice of a correct way to pray to saints for their intercession, I'd like to see it.
In a sermon of August 15, 1516, Luther was to say, “O blessed mother! O most worthy virgin! Remember us, and grant that the Lord do such great things to us too.” In 1519, Luther still could exhort his congregation to “call upon the holy angels, particularly his own angel, the Mother of God, and all the apostles and saints” as a comfort in the hour when each was to face their own death. By 1522 things had changed. Erfurt Evangelists questioning Luther on the intercession of saints received this response,
I beseech in Christ that your preachers forbear entering upon questions concerning the saints in heaven and the deceased, and I ask you to turn the attention of people away from these matters in view of the fact…that they are neither profitable nor necessary for salvation. This is also reason why God decided not to let us know anything about His dealings with the deceased. Surely he is not committing a sin who does not call upon any saint but only clings firmly to the one mediator, Jesus Christ. [Martin Luther, “Letter to Erfurt evangelists July 10, 1522,” What Luther Says, Vol. 1, 1253. ]
In fairness to the Lutheran pastor making these claims about Luther and the saints, I haven't heard the sermon in which he explained his view. I looked around for the sermon on his web page, but didn't see it. If anyone finds it, let me know.