JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
LEGION OF MARY
I. Marian origin:
1. First meeting;
2. Second meeting.
II. Organizational framework:
1. Mary’s army;
2. Governing bodies.
III. Methods and techniques:
1. What is the objective of the Legion of Mary, and how does it
achieve this objective?
2. Through union with her;
3. Marian Apostolate.
IV. Legion spirituality:
1. Centered on the Holy Spirit;
2. Centered on Christ.
V. Marian outlook:
1. Sharing Mary’s motherhood;
2. Montfort’s influence;
3. The Montfort way;
4. Slave of Mary;
5. Marian approach;
6. “Fullness of devotion”.
VI. Prodigious growth.
The worldwide Legion of Mary has been called “a miracle of these modern times.”1 Cardinal Suenens wrote: “Today, two currents dominate the life of the Church: the Marian current and the apostolic current.”2 These two currents meet and blend harmoniously in the Legion of Mary, which has been a providential instrument in the hands of Mary and the Church for the spread of the Kingdom of God on earth.
To understand the relationship between Our Lady and the Legion of Mary, it may be well to begin by looking at a clear and authoritative definition of this lay organization. We take our definition from The Legion of Mary Handbook—VI. Edition, published by the Concilium Legionis Mariae in Dublin, Ireland: “The Legion of Mary is an Association of Catholics, who, with the sanction of the Church and under the powerful leadership of Mary Immaculate, Mediatrix of All Graces (who is fair as the moon, bright as the sun and—to Satan and his legionaries—terrible as an army set in battle array), have formed themselves into a Legion for service in the warfare which is perpetually waged by the Church against the world and its evil powers.”3
What follows is a brief study of the Legion’s Marian origin, organizational framework, methods and techniques, doctrinal and spiritual outlook, and, finally, growth and achievements. It seeks to clarify the relationship between the Marian doctrine of St. Louis de Montfort and the Legion of Mary and to justify the words of its founder, Mr. Frank Duff (1889-1980): “The Legion is Our Lady’s spirit come to life in people.”4
I. MARIAN ORIGIN
Tracing the origins of the Legion, John Murray, former president of the Concilium, writes: “The nucleus of the Legion in its personnel was that little group attending the monthly Pioneer Council meeting in Myra House. It was in these informal ’talks’ after the gathering that the spirit which characterized the Legion from its first meeting was formed. In a consecutive number of these talks, Mr. Frank Duff had outlined to his listeners the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. Those who established the Legion and guided the new movement from the first moment were those who had heard those spiritual talks each month at Myra House.”5
1. First meeting
The historic first meeting of the Legion was held on the evening of September 7, 1921, the First Vespers of the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity. It was in a modest “upper-room” of an apartment on Francis St., in an old and poor quarter of the city of Dublin, Ireland. In the center of the room, on a table covered with a white cloth, flanked by two lighted candles and two vases of flowers, was enthroned a statue of the Immaculate Conception, of the Miraculous Medal type.
This simple arrangement was the idea of one of the early arrivals and expressed the spirit of the organization that was about to be born. As the Handbook of the Legion puts it: “The Queen was there before those assembled. She stood waiting to receive the enrollments of those, who, she knew, were coming to her. They did not adopt her. She adopted them.”6
At the hour agreed upon, this little group—fifteen girls, most of them in their late teens or early twenties; one layman, Mr. Frank Duff; and one priest, Michael Toher—knelt on the floor around the improvised altar. They recited the invocation and prayer to the Holy Spirit and then recited the Rosary. Their prayers ended, they took and considered together “how they could best please God and make Him loved in His world.”7
They proposed together a program of work. They would visit an almshouse of the city to console the poor. Their concern would center chiefly on the women patients, and their visitations would be undertaken in a friendly, simple devotional manner with a willingness to listen patiently to the concerns of these people.
Those gathered that night were unanimous that this work should be organized to insure the regularity of these visits. In other words, it would be done seriously, methodically, or not at all. They decided to follow the format of the St. Vincent de Paul Society to a certain extent: a weekly meeting, prayer, spiritual talk, reports from each member on the previous week’s work. They wanted an apostolate with and for Mary, in accordance with the teachings of St. Louis de Montfort.
2. Second meeting
There are accounts of the very first Legion visitations. A bedridden woman who had been away from the Sacraments for many years decided to “get right” again. Another woman, bedridden for five years, wrote on a scrap of paper a little note addressed to her daughter: “If I can see you once before death, then I shall die in peace.” Another woman who had been living with a married man and who had nowhere else to go, upon being discharged from the hospital pleaded with the Legionary, “If I could only find a job, then I could make him return to his own wife.” This woman asked if the kind visitor could perhaps help her in this difficult situation. These are just a few examples of their experiences.
Report after report authenticated the fruitfulness of this soul-to- soul Marian apostolate. The Legionaries understood their role as docile instruments in the hands of the Virgin Mary. Their intention was self- sanctification and the sanctification of others. Their message was to give Christ to the world through Mary.
A new organization was born . . . a spiritual army that was soon to encircle the globe: The Legion of Mary. During the first four years of its existence, the organization was known as the Association of Our Lady of Mercy. Later, in November, 1925, it adopted the name Legion of Mary.8
II. ORGANIZATIONAL FRAMEWORK
The Handbook states: “The Legion is an army—the army of the Virgin Most Humble.”9 Like any army it must be built on discipline, tactics, and morale. It therefore calls for an “unrelaxed discipline,” a discipline that is based on true humility and that must “bear on all the affairs of daily life and be ever on the alert for opportunities to promote the general object of the Legion, namely, to destroy the empire of sin, uproot its foundations and plant on its ruins the standard of Christ the King.”10
Since the Legion “places before its members a mode of life, rather than the doing of a work,” it provided “an intensely ordered system, in which much is given the force of rule that in other systems is merely exhorted or left to be understood, and in regard to every detail of which it enjoins a spirit of scrupulous observance.”11
Despite some criticism of its inflexible rules, this point of faithful adherence to the Legion system in all its details is so important that the Hand-book says that the Legion “deems a member to be a member to the degree to which he submits himself to the Legion system, and no more.”12
1. Mary’s army
Like any army, the Legion is composed of members who are in active service (active members) and those who support the troops by their work and their prayers (auxiliary members). Modeled on a military model, the Legion took its nomenclature from the old Roman legion. Using such Latin terms as Praesidium, Curia, Senatus, etc., gave the Legion a note of universality and unity.
The basic unit of the Legion is the Praesidium. This is the parish or institutional unit, and it ranges from approximately four to twenty active members, to which may be affiliated an indefinite number of auxiliary members, whose obligation it is to sustain the active members by their prayers and sacrifices. The prayers that the Legionaries, both active and auxiliary, must say every day are to be found on the official prayer card of the Legion, called the Tessera.
Each Praesidium is made up of four officers: president, vice- president, secretary, and treasurer. It holds its meetings once a week. Since the Legion “took root from the St. Vincent de Paul Society,” it is to be expected that its method of procedure is much the same. It is invariable and consists of: 1. prayer to the Holy Spirit; 2. recitation of the Rosary; 3. spiritual reading; 4. reading of the minutes of the previous meeting; 5. verbal account of the preceding week’s work, given by each member; 6. recitation of the Magnificat; 7. assignment of work for the coming week; 8. discussion based on the Handbook; 9. concluding prayers; 10. blessing by the spiritual director.
2. Governing bodies
It should be noted that “no praesidium shall be established in any parish without the consent of the parish priest or of the Ordinary.”13 In addition, no Praesidium can be organized in a locality without the express permission of the governing body immediately above it, called the Curia. This permission can only be given if the new group pledges itself to adhere faithfully to the rules and regulations as set down in the Legion Handbook.
When two or more Praesidia are established in a certain area, a higher body, called a Curia, is formed. This group is made up of all the officers of the Praesidia in the locality and chooses its own officers from among them. When one Curia is placed in charge of several Curiae, it becomes a Comitium. This body does not generally exceed the boundaries of a diocese. Above the Comitium is the Senatus, which is the governing body for a whole area. Finally, there is the Concilium, which is the central governing body of the Legion throughout the world. Its headquarters are located in De Montfort House, Dublin, Ireland.
To foster a higher spiritual level among its members, the Legion established the Praetorians.14 This is not a distinct group but simply a higher degree of active service in the Legion. It comprises the following obligations: 1. the daily recitation of all the prayers contained in the Tessera of the Legion; 2. daily Mass and daily Holy Communion; 3. the daily recitation of some form of Office approved by the Church, such as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, etc.
III. METHODS AND TECHNIQUES
1. What is the objective of the Legion of Mary, and how does it achieve this objective?
The Handbook states: “The object of the Legion of Mary is the glory of God through the sanctification of its members by prayer and active cooperation, under ecclesiastical guidance, in Mary’s and the Church’s work of crushing the head of the serpent and advancing the reign of Christ.”15 It is interesting how the Legion Handbook identifies Mary’s work with that of the Church, in what concerns “advancing the reign of Christ.” This Legion objective gives it full right to be called Catholic Action.
Pope Pius XI once defined Catholic Action as “the participation of the laity in the true and proper apostolate of the Church.” The Legion of Mary is Catholic Action founded on Mary. The Second Vatican Council’s decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (AA) states that the “perfect model of this apostolic spiritual life is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles. . . . Everyone should have a genuine devotion to her and entrust his life to her motherly care.”
2. Through union with her
To recognize from the very outset the role and influence of Mary in the dual work of personal sanctification and the apostolate, and then to submit oneself fully to this maternal influence through intimate union with the Mediatrix of all Graces to become an instrument of conquest in her virginal hands is the secret of the Legionary apostolate—such is the method proper to the Legion of Mary. To be sure, there are many approved forms of Catholic Action. As Pope Pius XII pointed out: “’Catholic Action is not confined within a closed circle’ . . . nor is it such that ’it pursues its object according to a special method and system,’ so as to abolish or absorb the other active Catholic organizations.”16
In other words, some organizations will stress the study and the application of the laws of psychology; others will concentrate their efforts on studying the social and intellectual milieu, etc. All of these are methods that, it will be readily conceded, merit our admiration and support. In the Legion of Mary, however, the method is entirely different. Placing itself, from the very outset, above all human strategy, it establishes a soul firmly in the realm of faith.
Since the Legionary’s principal task is “to bring Mary to the world as the infallible means of winning the world to Jesus,” it is obvious that “the Legionary without Mary in his heart can play no part in this.”17 Hence the necessity for each Legionary to seek union with Mary through imitation of her virtues and complete dependence upon her. “Its members thus grown into living copies of Mary, the Legion sees itself in truth a Legion of Mary, united to her mission and guaranteed her victory.”18
3. Marian apostolate
This union with Mary, and imitation of her virtues, will inevitably lead to an apostolate that is essentially Marian, that is to say, an apostolate through which Christ will not only be seen in every person but will be tended to and cared for with the love of Mary herself. To quote the words of the Handbook: “In and through her Legionary, Mary participates in every Legionary duty and mothers souls, so that in each of those worked for . . . not only is the person of Our Lord seen and served, but seen and served by Mary, with the same exquisite love and nurturing care which she gave to the actual body of her Divine Son.”19
For the Legionary, as for Mary herself, a crowd is never just a crowd. It is an assemblage of individual people, each meriting particular attention, infinite love. Hence the Legionary instruction: “The Legion must direct itself to the individual soul.”20 This is the way the Legion envisages the problem of people in the aggregate. It does not presume to belittle or ignore crowd psychology; rather, it seeks to transform that crowd by approaching and transforming the individuals in it.
In a word, the Legion method or technique is both spiritual and psychological. It is spiritual in that it is based on union with Mary; it is psychological in that it is based on sound elementary psychology.
IV. LEGION SPIRITUALITY
This brings us to our fourth consideration: the Legion spirituality. Does the Legion have a spirituality of its own, a spirituality that can be universally adopted and that rests on good, solid theological grounds? If so, where is this spiritual doctrine to be found?
The spiritual doctrine of the Legion of Mary is to be found principally in the Legion Handbook. A storehouse of doctrine and action in which theory and practice intermingle freely—lest one should dominate to the detriment of the other—the Legion Handbook holds the key to a spirituality that has already reaped its fruits of holiness, and even martyrdom.
1. Centered on the Holy Spirit
The Legion’s spirituality—symbolized in the Legion of Mary Standard—is centered on the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, the One Who not only overshadowed Mary in the work of the Incarnation, but also came down upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. The reason for this is obvious: The Legion is essentially Marian and apostolic. It must therefore be animated by the Holy Spirit both for the sanctification of its members and for their apostolic action. That is why every Legion meeting is opened with a prayer to the Holy Spirit. The Legion Promise, which marks the formal entry into Mary’s Legion, is made directly to the Holy Spirit. The Legion Promise embodies the very spirit of the Legion. Readers may refer to the masterful commentary on the Promise by Cardinal Suenens in his book “The Theology of the Apostolate.”21
2. Centered on Christ
Cardinal Suenens has pointed out that the Legion Promise, though directed to the Holy Spirit, is essentially Christocentric, since, in this Promise, “neither the Holy Spirit nor the Blessed Virgin has any meaning for us without reference to the mystery of the Incarnation.”22 He notes that Christianity has been defined as an exchange of two loves in Jesus Christ. First, the Love that descends from heaven to seal the sacred alliance is called the Holy Spirit. And second, the love that ascends to meet that Infinite Love is called Mary. The secret meeting place of these two loves is Christ Jesus.
The work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, therefore, is to bring to realization the work of Christ in the world, just as it is the work of Mary to lead us to Christ. In other words, the Legionary is asked to lend himself to the action of the Holy Spirit, in and through Mary, to serve Christ and to continue his mission on earth.
V. MARIAN OUTLOOK
And this brings us to the Marian outlook of the Legion. “Under God,” says the Legion Handbook, “the Legion is built upon devotion to Mary,”23 not any kind of devotion, but an adequate devotion that can only be acquired “by union with her.”24
As mentioned, the Legion seeks union with Mary through imitation of her virtues. The Legion seeks to identify itself with Mary, particularly in her motherhood of souls. Mary’s whole life and destiny, says the Handbook, have been motherhood, first of Christ, then of men. “On the day of the annunciation she entered on her wondrous work and ever since she has been the busy mother attending to her household duties. For a while these were contained in Nazareth, but soon the little house became the whole wide world, and her Son expanded into mankind. And so it has continued: all the time her domestic work goes on and nothing in that Nazareth-grown-big can be performed without her. Any caring of the Lord’s body is only supplemental to her care; the apostle only adds himself to her maternal occupations; and in that sense,” concludes the Handbook, “Our Lady might declare: ’I am Apostleship,’ almost as she said: ’I am the Immaculate Conception.’”25
1. Sharing Mary’s motherhood
If Mary’s motherhood of souls is her essential function in the Church today, then, the Handbook rightly concludes, “without participation in it [her motherhood of souls] there can be no real union with her.”26 In other words, “true devotion to Mary must comprise the service of souls. Mary without motherhood and the Christian without apostleship would be analogous ideas. Both the one and the other would be incomplete, unreal, unsubstantial, false to the divine intention.”27
2. Montfort’s influence
“To understand the spirituality of the Legion of Mary,” said Cardinal Suenens, “one must know its history and especially, one must grasp the spiritual bond that links the Legion to the doctor of the Marian Mediation, St. Louis de Montfort.”28 And Bishop Patrice Flynn, of Nevers, once wrote: “The Legion spirituality is but the applying to the modern apostolate of the admirable doctrine of the French School, of St. John Eudes, Olier, and especially of Blessed Grignion de Montfort. The Handbook explains and comments upon, in its sometimes diffuse but always orthodox way, the classical treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.”29
That the Legion spirituality owes much to St. Louis de Montfort’s writings is attested to by Mr. Frank Duff himself. The founder of the Legion said: “The Legion of Mary owes, you might say, everything to the Montfort devotion.”30 And these words are but a faithful echo of the Handbook, which states: “It can be safely asserted that no Saint has played a greater part in the development of the Legion than he. The Handbook is full of his spirit. The prayers re-echo his very words. He is really the tutor of the Legion: thus invocation is due to him by the Legion almost as a matter of moral obligation.”31
The Legion Handbook is full of Montfort’s spirit and the Legion prayers re-echo his very words, for there is an intimate relationship between it and TD. “It cannot be denied,” wrote Cardinal Suenens, “that the Handbook of the Legion of Mary is a striking follow-up of the Treatise on True Devotion. It takes up the same doctrine and carries it over into the field of effective and concrete action, within the reach of all men of good will.”32
3. The Montfort way
After pointing out that union with Mary entails sharing in her motherhood of souls, the Handbook invites each and every Legionary to read and study the writings of its “tutor,” St. Louis Marie de Montfort. In chapter 27, The Duty of Legionaries towards Mary, we read that “Legionaries should undertake Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary,” for the Legion of Mary strives to identify itself, so to speak, with the Montfort way of spiritual life.
“It is desirable that the practice of the Legionary devotion to Mary should be rounded off and given the distinctive character which has been taught by St. Louis de Montfort under the titles of ‘The True Devotion’ or the ‘Slavery of Mary’ and which is enshrined in his two books, the ‘True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin’ and the ‘Secret of Mary.’”33
Describing the nature of this holy slavery, the Handbook continues: “That devotion requires the formal entry into a compact with Mary, whereby one gives to her one’s whole self, with all his thoughts, and deeds and possessions, both spiritual and temporal, past, present, and future, without the reservation of the smallest part or slightest little thing. In a word, the giver places himself in a condition equivalent to that of a slave possessing nothing of his own, and wholly dependent on, and utterly at the disposal of Mary.”
4. Slave of Mary
Stressing the utter dependence of the slave of Mary, the Handbook goes on to say: “But the earthly slave is far freer than the slave of Mary. The former remains master of his thoughts and inner life, and thus may be free in everything that matters to him. But the surrender to Mary bears with it everything: each thought, the movements of the soul, the hidden riches, the inmost self. All—on to the final breath—is committed to her that she may expend it all for God.”34
Lest this total Consecration to Jesus through Mary be mistaken for a mere passing act of devotion towards the Mother of God, the Legionary is immediately reminded that although the True Devotion is inaugurated by a formal act of Consecration, “it consists principally in the subsequent living of that Consecration. The True Devotion must represent not an act but a state.”35
This state or attitude of the soul of the individual Legionary will blossom forth—as we have already shown—into a Marian apostolate. “The work of the Legion is essentially a hidden one. It commences in the heart of the individual Legionary, developing therein a spirit of zeal and charity.”36
Through the Legion system, this zeal and charity will manifest themselves by direct personal contact in a soul-to-soul apostolate that will gradually raise the spiritual level of the entire community.
5. Marian approach
The nature of this Legion approach to souls is not only distinctly Marian but also clearly within the Montfort tradition. As the Handbook says: “Souls are not approached except with Mary.”37 In other words, Legionaries are asked to bring Mary to the world by leading people to a “calm examination of the role of Mary” in God’s plan of our redemption.38 This will prompt them to give to others a full explanation of Mary’s part in our lives and of the consequent “rich and full devotion” we owe her in return. Indeed, “how can Legionaries talk in any other terms of her?”39
Adopting Montfort’s method of interior life with Mary, the Handbook takes up the formula “Through, With, In, and For Mary” and transposes it into the apostolic life of the individual Legionary. Here are a few of its slogans, so to speak: “Souls are not approached except with Mary.”40 To tell Legionaries to immerse themselves in their work is but the same thing as to urge them to bury themselves in Mary.41 “The Legion apostolate operates through Mary.”42 And finally: “The Legionaries work for Mary, quite irrespective of the simplicity or the difficulty of the task.”43
6. “Fullness of devotion”
Such is the Marian spirituality of the Legion of Mary—a spirituality that is totally Marian, totally Montfort. It might be noted here that although the actual making of the act of Consecration, known as the Holy Slavery, is not enjoined as an obligation or condition of Legion membership but, rather, left to the discretion and free choice of each Legionary. Nevertheless, all Legionaries are reminded that the Legion “declares itself to be built on a fullness of devotion to Mary which approximates to, or is equivalent to, de Montfort’s own special form.”44
The Legion’s founder, Frank Duff, stated: “It is desirable that every Legionary—not alone its Active Members, but likewise each one of its great host of Auxiliary Members—should possess a copy of Montfort’s monumental exposition of the True Devotion. They should read it again and again, and fully comprehend it and bring it into wholehearted play in their spiritual life. Only then will they enter into the spirit of the Legion of Mary, to which, as the Legion itself declares . . . Montfort is veritably tutor.”45
VI. PRODIGIOUS GROWTH
Is it any wonder that such an organization should have, within the lifetime of its founder, spanned the seven seas and reached the very “extremities of the earth”?
After experiencing a significant drop in numbers after Vatican II—as did so many communities and organizations within the Church—the Legion hopes to regain its ground and be a special instrument in the “new evangelization.”
The Third World countries are a special sign of hope for increased participation in the Legion. By the mid 80’s the Philippines had 15,500 Praesidia with nearly 200,000 active members. Hong Kong had 250 Praesidia, Indonesia almost 1,000, Japan 350, Taiwan 120. Korea had then over 7,000 Praesidia.46 Recently at the close of the 2nd Marian year, at the request of the Korean Bishops, 150,000 active members of the Legion of Mary gathered at the Cheongju Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, representing 2 Senatus, 2 Regial, 70 Comitia, 700 Curial and 13,000 Praesidia.47
If a tree is judged by its fruits, and if the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians, then the Legion of Mary has every reason to hope for a glorious future in the battlefront of Mary’s, and the Church’s, warfare against the forces of evil. And if Edel Quinn (whose cause for heroic virtue has already been introduced) is any indication as to what heights of sanctity the Legion’s Marian spirituality can lead a soul, then we believe with the Legion and with St. Louis de Montfort that “Mary has produced, together with the Holy Spirit, the greatest thing which has been or ever will be—a God-Man; and she will consequently produce the greatest of the saints that there will be in the end of time. The formation and the education of the great saints who shall come at the end of the world are reserved for her. For it is only that singular and miraculous Virgin who can produce, in union with the Holy Spirit, singular and extraordinary things.”48