Celebrating A Marian Apostle
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, one of the greatest proponents of Marian Devotion in the history of the Church. His beautiful writings, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
and The Secret of the Rosary
, have inspired countless souls, including Blessed Mother Teresa and Saint Pope John Paul II. In fact, John Paul II credited the writings of St. Louis de Montfort with helping him to understand the role of devotion to Our Lady in relation to Christ. He would later borrow Montfort's phrase "Totus Tuus" (All Yours Mary) for his papal motto.
St. Louis wrote his great treatises on devotion to Mary in the late 17th early 18th centuries. Long before, St. Francis of Assisi was already living out this devotion in his deep relationship with the Blessed Virgin.
St. Francis: True Devotion to Mary
According to a pious legend, one day St. Francis of Assisi had a vision in which he saw his friars trying to reach Christ by a ladder that was red and very steep. After climbing a few rungs, they would suddenly fall back. Our Lord then showed St. Francis another ladder, white and much less steep, at whose summit appeared the Blessed Virgin, and He said to Francis: "Advise your sons to go by the ladder of My Mother."
Among those devotions rich in Franciscan, and especially Capuchin Franciscan, tradition is devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. St. Francis of Assisi was among the greatest Marian devotees in the history of the Church and, according to the Second Vita
of Thomas of Celano, had a love for her that was beyond words. "Inexpresseble," he writes of Francis' love for the Blessed Virgin, "for it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother." St. Francis chose her as the patroness and Queen of the Friars Minor and exhorted his friars to always possess a true and living devotion to the Mother of God. This loving devotion is imbued in his famous Salutation to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Hail, O Lady,
Mary, holy Mother of God:
you are the Virgin made Church
and the one chosen by the
most holy Father in heaven
whom He consecrated
with His most holy beloved Son
and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete,
in whom there was and is
the fullness of grace and every good
Hail His Palace!
Hail His Tabernacle!
Hail His Home!
Hail His Robe!
Hail His Servant!
Hail His Mother!
And (hail) all you holy virtues which through the grace and light of the Holy Spirit are poured into the hearts of the faithful so that from their faithless state you may make them faithful to God. Amen.
Franciscan Devotion to Mary
In imitation of their father Francis, Franciscans have promoted and popularized Marian devotion throughout the Church in the last four centuries. Indeed, it was due, in large part, to the writings of the Franciscan theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus, that led to the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Conventual Franciscan and "Martyr of Auschwitz," established the Militia Immaculatae
, dedicated to spreading authentic Marian devotion throughout the world. The Capuchin Doctor of the Church, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, preached constantly on love of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in salvation history. 84 of his sermons on this subject are contained in The Mariale
All of the Capuchin saints, from St. Conrad of Parzham to St. Pio of Pietrelcina, have had a strong and fruitful devotion to the Blessed Virgin and she has been integral to their Franciscan spirituality. Indeed, promoting devotion to her has been incorporated into the Capuchin Constitutions
: "Let us, in particular, venerate, especially through liturgical worship and the rosary the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, conceived without sin, daughter and handmaid of the Father, mother of the Son, and spouse of the Holy Spirit.. let us especially promote devotion to her among the people"(Const. 54:3).
In 1910 St. Pope Piux X exhorted the followers of St. Francis: "Beloved sons, you will preserve holiness of life, joined with purity and integrity of doctrine if you cultivate a fervent devotion to the Queen of your Order, the Immaculate Mother of God, for the omnipotent God wished us to have all things through her who is the Mirror of Justice and the Seat of Wisdom."
Fostering Your Own Marian Devotion
As St. Louis de Montfort pointed out in his True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, devotion to Our Lady is not incidental to the Catholic faith - it forms an essential part! Pope Benedict XVI, in speaking to a visiting German delegation, stated: "Catholicism could not exist without a Marian character... Being Catholic means belonging to Mary."
So what can you learn from the Franciscan saints about increasing your devotion to Our Lady?
1. Put Aside All Fear
- Many people, on beginning to deepen their relationship with Mary, fear that it will take away from their worship of God. St. John Paul II had a similar doubt at a young age, but would later write, "I was greatly helped by a book by St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort entitled Treatise of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin
. There I found the answers to my questions. Yes, Mary does bring us closer to Christ; she does lead us to him, provided that we live her mystery in Christ." As many saints have said before, we can never love Mary without loving Jesus more. Mary always leads us to her Son, therefore, put away all fear and doubts regarding a devotion to Our Lady.
2. Pray the Rosary
- Countless Popes and Saints have extolled the virtues of the Rosary and encouraged the faithful to pray it daily. Why is the Rosary so powerful a prayer? It combines vocal prayer with meditation and disposes the individual for contemplation. Essentially, we become what we meditate upon. If we spend hours in front of the television or internet, that media will form (or perhaps deform) us. In praying the Rosary, we meditate upon the life, words, and actions of Jesus and Mary, and these form us! Through the Rosary, we enter into a living relationship with Mary. She prays with us and for us.
3. Consecrate Yourself to Our Lady
- Consecration is the acting of giving oneself completely to Jesus Christ through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are several formulas and prayers for Marian Consecration, but the common threads involve giving our life and good works to the Blessed Virgin in order that she might dispose of them as she pleases while leading us more quickly to her Son. St. Louis de Montfort gives the example of a poor peasant who wishes to please the king with the gift of an apple. The apple does not look very good in itself so the peasant approaches the Queen Mother for assistance. She wipes it clean, makes it shiny, and then places it in the center of a golden plate. The king could never refuse such a gift when made through the mediation of the Queen Mother. It is the same with each one of us and our offerings to God!