The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life
"Chapter XVIII: St. Louis de Montfort's Consecration to Mary"
IN THE FIRST GROUP of chapters we saw the solid dogmatic foundations on which our devotion to Mary ought to rest. We saw that God, though He had and has no need of Mary, had yet freely chosen to associate her most intimately with His Son in every stage of the Redemption, from beginning to end, both in the history of the world as a whole, and in the entire life of each individual human being. We noted that we can do nothing more perfect than to imitate the ways of God. Hence it is clear that the more thoroughly we employ Mary in our spiritual life, the more precise is our conformity to the plan of God.
If we compare the designs of God to a complex lock, having many elements harmoniously combined, we may compare the method we are about to consider to the intricate key to such a lock, a key that faithfully follows every notch in the structure of the lock. But just as the plans of God, though they are in a way complex, yet partake of that simplicity which is His very nature, so the consecration we are to study likewise appears at first sight to be complex, but is actually simplicity itself. By it we give to Mary the same place in our personal spiritual life that God gives her in the whole work of redemption: we give all to Jesus through Mary.
This chapter is captioned "St Louis de Montfort's Consecration to Mary." This is correct in as much as that saint is one of the chief proponents of the method. Yet he himself makes clear in his book on "True Devotion"1 that many had both taught and made such a consecration before his day. More names could be added to those listed by St Louis. Furthermore, as we shall see in a later chapter, the act of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, if properly understood, as St Margaret Mary understood it, really means the same as the consecration of St Louis. So also does the consecration of the Legion of Mary, which is expressly borrowed from St. Louis.
We have all recited various prayers marked "An Act of Consecration." It is easy to recite these prayers in a way that means little, implying hardly more than a gesture of honor to Our Lord, or to Mary, or to some saint. Some understand an act of consecration to mean that they place themselves under the protection of a certain saint The act of consecration which we are about to consider is more than a pious gesture. It takes the word "consecrate" in a very literal and strict sense; it means to give oneself entirely and permanently to the service of Jesus through Mary.
St. Louis de Montfort loves to describe this consecration as "slavery" to Jesus through Mary. This description is very helpful in bringing us to realize that by it we propose to live in the closest dependence on Mary our Queen, considering ourselves as her property, so that our body and soul and our possessions, even our spiritual goods, belong to her and cannot be used or disposed of except according to her will. Some souls shrink from the concept of slavery as being contrary to the freedom of the sons of God. But we must not forget that we are all, by very nature, the slaves of God: "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein."2 St Paul opens many of his epistles with the words, "Paul, the slave of Jesus Christ" Mary herself, when the archangel told her that she was to be the Mother of God, replied: "Behold the slave girl of the Lord" ("slave girl" being the more accurate translation of the Greek, as we saw in chapter II). Mary, as Queen of all, shares in the dominion of Christ the King, so that by very nature all belong to her also.
But by this consecration we add a new title to our slavery: we do not merely acknowledge our natural condition, but we make ourselves slaves by love, proposing to serve Jesus and Mary, not in a spirit of constraint, but in the generosity of love, thereby giving ourselves all the more perfectly, in a more perfect spirit of dependence, surrendering even the proprietorship that we might have lawfully reserved over our spiritual goods. Those who are the slaves of men serve without wages. The slaves of Jesus and Mary know well that they will receive an abundant reward, but it is love rather than the thought of reward that moves them to serve their King and Queen.3
This concept of slavery not only does not contradict the fact that we are children of God and Mary, it perfects the notion of spiritual childhood. St Paul says well:
A human child, even though he may have been the heir to a great fortune, lives in dependence on parents or guardians until he comes of age: he cannot even dispose of the wealth he may possess. Similarly, by this consecration, we propose to live in complete childlike dependence on God our Father and Mary our Mother, leaving to them-for her will is perfectly in accord with His-the disposal of all that we are and have. We accept this dependence for time and for eternity: God will never cease to be our Father, nor will Mary ever fail to be our Mother.
There are two phases to this consecration. The first phase consists in the act of consecration itself, by which we actually make a gift for once and all of everything that we are able and free to give to Mary for her Son. The second phase consists in the actual living out of all the implications of the original gift. Thus it can be seen that the two phases are really integral parts of one and the same thing.
As to the first phase, the gift itself, we have said that by it we give over to Mary for Jesus everything that we are able and free to give, not only what we now have, but all we shall acquire in the future as well. We have both spiritual and temporal assets. Our spiritual assets include chiefly four kinds of goods: 1. Condign merit (a right to a reward based on justice, as was explained in chapter III); 2. Congruous merit (merit looking toward a reward from the friendship or the generosity of God rather than from His justice); 3. The impetratory power of prayer or good works; 4. The satisfactory power of prayer and good works.
The first type, condign merit, is by nature so personal that we cannot dispose of it at all: only Our Lord Himself, in virtue of the fact that He is the New Adam, was able to give such merits to us. Hence we cannot give this sort of merit to Mary to use as she wills. But we can give it to her to preserve for us, lest it be lost, and, what is equally important, to cleanse it from the stains of self which creep imperceptibly into even our best actions, for our good works easily become unacceptable to God because of these stains. But Mary, in presenting all our works to God, will join them to her own priceless merits. Thus she cleanses, and multiplies, and preserves our condign merits for us.
The case is different with congruous merit: we are able to spend it at will, to make someone else benefit by it if we wish. Hence, by this consecration, we give to Mary the right to dispose of our congruous merit for whatever end she wishes, such as the conversion of a sinner, the release of a soul in purgatory, or any other purpose, according to her good pleasure.
The power of impetration depends upon the words of Christ: "Ask and you shall receive."5 In virtue of His promise, we have a right to expect that our prayers, made under the proper conditions and in the proper way, will be heard, but by this consecration we surrender to Mary the disposal of this power in our prayers and good works. This consecration does not forbid us to pray for any legitimate intention, nor does it dispense us from praying according to the demands and suggestions of charity for relatives and others toward whom we have obligations; but we have always at least the implied condition in our every prayer, "if Mary wishes it so." If she wishes to spend some of the value of our prayers for purposes other than those for which we have asked, we give her that right. Furthermore, we will often pray without even suggesting a purpose for our prayers, leaving it entirely up to Mary what purpose should be served with them.
To have the power of satisfying for sin, a good work must be in some way afflictive or laborious:6 all good works are, at least some extent, laborious for our fallen nature. By virtue of this consecration, we allow Mary to spend this satisfactory value of our good works for whatever intention she wishes.
To sum up, we give to Mary the right to dispose of all that we are able and free to give her of our spiritual goods. This includes congruous merit, impetration, and satisfaction. But condign merit is given to her not to spend, but to cleanse, multiply, and preserve from loss.
As for temporal assets, we give to Mary the possession and ownership of our body and all its faculties. We also give her the ownership of all our temporal goods. Not that we can put Mary's name on our bank account, but we agree to use our bodies and our possessions exclusively for her service. This is a complete acknowledgment of her rights as Queen.7 What this means in practice is to be considered under the second phase of the consecration: that of living out the gifts we have made.8
We now come to the second phase, the application of this consecration to daily life. It is obvious that we should try to perform all our actions in a spirit of union with Mary. One of the most helpful means to accomplish this is to cultivate an habitual, loving consciousness of Mary's presence.9 Of course, it is not possible for a person in any walk of life to keep the thought of Mary explicitly before him at all times: it will often recede into the background, or even disappear for a time. But we can think of her often, and try never to let the thought of her be far from us. It will help if we speak often to her in an informal conversational way, telling her what we are doing, what is going on around us, asking her help, thanking her for everything. The development of this frequent and habitual awareness of Mary can come only slowly and gradually: it requires much prayer and persevering effort over a long period of time.
Our consecration also calls upon us to try to keep in mind our dependence on Mary. It is especially easy and fitting to recall this dependence when we pray. Whenever we make any prayers, we ought to make them through Mary. This toes not mean that we may not speak directly to Our Lord, or to the saints it means that we always ask the aid of the intercession of Mary in obtaining whatever we wish. It is not strictly required that all of our prayers contain an explicit invocation of Mary: our general intention of always praying through Mary will suffice on chose occasions when we do not explicitly call on her help. But we ought to aim to be as conscious of this dependence as we can, and we should often express it in our prayers. This dependence will also appear in the fact that in every prayer we have the proviso (at least implicit or understood) that what we ask is subject to the approval of Mary, since we have given to her the right to dispose of all our spiritual goods.
We must not misunderstand this point. It would be incorrect to think that we should not pray for really worth-while intentions-the advance of the glory and kingdom of God, our own salvation and that of relatives, friends, benefactors and even enemies. We also pray for the souls in purgatory. To omit these petitions would be laziness and an evil sort of indifference. Mary loves our dear ones even more than we do, and she recognizes the obligations under which we lie to pray for them. Their needs will not be less well cared for because of this dependence on Mary: rather, we and our relatives and friends will be cared for, not out of our own skimpy spiritual assets, but out of the limitless treasures of the Mediatrix of all graces. In regard to prayer for particular intentions, we should note, however, that many persons pray for mere trifles with little or no relation to salvation-e.g., for victory in a football game. Not only chose who make this consecration, but everyone in general, would do well to pay less attention to such ephemeral things when there are so many great intentions that need prayers.10
The spirit of dependence on Mary ought to grow in us as we advance, for we should come to realize more and more clearly how inadequate we are in spite of our best efforts, how tainted with self are our purest acts. Then we will beg Mary over and over to "pool" (so to speak ) our poor contribution with her own merits and sufferings and with those of her Divine Son. Relying on this partnership we can have the greatest confidence.
We agree also to try to be increasingly responsive to the inspirations we will receive through Mary. For it is through her that we receive both actual and habitual graces, and the inspirations of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this matter we must not make the mistake of thinking that we have bound ourselves always to take the most perfect course we can think of, to do every good work that comes to mind, or every penance we might imagine: the heroic virtue of the saints would be required for that. Mary expects us to grow, and to grow gradually. The general law of gradual progress applies here as elsewhere. What Mary expects of us will increase as we grow.
But how are we to know what Mary wants us to do? If we consider our lives as a whole, it is obvious that she wants us to obey all laws and commands of legitimate authority. She also wants us to be faithful in carrying out the duties of our state in life. She wants us to practice generous abandonment to the will of God in the things that His good pleasure sends us (as we saw in chapter XV). But, in addition, she wants an ever increasing generosity, which not only avoids sin, but which constantly strives to exert itself to the limits imposed by prudence and our strength in avoiding even imperfection. Thus, in any given deliberate choice, if we have several courses open to us-let us say: good, better and best-we must at least choose good, but should try more and more often, according to our stage of growth, to choose the better and the best. But to try to choose the thing best in itself at all times, would not be the best for us in our imperfect state. Not that we do not have the strength for these things considered one at a time, but a constant policy of taking all would demand heroic endurance (some of the saints actually did such things). At the same time we must note carefully that to hold ourselves constantly down to the minimum would be contrary to our consecration, and to choose a lesser good out of laziness, mere whim of pleasure, or contempt for spiritual good would involve venial sin.11
But there are times in our lives when there are no laws or commands or other obvious indications to make immediately dear what our Mother wishes of us. At such times we should simply ask Mary to guide us, and try to reason out what she would do in such a situation. Especially when some thought or suggestion presents itself to our mind, we should ask ourselves: Is that likely to be sent by Mary? or is it more likely from self or the devil? Often an idea or plan seems to us to be reasonable, but when we ask if it could have come from Mary, the mask falls off, and we see it at once for what it is. But in all these things we must beware of letting mere imagination give the answer. Nor should we wait expectantly for some feeling or emotion to strike us, and, when it does, conclude that it is an inspiration from Mary.
When we receive any inspiration for our guidance, it will come from one of two directions: by way of the more ordinary sort of actual graces, or by way of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. We shall consider the Gifts in the next chapter; here we shall look at some general features of inspirations. St Francis de Sales, in his Treatise on the Love of God, gives us a good description of how God's inspirations work and how we are to conduct ourselves toward them.12
We note the two elements in St. Francis' definition: inspiration gives us a light to see what ought to be done, and a help to the will to carry it out. Now if an inspiration is presented to us, we must take care to identify the source of the inspiration, for movements similar in appearance come from nature and from the devil, who may transform himself into an angel of light,14 and urge us even to genuinely good things, but in such a way as to produce more evil than good. The first point to note is well stated by St. Francis: "We are to proportion our attention to the importance of what we undertake."15 Some matters are of such little moment as to require practically no consideration; others of greater moment deserve more thought. St. Francis gives us three marks of genuine inspiration:16 1. Are they in harmony with our vocation? or do they lead us to perseverance in some good course already adopted?-or, on the contrary, do they lead to inconstancy, to many starts with no follow-through? 2. Are they conducive to peace and gentleness of heart? Divine inspirations seldom cause any upset, except in the case of one who is tepid or in sin, to prod his conscience to extricate himself from that condition. Or do they cause disquiet and solicitude? Divine inspirations may cause some disturbance at their first appearance, but peace soon follows.17 3. Are they in accord with obedience? This last point is of cardinal importance. According to St. Francis, "In obedience all is secure, outside of it all is to be suspected."18 In ocher words, any decision that deals with an important matter or with a general policy that will affect many small things should be submitted to the proper authority, be that an ecclesiastical superior and/or a spiritual director. Many additional considerations can be found in other writers. Especially valuable is the detailed treatment given by St. Ignatius of Loyola of "Rules for perceiving ... the different movements which are caused in the soul" and "Rules for the ... discernment of spirits" in his Spiritual Exercises.19
St. Louis de Montfort compares Mary to a mould.20 There are two ways to make a statue or image, says St. Louis. One way is by chiseling it Out of a block of stone, one stroke at a time. In this method very great skill is needed, as great damage might come from one slip. The other is to have a perfect mould, and pour molten material into it. Mary is the mould in which Christ was formed. So also we could be quickly formed to the image of her Son, by docility to the inspirations which come through her, both by actual graces and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, whose spouse she is. But in order to achieve this, the material must be molten and pliable: hard material forced into even a perfect mould will not yield to change. This means that great docility is required; and docility itself requires much humility, detachment, mortification, and habitual recollection.21 But grace is necessary even for obtaining these dispositions; and all these graces can be obtained much more readily if we are faithful to Mary.
We have already stressed the fact that this consecration does not result in any loss to ourselves or to our relatives and others dear to us: all are cared for out of Mary's vast treasures. But what is to be said of one who, before making this consecration, has already contracted particular obligations to offer specific prayers for specific intentions? The general principle is that we are not required to do anything about obligations already contracted at the time we made this consecration. Such commitments may be allowed to stand as they are.
Some of these obligations, however, are such that we are free to change them: that is, obligations not imposed by law nor by any similar strict sanction may be transferred and placed under this new method. To take a concrete example, some persons have made the excellent Heroic Act for the souls in Purgatory, giving over to them the satisfactory value of all their good actions. Such a one has two options: he may merely let the Heroic Act stand without change; or he may decide that since it is an obligation that he may retract without sin,22 he wishes to withdraw the previous gift so as to give it anew, and give it in a way which will really be of even more help to the Souls in Purgatory than it was before. In other words, he retracts the offering of his satisfactions, includes them in the consecration, and then asks Mary to take care of the Poor Souls. She, being Queen of Purgatory, loves the souls there far more than we do, and will, out of her limitless resources, help them far more than they could have been helped by our own satisfactions alone.
Obligations that we are not free to retract remain unchanged. For Mary respects the obligations that a changed state of life, e.g., entry into a religious order, may impose on us even after making the consecration.
The question of the application of the Mass presents a few special problems. We do not refer to the case of one who merely assists at Mass; whatever spiritual values he may obtain are covered by this consecration, just as are other good works. We consider here the case of the priest who offers Mass. It is a matter of divine law that the priest who offers the Mass must determine the intention for which it is applied.23 Hence in no case may the celebrant directly allow Mary to determine the purpose for which the Mass is to be applied. He himself must make that determination.24 When he is bound by a stipend or other means, such as the command of a religious superior, he must simply make the application as directed. But whenever he is offering a Mass of which he is free to dispose, he may, if he wishes (though he is not obliged to do so by this consecration), indirectly allow Mary to determine it For he is permitted to offer Mass "for a special intention" when someone so requests. This means that the priest determines the application of the Mass as being for the intention which the giver of the stipend has in mind. The priest himself thus determines the application, even though, as is usually the case, he does not ask what purpose the donor has in mind. He may do similarly with regard to Mary, unless, as was said, he is bound by stipend or other obligation; he may offer a Mass for the intention or intentions for which Mary wishes to have it offered. In view of the above-mentioned provision of divine law, however, he is not strictly obliged to allow Mary to determine it thus indirectly even when he is free to do so.
What of a person who has made this consecration and now wishes to have a Mass offered for a definite purpose-e.g., for the soul of his father? In view of the provision of divine law mentioned above, he has a choice: he may merely request a Mass for his father, making no mention of Mary; or he may ask the priest to say a Mass for the intention for which Mary wishes it said, and then turn to Mary and ask that it be for his father-and he may be entirely confident that Mary will grant the request. Of course, someone who is merely transmitting Mass offerings given by other persons is not free to use this second method: he must comply with the request of the donors, without making any modification whatsoever.
Does this method interfere with devotion to other saints? Definitely not. Our chief reason for embracing this method is that it is so perfectly in line with God's own plan of using Mary as a universal helper in all His dealings with us. Similarly, it is part of God's plan that we should use the intercession of other saints on occasion, but their function is not universal as Mary's is. Furthermore, just as we must still always employ the intercession of Mary though we may speak directly to God, so also the saints obtain through Mary all the favors they ask, for she is Mediatrix of all graces. They will obtain favors for us in this way whether or not we ask them to, but it is fitting that we should at times make this explicit in our prayers. Hence devotion to various other saints-our own personal patrons, those of our parish, our school, our community, our profession-is to be encouraged.
Nor does this interfere with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. All that we give to Mary is given to her that He may find it more acceptable coming through her pure hands than through our stained hands. She keeps nothing for herself, but transmits it all to Him.
Some persons, once they realize all the implications of this consecration, ask: Is this not going too far? is this theologically sound?25 We can only point out again that it is merely following the pattern traced for us by God Himself. But if some are still unable to follow the reasoning we have used, they have abundant assurance that this method is not only safe but is to be recommended highly, when they learn that every Pope (six in all) since the time the book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary was first examined by Rome, has not merely approved but recommended it.26 Saint Pius X practiced this devotion himself, and in addition granted the Apostolic Blessing to all who would even read St Louis' book, a distinction enjoyed by few books!
To sum up, then, by this consecration we give to Jesus through Mary all that we are able and free to give. We give our strict merits to purify, increase, and preserve; all our other spiritual treasures to dispose of as she pleases-our entire being and all that we have, to be used according to her inspirations. We try to carry out the implications of this gift in every action, striving to live always in Mary's presence, to do all in union with her, in dependence on her, constantly seeking to discover what Mary would wish us to do in this case, what she would do. We ask her permission for everything. But especially-and this is very important-we learn to rely more on the support of Mary than on our own "goodness." Not that we are excused from doing our best, but that we should come to realize more and more clearly our own inadequacy, and ask Mary not only to purify our own slight offerings, but to unite them to her own tremendous merits, and to the Heart and Wounds of her Son: on such treasures we rely, rather than on what we give.
If we do our best to live out all the implications of this consecration, then we are really complying with the suggestion of Saint Pius X: