The Father William Most Collection
Consecration to Mary
[Spiritual Life 4 (May 1958) 108-17]
GOD, in His infinite wisdom and goodness, has planned that there be many and varied approaches to the spiritual life, so that thereby He might mercifully adapt His ways to the manifold differences found in the sons of men. Some descriptions of the way of perfection make it appear to be a very complex process. To St. John of the Cross, however, it is utterly simple, so simple that it could be summed up in two words: ALL-NOTHING. God is All-to have Him, one needs to void himself of everything that does not help to attain the All. If one has any disordered desire whatsoever, "... the more the desire for that thing fills the soul, the less capacity has the soul for God."1 On the other hand, "When ... the soul voids itself of all things ... it is impossible ... that God should fail to perform His own part by communicating Himself to the soul at least secretly and in silence. It is more impossible than that the sun should fail to shine in a serene and unclouded sky.... God, like the sun, is above our souls and ready to communicate Himself to them."2 In the thought of St. John, God not only sincerely wills the salvation of all men: such is His incomprehensible goodness, such His desire to give Himself to all that if the soul does not become filled with God,3 the reason is not that God for any reason has held back, but solely because the soul failed to do its part by emptying itself to make room for God.
The goal, then, that St. John proposes is, "... union and transformation of the soul with God," which "comes to pass when the two wills-namely that of the soul and that of God-are conformed together in one, and there is naught in the one that is repugnant to the other."4
It is remarkable how admirably a total consecration to our Lady accords with St. John's principles, and how powerfully it aids the soul in putting these principles into practice. It is true, St. John himself, in his major works, does not point this out, but the reason is not that he did not appreciate the place of Mary in the spiritual life-it is rather the fact that he was intent on a rather speculative presentation of principles. For there is no doubt that St. John in his personal life was greatly devoted to Mary, who seems to have saved his life miraculously5 on more than one occasion. And was he not a member of a thoroughly Marian Order, enriched with the special favor of her Scapular, of which our present Holy Father wrote: "... may it be to them a sign of their consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of the Immaculate Virgin."6
The consecration we have in mind is a total consecration, which one not only makes, but lives out most fully, so that it affects his whole life. Such a total consecration is found in different forms. Probably the best known is that presented by St. Louis de Montfort. The consecration which the saintly Father Chaminade gave to his Society of Mary is substantially the same, differing only, as the eminent Marianist theologian, E. Neubert, says, "in certain nuances."7 To live out a total consecration to Mary means to give oneself completely into her hands by an entire gift of oneself, so that, under the inspiration of her example, and with her all powerful help, he may, as our present Holy Father says, "conform [his] whole life to her direction and desires."8 It is obvious, then, that if one really gives all to Mary, he must thereby also strive to void himself of everything9 that would impede him from attaining the All. And if he tries to fulfill not only her commands, but even her desires, he must by that very fact tend powerfully toward that "union and transformation of the soul with God" which "comes to pass when the two wills-namely that of the soul and that of God- are conformed together in one...."10 For if a soul, abandoning its own desires, tries to conform its whole life to her desires, then, since her will is entirely one with the will of God, there will be "naught in the one," the human will, "that is repugnant to the other," the will of God. It is easy to see, therefore, what a great help to spiritual growth comes from such a consecration by the very fact that it so strongly promotes detachment and conformity to the will of God. But we must not forget also, that while our Blessed Mother, the Mediatrix of all graces, cares lovingly for all her children, when she sees that some are giving themselves totally into her hands, she will not be outdone in generosity, but will obtain for them the choicest graces to bring them as close as possible to her divine Son.
Let us examine each of these points more fully.
The power of example is tremendous. The great St. Augustine before his conversion, though he had reached a point at which he no longer felt any intellectual obstacle to entering the Church, yet was held back by his evil life. Speculative considerations on the goodness of virtue were familiar to him, but these did not suffice. The external means through which grace actually led him to change from a great sinner into a great saint was the example of saintly men of his time, of which he read and heard. What then must be the force of the matchless example of Mary, if one places it before his mind by means of frequent meditation!11 As Pope Pius XII said:
St. John of the Cross insists that faith, hope, and love are the true means of union with God in this life. Whoever had faith that could compare to Mary's faith? Although her own people, even the divinely approved teachers of Israel, failed to understand the prophecies which told of the divinity of the coming Messias, although she encountered apparent contradictions to what the Archangel had told her, her faith never wavered. For Gabriel had said that her Son would sit on the throne of David: yet He came into His own, and His own received Him not. He was to be a mighty King forever, yet had to flee from the wrath of the petty Herod. For the thirty years of His hidden life, He seemed to all eyes, except the eyes of faith, to be just an ordinary child- a good child- but still not basically different from the others. Yet Mary never ceased to believe and to adore. Finally, dying in public disgrace, He Himself cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"13 Yet Mary's faith and hope did not waver, and during those dark three days before the first Easter, when the very pillars of the Church had fallen from belief, she remained almost the sole vessel of faith upon the earth. In fact, since our Lord Himself, because He always possessed the Beatific Vision, was incapable of having the virtues of faith and hope, it is plain that Mary's faith and hope were greater than those of any other soul.
Again, it is good for us to try-though the attempt can never fully succeed-to picture to ourselves Mary's love of God. Her divine Son said: "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me."14 The very first picture the Gospels give us of her provides a glimpse of her utter self-effacement before the will of God. The Archangel had just brought the divine message to her. She who at that very moment was raised to the highest dignity of all creatures, to a "dignity second only to God," as Pope Pius XI said,15 replied by saying: "Behold the slave girl of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word."16 St. John of the Cross tells us that when a soul reaches the most perfect love and conformity with the will of God, "God alone moves the faculties of these souls to do those works which are meet, according to the will and ordinance of God, and they cannot be moved to do others.... Such were those of the most glorious Virgin, our Lady, who, being raised to this high estate from the beginning, had never the form of any creature imprinted in her soul, neither was moved by such, but was invariably guided by the Holy Spirit."17 Even when St. Joseph, the just man, was tempted to doubt her chastity, and was minded to put her away privately, Mary would not speak one word in her own defense, for such was the will of God. The Holy Spirit, whose ever faithful Spouse she was, had not moved her to defend herself, preferring instead to accept her loving surrender to the divine will, and to inform Joseph through an angel.
Pope Pius IX, in speaking of Mary's holiness (and, therefore, her love, for these are always equal) wrote that it is so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one, except God, can comprehend it."18 We can comprehend to some extent the sanctity of even so great a saint as St. John of the Cross, with his tremendous austerities and burning love. But were we to multiply his sanctity to the greatest degree of which our minds could conceive, we still would not have formed anything like an adequate idea of Mary's love and holiness, for as Pope Pius IX said, "No one except God can comprehend it"! Here indeed is the perfect example of a soul completely filled with love, completely voided of self-so empty of self that God has made her the channel through which all graces pass to all mankind.
St. John of the Cross with keen clarity has stressed that all perfection depends on the union of our wills with the will of God. We can do nothing more perfect than to conform our will and our actions as exactly as possible to those of God. Let us see, then, what we can discern of the will of God in regard to Mary.
Many good Catholics, though they have a tender devotion to the Mother of God, may yet fail to realize fully the position which God has willed to give to her in His dealings with us. For although they do have a good knowledge of most of the Marian teachings of the Church, they may not have heard of certain less familiar points, and, what is of particular importance, they never may have added together the various elements of the truth to form a unified picture, and, as a result, fail to learn a most important spiritual lesson.
Let us, therefore, briefly attempt to sketch such a synthesis.
From all eternity, God had planned for the Mother of Christ. As Pope Pius IX said,19 in the eternal designs of God, our divine Redeemer and His Blessed Mother were provided for in one and the same eternal decree. Hardly had our first parents started mankind on its long course of rejecting the generous advances of God, when the Father, His thoughts bent not on vengeance, but on pardon, at once promised the Redeemer, and, in the very same sentence, spoke of a mysterious Woman who would be associated with Him in crushing the head of the infernal serpent.20 Many thousands of years later, when the fullness of time had come, the same kind Father began to put His eternal plan into execution by sending the Archangel Gabriel to ask Mary to consent, "in the name of the whole human race," as Pope Leo XIII said,21 to become the Mother of the Saviour. Then there began what St. Pius X described as a "never dissociated manner of life and labors of the Son and the Mother."22 Even before His birth, the Saviour brought cleansing grace to the unborn Precursor, St. John the Baptist-and He did it through the instrumentality of His Mother. After the brief glory of the angel's song at Bethlehem, our Redeemer withdrew with Mary into obscurity, and, though He had come to save the world, deemed it best, according to the will of the Father, that He should go down to Nazareth and be subject to Mary and Joseph,23 spending thirty of His thirty-three years in that marvelous communion in obscure faith, showing no signs and wonders. During His public life, Mary appears briefly at the very start, revealing her intimate union with Him and her power over His Heart, when He, at her request, performed His first sign, advancing the divinely set hour. Thereafter, during the days when the crowds acclaimed Him, she withdrew into the shadows, but remained ever united to Him in the obscurity of faith, hope, and love, and in meriting for us, for we know that even this time did not interrupt that "never dissociated manner of life and labors of the Son and the Mother."24 But finally, when the dread hour of the great Sacrifice had come, Mary emerged from the shadows into the far more obscure dark night that hung over Calvary. There, as Pope Benedict XV said, "With her suffering and dying Son, Mary endured suffering and almost death."25 For her sufferings were proportioned to His indescribable torment, and to her love for Him, which was so great that "no one except God can comprehend it."26 "She gave up her Mother's rights over her Son to procure the salvation of mankind, and, to appease the divine justice, she, as much as was hers to do, immolated her Son."27 Therefore, as St. Pius X wrote: "She merited for us congruously ... what Christ merited condignly,"28 or, to continue with the words of Pope Benedict XV, "one can rightly say that together with Christ she has redeemed the human race." Hence, as most theologians understand these words of the popes, we arrive at the tremendous conclusion that what the Eternal Father accepted as the price of our salvation was a joint offering, made by the New Adam, with the co-operation of the New Eve: He, alone sufficient and necessary, alone paying a superabundant ransom; she, in her inferior way, joining in the offering, so that, to paraphrase St. Pius X, she paid congruously the price that Christ paid condignly. For the goodness and generosity of the Eternal Father was so great that He willed to accept even her lesser, and in itself insufficient, offering, as fused, so to speak, with His great offering, into one great price of the ransom of all.29
But the dark night of Calvary soon passed, and the Bridegroom Himself rose in glory. Just as His Resurrection was, in the words of Pope Pius XII, "an essential part and final sign of this victory" over sin and death, "so also that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her Son had to be closed by the 'glorification' of her virginal body.30 In other words, since Mary's cooperation had been so much an integral part of the obtaining of Redemption that the "struggle ... was common' to both, a common cause had to have a common effect. In Christ, this effect was the Resurrection: in Mary, it would be the Assumption.
Then, in everlasting splendor, "He, the Son of God, reflects on His heavenly Mother the glory, the majesty, and the dominion of His kingship. For, having been associated with the King of Martyrs in the unspeakable work of human Redemption as Mother and Co-operatrix, she remains forever associated to Him, with an almost unlimited power, in the distribution of the graces that flow from the Redemption.... And her kingdom is as vast as that of her Son and God, since nothing is excluded from her dominion."31 Hence by this "royal power ... she is able to dispense the treasures of the Kingdom of the Divine Redeemer."32 Or, as Pope Leo XIII expressed it: "... absolutely nothing of that great treasury of grace which the Lord brought us ... is given to us except through Mary, for such is the will of God: so that just as no one can go to the Most High Father except through the Son, in much the same way, no one can come to Christ except through His Mother."33 There are no exceptions-even the graces, of the Sacraments, even infused contemplation and the choicest fruits of the Holy Spirit come through Mary. For was it not even true that on the first Pentecost, as our present Holy Father said: "She it was who, by her most mighty prayers, obtained that the Spirit of the Divine Redeemer, already given on the Cross, should be bestowed on the new-born Church ... in the company of miraculous gifts."34
We see, then, that Mary is inseparable from her divine Son. As Pope Pius XII said, she is "always sharing His lot" and "always most intimately united with her Son...."35 There is and always has been a "never dissociated manner of life and labors of the Son and the Mother."36 We might sum it all up in a brief word: Mary's role, according to the will of God, is best described as all-pervading. She is everywhere in His dealings with us. She shared intimately in earning all graces, she shares equally in distributing every grace. Would it not, then, be an excellent means of conformity with the ways of God if we would give to her an equally all-pervading place in our own spiritual lives, by making and living a total consecration to her?37
It is obvious, then, that if one really lives out a life of total consecration to Mary, our Mother, our most glorious Queen, the inseparable associate of Christ in all His works, he will find therein a most powerful help toward carrying out the ideals set before us by St. John of the Cross. For he is thereby brought more fully under the powerful attractiveness of the perfect example of Mary's virtues. He is led to hate, and to void himself of all that is disordered, by his attempt to "conform [his] whole life to her direction and her desires."38 His will is drawn gradually into complete conformity with Mary's will, which is ever in perfect unison with the will of God. Even his very manner of seeking to achieve conformity with the will of God by conformity with the will of Mary is particularly in accord with God's good pleasure, for, if one gives to Mary an all-pervading role in his spiritual life, he is thereby imitating the ways of God, who gives to Mary an all-pervading place in all His dealings with us. And if, in carrying out his total consecration, one goes so far as to give to Mary the right to dispose of all his spiritual treasures39-and a really total consecration naturally implies this40-he is thereby imitating most closely the example of Christ the King, who makes His Queen and Mother His treasurer, without whom absolutely no grace is given to mankind. It is obvious, further, that in surrendering to Mary even the disposition of his dearest treasures, he is greatly aided in avoiding attachments which, as St. John of the Cross points out so well, can lurk in even the holiest things. Finally, the soul is aided to accomplish these things not only by the inherent tendency of the consecration to promote detachment and conformity to the will of God: for Mary, our Queen and Mother, the all-powerful Mediatrix of all graces, while she cares lovingly for all her children, has a still greater, most special love and assistance for those who joyfully give themselves totally into her hands.
It is easy to see, then, how true are the words of St. Pius X:
|St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1.6.1 (transl. by E. Allison Peers, Westminster, Md., 1946, I, 34).
|St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, 3.46-47 (III.185).
|St. John means that infused contemplation will certainly be given to the soul that does its part. It may, however, come not in experimental, fruitive form, but "in secret and in silence," that is, in arid form. Cf. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., St. John of the Cross (transl. by a Benedictine of Stanbrook Abbey, Cork, 1947), 97.
|St. John, Ascent, 2.5.3 (I.80).
|Cf. Crisogono de Jesus Sacramentado, O.C.D., Vida de San Juan de la Cruz, in Vida y Obras de San Juan de la Cruz (Madrid, 1950), p. 44, n. 26; p. 196, n. 91.
|Pius XII, Neminem profecto, February 11, 1950; Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 42.391 (cited from translation in: E. K. Lynch, O.Carm., Mary's Gift to Carmel, Aylesford, 1955, viii-ix).
|E. Neubert, S.M., La vie d'union à Marie (Paris, 1954), 29.
|Pius XII, Depuis le 8 décembre, September 5, 1954 (To Marian Congress at Brussels, where a total act of consecration to Mary was being made). Cited from The Pope Speaks, 1954, 3.282.
|Our Blessed Mother, of course, expects her children to grow gradually. Cf. St. John of the Cross, Ascent, 1.2.1 (I.19).
|Cf. note 4 above.
|Of course, meditation on the virtues seen in the human nature of Mary ceases during the passive night, just as does other meditation, and even the thought of the Sacred Humanity of Christ may become impossible at times. However, the presence of Mary is experienced in a special way by some souls during the night, and, when infused contemplation appears in a more developed form, the presence of Mary is sometimes perceived as part of the object of contemplation, in union with the divinity. Cf. Basilio de San Pablo, C.P., "La Maternidad Espiritual de Maria en el purgatorio mistico," in Estudios Marianos, 7 (Madrid, 1948), 241-285; Ildefonso de la Inmaculada, O.C.D., "Elementos Físico-Marianos en la gracia y la mistica," in Estudios Marianos, 7, 197-240; Gregorio de Jesus Crucificado, O.C.D., "La acción de María en las almas y la Mariologia moderna" in Estudios Marianos, 11 (Madrid, 1951), 253-278; Buenaventura García-Rodrigues, C.M.F., "María en las almas" in Estudios Marianos, 12 (Madrid, 1952), 193-235; and W. G. Most, Mary in Our Life (New York, 1954), 131-132, and further references there.
|Pius XII, Au moment oú, July 26, 1954. Cited from The Pope Speaks, 1954, 3.273-274.
|Pius XI, Lux veritatis, December 25, 1931; Acta Apost. Sedis, 23.513.
|Lk. 1:38. Translation adapted to bring out the more exact force of the original Greek word, which normally meant slave girl.
|St. John of the Cross, Ascent, 3.2.10 (I.28-231). Cf. also Living Flame of Love, 1.4, 1.9, and 2.34.
|Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854.
|Gen. 3:15. On the interpretation of this text, cf. E. May, O.F.M.Cap., "Mary in the Old Testament" in J. B. Carol, O.F.M. (ed.), Mariology (Milwaukee, 1954), I, 56 62.
|Leo XIII, Octobri mense, September 22, 1891; Acta Sanctae Sedis, 24.195.
|St. Pius X, Ad diem illum, February 2, 1904; Acta Sanctae Sedis, 38.453.
|Cf. note 22 above. Emphasis added
|Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia, March 22, 1918; Acta Apost. Sedis, 10.182.
|Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus.
|Benedict XV, as in note 25 above.
|St. Pius X, Ad diem illum; Acta Sanctae Sedis, 36.454.
|This teaching sheds fresh glory on the efficacy of the Passion of Christ, for it was not only more than enough to redeem countless worlds, but was even able to make a mere creature capable of co-operating in that Redemption. For all Mary's ability to merit was derived from His Passion.
|Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, November 1, 1950; Acta Apost. Sedis, 42.768. Emphasis added.
|Pius XII, Bendito seja, May 13, 1946; Acta Apost. Sedis, 38.266.
|Pius XII Ad Caeli Reginam, October 11, 1954; Acta Apost. Sedis, 46.635.
|Leo XIII Octobri mense, September 22, 1891; Acta Sanctae Sedis, 24.196.
|Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, June 29, 1943; Acta Apost. Sedis, 35.248.
|Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus. Acta Apost. Sedis, 42.768 and Mystici Corporis. Ibid. 35.247.
|Cf. note 22 above.
|Although devotion to Mary grows in all souls as they grow spiritually (unless, of course ignorance prevents it from increasing explicitly in which case it will increase implicitly inasmuch as they will love what God loves, and intend to observe the economy of salvation He has established) yet in some souls it will take a more explicit, constantly conscious, intimate form than in others. The more fully Marian forms are obviously objectively better, as being in closer conformity with the ways of God Himself. Yet there is a providential difference in spiritual attractions. Cf. St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, No. 152.
|Cf. note 8 above.
|This is done only insofar as they are by nature capable of being disposed. The impetratory and satisfactory value of prayer and good works is alienable. So is congruous merit. Condign merit is not.
|This feature is stressed in the very formula of consecration by St. Louis de Montfort. On this element in the consecration of Father Chaminade, cf. E. Neubert, op. cit., pp. 51-52, 145-146.
|St. Pius X, Ad diem illum; Acta Sanctae Sedis, 36.451.