PART 3 - The Illuminative Way of Proficients
Ch 26 :
Devotion to Mary in Proficients
In chapter six of the first part of this work, we spoke of the influence of Mary Mediatrix, explaining how she cooperated in the sacrifice of the cross through merit and satisfaction, how she does not cease to intercede for us, to obtain for us and distribute to us all the graces that we receive. We shall apply these principles here, as St. Grignion de Montfort does, (1) to show what devotion to Mary should be in proficients. We shall see what constitutes true devotion to the Blessed Virgin, its degrees, and its fruits.
We are not speaking here of an entirely exterior, presumptuous, inconstant, hypocritical, and interested devotion, but of true devotion which St. Thomas defines as "promptness of the will in the service of God." (2) This promptness of the will, which should subsist despite aridity of the sensible part of the soul, inclines us to render to our Lord and His holy Mother the worship that is due them.(3) As Jesus is our Mediator with His Father, in the same way we should go to our Savior through Mary. The mediation of the Son throws light on that of His holy Mother.
They are deluded who claim to reach union with God without having continual recourse to our Lord. They will hardly attain to an abstract knowledge of God, and not to that sweet knowledge called wisdom; a lofty knowledge at once practical, living, and experiential, which makes us discover the ways of Providence in the most insignificant things. The quietists were mistaken in holding that Christ's sacred humanity was a means useful only at the beginning of the spiritual life; they did not sufficiently recognize the universal mediation of our Savior.
Another error consists in wishing to go to our Lord without passing through Mary. This was one of the errors of the Protestants. And even some Catholics do not see clearly enough how expedient it is to have recourse to the Blessed Virgin in order to enter the intimacy of Christ. As St. Grignion de Montfort says, they know Mary "only in a speculative, dry, fruitless, indifferent manner. . . . They fear that devotion toward her is abused and that injury is done to our Lord by paying excessive honor to His holy Mother. . . . If they speak of devotion to Mary, it is less to recommend it than to destroy the abuses of it." (4) They seem to consider Mary "a hindrance in reaching divine union," (5)whereas all her influence is exercised in order to lead us to it. It would be just as sensible to say that the holy Cure of Ars was a hindrance to his parishioners in their progress toward God.
To neglect the Mediators whom God has given us because of our weakness, shows a lack of humility. Intimacy with our Lord in prayer will be greatly facilitated by frequent recourse to Mary.
Devotion to Mary, which should exist in every Christian, ought to grow with charity. The first degree consists in praying to the Blessed Virgin from time to time, honoring her as the Mother of God, saying, for example, the Angelus with true recollection every time it rings. The second degree consists in having more perfect sentiments of veneration, confidence, and love for Mary. They lead us to the daily recitation of at least one of the three parts of the Rosary while we meditate on the joyful, sorrowful, or glorious mysteries, which are for us the road of eternal life.
The third degree of the true devotion to Mary, that proper to proficients, consists in consecrating oneself entirely to our Lord through her. In a clear explanation of this consecration, St. Grignion de Montfort says: "This devotion consists in giving oneself entirely to the Blessed Virgin in order to belong entirely to Jesus Christ through her. We must give her: (I) our body with all its senses and members (that she may keep them in perfect purity); (2) our soul with all its powers; (3) our exterior goods, present and to come; (4) our interior and spiritual goods, our merits, virtues, and good works, past, present, and future." (6)
To have a clear understanding of this oblation, we must distinguish in our good works between what is incommunicable to others and what is communicable to other souls. What is incommunicable in our good works is merit, properly so called (de condigno), which constitutes a right in justice to an increase of charity and to eternal life. These personal merits are incommunicable; in this respect they differ from those of Jesus Christ who, being constituted the head of humanity and our pledge, could merit for us in strict justice.
Consequently, if we offer our merits, properly so called, to the Blessed Virgin, it is not that she may give them to other souls, but that she may preserve them, make them fructify, and, if we should have the misfortune to lose them through mortal sin, that she may obtain for us the grace of so fervent a contrition that it may enable us to recover not only the state of grace, but the degree of grace lost; so that if we have lost five talents, we may recover these five, and not merely two or three.(7)
What is communicable to others in our good works is congruous merit;
it is also their satisfactory or reparatory value and their value as
impetration or prayer.
Lastly, we can satisfy for others, we can voluntarily accept the punishment due to their sins, expiate them, as Mary did for us at the foot of the cross, and thus draw the divine mercy down upon them. We can also gain indulgences for the souls in purgatory, open to them the treasure of the merits of Christ and the saints, and hasten their deliverance.
If we offer all our vexations and sufferings to Mary in this way, she will send us crosses proportionate to our strength aided by grace to make us labor for the salvation of souls.
Who should be advised to make this consecration as we have explained it? It should not be advised for those who would make it through sentimentality or spiritual pride without comprehending its meaning; but it is fitting to counsel it for truly pious and fervent souls, at first for a time, from one feast of the Blessed Virgin to another, then for a year. Thus one will become penetrated by this spirit of abandonment and later can make this act with fruit for one's whole life.
It has been objected that such an act strips us and does not pay our own debt, which will increase our purgatory. This is the objection made by the devil to St. Bridget when she was preparing to make a similar act. Our Lord made the saint understand that this is the objection of self-love, which forgets the goodness of Mary, who does not let herself be outdone in generosity. By thus stripping oneself, one receives the hundredfold. And indeed the love to which this generous act testifies obtains for us even now the remission of part of our purgatory.
Others object, asking how, after having once and for all given all our prayers to Mary, we can pray especially for our parents and friends. The answer to this question is that the Blessed Virgin knows our duties of charity toward our parents and friends, and, should we forget to pray for them as we ought, she would remind us to do so. Moreover, among our parents and friends there are some who have a particular need of prayers, of which we are often ignorant; but Mary knows their needs and will thus, without our being aware of it, make these souls benefit by our prayers. We can always ask her to favor others.
St. Grignion de Montfort says (8) that this road to God is easier, and nevertheless more meritorious, and consequently a more perfect, short, and sure road.
First of all, it is an easier way. "One can in truth," he says, "reach divine union by other roads; but it will be by many more crosses and strange deaths, with many more difficulties, which he shall conquer with greater difficulty. He shall have to pass through dark nights, combats, and strange agonies, steep mountains, very sharp thorns, and frightful deserts. But by way of Mary, the passage is more sweet and tranquil. On this road, in truth, are great combats to be fought and great difficulties to be overcome; but this good Mother takes up her position so near her faithful servants to enlighten them in their darkness, to illumine them in their doubts, to sustain them in their struggles and difficulties that in reality this virginal road to find Jesus Christ is a road of roses and honey compared with other roads." Evidence of this fact appears in the lives of saints who more particularly followed this way, such as St. Ephrem, St. John Damascene, St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Francis de Sales.
The vision of St. Francis of Assisi in this connection is well known. One day the saint saw his sons trying to reach our Lord by a ladder that was red and very steep; after climbing a few rungs, they would 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."
By way of Mary the road is easier because the Blessed Virgin supports us by her gentleness; nevertheless it is a more meritorious road because Mary obtains for us a greater charity, which is the principle of merit. The difficulties to be overcome are certainly an occasion of merit, but the principle of merit is charity, the love of God, by which we triumph over these difficulties. We should remember that Mary merited more by her easiest acts, such as a simple prayer, than did the martyrs in their torments, for she put more love of God into these easy acts than the saints did in heroic acts. Since the road by way of Mary is easier and more meritorious, it is shorter, surer, and more perfect; more easily traveled, progress on it is more rapid. By submission to the Mother of God, a person makes greater progress in a short time than he would make in many years relying excessively on his own personal prudence. Under the direction of her whom the Incarnate Word obeyed, he walks with giant steps.
This road is also more perfect, since through Mary the Word of God came down perfectly to us without losing anything of His divinity; through her, very little souls can ascend even to the Most High without fearing anything. She purifies our good works and increases their value when she presents them to her Son.
Lastly, it is a surer road, on which we are better preserved from the illusions of the devil who seeks to deceive us, imperceptibly at first, that later he may lead us into great sin. On this road we are also preserved from the illusions of day-dreaming and sentimentality. In the subordination of the causes that transmit divine grace, Mary exercises, in fact, a salutary influence on our sensibility; she calms it, rules it, to enable the elevated part of our soul to receive the influence of our Lord more fruitfully. In addition, Mary herself is to our sensible faculties a most pure and holy object, which lifts our soul toward union with God. She gives us great interior liberty, and, on our urgent petition, she sometimes obtains our immediate deliverance from the deviations of our sensible appetites which hinder prayer and intimate union with our Lord. The purpose of the entire influence of Mary Mediatrix is to lead us to the intimacy of Jesus, as He Himself leads us to the Father.
It is advisable to ask for Mary's particular assistance at the moment of Holy Communion that she may make us share in her profound piety and love, as if she were to lend us her most pure heart to receive our Lord worthily. We may with profit make our thanksgiving in the same way.
We shall conclude by giving the essential parts of the consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ through Mary's hands:
O Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom! O most amiable and adorable Jesus, true God and true Man, I thank Thee for having annihilated Thyself, taking the form of a slave, to draw me from the slavery of the devil. . . . I have recourse to the intercession of Thy most holy Mother, whom Thou hast given me as a Mediatrix. By this means I hope to obtain from Thee contrition and the pardon of my sins, the acquisition and preservation of wisdom.
Hail, Immaculate Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, to whom everything under God is subject. Hail, safe Refuge of sinners, whose mercy fails no one; hear and grant my desires for divine wisdom, and to that end receive the vows and offerings that my baseness presents to thee.
I, an unfaithful sinner, today renew and ratify in thy hands my baptismal vows. I forever renounce Satan, his works and pomps, and I give myself completely to Jesus Christ, Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life. And that I may be more faithful to Him than I have been hitherto, I choose thee, O Mary, for my mother.
I give and consecrate to thee my body and soul, my interior and
goods, and the very value of my good works past, present, and future.
Present me to thy Son and grant me the grace to obtain true wisdom
from God, and for that purpose to place myself in the number of those
whom thou dost love, teach, lead, feed, and protect. O faithful
Virgin, render me in all things so perfect a disciple and imitator of
Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ, thy Son, that by thy intercession and
example, I may attain to the plenitude of His age on earth and His
glory in heaven. Amen.(9)
1. Treatise on the True Devotion to Mary. The Secret of Mary.
2. Summa, IIa IIae, q.82, a. I: "Devotion is apparently nothing else
3. A distinction must be made, however, between the worship of latria due to God and the humanity of the Savior personally united to the Word, and the worship of hyperdulia, due to the Blessed Virgin.
4. Treatise on the True Devotion to Mary, chap. 2, a.1.
5. Ibid., chap. 4, a.6.
6. Ibid., chap. 3. a. 1.
7. Cf. Summa, IIIa. q.89. a.2.
8. Ibid., chap. 4. a. 4 f.
9. This is the essential part of the consecration at the close of St. Grignion de Montfort's
Treatise on the True Devotion to Mary. Mention is made there,
in contrast to the slavery of sin, of a holy slavery of love which
some have not always clearly understood. It in no way diminishes the
wholly filial affection which we should have for Mary, but in the
formula itself some souls prefer to place the emphasis on this filial
character of our relations with the Mother of God.