This devotion consists then in giving ourselves entirely to the Blessed Virgin, in order to belong entirely to Jesus through her.
-St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort
True Devotion to Mary, No. 121.
These words by St. Louis de Montfort, the great promulgator of Marian consecration, well sum up the means and the goal of consecration to Jesus through Mary. Far from being simply an added or isolated Marian piety, consecration to Jesus through Mary represents a crowning of Marian devotion, a new and dynamic Marian dimension of the Christian life that has been enthusiastically encouraged by the Church through both invitation and example.
What Is Marian Consecration?
Marian consecration is fundamentally a promise of love and a gift of self that gives all that the Christian is and does completely and directly to the Mother of the Lord, which thereby allows her to unite us to her Divine Son in ways simply not possible without her powerful maternal intercession. Consecration to Jesus through Mary is to give oneself entirely to Mary in a self-donation of love that enables the Mediatrix of all graces to use her full intercessory power to keep a person faithful to his or her baptismal promises to Jesus Christ.
Brief History of Marian Consecration
Consecration to Mary has a long and rich tradition in the Church. An early patristic understanding of this gift of self to the Mother of Jesus was seen in the form of referring to oneself as a servus Mariae, or a “servant” or “slave,” to the Mother of God. The expression, “slave of Mary” was also modeled in a secondary sense after the scriptural expression used by St. Paul of being a “slave of Jesus Christ” (cf. Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1; etc.), which likewise is meant as a complete filial (a son or daughter-like) gift of self.
Although more foreign to contemporary usage, the term “servant” or “slave” was not understood in a depersonalizing or degrading sense. Rather, it was a succinct expression used by several Church Fathers and doctors to indicate a fully voluntary and whole-hearted dependence on the Mother of Christ.
The Christian practice of becoming a “slave of Mary” dates back at least to the fifth century as contained in various African sermons. (1) For example, the great Eastern doctor of the Church St. John Damascene (d.749), referred to himself as a “slave of the Mother of God” and authored the following prayer form of Marian consecration in the eighth century:
O Lady, before you we take our stand. Lady, I call you Virgin Mother of God and to your hope, as to the sure and strongest anchor we bind ourselves; to you we consecrate our mind, our soul, our body, all that we are…. (2)
The western saint, St. Ildefonsus of Toledo (d.669), described why being a “servant of the Handmaid of the Lord” leads back to the Lord himself:
Therefore I am your servant, because your Son is my Lord. Therefore you are my Lady because you are the handmaid of my Lord. Therefore I am the servant of the handmaid of my Lord, because you, my Lady, have become the Mother of my Lord…. (3)
The practice of referring to oneself as a “slave of Mary” or “servant of Mary” was a devotion exercised in Ireland by the ninth century, and was given official Church approval as manifested by the ecclesiastical approval of the community of the “Servites of Mary,” a religious order in the thirteenth century. Several popes likewise proclaimed themselves “slave of the Mother of God,” including Pope John VII (d.707), Pope Nicholas IV (d.1292) and Pope Paul V (d.1621). (4)
The great scholastic theologian-saints, St. Anselm of Canterbury (d.1109) and St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153), personally identified themselves as slaves of the Mother of God, and St. Bernard added these words regarding the practice of giving all to the Mother of Christ:
Whatever you are about to offer, remember to commend it to Mary, so that through the same channel whence grace flowed, it may return to the giver of grace. (5)
By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, consecration to Our Lady under its various forms had spread throughout all of Catholic Europe. (6) Note that in these early forms of Marian consecration, it was for the ultimate purpose of a more profound, intimate union with Christ that led Christians to give themselves entirely as slaves to the Mother of the Lord.
St. Louis Marie de Montfort
Even with this solid Church tradition of giving oneself to Jesus through Mary, Marian consecration reached new heights of understanding, practice, and promulgation through the tireless work of arguably its greatest advocate, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort (1673-1716). St. Louis Marie was an indefatigable preacher of “Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary” throughout the regions of France and beyond. For his ceaseless preaching and retreats on Marian consecration, de Montfort, who walked the 1,000 mile trip to Rome to submit his work for papal approval, was named by Pope Clement XI as “Apostolic Missionary.” (7) De Montfort later wrote down the substance of his inspired preachings and sermons in the book, now known as True Devotion to Mary (a manuscript which for well over one hundred years after his death was locked up in a trunk, only to be discovered in 1842 by a French de Montfortian priest).
The heart of de Montfort’s classic work on True Devotion to Mary consists of an act of formal consecration to the Immaculate Mother, so that through her intercession the Christian may be completely and totally consecrated to Jesus Christ and more faithful than ever before to his baptismal promises to the Lord. As St. Louis explains:
All our perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ; and therefore the most perfect of all devotions is, without any doubt, that which the most perfectly conforms, unites, and consecrates us to Jesus Christ. Now, Mary being the most conformed of all creatures to Jesus Christ, it follows that, of all devotions, that which most consecrates and conforms the soul to Our Lord is devotion to His Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to Mary, the more it is consecrated to Jesus.
Hence it comes to pass that the most perfect consecration to Jesus Christ is nothing else than a perfect and entire consecration of ourselves to the Blessed Virgin and this is the devotion I teach; or, in other words, a perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy Baptism. (8)
Total consecration to the Mother thereby allows the one who is most conformed to Jesus Christ and who is also Mediatrix of all graces to intercede for the Christian that they may be most interiorly united with Our Lord and be as faithful as possible to the baptismal promises of the Christian faith.
Marian consecration is not simply an added devotion or prayer, but rather, a new Marian way of life, a crowning of devotion to Our Lady that invites her and her powerful intercession into every aspect of the Christian’s life. St. Louis de Montfort was the one who explained thoroughly the spiritual method “to Jesus through Mary” and shaped it into a definite mode of spiritual life. He does not propose some special or “extra prayers,” but rather, a devotion which essentially consists of one single act which, under various formulas and conditions, we apply to our whole life, both interior and exterior. This devotion leads to a permanent disposition of living and acting habitually in dependence on our Blessed Mother; it embraces one’s entire life, not just one’s prayer times or specifically religious acts. (9)
The Dominican Theologian, Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange, described the various stages of Marian devotion and designated consecration to Mary as the “highest degree” of authentic Marian devotion:
Like the other Christian virtues, true devotion (to Mary) grows in us with charity, advancing from the stage of the beginner to that of the more proficient, and continuing up to the stage of the perfect. The first degree or stage is to pray devoutly to Mary from time to time, for example, by saying the Angelus when the bells ring. The second degree is one of more perfect sentiments of veneration, confidence and love; it may be manifest by the daily recitation of the Rosary—five decades or all fifteen. In the third degree, the soul gives itself fully to Our Lady by an act of consecration so as to belong altogether to Jesus through her…this act of consecration consists in promising Mary to have constant filial recourse to her and to live in habitual dependence on her, so as to attain to a more intimate union with our Blessed Lord and through Him with the Blessed Trinity present in our souls. (10)
Let us examine the heart of the actual prayer of Marian consecration written by St. Louis Marie and still in very popular usage throughout the world today (the consecration prayer in its entirety can be found in the Appendix):
I, (name), a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in your hands the vows of my Baptism; I renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works; and I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life, and to be more faithful to Him than I have ever been before.