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Mary All Holy, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, and Vatican II

On December 8, 2003, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope John Paul II signed his important Letter to the Men and Women Religious of the Montfort Families. (1) This relatively lengthy text presents essential elements of the doctrine of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716) as it is synthesized in his masterpiece: The Treatise on True Devotion to Mary, and summarized in the short Secret of Mary. (2) The Letter is addressed to those who, in the Church and for the whole Church, are in a particular way the depositaries of this doctrine because they are the sons and daughters of Saint Louis Marie.

The Pope had often spoken about this saint who had so profoundly marked his life; but, for the first time, with this Letter, he offers us a synthetic exposé of his doctrine. In fact, in this new text, as well as in the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (no. 15), the content of the Treatise is principally qualified by the term “doctrine.”

The Letter follows a very clear pattern. It begins by a kind of introduction which presents the Treatise as a classical text of Marian spirituality (no.1), while insisting on its exceptional reception by the Church, its foundation which is Jesus’ gift of His holy Mother, and also the invitation to rediscover this doctrine in the light of the Second Vatican Council: “The Montfort teaching should be reread and reinterpreted today in the light of the Council” (LFM 1). In fact, in the light of the Constitution Lumen Gentium and especially Chapter VIII on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Mystery of Christ and the Church, the teaching of the Treatise is considered, firstly from the Christological point of view, then from the ecclesiological point of view. First of all his Christocentricism is exposed at length under the title of “Ad Iesum per Mariam” (no. 2-4). Next follows the summary of the ecclesiological aspect entitled: Mary, eminent member of the Mystical Body and Mother of the Church (no. 5). Finally, the Papal Letter ends by indicating the ecclesial path to holiness lived with Mary in faith, hope and charity in the last developments which are respectively entitled: holiness, perfection of charity (no. 6), the “pilgrimage of faith” (no. 7), a sure sign of hope (no. 8).

Following the same plan, our study proposes to enter into the great perspectives opened by John Paul’s Letter, while trying to explore and deepen them and at the same time reading them as an echo of the texts of the Council and of Saint Louis Marie.

I. Ecclesial Reception and Doctrinal Value of the Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin

A. From the Discovery of the Treatise to its Rediscovery After Vatican II

Right from the beginning of his Letter to the Montfort Families, John Paul II places the accent on the extraordinary ecclesial reception of the Treatise on True Devotion, from its first publication in 1843, while recalling his personal experience:

A work destined to become a classic of Marian spirituality was published 160 years ago. St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort wrote the Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin at the beginning of the 1700s, but the manuscript remained practically unknown for more than a century. When, almost by chance, it was at last discovered in 1842 and published in 1843, the work was an instant success, proving extraordinarily effective in spreading the “true devotion” to the Most Holy Virgin. I myself, in the years of my youth, found reading this book a great help. “There I found the answers to my questions,” for at one point I had feared that if my devotion to Mary “became too great, it might end up compromising the supremacy of the worship owed to Christ” (Dono e Mistero, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1996; English edition: Gift and Mystery, Pauline Publications Africa, p. 42). Under the wise guidance of St. Louis Marie, I realized that if one lives the mystery of Mary in Christ this risk does not exist. In fact, this Saint’s Mariological thought “is rooted in the mystery of the Trinity and in the truth of the Incarnation of the Word of God” (ibid.). (LFM 1) (3)

Saint Louis Marie’s Treatise, which was discovered more than a century after his death in 1716 achieved, in fact, an “immediate success” among the whole people of God, revealing itself as “a work of an extraordinary effectiveness for spreading true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” This “immediate success” became a lasting success, which continued to grow and attained its maximum after the Second Vatican Council, with the pontificate of John Paul II. Together with the Secret of Mary which is its (4) faithful resumé, the Treatise has been translated into numerous languages and is continuously published, exerting on the whole Church an influence beyond measure.

In the twentieth century, the diffusion of the Treatise may be compared to that of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul. In the writings of these two saints, we encounter the same gospel characteristics of depth, simplicity and radicalness; a Christocentric and Trinitarian, Marian, ecclesial and missionary doctrine; a spirituality of confidence and love, a path to holiness opened to all the baptized, and above all, to the poorest and the little ones. It is a doctrine, which has produced numerous fruits of holiness. Numerous saints and blesseds have particularly welcomed the Treatise, often along with The Story of a Soul, as for example, Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Dina Bélanger, Edward Poppe, and numerous others. Thérèse, we know, has already been declared Doctor of the Church on October 19, 1997. For Louis Marie, such a declaration has not yet taken place, but it remains the object of great hope among the people of God. (5)

Equally impressive is the positive and enthusiastic reception of this doctrine by the Magisterium of the Church, with a kind of a “crescendo” from Blessed Pius IX to John Paul II. In his Letter to the Montfort Families, John Paul summarizes what he had so often spoken of and written about: the decisive influence of the Treatise on his own life, from his first encounter when he was working as a laborer in a factory during the second World War. (6) Let us cite at some length the texts in which he recounts his personal experience:

At one point I began to question my devotion to Mary, believing that, if it became too great, it might end up compromising the supremacy of the worship owed to Christ. At that time, I was greatly helped by a book by Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort… 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… The author is an outstanding theologian. His Mariological thought is rooted in the mystery of the Trinity and in the truth of the Incarnation of the Word of God. (7) Thanks to Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and in the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption. (8) When I participated in the Council, I found reflected in this chapter all my earlier youthful experiences. (9)

This Marian chapter had been defined by Paul VI as the “summit and crowning” of the whole Constitution, (10) stating that “the knowledge of the true Catholic doctrine on Mary will always be a key for the correct understanding of the Mystery of Christ and of the Church.” (11) One sees that in Louis Marie’s book as well as in the conciliar text. Just as in the Constitution Lumen Gentium, (ch. 1) the Treatise opens up with a Christocentric and Trinitarian symphony (TD 1-36). Entirely founded on Baptism (TD 118-133), the Montfort doctrine is addressed to all the people of God (cf. LG ch. 2), animated by the same certitude of the universal call to holiness (LG ch. 5). It is thus that in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II wanted to recall in a special manner “the figure of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, who proposes consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary as an effective means for Christians to live faithfully their baptismal commitments” (RM 48).

Thus again, at the moment of his pilgrimage to his tomb at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, John Paul II could state: “I owe a great deal to this saint and to his Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.” (12) It is a book which always remained with him, and not just a book of his youth. Knowing this text very well, the Pope could truly assert that its author is “an outstanding theologian,” and better than all others, he perceived the deep harmony which exists between the Montfort doctrine and the teaching of the Council, and propose this doctrine to the People of God as an excellent way to enter into with Mary into the depths of the Mystery of Christ and of the Church, by a life commitment to the way to holiness. Such is also the perspective of his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte concerning the Mystery of Christ, deepened through “the living theology of the saints” (no. 27), with the same insistence on holiness to which all are called and on the necessity of a “a genuine training in holiness” (no. 31).

B. The Treatise as a Synthesis of Montfort Doctrine

Saint Louis Marie’s doctrine is based on the Gospel, and most especially on the Redeemer’s words addressed to his Mother and to his disciple. John Paul II starts off from this text from St. John to explain the meaning of his Episcopal insignia and his motto “Totus Tuus“:

Since she came into being, and especially in her most difficult moments, the Church has contemplated with special intensity an event of the Passion of Jesus Christ that St John mentions: “Standing by the Cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn. 19:25-27). Throughout its history, the People of God has experienced this gift of the crucified Jesus: the gift of his Mother. Mary Most Holy is truly our Mother who accompanies us on our pilgrimage of faith, hope and charity towards an ever more intense union with Christ, the one Savior and Mediator of salvation (LG 60, 62). As is well known, my episcopal coat of arms symbolically illustrates the Gospel text quoted above; the motto Totus tuus is inspired by the teaching of St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (cf. Gift and Mystery, pp. 42-43; Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 15). These two words express total belonging to Jesus through Mary: “Tuus totus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt,” St Louis Marie wrote, and he translates his words: “I am all yours, and all that I have is yours, O most loving Jesus, through Mary, your most holy Mother” (TD 233). (LMF 1).

Thus, it is the all-powerful word of the Redeemer, addressed to the Mother and to the disciple, which has created a new relationship between Mary and the newborn Church represented by the disciple. Among all the saints who have experienced this gift made by Jesus to the Church, the gift of his holy Mother, Louis Marie occupies an eminent position. He has deeply identified himself with this beloved disciple who, through his faith in Jesus’ word, has received Mary into his home, and in all the dimensions of his own life. He never ceased to live this word of the Gospel; he experienced its dynamic and always Christocentric character. In fact, this gift of Mary comes from Jesus and leads to Jesus, and it is in obeying the Redeemer’s word that the disciple continually receives her. This is the meaning of Totus Tuus: It is this gift of self to Jesus through Mary which allows the disciple to receive Jesus’ gift of his Mother. (13) John Paul’s pontifical insignia thus indicates to the whole Church, in a clear and simple manner, the meaning of the Montfort doctrine, a “lived teaching,” whose style is well defined in the Letter:

This Saint’s teaching has had a profound influence on the Marian devotion of many of the faithful and on my own life. It is a lived teaching of outstanding ascetic and mystical depth, expressed in a lively and passionate style that makes frequent use of images and symbols (LMF 1).

The Treatise is the final synthesis of the teaching expressed by Louis Marie in the totality of his Works. (14) It is the “lived teaching” of a holy priest who was a missionary and a mystic, oriented towards the little ones and the poorest. It is built on a solid cultural, theological and spiritual base, received during his formation years, firstly at the Jesuit college in Rennes, then at the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris. The Saint’s thought is deeply rooted in the Holy Scriptures as well as in the theology of the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church; (15) it is broadly open to the great spiritualities (Ignatian, Dominican, Francis, Carmelite, etc.); it is particularly situated in the current of the “French School” of spirituality and of its founder, Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle, (16) with his powerful Christocentricism, his contemplation of the Mystery of the Incarnation, his teaching concerning Mary and his vision of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. In his writings, Saint Louis Marie will always try to render accessible to the poor and the little ones the great truths of the Christian Mystery and of the spiritual life, using a clear, lively and fervent style, often making use of parables, images and symbols.

One of the best keys for reading his works is found in one of his shortest: The Covenant with God, (17) which the missionary offered to the faithful for the renewal of the “vows and promises of holy baptism.” In it is found, in the first place, the profession of faith: “I firmly believe all the truths of the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ,” immediately followed by the commitment of life: renouncing evil and following the commandments of God and of the Church. It is within this unity of faith and life that the baptized declares: “I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ through the hands of Mary to bear my cross in his footsteps all the days of my life.”

This dynamic synthesis of faith and life, based on baptism, characterizes all of Louis Marie’s writings. The Hymns (Cantiques) constitute the most voluminous part, offering the poor a great catechesis on the Mystery of Christ as lived in the Church. (18)

Among his prose writings, the Letter to the Friends of the Cross and the Secret of the Rosary, (19) have a particular significance in relation to the two great symbols of his missionary activity: the Crucifix and the Rosary. For this reason, in relation with the apostolate of the Rosary, we must remember that Louis Marie belonged to the Dominican Third Order.

Of great theological importance is the treatise entitled: The Love of Eternal Wisdom. We discover in it a first synthesis of the Montfort teaching with its essential characteristics of being sapiential, Christocentric and Marian. The Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom is Jesus, and our true wisdom is the loving knowledge of Him, a true synthesis of faith and charity. (20) This sapiential theology is called: “The supreme science of Jesus” (LEW 8), “the great science of the saints” (LEW 93). It is the “science of love” (21) the knowledge of which “moves and satisfies the heart while enlightening the mind.” (22)

In the Treatise, all of this teaching is repeated in a new and original synthesis which has for its center the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son, according to the words of the Creed: “For us, men, and for our salvation, he came down from Heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” Jesus is always at the center, and Mary is at the heart of the Mystery of Jesus. As in the theology of the Fathers and the Doctors, this Christocentricism is dynamic: everything comes from God and returns to God “through Him, with Him and by Him.” It is always “through Christ our Lord” that the Father gives us the Spirit and that the Spirit leads us to the Father. Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life,” in the descending movement of the Incarnation as in the ascending movement of our divinization, since God became man so that man could become God. Mary is present at the heart of this dynamism of the Mystery of Jesus, present at his “coming” in the Incarnation and at his “return” to the Father in the Passion and the Resurrection. Thus, in the manner of the Fathers, the Treatise contemplates the principal truths of faith: the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption, the Church, in relationship to our whole life. The “perfect devotion to Mary” is nothing other than the full development of the Christian life in grace; it is born in Baptism and culminates in the Eucharist (TD 266–273). Such is the dynamism of the Treatise, in which the whole of this great reality is laid hold of in the Heart of Mary, by means of her faith, her hope and her love.

This synthesis of the Treatise corresponds to the Church’s experience all along its history. In fact, since the first centuries, the Church experiences how Mary speaks to Jesus’ disciples: she always speaks the pure truth of the faith in Jesus, and she does not cease to repeat to them: “do whatever He tells you” (cf. Jn. 2:5). As Virgin-Mother, the Holy Mother of God (theotokos) is really the purest “mirror” (23) of the Incarnate Word, which reflects the truth of his Mystery by dissipating all the errors. (24) But, at the same time through the reflection of her perfect holiness, the Immaculate Virgin never ceases to call all Jesus’ disciples to conversion, and not to stop on the path of holiness. Like a faithful echo, she never ceases to recall the most radical demands of Jesus in the Gospel. Thus, the Marian synthesis of the Treatise presents all the greatest paradoxes of the Christian faith which are the Mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, without sweetening the scandal of the Cross, while recalling all the demands of the Gospel. (25) It is exactly in the same sense that the Council declared:

“Having entered deeply into the history of salvation, Mary, in a way, unites in her person and re-echoes the most important doctrines of the faith; and when she is the subject of preaching and veneration she prompts the faithful to come to her Son, to his sacrifice and to the love of the Father” (LG 65).

II. “The Love of Jesus Which We Seek Through Mary”: A Dynamic Christocentrism

The typical expression of Louis Marie: “To Jesus through Mary” (Ad Iesum per Mariam), is repeated in John Paul II’s Letter as the title of a long section (2 to 4), which presents the essentially Christocentric content of de Montfort’s teaching.

Saint Louis Marie proposes the loving contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation with unusual effectiveness. Authentic Marian devotion is Christocentric. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council recalled, “Devoutly meditating on her (Mary) and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church reverently penetrates more deeply into the great mystery of the Incarnation” (LG 65) (LMF 2).

The same Constitution, Lumen Gentium, also invited theologians and preachers to “illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always refer to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and devotion” (LG 67). Paul VI, in promulgating the Constitution, insisted on this point: “We desire, above all, that full light be cast on the fact that Mary, the humble servant of the Lord, is entirely relative to God and to Christ, the one Mediator and our Redeemer.” (26)

A. The Absolute Centrality of Jesus Christ

To shed light on the Christocentricism which characterizes “true Marian devotion,” the pontifical Letter quotes a particularly important passage from the Treatise. It concerns the first of the “fundamental truths” of all authentic devotion to Mary, as of all Christian spirituality. We give the text in its entirety while indicating the passage cited in the Letter:

First Truth: Jesus, our Savior, true God and true man, must be the ultimate end of all our other devotions; otherwise they would be false and misleading. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of everything; “We labor,” says St. Paul, “only to make all men perfect in Jesus Christ.” For in Him alone dwells the entire fullness of the divinity and the complete fullness of grace, virtue and perfection. In him alone we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing; he is our only teacher from whom we must learn; the only Lord on whom we should depend; the only Head to whom we should be united and the only model that we should imitate. He is the only Physician that can heal us; the only Shepherd that can feed us; the only Way that can lead us; the only Truth that we can believe; the only Life that can animate us. He alone is everything to us and he alone can satisfy our desires. We are given no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. God has laid no other foundation for our salvation, perfection and glory than Jesus. Every edifice, which is not built on that firm rock, is founded upon shifting sands and will certainly fall, sooner or later. Every one of the faithful, who is not united to him, is like a branch broken from the stem of the vine. It falls and withers and is fit only to be burnt. If we live in Jesus and Jesus lives in us, we need not fear damnation. Neither angels in heaven nor men on earth, nor devils in hell, no creature whatever can harm us, for no creature can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Through him, with him and in him, we can do all things and render all honor and glory to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit; we can make ourselves perfect and be for our neighbor a fragrance of eternal life (TD 61).

This splendid text, which synthesizes the main affirmations of the New Testament on the absolute centrality of Jesus Christ, also shows the Trinitarian character of this Christocentricism, (27) by repeating the wording of the Liturgy (the conclusion of the Roman Canon). It is on this base that Louis Marie defines the sense of Marian devotion, even stating that “if the devotion to the Blessed Virgin distracted us from Jesus Christ, it would have to be rejected as an illusion of the devil” (TD 62). John Paul II quotes again this text from the Treatise:

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is a privileged means “of finding Jesus Christ perfectly, of loving him tenderly, of serving him faithfully” (TD 62). St. Louis immediately expands this central desire to “love tenderly” into a passionate prayer to Jesus, imploring him for the grace to participate in the indescribable communion of love that exists between him and his Mother (LMF 3).

It is in addressing Jesus that our Saint expresses again the sense of this true devotion. It is “a wonderful secret to find you and to love you perfectly” (TD 64). And it is also to Jesus that he says: “To obtain from your mercy a true devotion to your holy Mother, and to spread it throughout the world, help me to love you wholeheartedly” (TD 67). Everything comes from Jesus and returns to Jesus, and especially the gift of his Love: It is, in fact, “the Love of Jesus that we are seeking through Mary” (TD 67).

B. “The Total Relativity of Mary”

With regard to the absoluteness of Jesus Christ, Louis Marie insists continuously on the relativity of Mary: “What I say in an absolute sense of our Lord, I say in a relative sense of our Blessed Lady” (TD 74). Right from the beginning of his Treatise, he shows how Mary is only a creature whom God, in his sovereign freedom, has willed to associate intimately with his plan of salvation. (28) As a creature, Mary is “infinitely inferior to her Son who is God” (TD 27). Thinking that Mary is greater than Jesus, or equal to him, would be “an intolerable heresy” (TD 95). Thus, “it is not his wish that the honor, even of a relative adoration be given to any other creature however exalted, such as his most Blessed Mother” (LEW 172). Such an emphasis on the absoluteness of Jesus and the relativity of Mary gives to the Montfort doctrine an authentic ecumenical value.

This teaching which is so exact expresses itself fundamentally in prayer, as can be noted in the first words of the Consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ, Wisdom incarnate, through the hands of Mary:

Eternal and incarnate Wisdom, most lovable and adorable Jesus, true God and true man, only Son of the Eternal Father and of Mary always Virgin! I adore you profoundly, dwelling in the splendor of your Father from all eternity and in the virginal womb of Mary, your most worthy Mother, at the time of your Incarnation (LEW 223).

The Letter to the Montfort Families insists particularly on this aspect of the relativity of Mary with regard to Jesus and to the entire Trinity:

Mary’s total relativity to Christ and through him, to the Blessed Trinity, is first experienced in the observation: “You never think of Mary without Mary interceding for you with God. You never praise or honor Mary without Mary’s praising and honoring God with you. Mary is altogether relative to God; and indeed, I might well call her the relation to God. She only exists with reference to God. She is the echo of God that says nothing, repeats nothing, but God. If you say ‘Mary,’ she says ‘God.’ St. Elizabeth praised Mary and called her blessed because she had believed. Mary, the faithful echo of God, at once intoned: ‘Magnificat anima mea Dominum‘; ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’ (Lk 1: 46). What Mary did then, she does daily now. When we praise her, love her, honor her or give anything to her, it is God who is praised, God who is loved, God who is glorified, and it is to God that we give, through Mary and in Mary” (cf. TD 225). Again, in prayer to the Mother of the Lord, St. Louis Marie expresses the Trinitarian dimension of his relationship with God: “Hail Mary, beloved Daughter of the Eternal Father! Hail Mary, admirable Mother of the Son! Hail Mary, faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit!” (SM 68). (LMF 3).

The beautiful definition of Mary as being “the relation of God” comes from Cardinal de Bérulle. (29) The invocation to Mary: “Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, Spouse of the Holy Spirit” is, according to the words of the Letter, “a traditional expression already used by Saint Francis of Assisi.” (30) This expression is rich in theological and anthropological significance, because it establishes in relationship with each of the Three Divine Persons the three deepest dimensions of the feminine humanity of Mary, as Daughter, Mother and Spouse. Thus, “Through Christ, with Christ and in Christ,” the most fundamental human relationships are inserted in the divine Relations. Such is the secret of virginal love as divine and human love. Mary is the most beautiful flower of all creation, in full blossom in Christ Jesus, and in him in Trinitarian Love. The entire beginning of the Treatise (TD 1-16), is the contemplation of Mary enveloped in this Love; it is a “Trinitarian symphony,” Christocentric and Marian. In the line of the Fathers of the Church, Louis Marie considers as inseparable Mary’s divine motherhood and her spousal relationship with God. (31) Mary is Virgin-Mother and Virgin-Spouse, Mother of God (Theotokos) and Spouse of God (Theonymphos). (32) Mary’s spousal relationship with God is particularly set forth in the Liturgy which applies to the Immaculate Virgin the words of the Canticle of Canticles: Mary is the Spouse “All fair, in whom there is no stain” (cf. Ct. 4:7). (33) As a disciple of Louis Marie, John Paul II did not hesitate to call Mary “Spouse of the Holy Spirit” in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (34) while insisting particularly on this aspect of spousal love. (35)

In this Trinitarian and Christocentric light, Mary is always contemplated in the “two hands of the Father” who are the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to Saint Irenaeus’ beautiful expression, (36) totally relative to the Son as Mother and to the Spirit as spouse. The Montfort synthesis is characterized by a profound equilibrium between Christology and pneumatology contemplated and lived with Mary. The Servant of the Lord never takes the Spirit’s place, nor does she take that of Jesus. (37) If Louis Marie is one of the western saints who speaks the most about Mary, he is also the one who speaks the most about the Holy Spirit. But his Trinitarian contemplation of Mary always remains Christocentric. The Father is the source of her virginal fecundity that is achieved in the Spirit to form Jesus and his Mystical Body. (38)

C. The Mystery of the Incarnation, “Mystery of Jesus Living and Reigning in Mary”

In the Montfort doctrine as well as in the theology of the early Fathers of the Church, the Mystery of the Incarnation is the center of focus for the entire economy of salvation. John Paul II’s Letter sheds light on this aspect in his quotation from Saint Irenaeus of Lyon:

St. Louis Marie contemplates all the mysteries, starting from the Incarnation which was brought about at the moment of the Annunciation. Thus, in the Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, Mary appears as “the true terrestrial paradise of the New Adam,” the “virginal and immaculate earth” of which he was formed (n. 261). She is also the New Eve, associated with the New Adam in the obedience that atones for the original disobedience of the man and the woman (cf. ibid., n. 53; St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, 21, 10-22, 4). Through this obedience, the Son of God enters the world. The Cross itself is already mysteriously present at the instant of the Incarnation, at the very moment of Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb. Indeed, the ecce venio in the Letter to the Hebrews (cf. 10:5-9) is the primordial act of the Son’s obedience to the Father, an acceptance of his redeeming sacrifice already at the time “when Christ came into the world.” (LMF 4)

This great patristic perspective had already been taken up and deepened by Cardinal de Bérulle, who is one of Louis Marie’s sources. (39) Thus, it is the Annunciation, liturgically celebrated on March 25, “which is the mystery proper to this devotion” (TD 243). Inexhaustible are “the perfections and wonders of the mystery of Jesus living and reigning in Mary, or the Incarnation of the Word” (TD 248). In fact, the Incarnation recapitulates creation and already contains the Mysteries of the Redemption and of the Church. The Letter refers explicitly to Saint Irenaeus’ great text presenting Mary as the New Earth and the New Eve. Virgin earth from which the Father’s two hands, who are the Son and the Holy Spirit, have formed the Body of the New Adam; Mary is also the New Eve united to the New Adam by her obedience.

This maternal obedience of the New Eve in the Incarnation, “by the way she bore God in obeying his word,” (40) is completely relative to the filial obedience of the New Adam in the Redemption, (41) obedience to the Father “even to death, death on the Cross” (cf. Phil. 2:8). Louis Marie contemplates Mary near the Cross, fully accepting her Son’s Sacrifice. While he offers himself to the Father, Jesus is offered by Mary; “immolated by her consent to the Eternal Father, just as formerly Isaac was by the consent of Abraham to the will of God.” (42) The Letter does not fear to seize again on Louis Marie’s teaching on the “mysterious presence of the Cross” at the first moment of the Incarnation, when the Son of God “entered into the world,” by interpreting, in a realistic manner, the Ecce venio of the Letter to the Hebrews as the first act of obedience of the Incarnate Son of the Father, a redemptive obedience. We can quote for example what Louis Marie wrote about Jesus at the instant of the Incarnation: “It was in this mystery that Jesus anticipated all subsequent mysteries of his life by his willing acceptance of them: Jesus ingrediens mundum dicit: Esse venio ut faciam voluntatem tuam etc. Consequently, this mystery is a summary of all his mysteries, since it contains the intention and the grace of them all.” (43) The accent is strongly placed on the self-abasement (or kenosis) and the humiliation of the Son of God in the Redemptive Incarnation (Cf. Phil. 2:7-8), when he becomes the Child of his creature, making himself dependent on her, and in certain way, submitting himself to her (cf. Lk. 2:51): “O admirable and incomprehensible dependence of a God.” (44)

In the Incarnation the reality of his Mystical Body which is the Church is already present at the same time as the redemptive obedience of Jesus. Following in the footsteps of Saint Thomas and of Bérulle, Louis Marie employs the Pauline symbol of the Head and the members in a strong and realistic way, “The Head and the members being one mystical person.” (45) Jesus is the Head of the Mystical Body from the moment of his conception because of the hypostatic union and the fullness of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Mary’s motherhood of the Church, which will come to fruition at the Cross, begins mysteriously at the moment of the Incarnation. In bearing in her womb “him whom the heavens cannot contain,” she bears in a mystic way all the members of His Body. The same doctrine was expressed by Paul VI at the time of the promulgation of the Constitution, Lumen Gentium, and the proclamation of Mary as Mother of the Church:

Just as the divine maternity is the reason why Mary has altogether singular relations with Jesus Christ, and why she is present in the work of human salvation accomplished by him, so, likewise this divine maternity is the principal foundation of the relationship between Mary and the Church. Mary is indeed the Mother of Christ who, from the moment he assumed our human nature in her virginal womb, immediately united to himself, as Head, his Mystical Body which is the Church. Mary, therefore, precisely as Mother of Christ, is also the Mother of all the faithful and the Pastors, that is, of the Church. (46)

III. Mary and the Church

The Constitution, Lumen Gentium, has above all shed light on the intimate and mysterious relationship, which exists between Mary and the Church. Here, more than ever, the rereading of the Treatise in the light of the conciliar teaching is singularly fruitful in explaining the beautiful ecclesiology that is contained therein. (47) In turn, the Montfort doctrine allows for a better grasp of the value of the mystical dimension of the Council’s teaching.

A. The Holiness of Mary and of the Church, as “Mystical Union with Christ” in the Holy Spirit

Beginning from the fundamental relationship of Mary with Christ, the Council clearly displayed her relationship with the Church in a new light. According to Paul VI’s words in his discourse promulgating the ConstitutionLumen Gentium, the Council’s purpose was precisely to “manifest the face of the Church, to which Mary is intimately united.” (48) This union is so deeply rooted and so essential that we will never more be able to consider the Church without Mary, nor Mary without the Church. Thus, “love for the Church will become love for Mary, and vice versa, since the one cannot exist without the other.” (49)

In the Council’s teaching as well as in that of Louis Marie, this union is presented above all in the historical continuity which characterizes the Mystery of Christ and of the Church. This continuity is affirmed at the beginning of Chapter VIII of Lumen Gentium from the article of the Creed concerning the Incarnation of the Son: For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary. This divine mystery of salvation is revealed to us and continued in the Church which the Lord established as His Body” (LG 52). Louis Marie expresses the same truth in the “Trinitarian symphony” which opens his Treatise:

The plan adopted by the three persons of the Blessed Trinity in the Incarnation, the first coming of Jesus Christ, is adhered to each day in an invisible manner throughout the Church and they will pursue it to the end of time until the last coming of Jesus Christ. (TD 22).

Thus, the Mystery of the Church is illumined in its Christocentric and Trinitarian reality, in the dynamic of salvation history, until the end of time. With simplicity and great clarity, Louis Marie expresses the uniqueness and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and of the Church. (50) In his Treatise as well as in Lumen Gentium,Mary is contemplated in this light, intimately united with Christ and his Church.

The theme of holiness as perfect union with Christ in the Holy Spirit and with the Father through Christ is truly at the heart of Montfort doctrine as well as the Council’s, in relation with Mary and the Church. Such is, according to Paul VI, the profound perspective of Lumen Gentium: “The reality of the Church does not exhaust itself in her hierarchical structure, her liturgy, her sacraments and her juridical aspects. Her intimate essence, the primary source of her sanctifying effectiveness, is found in her mystical union with Christ, a union which we cannot separate from her who is the Mother of the Incarnate Word, and whom Jesus Christ willed to be so intimately associated with him for our salvation.” (51) Called to holiness in the Church, we are all called to live like Mary and with Mary the same intimate union with Christ. Such is, also, the center of the Montfort doctrine as “a genuine training in holiness,” (52) because “union with Jesus Christ … necessarily follows upon union with Mary” (TD 259).

In the Letter to the Montfort Families, John Paul II repeats the essential message of the Treatise, which he had already quoted in the letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae:

“All our perfection,” St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort writes, “consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ; and therefore, the most perfect of all devotions is, without any doubt, that which 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” (TD 120). In addressing Jesus, St Louis Marie expresses the marvel of the union between the Son and the Mother: “She is so transformed into you by grace that she lives no more, she is as though she were not. It is you only, my Jesus, who lives and reigns in her…. Ah! If we knew the glory and the love which you receive in this admirable creature…. She is so intimately united with you…. She loves you more ardently and glorifies you more perfectly than all the other creatures put together” (TD 63). (53)

It is in the Incarnation that Louis Marie first contemplates “the intimate union between Jesus and Mary. So closely are they united that one is wholly in the other: Jesus is all in Mary and Mary is all in Jesus. Or rather, it is no longer she who lives, but Jesus alone who lives in her” (TD 247).

The spiritual path experienced and taught by Louis Marie has for its primary purpose “an intimate union with Our Lord and perfect fidelity to the Holy Spirit,” and this by means of a “close union with the Most Blessed Virgin” (cf. TD 43), since Jesus “is formed by Mary who in union with the Holy Spirit, still conceives and brings him forth daily (TD 140). It is “a smooth, short, perfect and sure way of attaining union with our Lord, in which Christian perfection consists.” (TD 152).

The mystical union with Christ that characterizes the “intimate essence” of the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit. According to Saint Irenaeus’ words, in the Church “communion with Christ, that is to say the Holy Spirit, has been given,” to such an extent that “where the Church is, there also is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is there is the Church and all grace.” (54) In the Montfort doctrine we find a constant attention to the Person and to the work of the Holy Spirit “substantial Love of the Father and of the Son” (TD 36). This “mystical union” of the Church with Christ in the Holy Spirit is inseparably the union of the members with the Head, the union of the Mother with her Son, the union of the Bride with her Bridegroom. The sanctifying work of the Spirit is a work of conforming, of configuration. It is he who makes the Church at the same time, like Christ as the members to the Head, and like Mary as Virgin, Spouse and Mother in her union with Christ. In the Treatise these two aspects are present. The first one is more explicit, but we can easily explicate the second in the light of the Council. Like the Fathers, Louis Marie has a profound sense of the unity of the Mystery: By the action of the only Spirit, there is but one Body of Christ, in the Head and in the members, and in relation with Him, there is only one Virgin, Spouse and Mother who is Mary and the Church together: one single bridal relationship and virginal maternity of Mary and of the Church. Thus, the Holy Spirit always forms the Body of Christ, the “whole Christ” in Head and in members through the virginal maternity of Mary and of the Church. The same Spirit “reproduces” Mary in the Church, in forming the saints as “living copies of Mary, loving and glorifying Jesus Christ” (TD 217), and will engender him throughout history. Thus, when we consider the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, Mary is contemplated as Mother of the Church; when we consider the Church as Virgin, Spouse and Mother, she is contemplated as eminent member and perfect image of the Church.

B. Mary, Mother of the Church

John Paul II’s Letter synthesizes with great clarity the conciliar and Montfort teaching concerning Mary, Mother of the Church:

The Council itself contemplates Mary as “the Mother of the members of Christ” (cf. ibid., nn. 53, 62), and consequently, Paul VI proclaimed her as Mother of the Church. The doctrine of the Mystical Body that most forcefully expresses Christ’s union with the Church is also the biblical foundation of this affirmation. “The head and the members are born of one and the same Mother” (TD 32), as St Louis Marie reminds us. In this sense, we can say that, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the members are united and conformed to Christ the Head, the Son of the Father and of Mary, in such a way that “a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his Mother” (SM 11). In Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, we are truly children of the Father, and at the same time, sons and daughters of Mary and of the Church. In a certain way, it is the whole of humanity that is reborn in the virgin birth of Jesus. “These words can be attributed better to the Mother of the Lord than to St Paul of himself: ‘My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!’ (Gal. 4: 19). Every day I give birth to the children of God until Jesus Christ my Son be formed in them in the fullness of his age” (TD 33). This doctrine is expressed most beautifully in the prayer: “O Holy Spirit, give me great devotion to Mary, your faithful spouse; give me great confidence in her maternal heart and an abiding refuge in her mercy, so that by her you may truly form in me Jesus Christ” (SM 67). (55)

The biblical foundation of this doctrine is the great Pauline symbol of the Mystical Body, which is the maximum expression of the unity of Christ and the Church, since the Head and the members are “like a single mystical person” (Saint Thomas).

John Paul II’s strong affirmation concerning the rebirth of all of humanity in the virginal birth of Jesus, refers us to one of the essential aspects of the Montfort teaching: the profound link which exists between the Mystery of the Incarnation and the Sacrament of Baptism.

In the great perspective of Scripture and in the footsteps of the first Fathers of the Church, the spiritual teaching of the Treatise is based on Baptism (TD 120 ff) considered precisely as the new birth of Christ’s members through the action of the Holy Spirit. Every baptized person “is born of water and of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5) in order to be incorporated into Christ. In fact, “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Like Saint Irenaeus, Louis Marie contemplates the mystery of the new birth, the virginal birth by the power of the Holy Spirit, inseparably in the Incarnation and in Baptism. (56) In the Church, Baptism continuously “actualizes” the mystery of the virginal maternity of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit; it is the same “virginal womb” of Mary and of the Church that conceives and brings forth Christ and the members of His Body. (57)

In the passage of the Treatise quoted by John Paul II, Louis Marie applies to Mary Saint Paul’s words: “Every day I give birth to the children of God until Jesus Christ my Son be formed in them in the fullness of his age” (TD 33). The last words allude to Saint Paul’s words concerning the growth of Christ’s members “until we all attain to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). In Saint Louis Marie’s writings, this is one of the most characteristic expressions to signify the holiness to which we are all called. The purpose of the spiritual life, through its various stages, is “to attain transformation into Jesus in the fullness of his age on earth and of his glory in heaven” (TD 119). Because of the intimate union between the Head and the members, the virginal womb of Mary is the privileged place of the members’ progressive configuration to the Head, the place of God’s Incarnation and of man’s deification: “It was Mary’s womb, which encompassed and produced a perfect man, and held the one whom the whole universe can neither encompass nor contain; it is in Mary’s womb… that in a few years we arrive at the fullness of the age of Jesus Christ” (TD 156). In taking his inspiration from a text attributed to Saint Augustine, Louis Marie asserts that the faithful, “in order to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, are hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin where they are protected, nourished, cared for and developed by this good Mother, until the day she brings them forth to a life of glory after death, which the Church calls the birthday of the just” (TD 33). The same Christocentric accent appears when it is said that “they cast themselves… hide and lose themselves there in a wonderful manner in her loving and virginal womb, to be filled with pure love, to be purified from the least stain of sin, to find Jesus in all his fullness, who reigns in Mary as if on the most glorious throne” (TD 199).

Through the unique virginal maternity of Mary and of the Church, of Mary in the Church, or of the Church in Mary, it is always the one Spirit who forms the one Body of Christ in the Head and the members. The ecclesial motherhood of Mary refers also to Christ and to the Holy Spirit. (58) All of this teaching is synthesized in the parable of the mold, which is really the parable of the configuration of the member to the Head. In her motherhood, “Mary is the great mold of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a Man who is God by the hypostatic union, and to fashion through grace men who are like God. Everyone who casts himself into it and allows himself to be molded will acquire every feature of Jesus Christ, true God” (SM 17). The person who “casts himself into Mary and is ready to be molded in her by the working of the Holy Spirit… becomes spotless, divine, and resembles Jesus Christ” (SM 18).

Thus, in utilizing together the symbolic language of parables (the mold) and the conceptual language of dogma (the hypostatic union), Louis Marie succeeds very well in expressing the unity of the Mystery without confusion: Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Head and the members, the Incarnation and our divinization. And this profound unity is perceived from the point of view of the Motherhood of Mary, and more precisely yet from the point of view of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who makes fruitful the virginal motherhood of Mary in order to form Jesus in his members. The beautiful prayer quoted by John Paul II is addressed to the Holy Spirit and it ends with the words which show the true Christocentric and pneumatological orientation of true devotion to Mary: “So that in her you may truly form in me Jesus Christ, great and powerful, until I attain to the fullness of his perfect age” (SM 67).

C. Mary, Eminent Member and Perfect Image of the Church

John Paul II’s Letter puts together a few essential quotations of Lumen Gentium concerning Mary as eminent member and perfect image of the Church:

According to the words of the Second Vatican Council, Mary “is hailed as pre-eminent and as a wholly unique member of the Church, and as her type and outstanding model in faith and charity” (LG 53). The Mother of the Redeemer is also uniquely redeemed by him in her Immaculate Conception and has preceded us in that perseverance in faithful and loving attention to the Word of God that leads to blessedness (LG 58). For this reason too, Mary “is also intimately united to the Church."

As St Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type (typus) of the Church in the order of

faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church, which is herself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother” (LG 63). (LMF 5)

The Pope summarizes here the conciliar teaching on the Immaculate Conception of Mary. (59) With the entire Church as Spouse, Mary is born in the open Side of Jesus on the Cross. (60) She is the perfect model for the Virgin Church “who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her Spouse” (LG 64).

The Council refers here to Saint Ambrose’s teaching in his Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke. (61) For his part, Louis Marie often quotes another text from Saint Ambrose in the same Commentary on Saint Luke which expresses the same doctrine, a text which will be quoted by Paul VI in Marialis Cultus (no. 21). With reference to these words of Saint Ambrose, Louis Marie shows how the Holy Spirit “reproduces” Mary in souls, (62) that is to say in the Church, in order to love, glorify and beget Christ. In hope for the future of the Church he says to his reader:

The soul of the Blessed Virgin will be communicated to you to glorify the Lord. Her spirit will take the place of yours to rejoice in God, her Savior … Sit in singulis anima Mariae ut magnificet Dominum, sit in singulis spiritus Mariae, ut exultet in Deo (St. Ambrose). (63) May the soul of Mary be in each one of us to glorify the Lord! May the spirit of Mary be in each one of us to rejoice in God!… When will that happy day come, when the divine Mary (64) is enthroned in men’s hearts as Queen, subjecting them to the dominion of her great and princely Son? When will souls breathe Mary as the body breathes air? When that time comes, wonderful things will happen on earth.

The Holy Spirit, finding his dear Spouse present again in souls, will come down into them with great power. He will fill them up with gifts, especially wisdom, by which they will produce wonders of grace. My dear brother, when will that happy time come, that age of Mary, when many souls, chosen by Mary and given her by the most High God, will hide themselves completely in the depths of her soul, becoming living copies of her, loving and glorifying Jesus? (TD 217)

This admirable text shows the profound harmony that exists between the Montfort doctrine and the teaching of the council. It is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the Church by making her like the All Holy Virgin, in forming the saints in the Church and for the Church as these “living copies of Mary, loving and glorifying Jesus Christ.”

In relation to the same text of Saint Ambrose, John Paul II’s Letter dares to speak about an “identification of the faithful with Mary,” and of a “mystical identification with Mary.” These audacious formulations are admirably illustrated by quotations from the Treatise and from the Secret:

One of the loftiest expressions of St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort’s spirituality refers to the identification of the faithful with Mary in her love for Jesus and in her service to Jesus. Meditating on St. Ambrose’s well-known text: “Let the soul of Mary be in each of us to magnify the Lord, and the spirit of Mary be in each of us to rejoice in God” (Expos. in Luc., 12, 26: PL 15, 1561), he writes: “A soul is happy indeed when… it is all possessed and overruled by the spirit of Mary, a spirit meek and strong, zealous and prudent, humble and courageous, pure and fruitful” (TD 258). Mystical identification with Mary is fully directed to Jesus, as he says in the prayer: “Finally, dearly beloved Mother, grant, if it be possible, that I may have no other spirit but yours, to know Jesus and his divine will; that I may have no other soul but yours, to praise and glorify the Lord; that I may have no other heart but yours, to love God with a love as pure and ardent as yours” (SM 68). (LMF 5).

In the Secret of Mary, after having quoted the same text form Saint Ambrose (SM 54), Louis Marie writes: “The most important gift that souls possess, is to establish even here on earth, Mary’s life in the soul, so that it is no longer the soul that lives, but Mary who lives in it; in a manner of speaking, Mary’s soul becomes identified with the soul of her servant.” (SM 55). We obviously recognize here the application to Mary of the words of Saint Paul’s word: “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). In the same sense, the beautiful prayer to Mary quoted by John Paul II ends with this exclamation: “Amen, so be it, to all you are doing in my soul so that you will fully glorify Jesus in me during all my life and my eternity.” (SM 69). Such is again the sense of the Eucharistic finale of the Treatise (TD 266-273), when Louis Marie invites us to live Holy Communion with Mary, so that she, herself, may worthily receive the Body of Jesus in us, with all the purity of her faith and of her love, in communion with the entire Trinity. (65) In fact, under the sacramental species, it is really the true Body that is born of her that is present (verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine).

D. “Munus Maternum”: The Maternal Role of Mary and of the Church

1. The Conciliar Teaching. The Council particularly brought to light the Motherhood of Mary and of the Church, a mystery of life and relationship with Christ and the whole human race. In fact, Mary is truly the “Mother of God and of men” (LG 54, 69), Mother of the Redeemer and of the redeemed, that is to say all men saved by Christ. The New Eve is “Mother of all the living” (LG 56, 63). The accent is placed on the “maternal role (munus) of Mary” (LG 60), considered in its full extension: “In the Mystery of the Word Incarnate and of his Mystical Body” (LG 54). This role, already announced in the Old Testament (LG 55), manifests itself as free cooperation at the moment of the Incarnation: “Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience. For, as Saint Irenaeus says, she ‘being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.'” (66) This cooperation involved Mary’s whole being, since she has “received the Word of God in her heart and in her body” (LG 53). Finally, she is contemplated at the Cross, “enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, she associated herself with his sacrifice in her maternal heart, lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim, which was born of her” (LG 58). This maternal cooperation of Mary in the work of salvation is nothing other than her intimate and perfect communion in all the mysteries of her Son: “She conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a Mother to us in the order of grace” (LG 61). Next, the conciliar text brings to light the extension of her maternity:

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office (munus) but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home (LG 62).

The same maternal cooperation is affirmed again with regard to Christ and to us: “The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29), that is the faithful, in whose generation and formation she cooperates with a mother’s love” (LG 63). In union with Mary, such is also the maternal love of the Church and her cooperation in the salvation of all men: “In her life the Virgin has been a model of that motherly love with which all who cooperate in the Church’s apostolic mission for the regeneration of mankind should be animated” (LG 65). This maternal cooperation of Mary (and of the Church) is described as participation in the unique mediation of Christ: “In the words of the apostle there is but one mediator: ‘For there is but one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all’ (1 Tim. 2:5-6). But Mary’s function as mother (maternum munus) of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power” (LG 60). On this point, the teaching of the Council is very clear:

No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate and Redeemer; but, just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude, but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source. The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role (munus subordinatum) of Mary, which it constantly experiences and recommends to the heartfelt attention of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more closely adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer (LG 62).

In this light, the Council fully justifies the strong expressions, traditionally employed by the people of God and by the saints: “The Blessed Virgin Mary is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator” (LG 62). In this perspective of the Council, John Paul II’s Encyclical Redemptoris Mater has amply developed the theme of Mary’s maternal mediation. (67)

2. The Montfort Doctrine as Theology of Motherhood. It is thus in the light of the Council that we can rediscover the splendid theology of motherhood present in Louis Marie’s Treatise. As “sapiential” experimental theology, it surely represents one of the essential contents of the Montfort doctrine, which explains its universality and its success in all of the most diverse cultures. Motherhood is in fact an essential reality, from the theological as well as the anthropological point of view, inseparably in the creation and the Incarnation. Motherhood is a fundamental mystery of life and of love, and the language of maternal love, used by God himself (68) in the Bible—just as the language of paternal love and spousal love—is a universal language which always speaks to the heart of man and woman in all cultures.

The same God who “in the beginning created our humanity “in his image and likeness” as man and woman, “in the fullness of time” became man and was born of a woman. Thus, through the virginal motherhood of Mary, the Incarnation of the Son is really the “recapitulation” and renewal of creation. It is a true divine motherhood, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit: through her faith and obedience, Mary is the Mother of the only Son of the Father. It is also a true human motherhood, because through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Father’s Son became her Child, “the fruit of her womb” (cf. Lk. 1:42), receiving from her the whole reality of His Body. The theology of motherhood is inseparably the theology of Spirit and the Flesh, of Heart and Body.

3. Motherhood in “the Order of Nature” and in “the Order of Grace.” Thus, from the very beginning of the Treatise, Mary is contemplated as the masterpiece “of grace, of nature and of glory” (TD 12). This indicates that her virginal motherhood inseparably unites the reality of grace and of nature, of Spirit and flesh. Often, with regard to motherhood, Louis Marie manifests the profound harmony which exists between the “order of nature” and “the order of grace,” God himself being the author of these two orders. (69) In fact, grace never goes against nature, but it is its full accomplishment.

In Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life , the motherhood of Mary is also a “holy way” and a “holy place,” with regard to those two typical expressions of the Montfort doctrine: “through Mary” and “in Mary.”

First of all, motherhood is way, the same way of the creation and of the Incarnation, through which every human being “comes to the light” and by which the Father’s Light has “come into the world.” As Mother Mary is intimately present in the “coming” of the Son into the world by the Incarnation and in his “return” to the Father through the Redemption. It is precisely this dynamism of going and returning that the expression “through Mary” signifies. Thus, the whole Treatise begins with the statement: “It is through the Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ came into the world; and it is also through her that he must reign in the world” (TD 1). Further on, the same theme is repeated, with the symbol of the way applied to Mary: “As she was the way by which Jesus first came to us, she will again be the way by which he will come to us the second time though not in the same manner. Since she is the sure means, the direct and immaculate way to Jesus and the perfect guide to him, it is through her that souls who are to shine forth in sanctity, must find him. He who finds

Mary finds life, that is Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life” (TD 50). In Christ, the way, the motherhood of Mary is the way of his coming to us and of our return to him, the descending way of the Incarnation and the ascending way of our divinization. This thought is frequently repeated by Louis Marie, in the perspectives of the patristic theology: God became man so that man may become God, He descended to us to make us rise to him. (70) Thus, the dynamism expressed in the formula: “to Jesus through Mary” follows the way of the Mother, the way of the Incarnation. It already appears in the first prayer to Mary, inspired by the Holy Spirit to Elizabeth, a woman who is also a mother: “You are blessed among women and the fruit of your womb is blessed” (Lk. 1: 42).

The expression “in Mary” signifies motherhood as “holy place.” Here, Louis Marie repeats the symbol of holy ground or virgin earth applied to Mary by the Fathers:

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the true earthly paradise of the New Adam and the ancient paradise was only a symbol of her. There are in this earthly paradise untold riches, beauties, rarities and delights which the new Adam, Jesus Christ, has left there. It is in this paradise that he “took his delights” for nine months, worked his wonders and displayed his riches with the magnificence of God himself. This most holy place consists of only virgin and immaculate soil from which the new Adam was formed with neither spot nor stain by the operation of the Holy Spirit who dwells there (TD 261).

It is, in fact, the Holy Spirit himself who makes us enter into this “holy place” where God made himself so near to us:

Happy, indeed sublimely happy, is the person to whom the Holy Spirit reveals the secret of Mary, thus imparting to him true knowledge of her. Happy the person to whom the Holy Spirit opens this enclosed garden for him to enter, and to whom the Holy Spirit gives access to this sealed fountain where he can draw water and drink deep draughts of the living waters of grace. That person will find only God and no creature in the most lovable Virgin Mary. But, he will find that the infinitely holy and exalted God is at the same time infinitely solicitous for him and understands his weaknesses. Since God is everywhere, he can be found everywhere, even in hell. But there is no place where God can be more present to his creature and more sympathetic to human weakness than in Mary. It was indeed for this very purpose that he came down from heaven. Everywhere else he is the Bread of the strong and the Bread of angels, but living in Mary he is the Bread of children (SM 20).

It is a place of peace, of tenderness, of true security and of spiritual growth, a place of intimate encounter with Jesus and transformation in Him. (71) But, at the same time, this place of the motherhood of Mary, which is so sweet, is also the place of radical spiritual purification. Louis Marie relates this to his reader through the parable of the “mold”: “Remember that only molten and liquefied substances may be poured into a mold. That means that you must crush and melt down the old Adam in you if you wish to acquire the likeness of the new Adam in Mary” (TD 221).

Louis Marie knows by experience the maternal love of Mary, in its twofold reality, human and divine. It really contains all the human, natural richness of maternal love, (72) but it also surpasses all of its limits. Because the maternal love of Mary is a participation in the Love of the Father “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Daughter of Abraham, Mary consented to the redemptive death of her Son (TD 18). Thus, the maternal Love of Mary is at the same time a tender and sweet love (cf. TD 107), which protects and consoles her children, and also a strong and exacting love which does not spare them, but helps them to grow, by always accepting the Cross of Jesus and the painful purifications, which are indispensable in order to arrive at a true Christian maturity which is holiness. (73)

But she does this with all of her maternal genius, that of the mother who knows how to devise the most delicate way for her child to swallow the bitter medicine. It is again using a parable about natural motherly love that Louis Marie sheds light on an essential aspect of Mary’s maternal role: to help us always to accept Jesus’ Cross, to drink the bitter Cup of his Passion. Hence by means of the sweetness of her maternal love, the Consoler Spirit is always at work. (74)

IV. The Ecclesial Path of Holiness Lived with Mary in Faith, Hope and Love

In the Constitution, Lumen Gentium, the central chapter on the universal call to holiness (ch. V) is essentially linked to the final chapter that contemplates Mary’s perfect holiness.

The Church’s path on pilgrimage is therefore that of a progressive configuration with Mary. “Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her lofty type, and continuously progresses in faith, hope and charity” (LG 65 ). This “continuous progress” in faith, hope and charity is, appropriately, the path of holiness which every member of the faithful is called to pursue, in living simply the grace of his baptism.

Likewise, following Saint Thomas and Saint John of the Cross, Louis Marie grounds all his “lived theology” and his “training in holiness” on faith, hope and charity, “virtutes theologicae” (75) (“theological” virtues, rather than “theologal” virtues). As did the Council, he insists on the motherly role of Mary, in the development of this baptismal life of faith, hope and love. A genuine interpreter of the Council and a faithful disciple of Louis Marie, John Paul II ends his Letter to the Montfort Families by shedding light on this ecclesial path of holiness as a path of faith, hope and love. Faithful to Scripture, Lumen Gentium defined holiness as the perfection of charity (LG 39-40).

The Pope, who never ceased to insist on this “primacy of holiness” (76) considers successively the viewpoints of charity, faith and hope as shown in the subtitles of the final developments: “Holiness, the perfection of charity” (n. 6); The “pilgrimage of faith” (n. 7); “A sign of certain hope” (n. 8).

A. Holiness, the Perfection of Charity

Setting out from the conciliar text, John Paul II rejoins the teaching of Louis Marie for the poorest, in his Canticles.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium states: “But while in the Most Blessed Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph. 5:27), the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness. And so they turn their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues” (n. 65). Holiness is the perfection of charity, of love of God and neighbor that is the object of Jesus’ greatest Commandment (cf. Mt. 22:38). It is also the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. I Cor. 13:13). Thus, in his Canticles St. Louis Marie presents to the faithful in this order the excellence of charity (Canticle 5), the light of faith (Canticle 6) and the firmness of hope (Canticle 7). (LMF 6).

This order is meaningful. For Louis Marie, as for Thérèse of Lisieux, charity is the Heart of the Church. (77) Before the Council, those two saints taught with the greatest clarity and firmness, the universal call to holiness, as a call to the fullness of love.

1. The Universal Call to Holiness. At the outset of the Secret of Mary, Louis Marie declares solemnly to his reader: “Chosen soul, living image of God and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God wants you to become holy like him in this life, and glorious like him in the next. It is certain that growth in the holiness of God is your vocation” (SM 3). With an astonishing certainty, this “outstanding theologian” expresses with clarity the call of every human being to holiness, and shows that this is grounded on creation in the image of God and on redemption by the blood of Christ.

In fact, every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Thus the Redeemer of man “is truly united to every man.” (78) After this statement, Louis Marie insists on the necessity and the primacy of grace (79) in the realization of this vocation by means of the indispensable cooperation of human liberty. “The soul who corresponds to great graces performs great works, and one who corresponds to lesser graces performs lesser works. The value and high standard of our actions corresponds to the value and perfection of the grace given by God and responded to by the faithful soul. No one can contest these principles” (SM 5). In fact, without grace, that is without charity, the greatest works have no value before God (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3). On the contrary, a great love of charity confers, in his eyes, a great value to the smallest actions. The spirituality of Louis Marie, like that of Thérèse of Lisieux, is an everyday spirituality, lived out “in the ordinary actions of life” (SM 1). With Mary, “who found favor with God” (cf. Lk. 1:30), the faithful can share in her “fiat,” her total “yes” to the action of the Holy Spirit and thus, “obtain from God the grace needed to become holy” (SM 6).

2. The Symbol of the “Slavery of Love.” In his Letter, John Paul II does not fear to repeat the apparently shocking symbolic expression the slavery of love, for it is essential to the doctrine of St. Louis Marie. He gives a splendid explanation of it by quoting various excerpts of the Treatise and of the Secret, and above all, the excerpts that manifest its principal biblical foundations.

In Montfort spirituality, the dynamism of charity is expressed in particular by the symbol of the slavery of love to Jesus, after the example and with the motherly help of Mary. It is a matter of full communion in the kenosis of Christ, communion lived with Mary, intimately present in the mysteries of the life of her Son. “There is nothing among Christians which makes us more absolutely belong to Jesus Christ and his holy Mother than the slavery of the will, according to the example of Jesus Christ himself, who took on the status of a servant for love of us”—formam servi accipiens—”and also according to the example of the holy Virgin who called herself the servant and handmaid of the Lord (Lk. 1:38). The Apostle refers to himself as ‘the slave of Christ’ (servus Christi) as though the title were an honor. Christians are often so called in the Holy Scriptures” (cf. TD 72). Indeed, the Son of God, who came into the world out of obedience to the Father in the Incarnation (cf. Heb. 10:7), subsequently humbled himself by making himself obedient unto death, and death on the Cross (cf. Phil. 2:7-8). Mary responded to God’s will with the total gift of herself, body and soul, forever, from the Annunciation to the Cross and from the Cross to the Assumption. The obedience of Christ and the obedience of Mary are not, of course, symmetrical because of the ontological difference between the divine Person of the Son and the human person of Mary. This also explains the resulting exclusivity of the fundamental salvific efficacy of obedience to Christ, from whom his own Mother received the grace to be able to obey God totally and thus collaborate in the mission of her Son.

The slavery of love should therefore be interpreted in light of the wonderful exchange between God and humanity in the mystery of the incarnate Word. It is a true exchange of love between God and his creature in the reciprocity of total self-giving. The “spirit (of this devotion) consists in this: that we be interiorly dependent on Mary Most Holy; that we be slaves of Mary, and through her, of Jesus” (SM 44).

Paradoxically, this “bond of charity,” this “slavery of love,” endows the human being with full freedom, with that true freedom of the children of God (cf. TD169). It is a question of giving oneself to Jesus without reserve, responding to the Love with which he first loved us. Those who live in this love can say with St Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20) (LMF 6).

Such is the profound sense of the Totus Tuus as complete response to the Love with which God loves us in Jesus, by “rendering him love for love.” (80) He totally gave himself for us and to us. (81) He also gave us his Holy Mother, so that she might give herself entirely to us. (82) Whoever answers such a love by giving himself entirely is this “soul on fire with love” who dares to say: “The Mother of God is mine…. God himself is mine and for me because Christ is mine and all for me.” (83) The baptized person who follows the way enlightened by Louis Marie is “a faithful and loving slave of Jesus in Mary, who is given entirely to the service of this King of kings by the hands of his Holy Mother, and who has not kept anything for himself” (TD 135). Since he knows this spiritual path by experience, John Paul II recalls this great paradox of the slavery of love which coincides with true Christian freedom. Louis Marie frequently insists on this aspect of confidence and of liberation from fear and scruple. (84)

Like Thérèse of Lisieux, Louis Marie proposes to the faithful “a way of confidence and love.” The slavery of loveis nothing other than the dynamism of the grace of baptism (cf. TD 118-133). To his Consecration to Jesus through Mary corresponds exactly the Offering to Merciful Love as a Victim of Holocaust, which is at the center of the spirituality of Thérèse of Lisieux. It is the same total gift of self to Jesus in the Trinity, through the hands and heart of Mary. (85) With Mary, the Carmelite learned how “to love is to give everything and to give oneself.” (86) The two symbols of the slavery of love and the holocaust to love equally refer to the Sacrifice of the Cross, since both are the expression of the common priesthood of the baptized, which Chapter II of Lumen Gentiumhas highlighted (LG 10-11). The same Holy Spirit is the link between the slavery of love and the fire of the holocaust to love. On the basis of this offering continually renewed, the baptized person can proceed and reach holiness through the various stages of the spiritual life (cf. TD 119).

B. The “Pilgrimage of Faith”

In the pontifical Letter, the beautiful development on faith is entitled the “pilgrimage of faith.” John Paul takes up this typical expression of the Council which characterizes so well the earthly life of Mary and of the Church:

I wrote in Novo Millennio Ineunte: “One can never really reach Jesus except by the path of faith” (n. 19). This was the path that Mary followed throughout her earthly life and it is the path of the pilgrim Church until the end of time. The Second Vatican Council placed great emphasis on Mary’s faith, mysteriously shared by the Church, shedding light on the journey of Our Lady from the moment of the Annunciation to the moment of the redemptive Passion (cf. LG 57 and 67; Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Mater, 25-27). In the writings of St. Louis Marie we find the same accent on the faith lived by the Mother of Jesus in her journey from the Incarnation to the Cross, a faith in which Mary is the model and type of the Church (LMF 7).

In the same sense, Lumen Gentium declares: “This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death” (LG 57). In the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater John Paul II meditated at length on these words of the Council: “The Blessed Virgin Mary advanced in her pilgrimage of faith and loyally persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross” (87) in the light of the words of the Gospel: “Blessed is she who believed” (Lk. 1:45). Likewise, the Council affirms that “true devotion… proceeds from true faith” (LG 67).

For his part, Louis Marie puts faith in the first place when he speaks about the virtues of Mary which the Holy Spirit wants to “reproduce” in us: “her lively faith, by which she believed the angel’s words without the least hesitation and believed faithfully and constantly even to the foot of the Cross on Calvary.” (88)

This teaching of Louis Marie on Mary’s faith which God communicates to the Church on earth is particularly synthesized in an excerpt from the Treatise which John Paul II quotes at length:

St. Louis Marie expresses this with a range of nuances, when in his letter he expounds on the “marvellous effects” of perfect Marian devotion: “The more, then, that you gain the favor of that august Princess and faithful Virgin, the more will you act by pure faith; a pure faith which will put you above all sensible consolations and extraordinary favors; a lively faith animated by charity, which will enable you to perform all your actions from the motive of pure love; a faith firm and immovable as a rock, through which you will rest quiet and constant in the midst of storms and hurricanes; a faith active and piercing, which like a mysterious skeleton key, will give you entrance into all the mysteries of Jesus, the ultimate goal of man, and into the heart of God himself; a courageous faith, which will enable you to undertake and carry out without hesitation great things for God and for the salvation of souls; lastly, a faith which will be your blazing torch, your divine life, your hidden treasure of divine wisdom and your omnipotent arms, which you will use to enlighten those who are in the darkness of the shadow of death, to inflame those who are lukewarm and who have need of the heated gold of charity, to give life to those who are dead through sin, to touch and move by your meek and powerful words the hearts of stone and the cedars of Lebanon, and finally, to resist the devil and all the enemies of salvation.” (89)

Likewise, in the very last lines of the Treatise we find this accent on faith again, when Louis Marie invites the faithful to live their Eucharistic communion with Mary:

The more you let Mary act in your Communion the more Jesus will be glorified; and you will allow Mary to act for Jesus and Jesus to act in Mary, in the measure that you humble yourself and listen to them in peace and silence without troubling yourself about seeing, tasting or feeling; for the just man lives by faith, and particularly in holy communion, which is an action of faith: Justus meus ex fide vivit. (“My just man lives by faith” (Heb. 10:38)) (TD 273).

Such is exactly the final point of the Treatise.

In this same development on faith, John Paul II cannot fail to make an allusion to another saint who had a great influence on his life and his thought:

Like St. John of the Cross, St. Louis Marie insists above all on the purity of faith and its essential and often sorrowful darkness (cf. SM 51-52). Contemplative faith, by giving up tangible or extraordinary things, penetrates the mysterious depths of Christ. Thus, in his prayer, St. Louis Marie addresses the Mother of the Lord saying: “I do not ask you for visions, revelations, sensible devotion or spiritual pleasures…. Here below, I wish for nothing other than that which was yours: to believe sincerely without spiritual pleasures” (ibid., 69). The Cross is the crowning moment of Mary’s faith, as I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater: “Through this faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying…. This is perhaps the deepest kenosis of faith in human history” (n. 18). (LMF 7).

One may recall here that Karol Wojtyla’s thesis for his doctorate in theology, defended in Rome in 1948, had for its subject faith according to St. John of the Cross. Louis Marie, who knew “Blessed John of the Cross,” was without a doubt inspired by his teaching on contemplative faith, centered on the Person of Christ, when he wrote:

Rest assured that the more you turn to Mary in your prayers, meditations, actions and sufferings, seeing her, if not perhaps clearly and distinctly, at least in a general and indistinct way, the more surely you will discover Jesus. For he is always greater, more powerful, more active, and more mysterious when acting through Mary, than he is in any other creature in the universe, or even in heaven (TD 165).

There is a striking similarity with what St. John of the Cross writes in The Ascent of Mount Carmel concerning “contemplation communicated in faith,” as “dark and general knowledge,” as opposed to “distinct and particular knowledge.” (90)

Likewise, in the passage of the Secret of Mary to which the papal letter refers, Louis Marie declares to his reader:

Beware of doing violence to yourself, endeavoring to experience pleasure in your prayers and good deeds. Pray and act always with something of the pure faith which Mary showed when on earth. Poor little slave, let your sovereign Queen enjoy the clear sight of God, the raptures, delights, satisfactions and riches of heaven. Content yourself with a pure faith, which is accompanied by aversions, distractions, weariness and dryness. (SM 51).

This insistence on pure and naked faith is of the utmost importance today in order to educate and purify the Marian devotion of the People of God by grounding it on faith…

The Church on pilgrimage lives more than ever the spiritual struggle of faith in facing so many new challenges. The real believer will of necessity know the trial of faith: such is the meaning of the comparison between Mary and Abraham, given in the Treatise and admirably developed by John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater. (91) The Pope takes up again the phrase “kenosis of faith” in order to signify the greatest trial of faith lived by Mary at the foot of the Cross of her Son. With all great believers, and more than all, Mary lived out the trial of faith. Intensely living such a trial for the salvation of her unbelieving brothers, (92) Thérèse of Lisieux saw in Mary the perfect example of the disciple who seeks Jesus “in the night of faith.” (93)

C. A Sign of Sure Hope

The final point of the Constitution, Lumen Gentium, is the contemplation of Mary as a sign of sure hope for the People of God on pilgrimage (LG 68-69), which sheds great light on the teaching of Chapter VII on the eschatological character of the Church on pilgrimage and its union with the Church in heaven. In his Letter to the Montfort Families, John Paul II takes up again this expression: “A sign of sure hope” as the title of the last development of his exposition. He stresses particularly the eschatological dimension of hope, so deeply present in the conciliar text as in the Treatise:

The Holy Spirit invites Mary to reproduce her own virtues in the elect, extending in them the roots of her “invincible faith” and “firm hope” (cf. TD 34). The Second Vatican Council recalled this: “The Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God” (LG 68). This eschatological dimension is contemplated by St. Louis Marie especially when he speaks of the “apostles of the latter times” formed by the Blessed Virgin to bring to the Church Christ’s victory over the forces of evil (cf. TD 49-59). This is in no way a form of “millenarianism,” but a deep sense of the eschatological character of the Church linked to the oneness and saving universality of Jesus Christ. The Church awaits the glorious coming of Jesus at the end of time. Like Mary and with Mary, the saints are in the Church and for the Church to make her holiness shine out and to extend to the very ends of the earth and the end of time the work of Christ, the one Savior (LMF 8).

The text quoted from Lumen Gentium sheds light on the essential ecclesiological and eschatological meaning of the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary, that is her full communion and configuration with her risen Son, (94) who “represents and inaugurates” (as imago et initium) the final Church fully configured to the Risen One, at the end of time. After the Resurrection of Christ, and the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Church always lives, till the end of history, between the already and the not yet: “The promised and hoped for restoration, therefore, has already begun in Christ. It is carried forward in the sending of the Holy Spirit and through him continues in the Church.… Already the final age of the world is with us and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain way” (LG. 48). Such is properly the time of hope.

Here, the light shed by the Council is particularly precious in order to help us understand better the eschatological dimension of the teaching of the Treatise; it allows John Paul II to dismiss categorically the charge of “millenarianism” sometimes leveled at Louis Marie. His Letter is an invitation to reread and to interpret correctly the very beautiful texts concerning: “the saints of the latter times” (TDS 49-59). This final development confirms well the statement at the beginning: “The Montfort teaching should be reread and reinterpreted today in the light of the Council” (LMF 1).

According to the words of the Pope, previously quoted, this “eschatological character of the Church” is “linked to the oneness and saving universality of Jesus Christ” for “the Church awaits his glorious coming at the end of time.”

This is what the Church asserts in her faith: “I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” There will never be any other Revelation nor any other saving intervention of God. Such is, for Louis Marie the only Trinitarian and Christocentric economy of salvation: from “the first coming of Jesus Christ” in the Incarnation, “up to the consummation of the ages in the final coming of Jesus Christ” (cf. TD 22). It is the same economy of the Son and of the Holy Spirit which is contemplated by means of the mirror of Mary’s motherhood, in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church. “Together with the Holy Spirit Mary produced the greatest thing that ever was or ever will be: a God-man. She will consequently produce the marvels which will be seen in the latter times. The formation and education of the great saints who will come at the end of the world are reserved to her, for only this singular and wondrous Virgin can produce in union with the Holy Spirit, singular and wondrous things” (TD 35). In his Letter, John Paul II dwells particularly on the ecclesial mission of the saints.

In the antiphon Salve Regina, the Church calls the Mother of God “our Hope.” The same term is used by St. Louis Marie who took it from a text of St. John Damascene, who applies to Mary the biblical symbol of the anchor (cf. Hom. I in Dorm. B.V.M., 14: PG 96, 719): “‘We fasten our souls,'” he says, “‘to your hope, as to an abiding anchor.’ It is to her that the saints who have saved themselves have been the most attached and have done their best to attach others, in order to persevere in virtue. Happy, then, a thousand times happy, are the Christians who are now fastened faithfully and entirely to her, as to a firm anchor!” (TD 175). Through the devotion to Mary, Jesus himself “enlarges the heart with firm confidence in God, making it look upon him as a Father” (TD 169) (LMF 8).

For Louis Marie as for Thérèse of Lisieux, this hope for himself and for others is essentially confidence in the Infinite Mercy of the Father, revealed and communicated by his Son the Redeemer. The same “confidence and singular hope” in God is given by Jesus in the Spirit, through the motherly Heart of Mary (cf. TD 267). The spiritual climate is a climate of true and full security: that of “the hope that does not deceive” (Rm. 5:5).

Finally, the Letter to the Montfort Families ends in that sweet light of hope, by quoting the last words of Lumen Gentium:

Together with the Blessed Virgin and with the same maternal heart, the Church prays, hopes and intercedes for the salvation of all men and women. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium concludes with these words: “The entire body of the faithful pours forth urgent supplications to the Mother of God and of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity” (LG 69) (LMF 8).

Fr. Léthel is a Professor of Theology at the Teresianum in Rome, the author of many spiritual and Mariological works, and is a theological consultor to the Holy See.


(1) The original text, written in Italian, was published in L’Osservatore Romano on Wednesday, January 14, 2004. In the present article, we will use the official French translation, taking the liberty to modify it from the original Italian. We will do likewise when quoting the Constitution Lumen Gentium: the official French translation will sometimes be re-worded from the original Latin. Throughout this study we will systematically use the abbreviations : LG for the Constitution Lumen Gentium; LMF for Letter to the Montfort Families; TD for the Treatise on True Devotion ; SM for the Secret of Mary. Due to the great number of quotations, for the sake of clarity and simplicity, these abbreviations will be placed in the text (and not in footnotes) accompanied only by a number indicating the paragraph quoted.

(2) With rare exceptions the texts of Saint Louis Marie will be quoted according to God Alone: The Collected Writings of St. Louis Marie de Montfort (Bay Shore, NY: Montfort Publications, 1987). The critical edition remains Oeuvres complètes de saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1966). John Paul II’s Letter refers to the Treatise on True Devotion (TD), to the Secret of Mary (SM) and to the Hymns (H). We will refer also to the other works, especially to the Love of Eternal Wisdom (LEW).

(3) The Italian original indicates in a more precise manner the reference to John Paul II’s book: Gift and Mystery, 42.

(4) In the volume Spiritualità Monfortana 2, published in 2003 by the Montfort International Center in Rome, we find an impressive list of editions and translations of the Writings of Saint Louis Marie, from 1725 to 2003 (with 838 titles). The Treatise on True Devotion and the Secret of Mary naturally occupy the first place. The Montfort bibliography which is then presented (studies on the life and doctrine of Louis Marie) comprises 782 titles. For the Great Jubilee of 2000, I wanted to present a new edition of the Treatise and of the Secret by uniting them under a single title: L’Amour de Jésus en Marie, with a lengthy theological introduction in view of the doctorate (Geneva: Éditions Ad Solem, 2000, 2 vols). We know in fact that the titles Treatise on True Devotion and Secret of Mary do not come from the author but from editors. I have thus preferred a title that indicates a Christocentric dynamism and the interiority of Mary in these writings, while taking inspiration from the saint: “We seek the Love of Jesus through Mary” (TD 67). It is always according to this perspective that I presented the Montfort doctrine in the same volume of Spiritualità Monfortana 2 under the title: San Luigi Maria di Montfort dottore dell’Amore di Gesù in Maria.

(5) Personally, I have not ceased to work for the Doctorate of Thérèse and Louis Marie. Thus, in October 1993, I gave a lecture with the title Thérèse de Lisieux et Louis-Marie de Montfort: deux Docteurs pour notre temps(published in Vie Thérésienne April-June 1994, no 134). The deepened knowledge of the two doctrines, of their current and ecclesial importance, the experience of the difficulties encountered with the cause of Thérèse which in the end did not prevent the proclamation of her Doctorate, allow me to relativize and de-dramatize the temporary decline of Louis Marie’s cause. This decline can be largely explained by the different methodologies used by the Roman Curia for the two causes of the Doctorate. The Positio, which was a determining factor for Thérèse’s Doctorate, could not be done for Louis Marie. But in this ecclesial journey, John Paul’s Letter to the Montfort Families is an essential element in that it gives new value to the doctrine of Louis Marie, especially in dealing with disputed points.

(6) Cf. Crossing the Threshold of Hope, pp. 212-213.

(7) Gift and Mystery, p. 42.

(8) Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 213.

(9) Ibid, p. 214.

(10) Discourse at Closing of Third Session of the Council, November 21, (1964, in Enchiridion Vaticanum 1, no. 300).

(11) Ibid, no. 304.

(12) Homily of September 19, 1996.

(13) Thus, speaking to Jesus, Louis Marie writes : “Like St. John the Evangelist at the foot of the Cross, I have taken her times without number as my total good and as often have I given myself to her. But if I have not done so as perfectly as you, dear Jesus, would wish, I now do so according to your desire” (SM 66).

(14) With regard to Louis Marie’s works, (Oeuvres) and their authenticity, we refer to the recent study of Father D.M. Huot: Il Corpus degli scritti di san Luigi Maria di Montfort (in Spiritualià Monfortana 2, cited previously).

(15) As St. John of the Cross (who had studied at the University of Salamanca), Louis Marie also had a sound knowledge of university theology ( which is not the case for the three women Doctors of the Church: Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux). Like him, he always strove to base the spiritual life on the pure truth of faith, on Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Church, expressing himself in an objective manner and avoiding reference to his personal experience. Like him, he knew Holy Scripture admirably and had a solid theological formation, the fruit of his extensive reading, as his Note Book (transcribed by the Montfort Postulation, Rome, 2000) testifies.

(16) In the Treatise, Louis Marie delivers a vibrant eulogy about Cardinal de Bérulle (TD 162). He is justly considered as “the last of the great Berullians.” It is in taking up again the expression of H. Brémond that Father R. Deville, Sulpician, presents Louis Marie in his recent book: L’Ecole Française de Spiritualité (Paris: Desclée, 1987, p. 139 ff.) This book is one of the best presentations of Bérullian spirituality. We must also mention the excellent book of P. Cochois: Bérulle et l’Ecole Française (Paris: Ed. du Seuil, 1963, coll. “Maitres Spirituels; cf. in particular pp. 164-166) which present Louis Marie as the best representative of the purest and most mystical Bérullianism.”

(17) God Alone: The Collected Works of St. Louis Marie de Montfort (Bay Shore, NY: Montfort Publications, 1987) pp. 501-503.

(18) In Conformity with the liturgical cycle, the Mystery of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery are the privileged objects of the Hymns. The series of Christmas Hymns (57–66) is followed by the Hymns of the Passion (67–74), where Louis Marie does not shrink from the strongest Christological expressions: the Child Jesus is “Our God reduced to infancy” (H 57/1), and the Crucified is “a God dead on a Cross for us” (H 137/2). The missionary wants to make known the whole truth about the Mystery of Jesus, to manifest his unspeakable love for men in calling them to love him in return. The Love of Jesus is the heart of the teaching in the Hymns, as in all of Louis Marie’s other writings. He thoroughly assimilated the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus (in the spirit of Saint Margaret Mary), as Hymns 40–44 testify. Quite significant are the three Hymns of the Beloved of Jesus (H 54-56), those concerning the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom (H 103, 124–126). The Eucharist, Sacrament of Love is also the object of a series of Hymns (H 128-134). One of the most characteristic is the last one For Saturday (H 134): it is a Hymn which corresponds exactly to the “Eucharistic finale” of the Treatise(TD 266–273). In a profound vision of faith and love, Louis Marie contemplates Mary participating in the Eucharist in the primitive Church and reliving in her communion all the intimacy of the Incarnation. For the faithful, the point is to live the Eucharist with Mary and in Her: “It is from you, O Virgin Mary/ That this Body and Blood comes to us… Pour out your love on us/ So that we can love your dear Son through you” (H 134/11–12). Numerous indeed are the Hymns dedicated to Mary (H 74–90), always with the powerful Christocentric orientation of Montfortian Mariology.

Nevertheless, the longest series concerns the Christian life, particularly the Christian virtues (H 4–28), but also the vices (H 29–39) which seek to undermine them. First place is given to the theological virtues, and above all to charity: The Excellence of Charity, The Lights of the Faith, The Firmness of Hope (H 5, 6 and 7). These three Hymns are veritable treatises (with marginal notes by the author), drawing inspiration from Saint Thomas. Finally, another series of hymns concern the various states of life (H 91–99) with the author wishing to indicate that each person is equally called to salvation and holiness.

(19) John Paul II makes mention of this work in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (8).

(20) Such is the Wisdom Saint Thomas speaks about as the first gift of the Holy Spirit, knowledge in and through charity (Summa Theologica, II–II q.. 45 art. 2).

(21) It was with this expression that John Paul II characterized Thérèse of Lisieux’s doctrine in his Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, recalling that he wanted to “proclaim her Doctor of the Church precisely as an expert in thescientia amoris” (42).

(22) LEW 94. In the Treatise on True Devotion, speaking of Jesus, Louis Marie will deplore the existence, within the Catholic Church, of a theology deprived of love: “I am speaking of Catholics, and even of educated Catholics, who profess to teach the faith to others, but do not know you or your holy Mother, except speculatively, in a dry, cold and sterile way” (TD 64)

(23) “Among all believers she is like a ‘mirror’ in which are reflected in the most profound and limpid way ‘the mighty works of God'” (RM 25).

(24) Louis Marie asserts this in his Treatise by repeating an expression from the Liturgy: “Mary alone has crushed all heresies, as we are told by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: Sola cunctas hæreses interemisti in univereso mundo” (TD 167).

(25) We could compare this synthesis of Louis Marie with those of Catherine of Siena and of Teresa of Avila, Doctors of the Church. The place of the theological synthesis for Catherine is the Body of Jesus; For Teresa of Avila it is our soul; For Louis Marie, it is Mary in her body and her soul. The place of the synthesis for Catherine, is the Body of Jesus, dead and resurrected, as the Book in which he has written his Love for us, not with ink, but with his Blood, not on paper, but on his own Flesh; as Ladder or Bridge which unites earth and Heaven; as Temple of the total presence of God (“For in him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily,” Col. 2:9), where all of sinful humanity is called to enter passing through the ever open door of his side so as to become the Church his spouse, like his rib next his Heart. The place of Teresa’s synthesis is our soul considered as the Interior Castle where God himself dwells, splendid architecture with numerous dwelling places, up to the seventh dwelling places where shines the light of the Trinity and of the glorious Humanity of Jesus (cf. Interior Castle, 1 and 2). All these syntheses have the same Christocentric character: Jesus in Mary (Louis Marie), we in Him (Catherine), He in us (Teresa).

(26) Discourse of 21 November 1964 (Enchiridion Vaticanum, 1, no. 315).

(27) Cf. the collective volume: Spiritualità trinitaria in communione con Maria secondo Montfort (Rome: Ed. Montfortane, 2000).

(28) “With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite Majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, ‘I am he who is.’ Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them. However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish his greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since he created her, we can safely believe that he will not change his plan in the time to come, for he is God and therefore does not change in his thoughts or his way of acting.” (TD 14-15). Like the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, Louis Marie affirms at the same time the absolute freedom of God, his transcendence with regard to all his works, and at the same time his faithfulness, this faithfulness to the covenant which gives to the entire economy of salvation its consistency and coherence. Like Saint Anselm (in the Cur Deus Homo), Louis Marie contemplates this mysterious “necessity” which characterizes the whole economy of creation and of salvation: “We must conclude that, being necessary to God by a necessity which is called ‘hypothetical,’ (that is, because God so willed it), the Blessed Virgin is all the more necessary for men to attain their final end.” (TD 39). We recognize here the “outstanding theologian” of whom John Paul II spoke, capable of utilizing a theological terminology which is precise and rigorous. One may note the profound harmony between this text of Louis Marie and what the Council teaches: “The Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men originates not in any inner necessity but in the disposition of God. It flows from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it” (LG 60).

29) “Thus, Mary was but a relation to the Eternal Father, who made her Mother of his Son and towards the only Son, as his Mother. The entire being and the state of the Virgin seems founded on and cast into this disposition of Relation” (Bérulle: Oeuvres Complètes, 1644 ed., p. 976).

(30) LMF 3, which gives the reference to the Italian translation of Fonti Francescane (no 281). The original Latin text is reproduced and translated in the volume of “Sources Chrétiennes” on the writings (Ecrits) of Saint Francis. There Mary is invoked as “Daughter and servant of the Most High and sovereign King, the Heavenly Father, Mother of Our most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Holy Spirit” (Francis of Assisi: Ecrits, Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1981, “Sources Chrétiennes,” p. 291).

(31) Without forgetting her true human spousal relationship, as Joseph’s true wife in her perpetual virginity (cf. H 122). John Paul II insisted on this aspect in his Apostolic Exhortation on Saint Joseph: Redemptoris Custos of 15 August, 1989.

(32) Here, it is appropriate to recall that the title of Mother of God signifies the relationship with the sole Person of the Son, whereas the title of Spouse of God signifies the relationship with the entire Trinity. In fact, if the Name of Son expresses the exclusive property of one Divine Person, the Name of Spouse is on the other hand common to the entire Trinity. In God, there is eternally a Father and a Son, but not a Husband and a Wife. This divine name of Spouse, which characterizes the relationship between God and the creature as a relationship of Love, can legitimately be appropriated by each of the Three Persons. It is most often appropriated to the Son, due to the Incarnation, but it can also be appropriated to the Father and to the Spirit, because the Three Persons are in truth one single Spouse, and not three Spouses. The Trinitarian communion is always virginal; it is the source of unheard of relationships, divine-human, radically new with regard to the simple natural human relationships. Thus for Saint Francis, every person who lives in charity is at the same time spouse, sister and mother of Jesus, in such a manner that Jesus is truly his Spouse, his Brother and his Child (Letter to the faithful, first version). Such an expression, which Saint Clare applies most especially to the woman consecrated in virginity (First Letter to Agnes of Prague), is eminently appropriate for Mary. It may be further noted that for Saint Francis the title of Spouse of the Holy Spirit isn’t reserved to Mary; Francis attributes it to Clare and to her sisters when he writes to them: “You have espoused the Holy Spirit in choosing to live according to the perfection of the Holy Gospel” (Form of life). In the writings of Cardinal de Bérulle, the divine name of Spouse is appropriated to the Father and thus Mary is called: “Daughter and Spouse of the Father, Mother and servant of the Son and Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit” (Third Elevation in the Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 8, p. 346).

(33) For example, in the Acathist Hymn, Mary is acclaimed as Virgin-Spouse.

(34) “The Holy Spirit had already come down upon her, and she become his faithful Spouse at the Annunciation” (Redemptoris Mater, 26). This Marian title of “faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit” is typically Montfort (TD 4, 5, 25, 36, 164, 269; SM 15, 68). Certainly, it has been noted that the expression Spouse of the Holy Spirit does not appear literally in the Council texts, just as the expression Mother of the Church. But the harmony of these expressions with the conciliar teaching was clearly manifested by Paul VI. It was he himself who declared Mary Mother of the Church when promulgating the Constitution Lumen Gentium, and in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus he underscored this spousal aspect of the relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit (26).

(35) Redemptoris Mater 39.

(36) Cf. Adversus Haereses IV, 20, 1.

(37) On this score Louis Marie answers to one of the requirements of Paul VI in Marialis Cultus (26-27).

(38) “God the Father imparted to Mary his fruitfulness, as far as a mere creature was capable of receiving it, to enable her to bring forth his Son and all the members of his mystical body” (TD 17). “The Holy Spirit espoused Mary and produced his greatest work, the incarnate Word, in her, by her and through her. He has never disowned her and so he continues to produce every day, in a mysterious but very real manner, the souls of the elect in her and through her” (SM 13).

(39) Cf. in particular Bérulle’s very last work: La vie de Jésus, which is also his masterpiece. It is a lengthy meditation of the Mystery of the Incarnation, contemplated in the event of the virginal conception at the moment of the Annunciation (Pierre de Bérulle: Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 8, Paris: Ed. du Cerf, 1996).

(40) Adversus Haereses V, 19, 1. Thus, we can say in all truth and without exaggeration that, for Louis Marie, as for Saint Irenaeus, Mary is by her obedience the “cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race” (Adversus Haereses III, 22, 4; text quoted in LG 56).

(41) Regarding the obedience of the New Adam and of the New Eve, it is appropriate to recall the great principle so well formulated by Louis Marie: “What I say in an absolute sense of our Lord, I say in a relative sense of our Blessed Lady” ( TD 74). Such is the sense of the precision made by the pontifical Letter: “The obedience of Christ and the obedience of Mary are not, of course, symmetrical because of the ontological difference between the divine Person of the Son and the human person of Mary. This also explains the resulting exclusivity of the fundamental salvific efficacy of obedience to Christ, from whom his own Mother received the grace to be able to obey God totally and thus collaborate in the mission of her Son” (LMF 6).

(42) TD 18. We can here recall the words of the Constitution, Lumen Gentium: “The Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her.” (LG 58). This text was repeated at length by John Paul II in Redemptoris Mater, developing in particular the comparison between Mary and Abraham (14).

(43) TD 248. Bérulle had treated this at length in the Vie de Jésus (ch. 24-27). Based on Scripture, this doctrine had already been clarified by Saint Thomas Aquinas (cf. II, q. 34 ) and Saint Catherine of Siena (cf. Prayer 11 and Letter 16). Like all these authors, Louis Marie affirms that from the first instant, Jesus’ soul knew and loved the Father and every human being: “He had compassion, not only of all men in general, but for each one in particular, as he knew them all individually” (LEW 162). This doctrine, which will be equally affirmed by Thérèse of Lisieux, has, as its foundation, the beatific vision in Jesus’ soul, a consequence of the hypostatic union and of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, in view of his mission of Redeemer of man.

(44) TD 18. One of the consequences of the Incarnation is a certain submission and obedience of Jesus to his Mother which evidently leaves the first place to his obedience to his Father. Louis Marie speaks about it with prudence and theological exactitude:

Since grace enhances our human nature and glory adds a still greater perfection to grace, it is certain that our Lord remains in heaven just as much the Son of Mary as he was on earth. Consequently, he has retained the submissiveness and obedience of the most perfect of all children towards the best of all mothers.

We must take care, however, not to consider this dependence as an abasement or imperfection in Jesus Christ. For Mary, infinitely inferior to her Son, who is God, does not command him in the same way as an earthly mother would command her child who is beneath her. Since she is completely transformed in God by that grace and glory which transforms all the saints in him, she does not ask or wish to do anything which is contrary to the eternal and unchangeable will of God. When, therefore, we read in the writings of St. Bernard, St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, and others that all in heaven and earth, even God himself, is subject to the Blessed Virgin, they mean that the authority which God was pleased to give her is so great that she seems to have the same power as God. Her prayers and requests are so powerful with him that he accepts them as commands in the sense that he never resists his mother’s prayer because it is always humble and conformed to his will.

Moses by the power of his prayer curbed God’s anger against the Israelites so effectively that the infinitely great and merciful Lord was unable to withstand him and asked Moses to let him be angry and punish that rebellious people. How much greater, then, will be the prayer of the humble Virgin Mary, worthy Mother of God, who is more powerful with the King of heaven than the prayers and intercession of all the angels and saints in heaven and on earth (TD 27).

This text is remarkable, appropriately situating Mary in the line of the great biblical intercessors. We can note that Saint Teresa of Avila reasoned analogously regarding St. Joseph’s intercession: “The Lord wants to make us understand that just as he was subject to St. Joseph on earth—for since bearing the title father, being the Lord’s tutor, Joseph could give the Child commands—so in heaven God does whatever he commands” (Autobiography, VI/6).

(45) Summa Theologica , III q. 48, art. 2 ad 1.

(46) Paul VI, Discourse of 21 November 1964 at closing of Third Session of Council (Enchiridion Vaticanum 1, n. 308).

(47) Cf. B. Cortinovus: Dimensione ecclesiale della spiritualità di San Luigi Maria Grignion de Montfort (Rome: Ed. Monfortane, 1998).

(48) Ibid., no. 302.

(49) Paul VI: Marialis Cultus, no. 28. In Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II recalled that the Church is at the same time “Marian” and “Apostolic-Petrine” (no. 27). The Council brought to light the Marian face of the Church.

(50) Such is the theme of the Declaration Dominus Iesus Cf. “Gesù Cristo, via verità e vita.” Per una rilettura della “Dominus Iesus” (in PATH, 2002/2).

(51) Discourse of 21 November, 1964 (no. 303). Chapter VIII of Lumen Gentium insists much on this intimate union of Mary with Christ and the Church, and of the faithful with Christ ( cf. LG 53, 57, 59, 60, 63).

(52) Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31. Cf. E. Richer: La pédagogie de la sainteté de saint Louis-Marie de Montfort(Paris: Ed. Téqui, 2003).

(53) LMF 4; The same passage of #120 of the Treatise is quoted in #15 of the Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.Cf. the Collective Volume: Riflessioni sulla Lettera Apostolica di Giovanni Paolo II “Rosarium Virginis Mariae”(Città del Vaticano: Quaderni dell’Osservatore Romano, 2003) pp. 85-90.

(54) Adversus Haereses III, 24, 1.

(55) LMF 5.

(56) Thus, Saint Irenaeus refutes the heresy of the Ebionites which denies the virgin birth of Christ, while precisely manifesting this mystery of the “new birth,” that of Christ in the Incarnation and ours in Baptism: “They don’t want to understand that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and that the power of the Most High covered her with his shadow, because of which what was born of her is holy and is the Son of God, the Most High, the Father of all things having caused the Incarnation of his Son and having thus shown a new birth, so that, just as we had inherited death through the previous birth, so we inherit life by this birth.… They do not consider that, just as at the beginning of our formation in Adam, the breath of life issued from God, uniting itself with the modeled work, gave life to man and made him to be an animal endowed with reason, so also at the end the Word of the Father and the Spirit of God, by uniting to the old substance of the modeled work, which is Adam, made man alive and perfect, capable of understanding the perfect Father.… Never, in fact, has Adam escaped God’s hands, to whom the Father spoke when he said ‘let us make man to our image and likeness.’ And this is why, at the end ‘neither by the will of the flesh nor by the will of man,’ but through the Father’s good pleasure, God’s Hands have made man alive, so that Adam may become an image and a likeness of God” (Adversus Haereses V, 1, 3).

(57) Thus, in speaking about the “Emmanuel born of the Virgin,” Saint Irenaeus states

that “He who is pure, has opened in a pure manner, the chaste womb which regenerates mankind in God, and which he has himself made pure” (“Purus pure puram aperiens vulvam, eam quae regenerat homines in Deum, quam ipse puram fecit.” Adversus Haereses IV, 33, 11; cf. also V, 1, 3).

(58) For example, here is what Louis Marie writes: “One reason why so few souls come to the fullness of the age of Jesus, is that Mary who is still as much as ever his Mother and the fruitful spouse of the Holy Spirit is not formed well enough in their hearts” ( TD 164).

(59) Cf. LG 53, 56, 59.

(60) In fact, the word pleura used by Saint John to signify the Side of Jesus pierced on the Cross (Jn 19:34) and always open after the Resurrection (Jn. 20:27) means first of all rib, and it is precisely the word used in the symbolic narrative of the creation of Eve (in Gen. 2:21-22, in the Septuagint translation). Thus, the Church is born as the New Eve, Spouse of the New Adam, in the opening of his Side. In the footsteps of the Fathers, Saint Catherine of Siena entered profoundly into this mystery. It is the same Church which Louis Marie contemplates especially as Mystical Body, already united to Christ the Head in Mary’s womb, and that Catherine contemplates principally as “the fair Spouse of Christ” in the “cavern of his Side” opened on the Cross. And it is the same Holy Spirit who causes the Church to be born inseparably in the Side of the Spouse and in the Womb of the Mother.

(61) St. Ambrose, Expos. in Luc. II, 7: PL 15, 1555.

(62) It is in fact the Holy Spirit who says to Mary: “Reproduce yourself then in my chosen ones, so that I may have the joy of seeing in them the roots of your invisible faith, profound humility, total mortification, sublime prayer, ardent charity, your firm hope and all your virtues. You are always my spouse, as faithful, pure, and fruitful as ever. May your faith give me believers; your purity, virgins; your faithfulness, elect and living temples” (TD 34).

(63) St. Ambrose, Expos. in Luc. II, 26: PL 15, 1561.

(64) This expression “the divine Mary,” quite frequent in Louis Marie’s writings, must not cause any difficulty. In the manner of the Greek Fathers who considered holiness as “divinization,” Louis Marie uses the adjective “divine” as an equivalent of “holy” . One speaks of the “divine Mary” or of the ” divine Paul.” This simply signifies “Holy Mary” and “Saint Paul.”

(65) The same thought is expressed by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, in her last poem: Why I Love You, O Mary! In a certain sense Eucharistic communion identifies her with Mary at the moment of the Incarnation (stanza 5). The same great eucharistic realism was already expressed by Saint Francis of Assisi, with a particular insistence on the presence of the Holy Spirit. According to his words: “It is the Lord’s Spirit who dwells in the faithful who receives the holy Body and Blood of the Lord” (Admonition 1).

(66) LG 56, cf. Adversus Haereses, III, 22, 4.

(67) “Maternal Mediation” is the title of the third part of the Encyclical. Here again, we can notice, at the same time, the influence of the Montfort doctrine on John Paul II and the harmony of this doctrine with the teaching of the Council. If the theme of Mary’s mediation is present in Louis Marie’s writings, it is always integrated and dominated by that of motherhood. It is remarkable that in the Treatise and in the Secret of Mary, the title of Mediatrix is used only four times, while that of Mother is used one hundred and seventy times.

(68) For example in Is. 49:14-15; 66:10-13.

(69) Cf. TD 30, 32, 150, 202; SM 11, 12, 14, 20, etc.

(70) This thought is briefly summarized in the Secret: “If we wish to go to him, seeking union with him, we must use the same means which he used in coming down from heaven to assume our human nature and to impart his graces to us; and that means is a complete dependence on Mary his Mother, which is true devotion to her.” (SM 23). It is developed in a splendid fashion in the Treatise: “This devotion is a perfect way to reach our Lord and be united to Him, for Mary is the most perfect and the most holy of all creatures, and Jesus, who came to us in a perfect manner, chose no other road for his great and wonderful journey. The Most High, the incomprehensible One, the Inaccessible One, He who is, deigned to come down to us poor earthly creatures who are nothing at all. How was this done? The Most High God came down to us in a perfect way through the humble Virgin Mary, without losing anything of his divinity or holiness. It is likewise through Mary that we poor creatures must ascend to almighty God in a perfect manner without having anything to fear. God, the Incomprehensible, allowed himself to be perfectly comprehended and contained by the humble Virgin Mary without losing anything of his immensity. So we must let ourselves be perfectly contained and led by the humble Virgin without any reserve on our part. God, the Inaccessible, drew near to us and united himself closely, perfectly and even personally to our humanity through Mary without losing anything of his majesty. So, it is also through Mary that we must draw near to God and unite ourselves to him perfectly, intimately and without fear of being rejected. Lastly, He Who Is deigned to come down to us who are not and turned our nothingness into God, or He Who Is. He did this perfectly by giving and submitting himself entirely to the young Virgin Mary, without ceasing to be in time He Who Is from all eternity. Likewise it is through Mary that we, who are nothing, may become like God by grace and glory. We accomplish this by giving ourselves to her so perfectly and so completely as to remain nothing, as far as self is concerned, and to be everything in her, without any fear of illusion” (TD 157). Cf. also TD 50, 75, 125, 142, 152.

(71) When we have obtained this remarkable grace by our fidelity, we should be delighted to remain in Mary. We should rest there peacefully, rely on her confidently, hide ourselves there with safety, and abandon ourselves unconditionally to her, so that within her virginal bosom: 1. We may be nourished with the milk of her grace and her motherly compassion. 2. We may be delivered from all anxiety, fear and scruples. 3. We may be safeguarded from all our enemies, the devil, the world and sin which have never gained admittance there. That is why our Lady says that those who work in her will not sin: Qui operantur in me, non peccabunt, that is, those who dwell spiritually in our Lady will never commit serious sin. 4. We may be formed in our Lord and our Lord formed in us, because her womb is, as the early Fathers call it, the house of the divine secrets, where Jesus and all the elect have been conceived. “This one and that one were born in her”: Homo et homo natus est in ea(TD 264).

(72) This is how Louis Marie explains how Mary loves her children: “She loves them tenderly, more tenderly than all the mothers in the world together. Take the maternal love of all the mothers of the world for their children. Pour all that love into the heart of one mother for an only child. That mother’s love would certainly be immense. Yet Mary’s love for each of her children has more tenderness than the love of that mother of her child” (TD 202).

(73) “1. She kills them, that is, makes them die to the old Adam. 2. She strips them of their skin, that is, of their natural inclinations, their self-love and self-will and their every attachment to creatures. 3. She cleanses them from all stain, impurity and sin” ( TD 205, cf. 197). These strong expressions correspond to those used by Saint John of the Cross in his Treatise on the Dark Night.

(74) This thought is developed in this passage from the Treatise: “I reply that it is quite true that the most faithful servants of the Blessed Virgin, being her greatest favorites, receive from her the best graces and favors from heaven, which are crosses. But I maintain too that these servants of Mary bear their crosses with greater ease and gain more merit and glory. What could check another’s progress a thousand times over, or possibly bring about his downfall, does not balk them at all, but even helps them on their way. For this good Mother, filled with the grace and unction of the Holy Spirit, dips all the crosses she prepares for them in the honey of her maternal sweetness and the unction of pure love. They then readily swallow them as they would sugared almonds, though the crosses may be very bitter. I believe that anyone who wishes to be devout and live piously in Jesus will suffer persecution and will have a daily cross to carry. But he will never manage to carry a heavy cross, or carry it joyfully and perseveringly, without a trusting devotion to Our Lady, who is the very sweetness of the cross. It is obvious that a person could not keep eating without great effort unripe fruit which has not been sweetened” (TD 154). This is very exactly summarized in the Secret: “This does not mean that one who has discovered Mary through a genuine devotion is exempt from crosses and sufferings. Far from it! One is tried even more than others, because Mary, as Mother of the living, gives to all her children splinters of the tree of life, which is the Cross of Jesus. But, while meting out crosses to them she gives the grace to bear them with patience, and even with joy. In this way, the crosses she sends to those who trust themselves to her are rather like sweetmeats, i.e. ‘sweetened’ crosses rather than ‘bitter’ ones. If from time to time they do taste the bitterness of the chalice from which we must drink to become proven friends of God, the consolation and joy which their Mother sends in the wake of their sorrows creates in them a strong desire to carry even heavier and still more bitter crosses” (SM 22).

(75) Summa Theologica, I-II q. 62.

(76) This is the great theme of the third part of Novo Millennio Ineunte (n. 29ff.)

(77) In this regard, we may quote John Paul’s words in his Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte: “Love is truly the ‘heart’ of the Church, as was well understood by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, whom I proclaimed a Doctor of the Church precisely because she is an expert in the scientia amoris (science of love)” (n. 42).

(78) Such is the great affirmation of the Constitution Gaudium et Spes (n. 22), repeated as a leitmotiv in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis.

(79) John Paul II also insists on the primacy of grace in the Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte and in the same perspective of holiness (n. 38).

(80) This expression is equally employed by St. Catherine of Siena (Letter 8) and St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Manuscript B, 4r).

(81) “Jesus, our dearest friend gave himself to us without reserve, body and soul, graces and merits: Se toto totum me comparavit. As St. Bernard says: ‘He won me over entirely by giving himself entirely to me.’ Does not simply justice as well as gratitude require that we give him all that we possibly can?” (TD 138).

(82) “The Blessed Virgin, mother of gentleness and mercy, never allows herself to be surpassed in love and generosity. When she sees someone giving himself entirely to her in order to honor and serve her, and depriving himself of what he prizes most in order to adorn her, she gives herself completely in a wondrous manner to him. She engulfs him in the ocean of her graces, adorns him with her merits, supports him with her power, enlightens him with her light, and fills him with her love. She shares her virtues with him—her humility, faith, purity, etc. She makes up for his failings and becomes his representative with Jesus. Just as one who is consecrated belongs entirely to Mary, so Mary belongs entirely to him. We can truthfully say of this perfect servant and child of Mary what St. John in his gospel says of himself, ‘He took her for his own: Accepit eam discipulus in sua‘” (TD 144).

(83) These words are from St. John of the Cross in his Prayer of a soul taken with love (in Sayings of Light and Love, n. 25).

(84) Cf. SM 41; TD 107, 145, 169, 215. Cf. Canticle: The scrupulous soul converted (C 45).

(85) In fact, Thérèse abandons her Offering to Mary (The Prayers of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Prayer n.6). At the end of the long chapter on Thérèse’s Theology, the Positio on her Doctorate dwells upon this convergence between “the holocaust to love” according to Thérèse and “the slavery of love” according to Louis Marie (Congregatio de Causis Sanctorum: Concessiionis Tituli Doctoris Ecclesiae S. Teresae a Jesu Infante e a Sacro Vultu, Roma, 1997, pp. 306-308).

(86) Poem 54: Why I love you O Mary!, stanza 22.

(87) LG 58, quoted in #2 of Redemptoris Mater.

(88) TD 260. The same primacy of faith appears in the excerpt already quoted, when the Holy Spirit says to Mary: “Reproduce yourself then in my chosen ones, so that I may have the joy of seeing in them the roots of your invincible faith, profound humility, total mortification, sublime prayer, ardent charity, your firm hope and all your virtues” (TD 34)

(89) LMF quoting TD 214. Evidently in order to avoid too long a quotation, the Papal Letter omits the beginning of this splendid “hymn to the faith” of Mary. “Mary will share her faith with you. Her faith on earth was stronger than that of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and saints. Now that she is reigning in heaven she no longer has this faith, since she sees everything clearly in God by the light of glory. However, with the consent of almighty God she did not lose it when entering heaven. She has preserved it for her faithful servants in the Church Militant” (TD 214).

(90) Saint John of the Cross: The Ascent of Mount Carmel II, ch. 10.

(91) TD 18; Redemptoris Mater, n. 14.

(92) Cf. J. Nguyen Thuong: La “kénose de la foi” de sainte Thérèse de Lisieux, lumière pour presenter l’Evangile aux incroyants d’aujourd’hui (Rome, 2001, thèse de Doctorat en Thèologie spirituelle presentée à la Faculté Pontificale du Teresianum).

(93) Poem 54: Why I love you, O Mary!, stanza 15.

(94) Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords, (cf. Apoc. 19:16) the conqueror of sin and death (LG 59).

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