Damien F. Mackey
“The key to De Montfort’s Marian spirituality is that he considered Our Lady to be the infallible and chosen gate to the heart of Christ To Jesus through Mary: it is Christ Himself Who is at the centre of True Devotion”.
Arguably the best books ever written about the Mother of God are Saint Louis de Montfort’s Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and his The Secret of Mary.
True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is one of the greatest and most celebrated books ever written about Our Lady. Praised by popes, mystics and theologians, this profound and powerful book presents Mary as the essential and infallible key to the heart of Jesus. Nowhere will you find a deeper and more life-changing book on that quintessentially Catholic doctrine: the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Christian and the life of the Church. Unpublished during the saint’s life time, it has enjoyed the endorsement of the many outstanding popes the Church has been blessed with since its discovery in 1842. John Paul II, in particular, was its tireless champion, crediting True Devotion with a turning-point in his spiritual life, adopting his motto, Totus tuus, from St. Louis. The key to De Montfort’s Marian spirituality is that he considered Our Lady to be the infallible and chosen gate to the heart of Christ To Jesus through Mary: it is Christ Himself Who is at the centre of True Devotion.
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In recent times, Fr. Michael Gaitley (MIC) has made the True Devotion more easy to grasp, more user-friendly and simpler to practice for the sake of modern readers, post-Vatican II, with his 33 Days to Morning Glory (A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration, 2013). Though lacking the depth of Saint Louis’s writings immersed as they are in biblical wisdom, Fr. Gaitley’s excellent book nonetheless contains inspiring passages from four giants of Marian spirituality: St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Blessed (soon to be St.) Pope John Paul II.
Unforgettable here are Mother Teresa’s heart-rending words on the thirst of Christ.
The whole point of True Devotion is that we sinners ought never to approach Almighty God, especially the Eucharistic Lord, without being clothed in Mary’s garments. We must put on Mary so to speak, through the practice of True Devotion, so as not to be rejected by God. Mary is the grace filled vessel of Almighty God. For this reason we find that many of her titles present her as a receptacle for the Divine, or a holy edifice, or a gateway, as already stated. Consider, for instance, this series of titles in the well-known Litany of Loreto:
Seat of wisdom,
Cause of our joy,
Vessel of honor,
Singular vessel of devotion,
Tower of David,
Tower of ivory.
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant,
Gate of heaven.
Saint Louis, using patristic terms, adds to these titles when writing of the great Marian saints to come at the end times (the likes of Maximilian Kolbe, Mother Teresa and John Paul II). She is, he says, “the Temple of Solomon and the City of God” (#’s 47-48):
…. this [Marian awakening] will happen especially towards the end of the world, and indeed soon, because Almighty God and his holy Mother are to raise up great saints who will surpass in holiness most other saints as much as the cedars of Lebanon tower above little shrubs. ….
48. These great souls filled with grace and zeal will be chosen to oppose the enemies of God who are raging on all sides. They will be exceptionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Illumined by her light, strengthened by her food, guided by her spirit, supported by her arm, sheltered under her protection, they will fight with one hand and build with the other. With one hand they will give battle, overthrowing and crushing heretics and their heresies, schismatics and their schisms, idolaters and their idolatries, sinners and their wickedness. With the other hand they will build the temple of the true Solomon and the mystical city of God, namely, the Blessed Virgin, who is called by the Fathers of the Church the Temple of Solomon and the City of God. By word and example they will draw all men to a true devotion to her and though this will make many enemies, it will also bring about many victories and much glory to God alone. This is what God revealed to St. Vincent Ferrer, that outstanding apostle of his day, as he has amply shown in one of his works.
This seems to have been foretold by the Holy Spirit in Psalm 58: “The Lord will reign in Jacob and all the ends of the earth. They will be converted towards evening and they will be as hungry as dogs and they will go around the city to find something to eat.” This city around which men will roam at the end of the world seeking conversion and the appeasement of the hunger they have for justice is the most Blessed Virgin, who is called by the Holy Spirit the City of God. By word and example they will draw all men to a true devotion to her and though this will make many enemies, it will also bring about many victories and much glory to God alone. ….
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Indeed, Saint Louis de Montfort himself ‘made many enemies’, especially amongst the Jansenists, for, as we read at the site Sic Semper Tyrannis, in relation to this particular section of the True Devotion (http://sicsempertyrannisjmj.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/saint-louis-marie-de-montfort-and.html):
These striking words were penned by [Saint Louis] in 1712 in La Rochelle on the West Coast of France as part of the greatest book ever written about Our Lady. Just four year later on this day [April 28] in 1716 our Saint would pass to his eternal reward, he was just 43. He had been poisoned by Jansenists a few years earlier and never one to worry about his health (for he was an incredibly strong and tough man) he never took a break and he continued his work preaching to the faithful throughout the countryside of southern France. He was one of those great Saints who burned themselves out early in life by their intense love for God.
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The patristic truth about Mary as God’s holy Temple (his House of Gold) does not spoil the fact that Jesus Christ himself is “the new Temple of God”. Pope Benedict XVI explained this beautifully in his 2011 homily on the Feast of the Presentation of the LORD (our emphasis added, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20110202_vita-consacrata_en.html):
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On today’s Feast we contemplate the Lord Jesus, whom Mary and Joseph bring to the Temple “to present him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22). This Gospel scene reveals the mystery of the Son of the Virgin, the consecrated One of the Father who came into the world to do his will faithfully (cf. Heb 10:5-7).
Simeon identifies him as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32) and announces with prophetic words his supreme offering to God and his final victory (cf. Lk 2:32-35). This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; he who is the new Temple of God: he comes to visit his people, thus bringing to fulfilment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation. ….
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Benedict wrote similarly in his book, Jesus of Nazareth (Part Two): “The risen Lord is the new Temple, the real meeting place between God and man”.
Greek Orthodox tradition has placed great emphasis upon the virginal Mary, the Theotokos, as the very Holy of Holies itself, the finite dwelling place of the infinite God in his Temple. Far more controversial is this tradition’s suggestion that the child Mary was actually allowed by the high priest to enter the very Holy of Holies when she came to the Temple (http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/1815-the-theotokos-in-the-holy-of-holies/):
St. Gregory Palamas in his “On the Entry into the Holy of Holies” said that Mary, from a very young child, grew up at the Temple in the Holy of Holies.
What is the basis of this story? Why should we accept it? It seems to me that St. Gregory drew or quoted a mythical portrait of Mary to make a mystical point, but I think the myth (if this is a myth) actually weakens his otherwise beautiful homily. It seems this story is highly imaginative and overdrawn in some Greek fashion, but has no basis in Scripture nor is it true to any Hebrew customs that I know of.
It seems highly unlikely that a female child would be allowed in the Holy of Holies when the High Priest himself was allowed in there only once a year. I do not know of any Hebrew custom that allowed females access to the inner courts of the Temple, much less the Holy of Holies.
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But was, perhaps, an inspired exception made in the case of the young Virgin Mary? Such, at least, is the opinion of Dr. Taylor Marshall (see below). No one would dare say, however, that Mary actually became a priest – and is there not a lesson here for our times, too? All that Mary was, even to her becoming Queen of the Apostles, she was never ordained. (Of course all believers are priests, we are a “kingdom of priests” or a “royal priesthood”). Pope Francis clearly explains the situation, “the reservation of the priesthood to males”, in his marvellous apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”):
104. Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.
It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”. The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions “do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”. Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”. Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people. ….
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Edith Stein had also offered some insightful wisdom concerning the topic of female priests: “If we consider the attitude of the Lord himself, we understand that he accepted the free loving services of women for himself and his Apostles, and that women were among his disciples and most intimate confidants. Yet, he did not grant them the priesthood, not even to his mother, Queen of Apostles, who was exalted above all humanity in human perfection and fullness of grace.” (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cw/post.php?id=731)
There is a tragic parallel between the failure of the French Catholic world, in particular, to embrace the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (the Nine First Fridays) in the C18th, and the failure of Catholics to embrace Fatima, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Five First Saturdays), in the C20th. The consequences of this human ingratitude towards the superabundant salvific graces of Heaven have been horrendous. Jesus himself made the connection between the two historical situations in conversation with Sister Lucia of Fatima:
Like the King of France they will repent of it, and they will do it, but it will be late. Russia will have already spread its errors in the world, provoking wars and persecutions against the Church. The Holy Father will have much to suffer.
Regarding France we read in the aforementioned Sic Semper Tyrannis article, in connection with St. Louis de Montfort:
Just 23 years before Montfort wrote True Devotion the King of France had refused the request of Our Lord, given to him by Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, to consecrate that great nation, the Eldest Daughter of the Church, to His Most Sacred Heart.
One hundred years exactly from this refusal God would scourge France for this refusal by allowing it to be racked with the bloody and terrible French Revolution, from which France has never recovered.
Did Saint Louis’s missionary efforts help to save a part of France, the Vendée region?
The only part of France that did not succumb to the errors of the Revolution, and from which began the Catholic Counter-Revolution, was that very part of France preached to by [Saint Louis de Montfort]. We know this part of France as the Vendee.
The most intense period of persecution of Catholics, which was what the French Revolution principally was: a persecution of the Catholic Church, was the “Terror” (1793-1794). And this was only ended when on July 17th 1794 sixteen Carmelite nuns offered their lives to end the slaughter. They were put to death simply for wearing their habits and professing the Catholic faith. Within two weeks the terror ended.
From the blood of these Blessed Martyrs it seems that an incredible flourishing of great Saints came about in France, and even elsewhere we began to see great Saints raised up unlike anything that had been seen for many centuries and even back to the days of the apostles. ….
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One might ask ‘Where was God?’ in all of these miseries that have befallen the modern world. Pope Benedict XVI, when he visited the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, and calling himself “a son of Germany,” had prayed and asked why God was silent when 1.5 million victims, most of them Jews, died there during World War Two.
Not surprisingly, this is a question that haunts the Jewish people, as according to the March issue of the “Jews for Jesus” newsletter, David Brickner’s article “Where was God?” (http://gallery.mailchimp.com/2bfbf7a67dbcce0ecd251d41c/files/jfjoz_MARCH_14_ENGLISH.1_2.pdf)
One of the most disturbing questions gnawing at the edges of Jewish consciousness is “Where was God when the six million died?” The horrors of the Holocaust—from gutwrenching images to mind-boggling numbers of those slaughtered continue to haunt the imaginations of religious as well as secular Jewish people around the world.
Brickner finds the answer in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is a part of it:
…. That moment in history—when Jesus was alone with the sin of the world—was the central act of God’s redemptive power. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). And because of this amazing eternal truth, He is still present in our suffering today, to identify, to suffer with and to provide help, hope and meaning to those who still suffer.
So Where was God when the six million died? God was mourning over the dead, the persecuted, and grieved by those persecutors whose minds were scrambled with the lust for power.
God was suffering along with every humiliation and each act of violence. The answer to the question is not snappy, nor is it smug and self-satisfied. It is hard to understand and harder to explain. But it has to do with love that is really love.
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The Fatima series of apparitions, which has great relevance to all of this, was conditional – the world was given the choice between good or evil. On July 13, 1917, Our Lady of the Rosary said (emphasis added):
You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war [World War I] is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI.
When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays.
…. If My requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions against the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. ….
Unfortunately, the majority of the world chose the “if not”. David Brickner gives a realistic explanation of choice and its consequences which we can easily apply to our present subject:
God created human beings to receive His love and to be able to give love in return. Love must always be a choice. God made us with the power to choose love, to choose humility and righteousness and peace . . . but in our pride, the human race has chosen to ignore God’s rightful place, and often even His existence. That choice
consistently leads to other bad choices, some more hideous than others. And we become victims of these choices, whether they are our own, or as in the case of the Nazis, other peoples’.
There was a set of historical decisions that permitted the evil of the Third Reich to prosper. Decisions to look the other way, to care too little to see if rumors of the atrocities were true, to look upon the misery of fellow human beings as “someone else’s business”—all these choices had a part in the unspeakable horrors. Like Cain, much of the world collectively shrugged and retorted, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God mourns over the depraved choices of human beings, but He never violates a person’s right to decide.
And we ask, Where was God?
He was right there all along. God has been present through all our sufferings. He was in the boxcars, the ghettos, the concentration camps, yes, even in the showers and the ovens. We believe that as God was present with us, so was Jesus. And He still is there today identifying with His suffering people.
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This excellent comment, focussed as it is upon Jesus Christ, harmonises perfectly with what Pope Francis himself has said about “the hope that is in us” due to Christ’s Resurrection:
Dear brothers and sisters, we must first firmly have this hope and we must be visible, clear, brilliant signs of hope in world. The Risen Lord is the hope that never fails, that does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5). God’s hope never disappoints!. How many times in our life do our hopes vanish, how many times do the expectations that we carry in our heart not come true! The hope of Christians is strong, safe and sound in this land, where God has called us to walk, and is open to eternity, because it is founded on God, who is always faithful.
We should never forget this; God is always faithful! God is always faithful! Being risen with Christ through Baptism, with the gift of faith, to an imperishable inheritance, leads us to increasingly search for the things of God, to think of Him more, to pray more.
Christianity is not simply a matter of following commandments; it is about living a new life, being in Christ, thinking and acting like Christ, and being transformed by the love of Christ, it is allowing Him take possession of our lives and change them, transform them, to free them from the darkness of evil and sin.
Dear brothers and sisters, to those who ask us our reasons for the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pt 3:15), let us point to the Risen Christ. Let us point to Him with the proclamation of the Word, but especially with our resurrected life. Let us show the joy of being children of God, the freedom he gives us to live in Christ, who is true freedom, freedom from the slavery of evil, sin and death! In looking to our heavenly home, we will also have a new light and strength in our commitment and in our daily efforts. It is a precious service that we give to our world, which is often no longer able to lift its gaze upwards, it no longer seems able to lift its gaze towards God.