Extract from the Allocutio at February 2016 Concilium Meeting by Fr. Bede McGregor, OP.
The Church, inspired by the teaching of Jesus Himself, asks us to celebrate Lent in a spirit of joy. So in the Gospel of Ash Wednesday she puts before us the words of Jesus: ‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do; they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting… But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know that you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret and He will reward you.’ (Mt. 6: 16-18)
There is much encouragement and inspiration around us during Lent if we have the eyes to see it. Some people decide to engage in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, some resolve to go to daily Mass, some to make a truly good Confession, some to give up alcoholic drink, some to daily pray the family Rosary, some to forgive someone who has hurt them very deeply, and some legionaries please God will decide to pray the Morning and Evening prayer of the Divine Office and so become Praetorian or Adjutorian members of the Legion. There is so much generosity of spirit around during Lent and at least we all want and seek to be better Christians and therefore better human beings in some way or other. The whole Church seeks to renew itself and therefore to refocus itself on personal friendship with Jesus Christ. No wonder we all experience to some extent during Lent the joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis is always talking about.
But this Lent I would like to reflect, under the tutelage of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, on Baptism and its relationship with True Devotion to Mary. Originally, Lent was the final preparation of catechumens for Baptism and for those already baptized, a serious preparation for the solemn renewal of their baptismal promises. The Easter Vigil was and still is the most important moment of the Liturgical year. I think it worthwhile to quote some lines from the Easter Proclamation, called the Exsultet to get some idea of the universal joy to be experienced in the celebration of Baptism: ‘Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her Eternal King, let all the corners of the earth rejoice, knowing an end to gloom and darkness. Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arraying with the lightning of His glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.’ The proclamation goes on in profound and prolonged joy. But is Baptism so central a theme of Lent and at the heart of the great celebration of Easter? And why is Baptism the central theme of the preaching of St. Louis Marie de Montfort and his little book on the True Devotion to Mary and his other writings?
The answer to these questions is really very simple. Baptism is supremely important for de Montfort because of his absolute Christo-centrism. In Baptism we receive our Christian identity. We are baptized into Christ, becoming members of his Mystical Body, children of the Father and temples of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism we are totally immersed into Christ, into his death and resurrection. De Montfort calls Baptism a total consecration to Jesus Christ and it is this consecration that is the foundation of all his spirituality.
Sometimes one hears people say that De Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary goes too far and by implication the Legion of Mary too. It is difficult to believe that they have read the True Devotion to Mary or the Legion Handbook, or at least understand them. For instance, De Montfort writes in the True Devotion: ‘If our devotion to Our Lady distracted us from Our Lord, we would have to reject it as an illusion of the devil, (TD n. 68) or in his bigger work, The Love of Eternal Wisdom where he writes: ‘To know Jesus Christ is to know all we need…To presume to know everything and not to know him is to know nothing at all. (LEW n. 11). For De Montfort Christ holds the absolute primacy in his spirituality and the same is true of Frank Duff and the Legion he founded. The note at the end of the index of the Handbook says it all: ‘References to Our Blessed Lord have not been indexed. For every word of the Handbook has him in mind and therefore he should be found in every part of it. In every place, in every circumstance and happening the legionary should meet Jesus.’ One also reads with great profit Bro. Duff’s important article: ‘The Legion is pure Christendom.’ That article is vintage De Montfort.
So finally, where does our total Consecration to Mary as taught in De Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary fit in with the total Consecration to Christ which is the reality of Baptism? Perhaps it is easier just to quote De Montfort again: ‘The more one is consecrated to Mary the more one is consecrated to Jesus. That is why perfect consecration to Jesus is but a perfect and complete consecration of oneself to the Blessed Virgin…or in other words, it is the perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy Baptism.’ (TD n. 120). For De Montfort one cannot understand true devotion to Mary outside the context of Baptism. The maternal role of Mary is to enable us to grow in our relationship to Christ and through Him in the Trinity that began in Baptism. May you all have a very joyful Lent in Jesus through Mary. Amen.