The more we honor the Blessed Virgin, the more we honor Jesus Christ, because we honor Mary only that we may the more perfectly honor Jesus, since we go to her only as the way by which we are to find the end we are seeking, which is Jesus.”
So begins what is, in the minds of many a saint — and many a living disciple of Jesus, — the best book on the veneration of Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, and Queen of Heaven. “True Devotion to Mary” is St. Louis de Montfort’s classic statement, written from sermons preached by this priest while traveling by foot across France in the late 18th century, of who Mary is, and what role she should play in our hearts and spiritual lives.
My spiritual director recommended this book as “the best book on Mary I have ever read,” and the past weeks have been an eye-opening entry into the Blessed Mary. In this beautifully-written and sublimely inspiring book, de Montfort (who began his life in the priesthood by walking 1000 miles to Rome to ask permission to preach this message) explains the spiritual effects which devotion to Mary brings about in a person’s life. For de Montfort, there is no better way to advance quickly in holiness, no better way to please God, and no better way to guarantee one’s present sanctity and eternal salvation than a sincere and pure devotion to Mary.
St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716), also the author of “The Secret of the Rosary,” remains one of the greatest apostles of Marian devotion ever. As a young priest, he dedicated himself to being an itinerant preacher and a staunch opponent of the Jansenist heresy — an influential movement in France that denied the necessity of free will in receiving and utilizing grace and claimed that grace is so efficacious that the will need not assent to it for salvation — the ultimate “name it/claim it” preaching one can still find on the airwaves today.
De Montfort’s entire life was marked by constant prayer, love for the poor, and a holy joyfulness in spite of opposition and persecutions. That these manuscripts were found among his last possessions remains a lasting sign of the humility and self-abasement that are in short supply these days. Louis de Montfort was canonized by Pius XII in 1947.
Available both online (at fisheaters.com) and in a very inexpensive paperback by Tan Books, the book quickly moves readers from “learning more about Mary” to a profound encounter with her essential holiness and humility. I had the experience of actually slowing down my reading, taking the time to not only highlight, take notes in the margin, and finally copy a padful of de Montfort’s observations to bring these insights closer to my heart. A warning to all: please read “True Devotion to Mary” carefully, and don’t take this lightly; consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary has the character of a sacred vow.
After a short introduction by both a cardinal (O’Connell) and a priest (Father Faber), we are given a preliminary set of remarks by de Montfort. We start with realizing the absolute necessity of the Blessed Virgin and the urgent need to devote ourselves to her, we then turn to fundamental truths (both biblically and theologically sound — and stretching the heart and mind, I might add) about devotion to Mary.
The third chapter concerns the choice each of us must make about whether we will be devoted to the Blessed Virgin, after which we are better prepared to enter into what “Perfect Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Perfect Consecration to Jesus Christ” is all about.
The second part of this book concerns the nature, motives, effects, and particular practices of this devotion to Mary, laying out a short program of devotional activities, prayers, and offerings to Jesus through Mary.
A handy supplement ends this 300-page work, containing the largest collection of Marian prayers I have ever encountered. Insights on the particular rosaries prayed by de Montfort form the final section of this work.
When the reader has been transformed by grace into a deeper follower of Jesus through Mary, we are encouraged to choose the date of a Marian feast on which to make the actual consecration (the Annunciation, the Assumption, the Nativity, Our Lady of Sorrows, etc.). Whichever feast you choose will determine the date to begin a 33-day period of spiritual preparation (i.e., you follow spiritual exercises for 33 days, and the next day will be the Marian feast on which you consecrate yourself). There is a 12-day initial preparation, and then three weeks of prayer and contemplation, with the 34th day being the day of consecration. That final day of consecration calls for either fasting or alms-giving or spiritual penance for another, and then confession and Communion (the confession can take place up to eight days before the day of consecration), with a continued prayer form the words of consecration, that start with the following preface:
O Eternal and incarnate Wisdom! O sweetest and most adorable Jesus! True God and true man, only Son of the Eternal Father, and of Mary, always virgin! I adore Thee profoundly in the bosom and splendors of Thy Father during eternity; and I adore Thee also in the virginal bosom of Mary, Thy most worthy Mother, in the time of Thine incarnation. (from The Act of Consecration by St. Louis de Montfort)
After this healtfelt surrender, de Montfort guides us in maintaining a prayerful devotion to the Blessed Mother, including praying the Rosary, certain sacramentals, and a renewal of one’s heart through a succession of “Paters, Aves, and Glorias” that keep our hearts close to Mary.
This former Protestant minister has enjoyed a gradually deepening relationship with the Blessed Mother for nearly 15 years, and I continue to draw nearer to her humility, her grace, and her eternal glorification of Jesus, her son. I’m not sure I could have read this book a decade ago (earlier books by Dave Armstrong, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Scott Hahn paved the way from my suspicious heart to trust Mary), but now my heart was both warmed and inspired by her love. If St. Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions “Late have I loved you, O Beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you,” speaking of his love for God, then I found myself echoing the ancient doctor’s thoughts in my own relation to Blessed Mary.
For those seeking a great devotion to be devoted to Mary and thence Jesus, a long encounter with this book is due. May Our Blessed Mother guide you ever closer to her Son, and one day de Montfort’s description will be true for your life as well: “In a word, we know that they shall be true disciples of Jesus Christ, walking in the footsteps of His poverty, humility, contempt of the world, charity; teaching the narrow way of God in pure truth, according to the holy Gospel, and not according to the maxims of the world; troubling themselves about nothing; sparing, fearing, and listening to no mortal, however influential he may be. They shall have in their mouths the two-edged sword of the Word of God. They shall carry on their shoulders the bloody standard of the Cross, the Crucifix in their right hand and the Rosary in their left, the sacred names of Jesus and Mary in their hearts, and the modesty and mortification of Jesus Christ in their own behavior” (from §59, True Devotion to Mary).
(Contact Deacon Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org)