FORMATION – LETTER OF JOHN PAUL II TO THE MONTFORT RELIGIOUS FAMILY

Mary, an eminent member of the Mystical Body and Mother of the Church

5. 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” (Lumen Gentiumn. 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 (cf. ibid., n. 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” (ibid., n. 63). 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” (Treatise on True Devotion, n. 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” (The Secret of Mary, n. 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” (Treatise on True Devotion, n. 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” (The Secret of Mary, p. 81).

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” (Treatise on True Devotion, n. 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” (The Secret of Mary, pp. 71-72).

Holiness, the perfection of charity

6. 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 neighbour 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).

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 Christias though the title were an honour. Christians are often so called in the Holy Scriptures” (cf. Treatise on True Devotion, n. 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” (The Secret of Mary, n. 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. Treatise on True Devotion, n. 169). 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).

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