Main image: (C) Fr Hugh Gillespie SMM
Truly great Saints leave a lasting legacy which extends far beyond their own time and place, reaching forward and influencing the future direction of the Church, and the lives and the spirituality of those who will come later. Such a Saint was Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, one of the greatest Marian Saints of all time. He preached missions and retreats, ministered to the sick and the poor, wrote remarkable religious works, penned hymns, carved statues, developed a unique formula for Marian devotion and consecration, and led a great many souls to God. For the longest time, he remained relatively unknown outwith religious circles, but that all changed because of two small words – ‘Totus tuus’ – which placed him squarely in the consciousness of the world at large.
Louis Marie was born in the Brêton region of France, at a small place called Montfort, in January of 1673. After studying for a number of years with the Jesuits in Rennes, Louis was given a bursary which allowed him to study at the seminary of Saint Sulpice in Paris; however, the bursary was insufficient and so he ended up lodging amongst the poor – this was the beginning of a life-long love of the poor people, to whom he would minister as a priest and missionary for the remainder of his life. On the way to Paris, he had already given away his money, his belonging and even his clothes; he begged for food, something he would do again as a Priest, preaching in return for food and lodging.
His studies brought out a great love of reading and he served as librarian at Saint Sulpice. His superiors saw a deep and authentic love of the Blessed Virgin in the young man. Later, Louis Marie would be able to attest honestly that he had “read nearly all the books which profess to treat of devotion to the Blessed Virgin and .. conversed familiarly with the best and wisest men of these latter times”. All the elements were now in place to form the man, the Priest and the Saint we now know. He summarised it himself in this way, very astutely, in a letter to his spiritual director – “I feel a great desire to make Our Lord and His Holy Mother loved, and to go about in a poor and simple way, catechising poor country people”.
He would go on to formulate a Marian devotion which would assert that the Blessed Virgin is the most perfect way of reaching Her Son – since Christ came to us by Mary, so we should go to Him in the same way – that is, through His Mother. He wrote –
“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…Mary then must be better known than ever for the deeper understanding and the greater glory of the Blessed Trinity.”
Although rightly considered a great ‘Marian’ Saint, it should be remembered that – as Blessed Pope Paul VI reminded us in ‘Marialis Cultus‘ – authentic Marian devotion has particular hallmarks; above all else, it is deeply Christocentric in nature, with the Mother of God being a means to an end and never an end in Herself. She is the path – She is never the destination. Her role is always and everywhere to lead us to Her Divine Son –
“If then we are establishing sound devotion to Our Blessed Lady, it is only in order to establish devotion to Our Lord more perfectly, by providing a smooth but certain way of reaching Jesus Christ.”
Not surprisingly, then, Louis Marie was enraptured by the Lord, Whom he called ‘the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom’, and his numerous writings attest to this. In his works, St Louis Marie tells us this forcefully, noting very clearly that if our devotion to Mary leads us away from Christ, then it is nothing more than a temptation from the devil and we should reject it.
He was also intensely focussed on the Holy Trinity and on the relationship of the Blessed Virgin to each of the three Divine Persons. He preached that Mary is “Daughter of God the Father; Mother of God the Son; and Spouse of God the Holy Spirit”. Indeed, it is because of Saint Louis Marie that the ‘Glory Be’ became the standard conclusion to each decade of the Rosary; before then, it was certainly prayed in this way by some people but there were a variety of ways of praying the Rosary – Saint Louis Marie advocated that this doxology should always be added at the end of every decade, and gradually the practise became the accepted way of doing things.
As a Priest, he worked as chaplain at the largest hospital in Paris and at the house for the poor in Poitiers; he also led various Parish missions for the poor, and numerous retreats. Although he worked intensely and devotedly as a Priest amongst the sick and the poor, he felt more was being asked of him and so he decided he would ask the advice of the Pope. He proceeded to walk from Poitiers, France, to Rome, where he arrived in the summer of 1706. Pope Clement XI listened to everything the young Priest had to say and then he gave him a task – to preach to the people of his own country, France. Formalising this task, the Holy Father named Louis Marie as ‘Apostolic Missionary’.
Louis Marie then retraced his steps back to France, where he spent the rest of his days preaching missions and giving retreats in villages across the French countryside. It was not unheard of for French soldiers to be moved to tears in hearing Louis Marie preach, then to seek his Priestly ministry in the confessional as a result. These same soldiers would then march in the religious procession concluding the retreat, a Crucifix in one hand and the Rosary in the other. Louis Marie would come to be known later as ‘the Apostle of the Cross and Rosary’.
His radical Gospel lifestyle endeared him to many, but made enemies of others. Always humble, he would move on quietly from any place where he was not welcome. Always poor, there was at least one occasion on which the local poor people collected money to buy him some warm clothing. He was easily recognisable – he always carried a large Rosary, and he used this to preach to the people. In an age where many had lost their spiritual way, often through the onslaught on various heresies, the preaching of Saint Louis brought many souls back to the practice of their faith.
Saint Louis Marie founded a religious congregation for women, the Daughters Of Wisdom. Later, a congregation of Priests called the Company of Mary (known these days as the Montfort Fathers or Missionaries) would honour him as their spiritual father. Saint Louis also founded the Confraternity of Mary, Queen of All Hearts, for those who had made the Consecration to Jesus through Mary according to his formula. (The Confraternity continues to exist, although it is now known as the Association of Mary, Queen of All Hearts, and is overseen by the Montfort Fathers in New York.)
His health greatly weakened by his austere lifestyle and by at least one attempt on his life by poisoning, Louis Marie died on 28th April 1716. His tomb is in the Basilica named in his honour, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, France. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort was beatified in 1888, and declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1947.
St Louis Marie is most notably remembered for two of his written works – the first of these being a book entitled ‘The Secret Of The Rosary’. This is perhaps the greatest book ever written on the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin. It outlines the nature of the devotion, the reasons for it, and gives excellent forms for praying the Rosary ‘well and with perseverance’. It is short and very easy to read and for anyone devoted to the Mother of God and to prayer, this book is a ‘must have’ and should be in every personal library.
The second work for which Louis Marie is remembered is rightly considered his masterpiece. It is entitled ‘Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary’. It is a work of exceptional worth. It lays out a path for Consecration to Jesus (“the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom”) through Mary, following a due period of fairly intense spiritual preparation over thirty three days; this period is divided into sections, each with it’s own goal, such as renunciation of the spirit of the world. In recent times, this formula of Consecration has been copied and adapted in some quarters, but this is the original formula, which the all others take as their source. St Louis summarised the Consecration in this way –
“Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to Our Lord is devotion to Mary, His holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to Her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ.” (St.Louis de Montfort – Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary)This particular form of Marian Consecration was succinctly summarised by two small words – ‘Totus tuus’. Meaning ‘all yours’ they are the short formula of the Consecration to Jesus through Mary which was propagated strenuously by St Louis Marie throughout his life.
Although the Church had often held up the writings of Saint Louis Marie for the edification of the faithful over the years, it was with the papacy of Pope St John Paul II that the greatest light was shed on these remarkable writings. And this, all because of those two small words – ‘Totus tuus’. These words formed the Episcopal (and, later, Papal) motto of Pope John Paul. And he was very well acquainted with the writings of St Louis Marie and with this singular Consecration, having undertaken it as a young man. It would profoundly influence his Marian devotion and his deepest spirituality for the rest of his life.
In 2003, he wrote this to the Priests and Religious of the Montfortian families –
“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. 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.” (Pope John Paul II – ‘Dono é Mistero’)
St John Paul also wrote very explicitly about the value, depth and relevance of the writings of Saint Louis Marie –
“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. However, the considerable development of Marian theology since St Louis Marie’s time is largely due to the crucial contribution made by the Second Vatican Council. The Montfort teaching, therefore, which has retained its essential validity should be re-read and reinterpreted today in the light of the Council.” (‘Dono é Mistero’)
Pope John Paul II visited the Basilica at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in September 1996 and he prayed at the tomb of Saint Louis Marie.
A few years later, in 2002, the Holy Father promulgated his Apostolic Letter entitled ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae‘, in which he announced the Year of the Rosary and also gave us the Mysteries of Light to complement the traditional Mysteries of the Rosary. In this Letter, the Pope mentioned Saint Louis Marie –
“It would be impossible to name all the many Saints who discovered in the Rosary a genuine path to growth in holiness. We need but mention Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, the author of an excellent work on the Rosary.”
All those who seek to be truly devoted to the Mother of God should begin with the writings Saint Louis de Montfort, who even now, some three hundred years later, has a great deal to offer in the realm of authentic and Marian devotion, and whose works have formed the bedrock of many of the Marian Saints and scholars who have followed him since. The Company Of Mary very kindly provide an online resource which contains the writings of St Louis Marie. Those writings remain as relevant now as then – perhaps more so. He prophesied that in ‘the latter days’, great Saints would arise in the Church who would be noted for their true devotion to Mary. These Saints, he said, would be a sign of the end times.
“In these latter times Mary must shine forth more than ever in mercy, power and grace; in mercy, to bring back and welcome lovingly the poor sinners and wanderers who are to be converted and return to the Catholic Church; in power, to combat the enemies of God who will rise up menacingly to seduce and crush by promises and threats all those who oppose them; finally, She must shine forth in grace to inspire and support the valiant soldiers and loyal servants of Jesus Christ who are fighting for His cause.. Mary must become as terrible as an army in battle array to the devil and his followers, especially in these latter times. For Satan, knowing that he has little time — even less now than ever — to destroy souls, intensifies his efforts and his onslaughts every day. He will not hesitate to stir up savage persecutions and set treacherous snares for Mary’s faithful servants and children whom he finds more difficult to overcome than others.”
Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, Apostle of the Cross and Rosary, and great apostle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.
“God wishes to reveal and make known Mary, the masterpiece of His hands, in these latter times.
Mary must shine forth more than ever in mercy, in might and in grace”
(St Louis de Montfort – ‘True Devotion’, para.50)