Pray the Rosary and look with Mary’s ‘gaze’ at Jesus
The Apostolic Letter Rosarium
Virginis Mariae (RVM) is presented as a
"Marian complement" to the previous Letter Novo Millennio
Ineunte (n. 3), with the same Christocentric orientation, the same
insistence on holiness to which all are called, and the same reference
to the "'lived theology' of the saints" (NMI, n.
27). It is in fact a true and proper pedagogy of holiness which the Pope
offers to all the people of God through the teaching of this last Letter
and the proposal of a Year of the Rosary, with a very clear
spiritual formula: "To contemplate with Mary the Face of Christ"
(RVM, n. 3).
In this light, St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716)
naturally has a particularly important place. He is mentioned a first
time in n. 8 as a privileged witness among "the many saints who
discovered in the Rosary a genuine path to growth in holiness", and
is presented as "the author of an excellent work on the
Rosary" (a reference to his work, The [Marvellous] Secret of the
Rosary). As a member of the Third Order Dominicans and a
great apostle of the Rosary, St Louis Marie made the Crucifix and the
Chaplet the main symbols of his intense missionary activity, focused on
the poorest of the poor.
'Totus Tuus': the importance of Montfort's 'Treatise' in the
Magisterium of John Paul II
St Louis Marie is named a second time in n. 15 of the same Pontifical
Letter with an important quotation from his masterpiece: Treatise on
True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Before examining this
passage in the dual context of the Papal Letter and the Treatise,
it is indispensable to recall the deep and essential influence of
this work on the spiritual life and on the Magisterium of John Paul II.
In this paragraph, he himself recalls that his "episcopal motto: 'Totus
Tuus'... is of course inspired by the teaching of St Louis
Marie Grignion de Montfort". In fact, in the Treatise these
two words sum up, as it were, the saint's teaching, indicating a total
belonging to Jesus through Mary: "I am all yours, and all that is
mine belongs to you, my sweet Jesus, through Mary, your holy
Mother" (True Devotion... op. cit., n. 233).
It is therefore an essentially Christocentric teaching, and it is
precisely this aspect that from the outset so deeply struck and
enlightened young Karol Wojtyła,
as he himself says: "At one point I began to question my devotion
to Mary, believing that, if it became too great, it might end up
compromising the supremacy of the worship owed to Christ. At that time,
I was greatly helped by a book by St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort....
There I found the answer to my questions. Yes, Mary does bring us closer
to Christ; she does lead us to Him, provided that we live her mystery in
Christ.... The author is an outstanding theologian. His Mariological
thought is rooted in the mystery of the Trinity and in the truth of the
Incarnation of the Word of God" (John Paul II, Gift and Mystery,
Paulines Publications Africa, 1996, p. 42). On the same theme John Paul
II wrote, "Thanks to St Louis Marie de Montfort, I came to
understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually
Christocentric; indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of
the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and
Redemption" (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, ed.
Vittorio Messori, Jonathan Cape, London, 1994, p. 213). In the same way,
during his pilgrimage to the tomb of the saint, at St Laurent-sur-Sèvre,
the Pope affirmed: "I am very indebted to this saint and to
his Treatise of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary"
(Homily, Basilica of St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort,
Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, France, 19 September 1996; ORE, 25
September 1996, p. 3). The same Montfortian inspiration is recognizable
in the papal coat of arms which symbolically represents Jesus, Redeemer
of man, and close to him, Mary his Mother, in reference to John's Gospel
(Jn 19:25-27). It is Jesus himself who gave Mary to his disciple, to his
Church and to all humanity. Thus, the Mother of the Redeemer became the
Mother of redeemed man, the "Mother of God... and mother of
men", according to the words of the Council (Lumen Gentium,
nn. 54 and 69), the New Eve, "Mother of all the living" (ibid.,
nn. 56 and 63). It is Jesus himself who made accessible to all the
ineffable communion that always existed between Him and Mary. The
disciple who "takes Mary into his own home" (cf. Jn 19:27),
truly shares her communion with Jesus, communion in the Holy Spirit, in
faith and in love. This is the meaning of "true devotion",
that is, "a Marian devotion inspired by knowledge of the
inseparable bond between Christ and his Blessed Mother" (RVM,
This Marian-Montfortian component, expressed in John Paul II's motto
and coat of arms, has therefore illuminated his Pontificate from the
very start, in full harmony with the teaching of the Council. In this
light, the Apostolic Letter points to "the theological depth"
of the Rosary (RVM, n. 39), citing and explaining the
words spoken by the Pope himself just after his election: "It can
be said that the Rosary is, in a certain sense, a prayer-commentary on
the final chapter of the Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium,
a chapter which discusses the wondrous presence of the Mother of God
in the mystery of Christ and of the Church. Against the background of
the words Hail Mary, the principal events of the life of
Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the
complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and
they put us in living communion with Jesus through—we
might say—the heart of his Mother"
(Angelus, 29 October 1978, cited in RVM, n.
2). Thus, in the prayer of the Rosary the dynamic expressed in
Montfort's motto, To Jesus through Mary, is perfectly fulfilled.
Likewise, the Pope interprets the repetition that punctuates the
Rosary in the light of the "triple repetition" of
Peter's act of love for Jesus (cf. Jn 21:15-17): "One thing is
clear: although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it
is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with her and
through her" (RVM, n. 26). Indeed, as Montfort
himself says, it is precisely "the love of Jesus that we seek
through Mary" (True Devotion.... op. cit., n.
67). Such is the scope of true devotion to Mary: "to discover
Jesus Christ perfectly, to love him tenderly and to serve him faithfully"
(ibid., n. 62).
'Being conformed to Christ with Mary': Montfort's doctrine in light
of the Council as a 'true and appropriate training in holiness'
From the theological point of view, n. 15 of the Papal Letter is of
paramount importance: "Being conformed to Christ with Mary".
Here, especially, the Holy Father shows the deep harmony that exists
between the conciliar teaching and the Montfortian teaching about the
maternal role of Mary in the economy of salvation. This role is entirely
in relation to Christ and to the Holy Spirit, as well as to the Church,
which the Holy Spirit never ceases to shape as the Mystical Body of
Christ. Its important orientation is to holiness, as full
conformation to Christ: "Christian spirituality is distinguished by
the disciple's commitment to become conformed ever more fully to his
Master (cf. Rom 8:29; Phil 3:10, 21). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit
in Baptism grafts the believer like a branch onto the vine which is
Christ (cf. Jn 15:5) and makes him a member of Christ's mystical Body
(cf. I Cor 12: 12; Rom 12:5). This initial unity, however, calls for a
growing assimilation which will increasingly shape the conduct of the
disciple in accordance with the 'mind' of Christ" (RVM, n.
15). This is exactly Montfort's teaching on holiness, based in Baptism,
as the Pope says in Redemptoris Mater: St Louis Marie
Grignion de Montfort "proposes consecration to Christ through the
hands of Mary, as an effective means for Christians to live faithfully
their baptismal commitments" (n. 48).
As a "prayer-commentary on the final chapter of the Vatican II
Constitution Lumen Gentium" (RVM, n.
2), the Rosary expresses very well the motherly role of Mary in the
Mystery of Christ and of the Church for the formation and education of
saints: "In this process of being conformed to Christ in the
Rosary, we entrust ourselves in a special way to the maternal
care of the Blessed Virgin. She who is both the Mother of Christ and a
member of the Church, indeed she is a 'pre-eminent and altogether
singular member' (Lumen Gentium n. 53), who is at the same time
the 'Mother of the Church’. As such, she continually brings to birth
children for the Mystical Body of her Son. She does so through her
intercession, imploring upon them the inexhaustible outpouring of the
Spirit. Mary is the perfect icon of the motherhood of the Church.
The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy
watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This
enables her to train us and to mould us with the same care, until Christ
is 'fully formed' in us (cf. Gal 4:19). This role of Mary, totally
grounded in that of Christ and radically subordinated to it, 'in no way
obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows
its power’ (Lumen Gentium, n. 60). This is the
luminous principle expressed by the Second Vatican Council which I have
so powerfully experienced in my own life" (RVM, n. 15).
These words of the Holy Father express very well what is at the heart
of the teaching of the Council and of Montfortian doctrine: the
maternal role of Mary in the work of our sanctification as the
"process of being conformed to Christ". It is precisely
here that the Pope draws on "the teaching of Saint Louis Marie
Grignion de Montfort, who explained in the following words Mary's role
in the process of the configuration to Christ by each one of us: '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"' (RVM, n. 15,
quoting from the Treatise of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,
The Holy Father, who has a deeply intimate knowledge of Monfort's
Treatise, quotes here the essential text that introduces the long
explanation of "Perfect Devotion" in the second part of
the work (ibid., nn. 118-273). This is true devotion to Mary as
an excellent way of sanctification or journey to perfection.
To establish this spiritual doctrine, the saint first had contemplated
Mary in the whole of the Economy of Creation and of Salvation in Christ,
in a Trinitarian, Christocentric and ecclesial perspective (ibid.,
nn. 1-89). The Rosary is then introduced as one of the most important
practices of this Perfect Devotion, with the recommendation that
it be prayed "every day" (ibid., n. 254). But above
all, in this synthesis of the Treatise, the Rosary is inserted in
a broader theological context, in relation to the sacraments of Baptism
(ibid., nn. 120-133) and of the Eucharist (ibid.,
nn. 266-273), in reference to the liturgical Memorial of the Mystery
of the Incarnation, 25 March on the Feast of the Annunciation (ibid.,
nn. 243-248). The saint insists throughout on the work of the Holy
Spirit: it is He who, in the "mould" of the virginal
motherhood of Mary (cf. ibid., nn. 218-221), forms the members of
the Mystical Body, making them resemble ever more closely the Head who
is Christ, but also making them resemble Mary, like "living copies
of Mary to love and glorify Jesus Christ" (ibid., n. 217).
All this teaching on "Perfect Devotion" is aimed at the "practice
of interiority" which is simply life in Christ, lived with Mary
and through Mary (ibid., nn. 257-265), above all sharing in her
Faith and her Love (ibid., nn. 214-215). Thus, in the prayer of
the Rosary, the Holy Spirit truly allows the Church to look with Mary's
"gaze" at Jesus (RVM, n. 10), in all his mysteries
revealed in the Gospel, in order to penetrate the depth of his Mystery (ibid.,
Lastly, one could say that through his own experience and witness,
the Pope invites the whole Church to reread Montfort's Treatise
as one of the most important books for those who wish to live in depth
the Year of the Rosary. Like The Story of a Soul, the
autobiography of St Thérèse of Lisieux, it is one of the most widely
disseminated works throughout the Church. Therefore, in his introduction
to the new edition of the Treatise published for Jubilee Year 2000,
Cardinal Tettamanzi said: "...there have been numerous translations
in more than 400 languages of this great little book... which has
become a classic of spiritual literature. Today, too, his spiritual
teaching continues to be a wise viaticum for Christians of the new
millennium" (True Devotion, ed., Monfortane, p. 5).