Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. Liturgical Practices of XVII Century France, 1. The Sunday Liturgy, 2. Popular Devotions, II. Saint Louis de Montfort and the Liturgy, 1. Liturgy in Montfort’s Life, 2. The Liturgy in Montfort’s Writings, a. Preaching, b. Instructions on the Sacraments, c. Marian devotion, d. Sacred places, times and symbols, e. Popular Piety, III. The Liturgy and Montfort Spirituality, 1. The Celebration of the Word of God, 2. Participation, 3. R.C.I.A., 4. Times and places of prayer, 5. Marian devotion, 6. The Act of Consecration to Jesus through Mary.

"Every liturgical celebration . . . is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree" (SC 7). Echoing the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares: "In the liturgy of the Church, God the Father is blessed and adored as the source of all the blessings of creation and salvation with which he has blessed us in his Son in order to give us the Spirit of filial adoption . . . The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments."1

We cannot expect that Saint Louis de Montfort lived the magnificent liturgical spirit ushered in by the Second Vatican Council. Moreover, he was certainly not a liturgist in any technical sense of the term. As a preacher of parish missions, he was, nonetheless, quite involved in the liturgical life of his people. His liturgical apostolate—if the expression may be used—was, rather, to strengthen among the country- folk of northwestern France the Tridentine liturgical reforms. This article will briefly examine some of the liturgical practices of his time and then try to discover the role of the liturgy in the life and teachings of the saint.


A thorough study of the liturgy in France during the seventeenth century would include explanations of the work of Jean Mabillon (+1707)2 and Edmund Martene (+1739),3 Benedictines from Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, along with the history of the liturgical reforms stipulated by the Council of Trent. However, not only is that field well documented,4 but our interest here deals mainly with the liturgy as it was lived in the French countryside where Montfort exercised his preaching apostolate. We will, then, limit ourselves to some of the more important liturgical practices which were integral to Catholic life during Montfort’s milieu.

1. The Sunday Liturgy

J.B. Thiers in his free-spirited, four-volume Treatise on Superstitions (1697-1704), makes reference to city churches where professional people, married women, and servants all assist at more than one daily Mass, each person praying his or her own devotions.5 Few receive communion. In the country side, life on Sunday revolves around the Mass in the morning and Vespers in the afternoon. Sunday Eucharist was usually celebrated around ten o’clock, preceded by the blessing of holy water, and a procession inside or outside the Church accompanied by prayers and popular hymns. After the Gospel was sung in Latin, the pastor removed his chasuble and ascended the pulpit situated in the center of the nave. A series of announcements on a variety of topics, followed by the proclamation of the banns of marriage, and directives from the Bishop preceded the reading of the Gospel in the vernacular and the Sunday homily. The homily was a highlight of the Eucharistic liturgy; it was usually very long, often dealt more with morals rather than doctrine itself, and often did not relate directly to the readings of the day. J.J. Olier remarks that "when the sermon is over, very little of it is remembered by the common folk; yet, the long ceremonies are visual sermons. . .".6 He also notes: "We know that Mass is a sacrifice that one offers to God, at which one must assist on the days specified by the Church, but that is about all. Few people know that our most important duty is to consecrate ourselves to God as victims."7

Communion, as a general rule, was received only on important feast days or to fulfill the Easter duty, even though the Council of Trent desired that the faithful be so disposed that they would receive communion at each Mass (22nd session, 1562). However, books like Antoine Arnaud’s treatise, On Frequent Communion (1643) influenced the faithful to stay away from communion: for, as Saint Vincent de Paul noted, Arnaud had so exaggerated the dispositions necessary for the reception of communion that "even Saint Paul would not be worthy."8 He also remarked that the reception of the Eucharist had become markedly less frequent. The influence of Jansenism on priests (often manifested in an extreme severity in the sacrament of confession) and people, strongly restricted the reception of Holy Communion. There were, however, two ceremonies which did involve all the people: the "kiss of peace" at the offertory procession when the paten (or a metal plaque on which a crucifix was engraved) was kissed by the people. And at the end of the Mass, there was the distribution of blessed bread. Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament itself was strong. Although confirmation was usually received at the age of seven, First Communion was only permitted at about the age of thirteen or fourteen.

The Council of Trent demanded that children from the ages of seven to fourteen be given an hour’s catechism lesson every Sunday. This obligation of every pastor became widespread from about the year 1660.9 Finally, Sunday would not be complete without parish Vespers, often introduced by an instruction for adults and followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.10

2. Popular Devotions

Popular devotions were strong at the time of Saint Louis de Montfort. The post-Tridentine reform tried to establish a separation between what is precisely "liturgy" and what is not, in order to eliminate anything which was "superstitious" in popular devotions. The life of the people of northwestern France was permeated with the faith which was firmly embedded in their culture. Integral to the life of every Catholic family was the frequent sign of the Cross (often made and even cut into the loaf of bread), the use of Holy Water, blessings of all kinds, and village processions on feasts and in times of danger and thanksgiving. Despite the opposition of the Jansenists, devotion to the Sacred Heart began to spread throughout France; in 1670, a Votive Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart was celebrated in the seminary of Rennes. The Angelus marked the rhythm of the day, the rosary was widespread. The Stations of the Cross—eighteen of them beginning with the Last Supper—became more and more popular.11 Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament either in conjunction with Vespers, or as an independent ceremony, was becoming extremely common.

These popular devotions were the fertile ground for parish missions which hoped to bring about a revival of the faith among the people.


Considering the strong faith of the times and Louis Marie’s involvement with the Church, the liturgy definitely had a strong influence on him as a child, as a seminarian, and as a priest. The article will explore liturgical influences in both his life and writings.

1. Liturgy in Montfort’s Life

The importance that Saint Louis de Montfort gave to prayer is an indication of his yearning to share in the life of the Lord. In his time, that clearly included sharing in the life of the parish church especially through devotion to the Eucharist. Saint Louis de Montfort lived the prayer life of the Church of his time. His respect for the Eucharist, for the reception of Communion, his love for the rosary and for devotion to the Sacred Heart and to Our Lady are well known. At the St. Sulpice seminary, renowned for the beauty of its liturgy, Montfort was for a time master of ceremonies;12 this opportunity deepened his sense of the sacred and is probably one of the primary sources of his great awe and reverence for the sacred mysteries and for houses of worship. What he later prescribed for his Missionaries of the Company of Mary reveals his own practice: Mass is generally to be celebrated daily after adequate preparation and followed by a time of thanksgiving; the Divine Office is to be recited in community when possible and always with modesty, attention and devotion (cf. MR 28-36). His biographers speak of Montfort’s Eucharistic life as accompanied by private devotions, silence, and sufficient time, so that nothing is hurried. The Eucharist was the center of his life.

Montfort was never a parish priest. His vagabond life was dedicated to preaching, most especially parish missions. During the weeks of a mission, the priests of the parish were still in charge of the daily liturgy and the regular activities of the parish. Montfort and his confreres were to bring the parishioners to a deeper level of life in Christ. This was accomplished not only by stirring catechetical sermons but by dramatizations, banners, decorations, elaborate and long processions—with plenty of loud hymn-singing—and often by general confession. The Montfort seal is evident in the elaborate procession which intertwined the solemn renewal of the baptismal vows through Mary.

Saint Louis de Montfort’s well-known clarity and tenderness as a confessor (surely not appreciated by those with Jansenist leanings) also characterized his missions. His evident devotion while celebrating Mass was itself a powerful sermon of sincere love for the Divine Liturgy. His Christocentric devotion to the Mother of God not only strengthened, but at the same time, purified the respect of his hearers for Our Lady.

Saint Louis de Montfort’s mission sermons show his interest in the liturgy, for he insisted that respect be shown to the church as the house of God.13 This is evident in his determination to refurbish a church—working alongside the parishioners—as part of his renewal of a parish. The house of God was repaired, cleaned, and if necessary, tombs of parishioners within the church were removed. Reverential silence out of respect for the Real Presence was strongly encouraged. He also urged full participation—as much as was permitted in his day—in every aspect of worship. He wanted the people to become involved—as a community—in the prayer life of the church. For Montfort, this included frequent and fervent communion, renewal of baptismal vows, consecration to Jesus through Mary, processions, pilgrimages, etc. Regular confession, spiritual direction and hymn-singing all were promoted. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction were encouraged as an expression of belief in the Eucharistic Lord, as a source of peace and blessings. All ceremonies took place with a reverential, yet intimate, awe for the Lord, present among his people gathered in his name. Canon Blain’s testimony about the devout manner that Sunday was observed at Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre reveals Montfort’s extraordinary efforts to enhance public worship.14

2. The Liturgy in Montfort’s Writings

The explicit references to the themes of the liturgy and sacraments that we find in Montfort’s works do not reflect the concerns of a liturgist, but of a preacher. His intention was to lead the simple people of the countryside into ways of prayer; the sacramental life of the Church was not neglected.

a. Preaching.

Saint Louis de Montfort’s missionary preaching was founded on baptism and anchored in the Eucharist. The goal of his parish missions was to help the faithful rediscover the path which leads from the baptismal font to the Eucharistic table. His sermons hoped to stir the people to correspond with the graces of baptism in order to arrive at a profession of renewed faith, ratified by confession and Holy Communion (cf. MR 56). This new life in Christ can only be sustained by frequent reception of the sacraments, as he wrote in LPM 2: "Do not fail to fulfill your baptismal promises and all that they entail, say your rosary every day either alone or with others and receive the sacraments at least once a month" (cf. H 139,22; CG 2, 4). The act of consecration to Jesus through Mary is presented by Montfort as a movement from baptism to Eucharist (cf. TD 120-125, 231, SM 61).

b. Instructions on the Sacraments.

Integral to a parish mission at Montfort’s time were instructions on the sacraments. The theme of Father de Montfort’s preaching was the Holy Mysteries, explaining the doctrine of the sacraments, their effects and the dispositions necessary to receive them worthily. Hymn 109, 7-15, eloquently reveals the content of the sacramental catechesis that Montfort offered to his people. Each of the sacraments are reviewed in the light of the teachings of the Church: "as the Church does, so do I believe in the seven sacraments." The missionary employs familiar explanations: visible signs of invisible grace, the sacraments fill us with grace "to make us holy, to nourish us and to help us follow in his footsteps" (H 109: 15). The stanza on Confirmation (H 109: 9) may be used as an example of Montfort’s sound theological vision. The sacrament is considered as a dynamic anointing of the Spirit which so fills man’s heart that he can boldly live the faith. The preceding stanza on Baptism speaks about "being in Christ Jesus" while Confirmation is seen more as "acting in Christ Jesus." If Baptism is a rebirth in grace by receiving the Holy Spirit, Confirmation is a dynamic infusion of divine energy to those who have been baptized, blessing them with the strength to constantly profess all that the faith teaches, even at the risk of one’s life.

c. Marian devotion.

Saint Louis Marie’s devotion to Mary, and most especially his consecration to Eternal Wisdom through Mary, is theologically based. Montfort stresses that the Marian dimension (union, invocation, praise of Our Lady) cannot be omitted from the liturgical ceremonies of Christ’s mysteries, because the Blessed Virgin is irrevocably united to the historical mysteries of Christ our Redeemer.15

Montfort also exhorts everyone to celebrate fittingly the Marian feasts of the liturgical year and, in a special way, the feast of the Annunciation. He recommends exterior practices which flow from sincere interior dispositions (cf. TD 243-248; SM 63). Interspersed throughout his writings are numerous Marian antiphons and liturgical titles, which demonstrate how his Marian devotion was fed by the liturgy.

d. Sacred places, times and symbols.

The significance of the church building did not escape Montfort; in fact, it was the object of his special concern. In MR 16, he recommends that the director of the mission should become involved in the repair of the church so that the example of the missionaries will help make the people more responsible for the holy place. Many hymns make explicit reference to this sacred place, e.g., "Christian silence" in the church (H 23: 31-32); interior attitude and external behavior in a church (H 33: 16-21; H 136, 9-15); care of the sacred vessels and furniture (H 136, 2-4); the decor and beauty of the church (H 133: 4-5); reparation for sacrileges committed in churches (H 139: 66-67; H 158: 11-12).

Concerning times of prayer, Montfort reminds the faithful to observe the liturgical calendar, especially the Sundays and feast days, Easter duty, Lent, etc. (cf. H 109: 34). The missionary also insists on time for personal prayer: in the morning and evening, before and after meals, during the course of the day (H 139: 7-25, 53). He also recommends times of retreat (H 139, 69) and of silence (H 23: 14).

Montfort made extensive use of sacred symbols. Not only did he carve statues and crucifixes, but he also designed banners of holy scenes to be carried in procession. His mission crosses—which he himself often made—were erected at the close of a mission. Also the calvaries he had constructed were visible, and at times grandiose symbols of God’s enduring love.16 He distributed paper crosses to the faithful during the renewal of baptismal vows (cf. CG 2, n.5) as a constant reminder of their incorporation into Christ. Yet, he knew the risks involved in the use of sacred symbols and guarded against exaggerations (cf. RW 36).

e. Popular Piety.

During Montfort’s time, simple devotions compensated for liturgies that were frequently poorly attended—for a variety of reasons—and also poorly understood. Saint Louis Marie’s "congregation" was made up of simple country-folk. He shows a remarkable understanding of their language and culture, a talent he used to bring the people closer to the tenderness of God. This is the fundamental reason for his numerous hymns (so often based on popular melodies), his magnificent processions, pilgrimages, his methods and formulas of prayers. It should be noted, however, that Father de Montfort was intent to eradicate any "false devotions" (cf. TD 92-10, 105-113) and root out any signs of exaggeration or superstition. He also insists on a certain hierarchy in expressions of devotion, repeatedly stating that the Blessed Sacrament comes first (H 139,60; TD 99). H 139 contains what could be called an index of devotions which Montfort believed should be cultivated; they are listed in order of importance and separated by the refrain, "I serve God . . ." They include devotion to the Eucharistic Lord, to Our Lady, to Saint Michael the Archangel, to our guardian angels, and to the souls in purgatory.


Montfort wanted to be a mediator between the liturgical teachings of his time—inspired by the Council of Trent—and the common people. So too, it would appear that Montfort spirituality today calls for the faithful implementation of the liturgical directives of the Church. Moreover, it is evident from Saint Louis Marie’s life and writings that "liturgical spirituality" and "Montfort spirituality" are not to be placed side by side; rather liturgical spirituality is intrinsic to the correct understanding and living of Montfort spirituality. There are several conclusions which flow from this principle.

1. The Celebration of the Word of God

The introduction of the Lectionary affirmed the sacramental importance of the proclamation/hearing of the Word of God in the liturgy. It is in the Liturgy that Scripture is the dynamic Word that the Lord himself proclaims to us here and now, re-creating us according to his Word.17 Saint Louis de Montfort’s insistence on the importance of the Bible and on the preaching of the Word must be implemented today by a contemporary understanding of the Scriptures and the proclamation of the Word of God. Often, in Montfort’s time, the proclamation of the Word of God in liturgical ceremonies was not given the importance it merited. The sermon was at times only an opportunity to instruct the faithful about useful facts. Today the Liturgy of the Word must be understood as that moment when the Spirit of Christ speaks to the Church to form believers into the image of the Son.18

2. Participation

Saint Louis Marie’s insistence on the participation of all in his spiritual exercises, is to be imitated today, but according to contemporary liturgical teaching. Moreover, his constant use of various means to bring people to a fuller living of the Gospel can also be followed; again using today’s liturgical standards; this calls for not the discarding but the updating of pilgrimages, processions, consecrations, hymns which were so profitably employed by Montfort. Themes of Montfort spirituality can be deepened by the celebration of appropriate Bible services.

3. R.C.I.A.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults must be considered as the obligatory reference point for the renewal of Christian life, a fundamental theme of Montfort spirituality. Saint Louis de Montfort perceived the renewal to be centered on Baptism; a fuller contemporary understanding would speak of a Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist renewal. In keeping with the mind of the R.C.I.A., the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday should be considered an excellent weekly renewal of the faith professed in Baptism and Confirmation and also as a commitment to a life ever more in conformity with the radical demands of the Gospel. The R.C.I.A. should become a source for a revised preparation for the renewal of the baptismal promises which Montfort so strongly stressed.

4. Times and places of prayer

Since the Incarnation, time is no longer only chronos (the succession of moments: clock time), but kairos, the fullness of time charged with the presence of the Eternal One, a time of grace and time to correspond with grace. Participation in the mysteries of Christ through the liturgy have special effects during the diverse liturgical seasons (cf. SC 102). The Liturgical Year must therefore be the criterion for all instruction in the faith. Parish missions—the chosen means of Saint Louis’ apostolate— and all preaching, catechesis, must seriously take into account the liturgical calendar and be guided by it.

Formation in daily prayer should be drawn from the content, rhythm and style of liturgical prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours.19 Montfort’s example should be followed in making people aware and respectful of sacred places (their cleanliness, orderliness, beauty) and of appropriate statues, icons, and religious articles.

5. Marian devotion

It is evident that Marian piety should be given a paramount role among those who live Montfort spirituality. It should be cultivated both by liturgical sources and by popular devotions inspired by the liturgy. Marian solemnities, feast days, memorials and liturgical seasons are all fundamental celebrations of authentic Marian devotion. The texts—not only scriptural but the orations, antiphons, prefaces, etc.,—of the feasts and votive Masses of Our Lady, are the sure source of a deeper knowledge of Mary and of solid devotion to her. The rosary itself should spring from the liturgy and be in harmony with it.

6. The Act of Consecration to Jesus through Mary

The Act of Consecration advocated by Saint Louis de Montfort is clearly based, from every point of view, on the sacraments of initiation. It is then during these ceremonies that this deeper union with Christ is continually revitalized. The Eucharist, the culmination and unceasing renewal of life in Christ, is the most perfect offering of God to us and of us to God. It is not by chance that Montfort tells his readers that the Consecration should be made during sacramental communion.20 His thought makes explicit, through the formula of Consecration, this commitment sealed through the Body and Blood of Christ; a commitment which entails Mary’s active presence and presents her as the model of perfect conformity with Christ.

Although some advocate that the act of Consecration should be made within the celebration of Mass— either after the homily, or after the prayer of the faithful, or after communion—it appears more in conformity with contemporary liturgical life that the Mass should not be used as a framework or container for the act of Consecration. The formula of Consecration (LEW 223-226) because of its literary style, its stress on individual and not community Consecration, and also its length, make it inappropriate for use during the Eucharistic celebration. Although Saint Louis Marie suggests that it be recited after communion (cf. TD 231; SM 61, 76), it must be remembered not only that he was thinking of private recitation of the formula, but also that in his day communion was more often than not distributed before or after Mass. If it appears necessary that the Consecration be made at the time of the day scheduled for the Eucharist, it should be done at the end of the Mass, after the Post communion prayer and preferably after a procession to the altar or shrine of Our Lady.

J. Évenou - C. Maggioni

Notes: (1) CCC 1130, 1113; cf SC 6. (2) J. Mabillon, De liturgia gallicana libri tres, Paris 1685; reproduced in PL 72:99-448., J. Mabillon and M.Germain, Museum italicum seu collectio veterum scriptorum ex bibliothecis italicis eruti, 2 vol., Paris 1687-1689, including in vol. 1 the Missale gallicum of Bobbio (Liber sacramentorum Ecclesiae gallicanae) and in vol 2, under the title Liber ritualis sanctae romanae Ecclesiae, a series of Ordines and other documents governing the ancient Roman liturgy; reproduced in PL 78:851-1406. (3) E. Martene, De antiquis monachorum ritibus, 2 vol., Lyon 1690, E. Martene, De antiquis Ecclesiae ritibus, 3 vol., Paris 1700-1702: vol 1, De antiquis sacramentorum ritibus; vol 2, Benedictiones sacrae; vol 3, De variis ad ecclesiasticam disciplinam pertinentibus ritibus, E. Martene, De antiqua Ecclesiae disciplina in divinis officiis celebrandis, Lyon 1706. (4) Cf. J.H. Miller, Liturgy, Articles on, in New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol III., McGraw Hill, New York, 1986, 857-942. (5) "Some people say the Rosary or other prayers and offices unconnected with the prayers said at Mass. Others meditate silently on subjects of their own choice. Others, again, follow the prayers and actions of the priest, either in meditating on the various parts of the Sacrifice or in reading carefully the prayers said by the priest." N. Le Tourneux, De la meilleure manière d’entendre la sainte messe (On the Best Manner of Hearing Holy Mass), new ed., Paris 1687, 13. (6) J.-J. Olier, Explication des cérémonies de la grande messe de paroisse (Explanation of the Ceremonies of the Parish High Mass), Paris 1657, 6-7. Even aside from any Jansenistic influence, in country districts it was customary to communicate at most three or four times a year; the Rituel de Paris mentions Easter Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, and Christmas Day. (7) Conférences ecclésiastiques de La Rochelle (Ecclesiastical Conferences of La Rochelle), 1676, 163. (8) Vincent de Paul, Correspondance, ed. Coste, Paris 1921, 3:318-331, 362- 373. (9) Cf. Rituel de Paris, 64. (10) Collections of Latin songs for Benediction were assembled in that period, for example, C. Thuet, Appendix à la pratique du catéchisme romain, contenant certaines prières eucharistiques et solennels saluts . . . lesquelles depuis quelques années cette dévotion ayant commencé, se continue et amplifie (Appendix to the practise of the oman Catechism containing certain Eucharistic prayers and Solmn Benediction . . . which since they began a few years ago, have continued and grown), Paris 1634, 348. (11) A. Parvilliers, SJ, Les stations de Jérusalem pour servir d’entretien sur la Passion de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (The Stations of Jerusalem to Serve as Conversation on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ), Paris 1680. There are at least fifty-three editions of this in French. (12) Cf. S. De Fiores, Itinerario, 243-244. (13) Cf. Grandet, 142-144, 149. (14) Cf. Blain, 202-205. (15) See also Praenotanda, 7-18, in Collectio Missarum de Beata Maria Virgine, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1987; Congregazione per il Culto Divino, Orientamenti e proposte per la celebrazione dell’Anno mariano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 1987, published also in Notitiae 28 (1987) 342-396. (16) In W, Montfort names the communities to which he leaves "the statues of the Calvary, with the crosses and banners." (17) Cf. SC 7, 24; Institutio generalis missalis romani, n. 9: "When the Scriptures are read in Church, God Himself speaks to His people, and it is Christ, present in his Word, who proclaims the Gospel." (18) "Therefore, whenever it is gathered by the Spirit in a liturgical assembly and announces and proclaims the Word of God, the Church recognizes itself perfectly as the new People in which the covenant, sealed of old, reaches its perfection and fullness. All the faithful, who through Baptism and Confirmation have become messengers of the Word of God, after receiving the grace of hearing it, are to announce this Word of God in the Church and the world, at least through their life witness." Ordo lectionum missae, no. 7. (19) Cf. SC 100; Institutio generalis de liturgia horarum, nos. 20-32. (20) "They should go to confession and Holy Communion with the intention of consecrating themselves to Jesus through Mary as his slaves of love. When receiving Holy Communion they could follow the method given later on (see TD 266-273). Then they recite the act of consecration" (TD 231; see also SM 61, 76). This shows that Montfort regarded the Sacrament of Holy Communion preceded by the Sacrament of Penance as the appropriate moment to set the seal on the intention of giving oneself entirely to Christ through the hands of Mary.

Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.

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