Reflections on Rosarium Virginis Mariae - 7

Author: François-Marie Léthel


François-Marie Léthel
Professor at the Teresianum, Member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology

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, itis 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 TrueDevotion 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,n. 24).

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: StLouis 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 ina 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, n. 120).

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., n. 24).

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).  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 April 2003, page 8

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