Secret of Mary

Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. Text and its History: 1. The sources; 2. State of the text; 3. Editions; 4. Literary genre and addressee(s); 5. Title; 6. Date. II. Analysis. III. Contributions of SM: 1. The first part: a. Introduction, b. Goal of our life and means of attaining it, c. “Necessity” of Mary; 2. The second part: the exposition on “what perfect devotion to Mary consists in”: a. What this “devotion” consists in, b. The manner in which the interior practice is presented; 3. The two final prayers and the Tree of Life: a. Prayer to Jesus, b. Prayer to Mary for use by her faithful slaves of love, c. “The cultivation and growth of the tree of life, in other words the way to make Mary live and reign in our souls.” IV. The Secret of Mary for Today.

I. Text and its History

1. The sources

The spiritual “way” articulated by St. Louis Marie de Montfort in SM is identical in substance with the “way” found in TD. The sources are the same. This also holds for the personal experience that constantly emerges in both writings. This article, therefore, should be read in conjunction with the one on TD.

2. State of the text

We do not have Montfort’s original manuscript. Its text has come to us by way of two copies. One is preserved in the archives of the Company of Mary, and the other in the archives of the Daughters of Wisdom. The few variants in the text in no way affect its essential content. The copy used by the editors of OC bears the following heading: “Copy of a manuscript that the late Father de Montfort had written by hand and sent to a person of piety.” Sister Florence, a Daughter of Wisdom, in her valuable chronicle (which ends in 1761) observes: “By the same channel we received this admirable letter on the devotion of the Holy Slavery of Jesus in Mary, which Father de Montfort wrote to a religious Sister of Nantes.” There were three prayers that were later placed at the end of the letter: one was addressed to Jesus, another was for those preaching Holy Slavery, and the third was entitled ‘Multiplication of the Philosophers’ Stone, or Cultivation of the Tree of Life.’”1 According to the editors of OC, the “same channel” of which Sister Florence speaks “is doubtless Joseau and Brother Jacques. A companion of Montfort since 1714. Brother Jacques settled at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in 1716 and became friendly with a young man named Joseau, to whom he gave Father de Montfort’s writings to be copied” (GA 263). In any case, the copy dates from the first half of the eighteenth century. Despite the loss of the original manuscript, the text is without doubt attributable to St. Louis Marie de Montfort. Indeed, its content and style alone are signature enough.

3. Editions

While fragments of the text are found in various biographies of Father de Montfort, only in 1868 did a first edition make its appearance. Even then the text was not complete. In 1898 Father Lhoumeau published the text almost in its entirety; the only omissions are of certain passages bearing on the wearing of little chains as a sign of the Consecration of the slaves of Jesus in Mary.2 The Lhoumeau edition itself contains a certain number of explanatory notes. It is to Father Huré that we owe the first “typica” edition, one in complete conformity with the manuscript, “furnished with an interpretive reflection at each important break in the text, briefly that summarized and contextualized the preceding text” (preface, p. iv). As well, marginal numerals were used, “which provided the uniformity of references, despite the diversity of editions” (ibid., p. v).

The editors of OC, while retaining the marginal numbering introduced by Father Huré, have undertaken a painstakingly minute revision of the text. This has resulted in “the correction of certain textual mistakes found in the previous editions” (GA 264).

It was not until the manuscript of TD was rediscovered, published, and met with prompt success that the interest and value of SM came to light. It is a small booklet size work that has known a growing success in the footsteps of TD. It is difficult to give the exact number of editions of SM. A very reasonable estimate would be 350 editions.

4. Literary genre and addressee(s)

The text is presented in the form of a “letter,” which the author addresses to a “soul”—someone that Saint Louis Marie wishes to convince of the excellence of the spiritual way. The letter was addressed to a specific person. The manuscript confirms this. It states that it is a “copy of a manuscript that the late Father de Montfort had written by hand and sent to a pious person.” This is supported by Sister Florence’s statement about “this admirable letter, which Father de Montfort wrote to a religious Sister of Nantes, on the devotion of Holy Slavery of Jesus in Mary.”

None of the hypotheses to identify this individual are particularly compelling. However, this does not seem to be a matter of the primary importance. The fact that St. Louis Marie sent his “letter” to one “person of piety” rather than another changes little concerning the understanding of the text. Indeed, while the tone Montfort employed is personal (as is also the tone in a number of passages of his other writings), the text itself teaches us next to nothing about the precise person to whom it is addressed. It says nothing about the person’s state, milieu, character, current difficulties, etc. Unless we find a personal indication in the reference in SM 2 to what little time the reader has at his or her disposal, this tells us little about the individual. The only conclusion we can draw about the addressee is that she is a person of good will and can understand the message being communicated. Otherwise, apart from the doctrinal knowledge and profound spiritual experience to which the text testifies, Montfort tells us nothing about the precise individual. If this is a letter, it is very different from the saint’s extant personal letters. Were it not for the statements that we cited, we might imagine a sort of “circular letter,” intended for a number of persons and yet sent to particular individuals, of whom Montfort would have thought of more especially as he wrote it. A personal style, where an author addresses himself directly to a reader, can be a literary device and altogether appropriate for such a work of general interest. In the case of SM, it is not artificial. Apart from certain cultural expressions or constructions that obviously do not have the same meaning for us today, there is no reason why contemporary readers should not see themselves as other than directly and personally addressed by Montfort. The style endows the text with a freshness and simplicity, not the least among its values.

5. Title

Like TD, we owe the title of the work not to St. Louis Marie but to its first publishers, and it is an appropriate one. First, Father de Montfort is fond of the popular word “secret.” Second, in SM 20, he speaks of a “secret of Mary”: “Happy, indeed sublimely happy, is the person to whom the Holy Spirit reveals the secret of Mary, thus imparting to him true knowledge of her. Happy the person to whom the Holy Spirit opens this enclosed garden for him to enter, and to whom the Holy Spirit gives access to this sealed fountain where he can draw water and drink deep draughts of the living waters of grace” (SM 20). The expression “secret” has a strong, complex meaning for him. In herself, Mary is a secret. That is, she is hidden (cf. TD 2-13), too beautiful, too precious, too great, too filled with God, for us to be able to understand her. Only the Holy Spirit can give us access to her wealth, since the Holy Spirit is the author of that wealth.

Another meaning of the word “secret” for Montfort is that Mary can enable us to enter into the very mystery of God. She is the “wonderful means” given to us by God to permit us to arrive at holiness, which is union with Jesus Christ. Saint Louis Marie calls for a life experience of “drawing” on Mary and of “drinking deep draughts of the living waters of grace.”

Finally, for Montfort, what he calls the “perfect practice of the true devotion,” by which we strive to make all possible room for Mary in our life in order to reach Jesus and to be united with him, is the “secret of holiness” (H 77:19), it is “his” secret. For it is the means, according to him the best means, of arriving at the goal the Lord suggests to us. This is the secret he seeks to reveal to his reader: “Here is a secret, chosen soul, which the most High God taught me” (SM 1). It is a secret rooted in Mary. Since Montfort is convinced that it is his mission to make known her place in the divine plan, the title, Secret of Mary, is well chosen.

6. Date

When it comes to determining the date of the booklet composition, the scarcity of precise data counsels us to be cautious. There is, of course, Sister Florence’s notation indicating that the writing was sent to a religious Sister of Nantes, but this only tells us that it was in this city that Father de Montfort found her. Various differences between this writing and TD could suggest a certain time lapse between the two writings. But since Father de Montfort seems to be writing—and rather hurriedly—a long-thought-out teaching here and since the literary genre is somewhat different in the two cases, it is difficult to force this argument. Montfort’s control of his subject and style invite us to see in SM a work of his maturity.

II. Analysis

The manuscript used by the editors of OC is a continuous text, with only an occasional “1” or “2” to indicate items in a list. It is thanks to internal criticism, then, that it has been possible to propose divisions. While the marginal numerals added by the “typica” edition of 1926 have been retained by the editors, the latter have rather thoroughly recast the divisions and the wording of their headings. They have been concerned to show a kind of parallelism between the structure of SM and that of TD. The outline proposed is as follows:

Author’s Introduction (1-2)

I. Necessity of Having a True Devotion to Mary (3-23) A. The grace of God is absolutely necessary (3-5) B. To find the grace of God, we must discover Mary (6-22) C. A true devotion to the Blessed Virgin is indispensable (23) II. What Perfect Devotion to Mary Consists In (24-65) A. Some true devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary (24-27) B. The perfect practice of devotion to Mary (28-65) 1. What it consists in (28-34) 2. The excellence of this practice of devotion (35-42) 3. The interior constituents of this Consecration and its spirit (43-52) 4. The effects that this devotion produces in a faithful soul (53-59) 5. Exterior practices (60-65) Supplement Prayers to Jesus and to Mary (66-69) Prayer to Jesus (66-67) Prayer to Mary (68-69)

Care and Growth of the Tree of Life (70-78)

1. The Holy Slavery of Love: The Tree of Life (70) 2. How to cultivate it 71-77) 3. Its lasting fruit: Jesus Christ (78)

One need only glance at the outline of TD in GA to observe that with a certain flexibility—TD being notably more developed—the basic structure is the same. It is the same spiritual way or path, founded on the same profound considerations. Thus, it is unnecessary to repeat here what is said on this subject in the article on TD. On the other hand, it is useful to take note of certain more explicitly supported points, as well as several variants that can be observed in SM. And at least in certain cases, it is important to emphasize their significance.

III. Contributions of SM

1. The first part

a. Introduction.

“Here is a secret, chosen soul, which the most High God taught me and which I have not found in any book, ancient or modern” (SM 1). St. Louis Marie is making three assertions here. First, he states that he is about to reveal a secret. Here he means a hidden reality which is at the same time an exceptional means to attaining the goal, which in this case is holiness, the perfection of the Christian life. Next, he states that he has himself received this secret directly from the Most High. Montfort is aware of the grace that he has obtained to know Mary and her mission and to take her into his life, “to himself,” like John the Apostle. We must take this statement seriously, for it means that we can attain this knowledge of Mary only through grace. Finally, Montfort tells us straight out that he has not found this secret “in any book, ancient or modern” (SM 1). Now, inasmuch as he asserts elsewhere that his secret “devotion” is old, that it has been approved by the Holy See, and has been practiced by “many saints and illustrious people” (SM 42; cf. TD 18, 159). How are we to reconcile these apparently different assertions?

Montfort indeed would have found the Holy Slavery of the Mother of God in various authors (especially in Boudon), along with various formulas of Consecration. But the fact remains that he was able to bestow upon this form of Marian devotion a new and original expression. In a certain sense, he had transformed it, and what he expounded and proposed, he had not found it in books.3 For that matter, since it is a “secret” it takes on its whole meaning only when one who lives it by putting it in practice. It cannot simply be discovered by readings. “This secret becomes great only insofar as a soul makes use of it. . . . As you go on using this secret in the ordinary actions of your life, you will come to understand its value and its excellent quality” (SM 1).

b. Goal of our life and means of attaining it.

The method employed by Montfort to demonstrate Mary for us is basically the same in SM and TD. More briefly in SM, it articulates in precise theological terms, the goal of life: “Chosen soul, living image of God and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God wants you to become holy like him in this life and glorious like him in the next” (SM 3). We are made in the image of God by creation and saved, by Christ. He explains that we do not belong to ourselves: and that we receive the goal of our life from the One from whom we receive life and salvation. God wants simply for us to share in divine holiness here in this world, in order to share in the divine glory in the next. Thus, right from the outset, and in few words, the whole love of God is set before our eyes. It follows that we must respond to it.

“It is certain that growth in the holiness of God is your vocation.” There is no point in looking elsewhere. Our calling does not depend on us but on God’s love for us. That sets out a path for us. We ought to set out on it without any reservations: “All your thoughts, words, actions, everything you suffer or undertake must lead you towards that end. Otherwise you are resisting God in not doing the work for which he created you and for which he is even now keeping you in being” (SM 3). How are we to find this grace? In finding Mary: “It all comes to this, then. We must discover a simple means to obtain from God the grace needed to become holy. It is precisely this I wish to teach you. My contention is that you must first discover Mary if you would obtain this grace from God” (SM 6). Montfort then sets forth, much more briefly than in TD, the arguments upon which his conviction is based (SM 7-23).

c. “Necessity” of Mary.

SM 24, which concludes this part, poses a minor problem of interpretation. “The difficulty, then, is how to arrive at the true knowledge of the most holy Virgin and so find grace in abundance through her. God as the absolute Master, can give directly what he ordinarily dispenses only through Mary, and it would be rash to deny that he sometimes does so. However, St. Thomas assures us that, following the order established by his divine Wisdom, God ordinarily imparts his graces to men through Mary. Therefore, if we wish to go to him, seeking union with him, we must use the same means which he used in coming down from heaven to assume our human nature and to impart his graces to us. That means was a complete dependence on Mary his Mother, which is true devotion to her” (SM 24).

At one moment in the relatively recent past, when Mariologists were deeply concerned with debating the question of the “universal mediation of Mary,” the interpretation of this text of Montfort acquired a particular importance. Some Mariologists had difficulty in accepting from Montfort what seemed to them to be a distortion of the principle of the universal mediation.

Very simply, St. Louis Marie’s concern is different from that of a university professor. He is a preacher of parish missions. He knows, however, that he must take certain precautions in order to base his conclusions on solid ground, and not leave himself open to being criticized for “exaggerations” in his conceptualization of Mary’s mission, and in the practice of the devotion to her whom he heralds.

Montfort, the good theologian that he is, makes a distinction. He knows perfectly well that God is “absolute Master” (SM 23) and that “this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them” (TD 14). God alone can determine, in all Wisdom and Love, what is to be accomplished in the divine plan and the ways to accomplish it. If Mary is “necessary,” it is because God wills her to be necessary, and she is necessary to the extent that God wills it.

It is possible, and very useful, therefore, to seek out the pathways that the Lord has actually chosen in order to come to us, and the ways that same Lord asks us to take in order to come to him. But God’s ordinary actions teach us that He wishes to use Mary in communicating and obtaining grace. Montfort showed this in the preceding numbers. It is what is important to him. Obviously God, in his absolute divine power, could have done otherwise. Has God at times actually done so? Will God do so? For Montfort, such questions remain purely hypothetical. He has no need to be burdened with them. He took all of the necessary precautions lest he be accused of unduly encroaching upon the mystery of God. He was careful to avoid proposing a false notion of the person of Mary and her mission. Montfort simply presented his teachings in a positive way. Then we meet Montfort’s profound vision of the Incarnation. In it he perceives the manner of God’s action. He saw everything as flowing from this mysterious source, for Mary and for us. “If we wish to go to him, seeking union with him, we must use the same means which he used in coming down” to us.4

2. The second part: the teaching on “what perfect devotion to Mary consists in”

Having briefly indicated that there are “several true devotions to our Lady,” Montfort arrives at the one dearest to his heart: the perfect practice of true devotion. Once more, we must refer to the article on TD. It presents Montfort teaching on this theme in a much more developed fashion. Two observations suffice:

a. What this “devotion” consists in.

St. Louis Marie’s definition of his perfect practice of the true devotion is, in a way, more synthetic and more precise than the one we find in TD: “Chosen soul, this devotion consists in surrendering oneself in the manner of a slave to Mary, and to Jesus through her, and then performing all our actions with Mary, in Mary, through Mary, and for Mary” (SM 28). There are two elements which make up the spiritual path for Montfort. He clearly defines and relates them: 1) the total Consecration (or total gift) of oneself to Jesus through Mary; and 2) what he calls in TD the “interior practices” (TD 257) and in SM 60 simply the “interior practice.” He restates the principle that this interior practice is of the essence of the spiritual way in question: “I have already said that this devotion consists in performing all our actions with Mary, in Mary, through Mary, and for Mary” (SM 43). While it is not difficult to draw this conclusion on the basis of the presentation in TD, it must be acknowledged that on this important point, SM furnishes a clearer and more explicit formulation.

b. The manner in which the interior practice is presented.

The interior practice is presented with several variants in SM and TD: “Performing all our actions with Mary, in Mary, through Mary, and for Mary” (SM 43); “Doing everything through Mary, with Mary, in Mary and for Mary, in order to do it more perfectly through Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus” (TD 257).

The first difference strikes the reader immediately. The order of the prepositions is not the same. Ultimately, this is not very important in and of itself. A closer examination reveals that not quite the same things are said by way of explanation of the prepositions “through” and “with.” In SM 45, to act “with Mary” means that Mary is taken “as the accomplished model for all we have to do.” In TD 260, the same idea is expressed in more developed fashion: “We must look upon Mary, although a simple human being, as the perfect model of every virtue and perfection, fashioned by the Holy Spirit for us to imitate, as far as our limited capacity allows.” But next Montfort will state in SM under “with Mary” what he has developed in TD under “for Mary”: that we must renounce ourselves in order to commit ourselves to Mary.

Further, the explanation of “for Mary” in SM is very brief: “We must never go to our Lord except through Mary, using her intercession and good standing with him. We must never be without her when praying to Jesus” (SM 48). This idea is a familiar one in Montfort (cf., e.g., TD 142-43), and he develops it in very rich fashion in TD 258 in order to explain “through Mary”: it is a matter of obeying Mary “always and being led in all things by her spirit, which is the Holy Spirit of God.” We find something of the kind in SM 55: “This devotion faithfully practiced produces countless happy effects in the soul. The most important of them is that it establishes, even here on earth, Mary’s life in the soul, so that it is no longer the soul that lives, but Mary who lives in it. In a manner of speaking, Mary’s soul becomes identified with the soul of her servant.”

Thus, “in Mary” is presented somewhat differently. In SM: “We must gradually acquire the habit of recollecting ourselves interiorly and so form within us an idea or a spiritual image of Mary. She must become, as it were, an Oratory for the soul where we offer up our prayers to God without fear of being ignored. She will be as a Tower of David for us where we can seek safety from all our enemies. She will be a burning lamp lighting up our inmost soul and inflaming us with love for God. She will be a sacred place of repose where we can contemplate God in her company. Finally, Mary will be the only means we will use in going to God, and she will become our intercessor for everything we need. When we pray we will pray in Mary. When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we will place him in Mary for him to take his delight in her. If we do anything at all, it will be in Mary, and in this way Mary will help us to forget self everywhere and in all things” (SM 47).

In TD 261-64, not altogether the same things are said about “in Mary.” In SM, it is a question, first, of a certain activity on the part of anyone who seeks to live “in Mary.” It is up to that individual to form, within himself or herself, a little “idea or a spiritual image” of Mary, with all of the consequences and advantages that might accrue. In TD, Montfort begins by describing the splendor of Mary, that “true earthly paradise of the new Adam” (TD 261), a splendor that the Holy Spirit was at pains to describe (TD 262); and it is this Spirit alone Who, by a “special grace,” can grant “the unfortunate children of Adam and Eve, driven from the earthly paradise,” access to this new paradise (TD 263). True, Montfort adds that this grace is to be “obtained by our fidelity” (TD 263). The effects described in TD 264 in no way contradict what is said in SM. It is only that they tend to be different, including the last, which reiterates an idea that is of the utmost importance for Montfort: we ought to be “delighted to remain in Mary,” in order that “we may be formed in our Lord and our Lord formed in us” (TD 264).

A second difference can be noted. In TD the Christocentrism of the interior practice is explicitly and strongly maintained. It does not appear in the same way in SM. A closer examination, however, reveals that this essential reference to Christ is actually present, first, in the act of total bestowal of self “to Mary, and to Jesus through her” (SM 28), and, next, when there is question of the “spirit” of this devotion, “which requires an interior dependence on Mary, and effectively becoming her slave and the slave of Jesus through her” (SM 44).

What can we conclude from these two variants? Perhaps simply that we should not adopt hidebound formulas, interesting and expressive as they may be, but ought to undertake to discover the overall spirit. And from this viewpoint, the differences we find in SM and TD only underscore the wide-ranging wealth of such formulas. Instead of seeking to discover contradictions in them, it would be better to see their complementarity.

3. The two final prayers and the Tree of Life

a. Prayer to Jesus.

This is a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus: “Most loving Jesus, permit me to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for your kindness in giving me to your holy Mother through the devotion of holy slavery” (SM 66). After a mention of the benefits of belonging to Mary comes a little development that is very interesting because it forcefully asserts that it is the desire of Jesus himself that we give ourselves utterly to his Mother. It refers to the example of John at the foot of the Cross: “Like St. John the Evangelist at the foot of the Cross, I have taken her times without number as my total good and as often have I given myself to her. But if I have not done so as perfectly as you, dear Jesus, would wish, I now do so according to your desire. If you still see in my soul or body anything that does not belong to this noble Queen, please pluck it out and cast it far from me, because anything of mine which does not belong to Mary is unworthy of you.” (SM 66).

This text is important for grasping the spirit that is at the heart of the Montfort Consecration and of the life that ought to follow from it: Mary is a gift that Jesus himself has given to us (hence the reference to John), and the only way to thank him for it is to make place for Mary in our life, as Jesus desires. Furthermore, if we are able to give ourselves utterly to Mary, is it not because Jesus gives us the grace to do so?

The prayer ends with an appeal to the Holy Spirit, whose association with Mary is appropriately recalled: “Holy Spirit, grant me all these graces. Implant in my soul the tree of true life, which is Mary. Foster it and cultivate it so that it grows and blossoms and brings forth the fruit of life in abundance” (SM 67). To this purpose, Montfort asks the Spirit to give him “a great love and a longing for Mary, your exalted spouse. Give me a great trust in her maternal heart and a continuous access to her compassion, so that with her you may truly form Jesus, great and powerful, in me until I attain the fullness of his perfect age” (SM 67). These last words plainly refer to the essential goal of the Montfort way as an authentic and complete spirituality that will lead to the perfect age of Christ. They also refer to the primary mission of Mary, in her association with the Spirit, that of forming Jesus Christ in us.

b. Prayer to Mary for use by her faithful slaves of love.

The prayer that follows begins with a salutation to Mary very much like the one that we find in the prayer at the end of the “Little Crown” (cf. MP 13), with an added statement: “You are all mine through God’s mercy, but I am all yours by justice” (SM 68). This assertion sheds new light on the relationship of reciprocal belonging between Mary and each person. Mary belongs to us “by mercy,” while we belong to her “by justice”—by reason of all that she has done for us. Quite naturally, this leads the person uttering the prayer to a renewal of Consecration: “I am all yours by justice. Yet I do not belong sufficiently to you, and so once again, as a slave who always belongs to his master, I give myself wholly to you, reserving nothing for myself or for others” (SM 68). The mention of Jesus, to whom this Consecration is ultimately directed, comes later: “Finally, most dearly beloved Mother, grant, if it be possible, that I may have no other spirit but yours to know Jesus and his divine will. May I have no soul but yours to praise and glorify the Lord” (SM 68).

The following expression included in the prayer is especially relevant: “I do not ask for visions or revelations, for sensible devotion or even spiritual pleasures” (SM 69), recalling the “pure faith” that “will cause you to depend less upon sensible and extraordinary feelings” and of which we read in TD 214.

Finally, the triple Amen that concludes the prayer has no equivalent elsewhere in Montfort’s work: “The only grace I beg you in your kindness to obtain for me is that every day and moment of my life I may say this threefold Amen: Amen, so be it, to all you did upon earth; Amen, so be it, to all you are doing now in heaven; Amen, so be it, to all you are doing in my soul. In that way, you and you alone will fully glorify Jesus in me during all my life and my eternity” (SM 69).

c. “The cultivation and growth of the tree of life, in other words the way to make Mary live and reign in our souls.”

The expression “Tree of Life,” which Montfort uses on a number of occasions, does not always have the same application. In SM 22, it refers to the Cross of Jesus, and in H 123:13, the Cross is Mary’s Tree of Life. In LEW 204; SM 67, 78; TD 44, 164, 218, 261; and H 81:7, Mary herself is the Tree of Life, and the fruit she bears is Jesus, as is explicitly stated in the majority of occurrences (cf. LEW 204; SM 78; TD 44, 164, 218, 261).

Saint Louis Marie begins by proclaiming the happiness of those who, thanks to the Holy Spirit, can have access to “a secret of which very few people are aware. If you have discovered this treasure in the field of Mary, this pearl of great price, you should sell all you have to purchase it” (SM 70).

But what the Holy Spirit alone has planted must be cared for and cultivated: “If the Holy Spirit has planted in your soul the true Tree of Life, which is the devotion that I have just explained, you should see carefully to its cultivation, so that it will yield its fruit in due season” (SM 70).

“This tree, once planted in a docile heart, requires fresh air and no human support. Being of heavenly origin, it must be uninfluenced by any creature, since a creature might hinder it from rising up towards God who created it. Hence you must not rely on your own endeavors or your natural talents or your personal standing or the guidance of men. You must resort to Mary, relying solely on her help” (SM 71).

Not that we are to wait passively for this tree to bear its fruit! Therefore:

1. By raising and tending the tree: “The person in whose soul this tree has taken root must, like a good gardener, watch over it and protect it. For this tree, having life and capable of producing the fruit of life, should be raised and tended with enduring care and attention of soul. A soul that desires to be holy will make this its chief aim and occupation” (SM 72).

The work of the gardener is to prune away anything that might hinder the growth of the tree. Accordingly, “by self-denial and self-discipline you must sedulously cut short and even give up all empty pleasures and useless dealings with other creatures. In other words, you must crucify the flesh, keep a guard over the tongue, and mortify the bodily senses” (SM 73).

2. “You must guard against grubs doing harm to the tree. These parasites are love of self and love of comfort; . . . for love of self is incompatible with love of Mary” (SM 74).

3. “You must not allow this Tree to be damaged by destructive animals, that is, by sins.” And not only sins that deal death but even “venial sins, which are most dangerous when we do not trouble ourselves about them” (SM 75).

Over and above this struggle with what might assault the health of the tree, there is the whole positive aspect of a true spiritual life:

4. “It is also necessary to water this Tree regularly with your Communions, Masses, and other public and private prayers. Otherwise it will not continue bearing fruit” (SM 76).

5. Finally, we must not fear difficulties and contradictions, which are the lot of all who seek to follow Christ faithfully: “This devotion to our Blessed Lady will surely be called into question and attacked. But as long as we continue steadfastly in tending [this tree], we have nothing to fear” (SM 77).

Well protected and well cultivated, the Tree of Life will grow and “will yield in due season the sweet and adorable Fruit of honor and grace, which is Jesus, who has always been and will always be the only fruit of Mary.” This enables Montfort to conclude with the proclamation of a beatitude: “Happy is the soul in which Mary, the tree of life, is planted. Happier still is the soul in which she has been able to grow and blossom. Happier again is the soul in which she brings forth her fruit. But happiest of all is the soul which savors the sweetness of Mary’s fruit and preserves it up till death and then beyond to all eternity. Amen.” (SM 78).

IV. The Secret of Mary Today

Montfort’s vocabulary and rhetorical style reflect the language of his times. Thus, sometimes he answers our contemporary questions and sometimes he doesn’t. To cite but two examples: the Christian’s duty to be committed to temporal tasks and the work of building the city of God on earth is practically left unaddressed. A concern with the quest for Christian perfection is situated on a very spiritual and very personal level, with scarcely any insistence on the apostolic commitment properly so-called, at least as it is conceived today.

Without contesting the fact of these limitations, two observations are in order. The first is that no one can blame Montfort for being a person of his time. The second is that SM is only one of the works that Montfort has written: his other writings enable us to complete and better understand the richness of his spiritual way.

Furthermore, SM and TD are clearly complementary. A reading of SM can be a good introduction to that of TD. At the same time, readers of TD can discover certain of its aspects better by referring to SM, which must not be taken as a pale compendium of the longer work. It has its own wealth and particular power of persuasion.

For that matter, the simple and concise form of this booklet renders it easily approachable even today, as is demonstrated by the success that it always enjoys. In a certain sense, while less documented and less developed than TD, SM is more accessible to certain persons. Indeed, certain difficulties occasionally raised in connection with TD are far less applicable to SM. For example, what some might call Montfort’s “pessimism” is scarcely in evidence in the latter work.

As to content, that remains altogether current. Suffice it is to recall what is said of the content of TD and of the testimonials it inspires. A Christian spirituality that, in a balanced way, has accorded to Mary only the place that the Lord Himself has conferred upon her has the whole future ahead of it. In SM, as in TD, Montfort does not hesitate to assert: “We are given reason to believe that, towards the end of time and perhaps sooner than we expect, God will raise up great men filled with the Holy Spirit and imbued with the spirit of Mary. Through them Mary, Queen most powerful, will work great wonders in the world, destroying sin and setting up the kingdom of Jesus her Son upon the ruins of the corrupt kingdom of the world. These holy men will accomplish this by means of the devotion of which I only trace the main outlines” (SM 59; cf. TD 46-59).

A. Bossard

Notes: (1) Chroniques de Soeur Florence (Chronicals of Sister Florence), Archival Source, 95. (2) This “omission” is explained by criticisms that the wearing of this symbol could have occasioned. Certain abuses provoked by the wearing of these little chains had led the Holy See, at the end of the eighteenth century, to proscribe their usage and to condemn certain books of particular confraternities. While aimed only at the abuses, these condemnations nevertheless cast a pall over this practice. The prudence of the editors of SM is understandable. On all this, see GA, 394, n. 419. (3) On this question, see the article True Devotion in this Handbook. (4) On the central character of the mystery of the Incarnation in Montfort’s spirituality, see especially the articles Incarnation, True Devotion, and Mary in this Handbook.

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

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