St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, … have consistently taught that the most appropriate response on our part to Mary’s role as spiritual mother is filial entrustment, or “total consecration” to her. This perfect devotion of total consecration to Jesus through Mary is truly the most sanctifying of all devotions.
St. Louis de Montfort, the Holy Family, St. Maximilian Kolbe
So very few persons, pious Catholic Christians included, realize the tremendous role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the sanctification of souls. Being spiritual mother of the Mystical Body, she, along with the Holy Spirit, has the tasks of forming Christ in souls, and nourishing her children with the milk of divine grace. St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the most outstanding Marian saints, along with a significant number of other great Marian saints and popes, have consistently taught that the most appropriate response on our part to Mary’s role as spiritual mother is filial entrustment, or “total consecration” to her. This perfect devotion of total consecration to Jesus through Mary is truly the most sanctifying of all devotions. It is the purpose of this essay to study the essence of this devotion. We will begin with an exploration of the image of Mary as the Mediatrix of all grace, the firm theological foundation for Marian consecration. Next, we will study St. Louis de Montfort’s explanation of the nature and motives of the devotion. Finally, we will turn our attention to St. Joseph’s role in this devotion, focusing first on his spousal union with Mary as the ultimate model of total consecration; secondly, on his role as “spiritual father” and protector of the mystical body; and, finally, on the universality of Joseph as a model of holiness.
Mary, Mediatrix of all Grace
To understand the logic of total consecration to Jesus through Mary, we must first grasp Mary’s role as Mediatrix of all graces. This is the Church’s doctrine that every grace that comes to us from God comes through the willed intercession of Mary. But this role of Mary as Mediatrix of all grace is really the completion of her role as Spiritual Mother, and follows from her unique cooperation in the redemption of humanity with Christ on Calvary. So let us first review these two concepts of Mary as Spiritual Mother, the Mediatrix of all grace.
We find in Sacred Scripture two primary sources for our understanding of Mary as Spiritual Mother. The first is the passage of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26). In giving her assent to become mother of Christ the Head, she also necessarily becomes mother of the body, the Church, which cannot be separated from that head. The second is John 19:26, and the following, which reads: “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved, standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son. “Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother’”(Jn 19:26-27). Dr. Mark Miravalle, contemporary Mariologist, explains that here the dying Jesus is not offering a suggestion but rather is stating a theological fact about Mary’s relationship to John, whom Church Tradition has consistently taught represents all of humanity. 1
There is also clear evidence within Church Tradition of constant recourse to Mary as Spiritual Mother, beginning with the Church Fathers— who saw Mary as the New Eve, mother of all the spiritually living—right up to the present pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. We read in the Second Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium, “Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.”
Furthermore, Miravalle points out that “since Pope Sixtus IV (in 1477), no less than twenty-seven subsequent popes have declared Mary as Spiritual Mother with an always increasing specificity and clarity.” 2 The theology of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood is rooted in St. Paul’s doctrine on the Church, as Mystical Body of Christ. As was previously stated, Mary, in giving birth to Christ the Head, also gave birth to the body connected to that Head, which is the Church. Thus, Mary, in giving birth to the source of all grace, can rightly be called “Spiritual Mother” of all who benefit from that grace.
We have explained how Mary gave birth to the Church at the time of the Annunciation. But, our analysis of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood would be incomplete without an understanding of her presence at the foot of the cross. It is true that Mary, in giving birth to the source of all grace, participated in giving spiritual life to all those alive with that grace and, therefore, can be called our Spiritual Mother. But Mary most fully became our mother at the foot of the cross where she, in a completely singular way, participated in the redemption of humanity with Christ. That is why some theologians are wont to ascribe to Mary the title Co-Redemptrix.
The “co” here in no way is meant to imply “equal with,” for Vatican II makes very clear that Mary’s cooperation in the redemption is entirely dependent upon, and subordinate to, Christ’s perfect redemptive act. Nonetheless, God willed that just as the first Eve participated in bringing about the fall, so, too, should Mary, the new Eve, participate in the restoration of humanity with Christ, the new Adam. Mary’s participation in the redemption is claimed by some to be apparent in two ways then: first, through the Incarnation, and secondly, at the foot of the cross. In the Incarnation, Mary provides Jesus with His body—the instrument of the redemption, just as Eve provided Adam with the fruit as the instrument of the fall. At the foot of the cross, united with the sacrifice of Christ, “Mary offered the maternal rights of her Son on the cross to the Father in perfect obedience to God’s will, and in atonement for the sins of the world.” This profound offering of Mary’s, wherein she offered “her own motherly compassion, rights, and suffering … merited more graces than any other created person.” 3Vatican II speaks on this point: “Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of His suffering, associating herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Lumen Gentium §58). How appropriate that Jesus should officially designate Mary as our Mother on Calvary, where she, in a totally unique and intense way, participated with him in the meriting of grace and life, for the human family.
True Motherhood does not stop with the definitive act of giving birth, however, but continues in the nurturing and nourishing of children after birth. The doctrine of Mary, as Mediatrix of all grace, teaches that all grace that comes to us from God comes through the willed intercession of Mary. Thus, Mary’s role as Spiritual Mother is brought to fruition in the nourishing act of mediation. Moreover, it is fitting that Mary nourish her children with the grace that she participated in meriting for them.
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