What did de Montfort Mean By “True Devotion to Mary”?

de MontfortYesterday the Church celebrated St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), a French priest and author of the important treatise “True Devotion to Mary.” Mother Teresa thought this book was important enough that he should be named a Doctor of the Church. St. John Paul II chose his papal motto to refer to it: Totus tuus, “totally yours,” was one of de Montfort’s formulations of Marian devotion.

But what did de Montfort mean by “true devotion”?


The book is perhaps best known for its reference to “consecration” to Mary. Many Catholics, at some point in their lives, make a consecration, often with some reference to de Montfort. This is indeed something de Montfort recommends:

Those who desire to take up this special devotion, (which has not been erected into a confraternity, although this would be desirable [it now has]), should spend at least twelve days in emptying themselves of the spirit of the world, which is opposed to the spirit of Jesus, as I have recommended in the first part of this preparation for the reign of Jesus Christ. They should then spend three weeks imbuing themselves with the spirit of Jesus through the most Blessed Virgin. Here is a programme they might follow. . . .”

Based on the six paragraphs that follow, someone put together a series of meditations and many prayers to be said. Someone else recently came out with a book that shortens the time and tries to make it easier. Many Catholics go through this process, say the prayer at the end, and consider themselves “consecrated.”

But in the paragraph before he explains “preparation and consecration,” de Montfort says, “Although this devotion is essentially an interior one, this does not prevent it from having exterior practices which should not be neglected. ‘These must be done but those not omitted.’ If properly performed, exterior acts help to foster interior ones.

This section of the book suggests six other “exterior practices,” from wearing little chains to praying the rosary and the Magnificat, to “contempt of the world,” as exterior ways to nurture interior devotion. Consecration is parallel to these other devotions – and all of them are secondary to de Montfort’s real concern.


De Montfort is at pains to prevent us from “false devotion.” His section on false devotion is more than twice as long as his section on consecration.

False devotion is insufficient devotion – but there are different kinds of insufficient devotion. “Scrupulous devotion” is afraid that if we think about Mary too much, we will forget Jesus. Much of de Montfort’s book tries to explain why this is not true: true devotion to Mary always leads us closer to Jesus.

But other kinds of false devotion are, in an interesting way, different but similar to this insufficient devotion. “Presumptuous devotion,for example, thinks that just a few prayers (or, perhaps, a few external devotions, whether scapulars and chains or thoughtless rosaries and consecrations) absolves us of the need for a real spiritual life. “Presumptuous false devotion is different from scrupulous false devotion in the sense that one thinks devotion to Mary is too powerful, and the other thinks it’s too weak. But they are the same in that neither one is truly devoted.

“True devotion” doesn’t mean saying a couple prayers, or a consecration, and thinking you have your bases covered. True devotion, he says, is “interior, trustful, holy, constant, and disinterested.” True devotion is a “slavery of love” – slavery in the sense that we give our whole selves for love, instead of maintaining our “right” to think more of ourselves than of God. Presumptous devotion might think that consecrating ourselves to Mary is really valuable – but it fails by failing to be in love.

(The first part of being truly in love, he says, is that “Christ must be the ultimate end of all devotions.” If Marian devotion is an excuse for being lukewarm about Jesus, it isn’t real Marian devotion at all.)


At the end of the book, he says true devotion means living our whole life “through Mary, with Mary, in Mary, and for Mary.” Perhaps another time, we can dig into what these formulas mean.

For now, the point is that true devotion means transformation. It means taking Jesus as our all – de Montfort’s personal motto was “God Alone!” And it means taking Mary as a means of focusing our lives more totally on Jesus.

True devotion is not a consecration formula that we follow once and then forget. True devotion is a life transformed.

How could you make Jesus a bigger part of your day?

St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Preacher

de MontfortWe welcomed this Marian month of August with the feast of the Preacher St. Dominic. Let us end it thinking about the Third Order Dominican missionary preacher St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716), best known as the greatest of all apostles of Marian devotion, and author of the classic True Devotion to Mary.

Today we will focus on St. Louis as preacher. He was first educated by the Jesuits, and then at the original Sulpician seminary in Paris, heart of the new “French School” of spirituality, established by great spiritual heroes including Cardinal Bérulle (1575-1629), St. John Eudes (1601-1680), St. Vincent de Paul (1580-1660), and especially Jean-Jacques Olier (1608-1657) particularly to renew the heart of the priesthood. But de Montfort finally decided to become a Third Order Dominican.

The Dominicans share with these other groups a great love for Mary. But they are distinct in their emphasis on preaching, and it is to the mission of preaching that de Montfort devoted his life.


De Montfort’s True Devotion is a challenging book, for at least two main reasons.

The first is the radical drama of redemption that he spells out. On the one hand, of course, is his very high devotion to Mary. An uncareful reader could think de Montfort places Mary in the center, though he is insistent that she is not.

The book begins, “It was through the Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus came into the world, and it is also through her that he must reign in the world.” He insists throughout that Mary is essential entirely in order to keep our focus clearly on Jesus.

He aims “to show that Mary has been unknown up till now, and that that is one of the reasons why Jesus Christ is not known as he should be. If then, as is certain, the knowledge and the kingdom of Jesus Christ must come into the world, it can only be as a necessary consequence of the knowledge and reign of Mary.”

“With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, “I am he who is”.

Mary is placed very high to help us keep Jesus at the top.

On the other hand, he so emphasizes sin that an incautious reader could confuse him with the absolute negativity of the Jansenists. “You will consider yourself as a snail that soils everything with its slime, as a toad that poisons everything with its venom, as a malevolent serpent seeking only to deceive.”

In truth, these two teachings, the horror of sin and our absolute dependence on Jesus, go together. In short, de Montfort emphasizes the great drama of Redemption.


A second thing that is hard about de Montfort’s True Devotion is that he is short on practical details.

He condemns “false devotions to Mary”: the Scrupulous, the Superficial, the Presumptuous, the Inconstant, the Hypocritical, and the Self-interested.

He recommends various devotions: the Magnificat, the Hail Mary, the Rosary, the Feast of the Annunciation, as well as some lesser-known ones like “the Little Crown” of twelve Hail Mary’s, and the wearing of symbolic “little chains.”

And he offers a four-week plan for consecration to Mary, perhaps the best known part of his teaching. But there is nothing to prevent one making this consecration and still remaining superficial, presumptuous, inconstant, hypocritical, and self-interested.

He says true devotion is interior, trustful, holy, constant, and disinterested. And he says the truest practice of devotion is through “contempt for the world.”

But how does that work? What do we do? He doesn’t tell us. In the end, True Devotion according de Montfort is an attitude, a worldview, not a technique. There isn’t any particular thing to do. True Devotion is about how we look at the world.


And that is where the two difficulties of True Devotion – the overwhelming drama of Redemption and the lack of practical details – come together in the mission of de Montfort as a preacher. Finally, True Devotion – to Mary, to Christ, to the Christian faith – is not about concrete practices. It is about how we see the world.

That means preaching. And it also means study. Not study of the Summa, and not study just for professors – to the contrary, de Montfort insistently focused on preaching the Gospel to the poor and simple. But we must “study” our faith through thoughtful meditation on the rosary, on the Hail Mary, on the Our Father (which he calls “the most beautiful of prayers”) and other Scriptural prayers, and on the whole of the truth of our Catholic and Biblical faith.

Let us consecrate ourselves to a deeper awareness of the truth of faith.

Are there ways that we get to busy “doing” to be properly aware of the drama of sin and redemption?

Jesus the Center

de MontfortThis is a good week to focus on Jesus. Louis de Montfort reminds us that everything in our spiritual life should point back to him.

Jesus, our Saviour, true God and true man must be the ultimate end of all our other devotions otherwise they would be false and misleading. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of everything. “We labour,” says St. Paul, “only to make all men perfect in Jesus Christ.” For in him alone dwells the entire fullness of the divinity and the complete fullness of grace, virtue and perfection. In him alone we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing; he is the only teacher from whom we must learn; the only Lord on whom we should depend; the only Head to whom we should be united and the only model that we should imitate. He is the only Physician that can heal us; the only Shepherd that can feed us; the only Way that can lead us; the only Truth that we can believe; the only Life that can animate us. He alone is everything to us and he alone can satisfy all our desires.

We are given no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. God has laid no other foundation for our salvation, perfection and glory than Jesus. Every edifice which is not built on that firm rock, is founded upon shifting sands and will certainly fall sooner or later. Every one of the faithful who is not united to him is like a branch broken from the stem of the vine. It falls and withers and is fit only to be burnt.

If we live in Jesus and Jesus lives in us, we need not fear damnation. Neither angels in heaven nor men on earth, nor devils in hell, no creature whatever can harm us, for no creature can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Through him, with him and in him, we can do all things and render all honour and glory to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit; we can make ourselves perfect and be for our neighbour a fragrance of eternal life.

If then we are establishing sound devotion to our Blessed Lady, it is only in order to establish devotion to our Lord more perfectly, by providing a smooth but certain way of reaching Jesus Christ. If devotion to our Lady distracted us from our Lord, we would have to reject it as an illusion of the devil. But this is far from being the case. As I have already shown and will show again later on, this devotion is necessary, simply and solely because it is a way of reaching Jesus perfectly, loving him tenderly, and serving him faithfully.

-St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary

Names for the SpiritualLife: In Mary

mary-baby-jesus1For the last several Fridays we have been considering different names used to describe the spiritual life. We are now considering the four ways that St. Louis de Montfort describes true devotion to Mary: with Mary, in Mary, through Mary, and for Mary. This week we consider what might be the most confusing, but also the most important of these phrases.


For years, I thought “in Mary” meant something like “in her heart.” We can imagine ourselves praying, or – if you have a more diligent imagination than I do – maybe even living, working, conversing, within Mary’s heart. Such a meditation can be a way to imagine her love for us, her love for God, the purity of her intentions and motives.

This is a worthy meditation. But it doesn’t work with everyone’s imaginations, and it’s hard to make it describe the whole of our life: we can’t always be doing this imaginative exercise. I also think it might actually be more what he means by “with Mary.” Always we know that Mary is at our side, and always we try to walk alongside her, to live with her, to imitate Mary. That is wonderful, but I don’t think it’s what de Montfort means by “in Mary.”


De Montfort, always flowery to the point of confusion, describes Mary as a “world,” a “terrestrial paradise.” I think what he means is less an imitation of Mary’s ways than a shaping of our worldview.

What Mary stands for is the total transformation of the person by the mystery of Jesus. Wherever we hear the name “Mary,” we can think “grace” – but the Gospel of grace made concrete, personal, real. Mary means a world in which God so completely heals the human soul that we live lives of perfect love, of God and neighbor. And a world in which God elevates us (sanctifying grace always heals and elevates) beyond our human nature into the interior life of God, the perfect love of the Trinity, which is the height of contemplation.

Mary, moreover, lives this grace as total gift. The Immaculate Conception means that God always makes the first move. Mary has absolutely nothing to credit herself with, and everything to thank God for. He made the first move. And then in her relation to Jesus we see Mary always moving outside of herself, to the source and culmination of grace. Mary’s life begins and ends with Jesus. God is her beginning, and God is her constant destination. This is the perfection of sanctity.


To live “in Mary” is for this to be our constant worldview. What would it mean for us to view absolutely everything in light of this gospel of grace? Always to know that God can do it, that God is the source of every perfect gift, that God brings the healing of perfect purity, and the elevation of perfect love.

To make Mary “our world” is to see everything in this way, to begin and end our day, to face every difficulty, and every simplest task, in light of the mystery of grace. For Mary to be our worldview.

It means, too, to see the dignity of human nature: to look at every person and know that he shares the same nature as Mary, that God can do in him the most wonderful things that he did for Mary.


We can live our lives “in Mary” by meditating on her two greatest prayers. We can pray the Hail Mary: pray it well during our rosary, and then pray it throughout the day, and try to learn from it who Mary is, what God has done in her.

And we can live our life, too, in light of the Magnificat, Mary’s own prayer and the perfect articulation of her worldview.

To live in Mary is always to “proclaim the greatness of the Lord” and “exult in God,” who we recognize as “our Savior.” To see ourselves as nothing but “lowly servants” whom he has “lifted up.” To know that he is mighty, and does great things. To fear only him, and the loss of him, and to trust in his mercy.

To live in Mary is to know that the “proud in their conceit,” the “mighty on their thrones,” and the “rich” will be sent away empty. Our strength is in being lowly, and hungry – and members of “his servant Israel,” and trusting him to lift us up. Our hope is in trusting his promise to those who believe – to Abraham and his children forever.

To live “in Mary” is to make our worldview Mary, Our Lady of Grace.


What does Mary tell you about the world?