Birthday of the Legion of Mary
Concilium Allocutio September 2011
By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P.
Spiritual Director to the Legion of Mary
Birthday of the Legion of Mary
The 7th of September 2011 marked the 90th birthday of the Legion of Mary. Frank Duff never tired of recalling the first meeting of the Legion of Mary then named ‘The Association of Our Lady of Mercy’. The story of that first night is placed as the first chapter of the Legion Handbook. Why? I think because it puts at the beginning the spirit and the pattern of every future meeting of the Legion no matter where it takes place in the world and no matter what language it is conducted in. A legionary should feel completely at home at a Legion meeting anywhere and everywhere in the world. Let me quote at length our Founder: ‘But not the least wonderful thing was that the very first meeting showed us the Legion of Mary as it is today.’ There were a few things that were necessarily absent - we had not the name Legion of Mary, we had not the Standard, we had not the purely Legion Prayers - all these came at a later stage. But as regards the system and setting, the devotional outlook, the spirit and the atmosphere, the Legion was as fully grown at its first meeting as it is today.
The Handbook says that the starting of the Legion of Mary was not a work of human premeditation. It just happened and with an absolute minimum of discussion, such that everything had almost the air of being cut and dried. But when afterwards, in the light of its great development, one scrutinised the event minutely, it became manifest that it was the work of Providence and that every detail was most precisely arranged. This minuteness, moreover, would go infinitely beyond anything which we could imagine. But is not this painting the Legion in too high a colour? No, because God goes into that unlimited detail in absolutely everything He does. Look at the eye, or any other part of an insect, through these new electronic microscopes and see the sheer wonder of it. If that applies to the insect which is destined to live for a day or two and whose purpose is obscure to us, why deny the same sort of preparation and perfection to the Legion of Mary which has already figured as a major item in the Church?
‘To see God in His works is an act of adoration. Also it is one of His most incomprehensible aspects that He takes pleasure out of our admiration of what He does.’
The reason I stress that the spirit and structure of the Legion meeting in all its detail are a gift of divine providence is that we might always remember that they are therefore sacrosanct and not open to changes demanded by purely human agencies.
Now the question might arise: was there no development from that first meeting? Yes, of course there was growth and development. Frank Duff explains: ‘It has been said that the Legion was born fully grown. That is not completely accurate. For instance it did not possess its name at the outset. The Vexillum, the Tessera, the Promise, its Patrons, the Catena, the Legion Prayer were hidden in the future. Its own primary doctrines such as the Mystical Body and the Holy Spirit were imperfectly grasped in the earlier stages but they were there - just as the baby has organs which it does not as yet comprehend. But that baby image is completely effective in one respect. The baby concentrates on its mother and the infant [Legion] did likewise in regard to its Mother.’
Let me take just one example of profound development of that initial meeting of the Legion. The Legion developed but did not change its radical identity. The first corporate act of the Legion was to go on its knees and pray to the Holy Spirit. What a magnificent beginning to any spiritual movement especially an apostolic one. We forget this principle at our absolute peril. The Legion came into existence directly under the influence of De Montfort’s true devotion to Mary and the first legionaries were most conscious of Mary and her place in the divine plan. Nevertheless, they begin everything by invoking the Holy Spirit. The primacy of the Holy Spirit is there from the first meeting but it becomes more explicit as the Legion grows. We see that development in the message of the Vexillum, the painting of the Tessera and above all the Legion Promise which is a total dedication to the Holy Spirit in and through and with Mary. There is no tension between the true devotion to the Holy Spirit called for by the Legion Promise and true devotion to Mary which is at the foundation of the Legion. The Holy Spirit and Mary are inseparable. There is perfect harmony between them and it must never be forgotten that it is through the Holy Spirit together with Mary that Jesus comes into the world and in no other way. It is through the Holy Spirit together with Mary that Jesus is put at the very centre of Legion spirituality.
This pivotal principle that was present at the birth of the Legion is now more fully possessed and developed. There is a theological logic in the thought of Frank Duff when he says that devotion to the Virgin Mary is incomparably the best devotion to the Holy Spirit. The Archangel Gabriel puts it so succinctly and categorically: ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you.’ Mary is profoundly immersed in the Holy Spirit so that to be united and devoted to Mary will mean a lovely and true devotion to the Holy Spirit. The Legion of Mary could be just as truly called the Legion of the Holy Spirit. Of course it is both.