Another Look at the Legion and the Parish
The relationship between the Legion and the Parish is so important that it always merits another look. The normal life of the Legion is lived in the context of a parish and a deep union with the priests of the parish. The reason for this is, as we tried to explain in a previous Allocutio, that the parish is the Mystical Body of Christ in a particular place or among a particular group of people. And the Mystical Body of Christ means everything to the Legion. It means living in union with Our Lord as the branches in the vine. It means sharing in his life and his mission. It means recognising Jesus in all our brothers and sisters and acting accordingly. We pray every day for a ‘lively faith, animated by charity, which will enable us to perform all our actions from the motive of pure love of you, and ever to see you and serve you in our neighbour.’ It was one of the most extraordinary contributions of Frank Duff to the Church that he made the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ understandable and liveable for millions and millions of Catholics. If a parish does not have an awareness that it is a part of the Mystical Body of Christ, it hardly merits the title parish. It is up to the Legion to play its part, in line with all she has ever stood for, to make it the central vision of what it means to be a Parish.
And why does the Legion give a central place to the priest in its life and lay apostolate? Putting it simply, the reason is that the priest represents Christ as Head of His Body the Church and the Legionary wishes by every instinct of its soul to work only with Christ and through Him and out of love for Him. Of course, you will find all these ideas in the Handbook. Let me quote an especially insightful passage: ‘To the priest the Legion gives the respect and obedience which are owing to lawful superiors, yet more than this. Its apostolate is built upon the fact that the main channels of grace are the Mass and the sacramental system, of which the priest is the essential minister. All the strivings and expedients of that apostolate must have in view this great end: the bringing of the divinely appointed nourishment to the multitude, sick and hungering. It follows that a first principle of legionary action must be the bringing of the priest to the people, not always in person - for that may be impossible - but everywhere in influence and in understanding.
This is the essential idea of the Legion apostolate. Lay it will be in bulk of membership, but working in inseparable union with the priests, and under their captaincy, and with absolute identity of interests. It will ardently seek to supplement their efforts, and to widen their place in the lives of men, so that men, receiving them, shall receive him who sent them. “Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (Jn 13:20)
It is a very striking phrase from the pen of our Founder that the Legion and therefore every legionary in it seeks an absolute identity of interests with the priest. Why is this? It is because the priest precisely as priest has no other reason for his personal existence than to bring Christ to his people, to be another Christ for them. This immediately reminds us of Mary, the true Foundress of the Legion, who has no other purpose for her existence than to give Jesus to the world and to each one of us. This indicates a kind of identity of interest between Mary and the Priest and gives us a key to understanding why the Legionary should desire so profoundly to have an absolute identity with the interests and mission of the priest. Mary is intimately involved in all the activities of the priest and works through him in many profound ways. Therefore the Legion seeks to do exactly as Mary does and wishes.
It is normally in the parish and through the priests of the parish that God gives us the most precious gifts he can give us. Through them he gives us the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Mass. He gives us His forgiveness and encouragement in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He comes to us when we are ill or dying in the Anointing of the Sick. He witnesses and blesses our marriages. He baptises our children and in so many different ways puts us in intimate contact with Our Lord. It is no wonder that Our Lady keeps a continuous maternal eye on the priest and his ministry. For the same reasons the Legion does the same thing.
But it is not only one-way traffic between the parish and the Legion. When the Legion is in a parish, it brings with it all the precious gifts of the Legion. It enriches a parish with the leaven of a true devotion to Mary. It brings a dynamic missionary and apostolic spirit. It points the parish to the centrality of the Mass and Holy Communion with its effort to promote daily Mass and Communion. It brings a great spirit of joy and intense loyalty not only when things are going well but especially when there are scandals and the Church may seem to be under siege. It is then like Mary that the Legion rallies around the priest and the parish. It will bring a group of lay apostles who are not just talkers but doers.
The parish will be deprived of many blessings when the Legion is not allowed to be present and active. Nevertheless in great patience the Legion will continue to love the priest and the parish and be willing to serve both if the opportunity is given to it. Wherever the Legion is present anywhere in the world, it must seek to be characterised by a great love and tireless service of the parish and her priests.