Frank Duff and the Legion Handbook
If we were to search for a single sentence that would encapsulate the whole inner life of the Legion the one we have just read in our spiritual reading would be a good choice: The spirit of the Legion of Mary is that of Mary herself. When Frank Duff wrote that sentence he was revealing one of the most profound characteristics of his own spiritual life. The ideals that he put before the Legion he must surely have first put to himself. All his life he aspired to acquire the spirit of Mary especially her humility and above all her faith. He wanted to share in the deepest attitudes, convictions, motivations and maternal mission of Mary. He believed with all his mind, heart and strength that if he could identify himself with the spirit of Mary he would be most perfectly centred on Jesus and through Him on the Holy Trinity. His devotion to Mary was not simply a wonderful theory or idea but the practical implementation of it in his ordinary daily life. His consecration to Mary was the inner dynamo that enabled him to answer the call to both holiness and the apostolic life. This is the secret he offers the Legion - the secret of Mary.
The decisive moment in his discovery of Mary was his contact with St. Louis Marie de Montfort. As you know, he read de Montfort’s book True Devotion to Mary several times without being very impressed. Then reading it once more at the insistence of a dear friend he was suddenly overwhelmed with the unshakeable conviction that everything that de Montfort said in this little book about Our Lady was absolutely true. That almost mystical experience took place around 1920 before the Legion was founded. He spent the next 60 years studying, praying, living and spreading the fundamental insights of St. Louis Marie de Montfort concerning true devotion to Mary. In 1947 he wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘the De Montfort Way’. In this work he gives us all the basic ideas of de Montfort in less lyrical but simpler language that should be accessible to all legionaries and indeed any modern reader. But beyond all doubt he communicates most fully and profoundly his Marian spirituality and devotion to the Legion Handbook. It would be difficult to find anything in de Montfort that is not in some way in the Handbook.
Some people stop at the external chronology of his life and find it on the whole quite ordinary even though marked by some extraordinary achievements and undertakings. But the Handbook unlocks a whole new portrait of Frank Duff. There we find a true picture of his inner life beneath the gentle, good humoured, efficient, accessible, extremely hard working, friendly man in his external portrait. The Handbook is to a large extent the spiritual autobiography of Frank Duff. Several key witnesses who knew him very well over several decades have remarked on his utter sincerity and total integrity. It would be unthinkable that in giving direction to others concerning their very vocation to eternal life he would offer them anything other than the deepest and hard earned convictions of his own spiritual life. This would be particularly true of his understanding and devotion to Mary.
We will come back again and again to the doctrine and life of True Devotion to Mary according to Frank Duff our founder but let me close this brief talk with a quotation from one of his writings: ‘Thus, the symbolism which the Scriptures have put before us, to aid to better understanding of the relation between Christ and the His Church, is that of the Mystical Body. We have likewise seen that by virtue of her motherhood of Christ, Mary is the true Mother of the Christian soul, a motherhood which Our Lord Himself proclaimed at the moment when it acquired its full dominion, that is, when it was consummated by Redemption. If we seek to supplement that image by another which will help us to appreciate the intimacy of the relations of Mary with her children, we have an expressive, though still inadequate one, in the life of the unborn babe. That babe is the soul, and its mother is Mary.
But why should we specify the unborn babe, rather than the infant carried in the mother’s arms and nourished with the natural milk? It is for this reason, that the closeness of the relation between the soul and Mary, which De Montfort - with the Church - depicts, would not at all be sufficiently shown by the babe in arms. The latter is dependant on the mother to a very large extent, but not entirely. It can and does live a little life of its own apart from its mother. It does not draw from her the air it breathes; and portions of its nourishment - all perhaps, in certain circumstances - may be gained otherwise than from its mother. And that mother may go away, or that mother may die; and yet the baby life goes on - in complete independence of her, an conceivably it may fare better without than with that mother.
But how different is the case with regard to the soul. From the day when the soul is born again in Baptism, on to lifetime’s end - perhaps a hundred years later -no single grace will have reached that soul without Mary.
Devotedly, she carries on her mother’s work of sanctification. She receives the divine graces and life life’s blood, she gives them to the soul. Of that blood, not the very least drop, that is to say not the smallest grace, comes to us of the Mystical Body otherwise than through the heart of Mary. What a picture of all-embracing dependence! The babe owes everything - absolutely everything under God - to the good offices of that Mother. Thus the babe unborn must be the image with which we help our minds to understand the role of the Mother of Divine Grace. But even that image only feebly indicates the true position. We grown up people, moving at will, living our lives as we think fit, are nevertheless in a state of dependence on her so close, so intimate, that the confinement of the natural womb is in comparison widest liberty’.
In my opinion, Frank Duff lived this dependence on Mary to an heroic degree and it’s the path he puts before us legionaries.