June 2020 Allocutio

Frank Duff and True Devotion to the Holy Spirit

Fr Bede McGregor O.P.

Spiritual Director of the Concilium

One of the most precious gifts in the legacy of Frank Duff to the Legion of Mary is his teaching and encouragement on devotion to the Holy Spirit. His first reference to this doctrine is found in his pamphlet ‘Can We Be Saints?’ He begins by speaking almost lyrically about the presence of God in his works, what we call the omnipresence of God and then he moves from the presence of God in everything around us to His presence within us. He writes: ‘You are the Temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you (2 Cor. 6.16). In considering God in his works around us, we are not to forget His presence in ourselves. It is of Catholic doctrine that the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling in anyone who is free from mortal sin. Life would be greatly brightened if we could bring home to ourselves this wonderful truth. How could we ever again feel sorrowful, or lonely, or think of ourselves as poor….Rather let us think of Him living in each of us – giving our hearts their beat and listening to our inmost thoughts.’ The practise of the presence of the Person of the Holy Spirit, the infinite comforter, in our souls is a key to the authenticity of the Christian life of every Christian. Let us now see the place this practise had in the life of the Servant of God, Frank Duff and in the Legion.

Membership of the Legion of Mary can only begin when we are prepared to make the Legion Promise to the Holy Spirit. This was probably the most profound and grace filled decision made in the entire history of the Legion. Let me quote our Founder: ‘So, it was on Pentecost Sunday down in the Monastery of Mount Melleray that the detailed idea presented itself to me. And the rather electrifying conclusion emerged that it must be directed to the Holy Spirit and not to Our Lady. That’s what you would call electrifying because up to that stage, while the prayers began with the Holy Spirit and while the Holy Spirit surmounted these artistic things, still Our Lady was the dominant personality. Our Lady was what people thought of and in a very secondary way, the Holy Spirit. But out of that came the revolutionary notion: ‘Well, we’ve got to put first things really first.’ And the Promise was written in the form in which it now exists. So it is very clear in Legion spirituality that devotion to the Holy Spirit comes first.

Let me continue to quote Frank Duff himself: ‘I would say that that was rather a momentous moment in the history of the Legion. It was a moment of comprehension when the Legion for the first time got some glimpse of itself as the Legion of the Holy Spirit. You were not switching over, so to speak, your allegiance. You were not rejecting Our Lady in favour of something bigger. No! You were seeing more clearly into Mary and what emerged from it was a tremendous awareness of the Holy Spirit – what the Holy Spirit was in her. That was how the Legion Promise emerged.’ Frank seemed to be surprised that when the Promise was presented by him to Concilium it was accepted immediately and unanimously.

Later on Frank was to write: ‘No Legion feature is more distinctive than the realization of the union between the Holy Spirit and Mary.’ The more one meditates on the mystery of Mary the more convinced one becomes of the absolute primacy of the Holy Spirit in her life. Her union and harmony with the Holy Spirit is as close even to identity as is possible. In all his teaching he is deeply influenced by St.Louis Marie de Montfort. St Louis Marie says we are to be living copies of Mary, (TD 217) and display the same docility towards the Holy Spirit who leads us to her. Between the Spirit and Mary there is a moral union, an affinity, and even an inexpressible attraction. Wherever Mary is, the Spirit comes. ‘Where the Holy Spirit finds Mary in a soul, he hastens there.’ (TD 36).

‘It seems that this attraction is reciprocal according to de Montfort. The Holy Spirit comes to where Mary is, and Mary goes to where the Holy Spirit is. He leads to her and she leads to Him Who brings everything about.’ It boils down to this: if we really love Our Lady we will have a real devotion to the Holy Spirit and if we love the Holy Spirit we will practise a true devotion to Mary.

The Handbook gives us a very instructive summary of the thought of Frank Duff in his presentation of the Legionary Promise to Concilium. Let me quote some of it: ‘It was pointed out that the Legionary Promise was addressed to the Holy Spirit, who received far too little devotion from the general body of Catholics, and for whom Legionaries must need have special love. Their work, which is the sanctification of themselves and the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ, is dependent on the power and operation of the Holy Spirit, and hence calls for a very close union with him. Two things are essential to this: deliberate attention to Him and devotion to the Blessed Virgin with whom he works in an inseparable union. Probably it was lack of the latter, rather than lack of the former, which has led to the general absence of a true devotion to the Holy Spirit, in spite of the many books which have been written and the many sermons which are preached on the subject. Legionaries are already full of love for their Queen and Mother. If they join it to a definite devotion to the Holy Spirit, they will enter most fully into the Divine Plan which has required the union of the Holy Spirit and Mary in the work of regenerating the world. As a consequence, the legionary efforts cannot fail to be attended by a great addition of force and success. Perhaps, a one liner from the Handbook summarises that long quotation: ‘The man who thus makes the Holy Spirit his helper enters into the tide of omnipotence.’

Let me conclude by quoting some lines of the Legionary Promise which is probably the best formulation of Legion Spirituality and certainly expresses the deepest convictions that shaped the interior life of our Founder, the Servant of God. Frank Duff:

    Most Holy Spirit, I, Fr. Bede McGregor OP desiring to be enrolled this day as a Legionary of Mary, yet knowing that of myself I cannot render worthy service, do ask of you to come upon me and fill me with yourself, so that my poor acts may be sustained by your power, and become an instrument of your mighty purposes.
    But I know that you, who has come to regenerate the world in Jesus Christ, Has not willed to do so except through Mary, that without her we cannot know or love you, that is by her, and to whom she pleases, when she pleases, and in the quantity and manner she pleases, that all your gifts and virtues and graces are administered, and I realise that the secret of a perfect legionary service consists in a complete union with her who is so completely united to you.