May 2020 Allocutio

Frank Duff and the Mystical Body of Christ

By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P.

Spiritual Director of the Concilium

The very first meeting of the Legion of Mary on the evening of the 7th of September 1921 on the vigil of the feast of the Nativity of Mary made a profound impact on the inner and outer life of Frank Duff. He goes back to that evening several times in the Handbook and frequently in his other writings, he recalls that momentous evening that was hugely significant for his own life, the life of the Legion and indeed the whole Church.

He was deeply moved by the spirit of prayer that pervaded the whole meeting. From the first moments of its existence the Legion grasped the absolute Gospel principle underlined so strikingly by Our Lord Himself: ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ So prayer will be the top priority of every Legion meeting throughout its future life. But Frank Duff reminds us: ‘Prayer must never represent escapism. Prayer is not supposed to be an excuse, or something into which we relax. It is the prelude to and necessary accompaniment to action; it is the dynamism behind action.’ So he was also deeply impressed by the grace filled determination of those first Legion members to engage in apostolic action. Again, from the first day of its existence the Legion sought to obey the great commandment of the Risen Lord in his final words on earth to his disciples: ‘Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.’ The Legion was never to be simply a prayer group even though prayer is foundational to its life. The Legion is and must be essentially apostolic: that is primarily committed to the salvation of souls. We are ultimately made for heaven and getting there is the only thing that really matters.. The Legion is called to live by that truth.

But one of the things that most impressed Frank Duff about that first meeting of the Legion was the emphasis it put on the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. He notes that the first Allocutio ever given in the Legion was not on Mary or even on the Holy Spirit the uncreated and creative centre of the Legion but on the Mystical Body of Christ. Let me quote just one of his many references to this fact: ‘At the very first meeting of legionaries the supernatural character of the service, which they were undertaking, was stressed. Their approach to others was to be brimful of kindness, but their motive was not to be that merely natural one. In all those whom they served they were to see the Person of Jesus Christ himself….

‘At the first meeting, so ever since, no effort has been spared to bring home to legionaries that this motive is to be the basis of their service, and likewise that the discipline and internal harmony of the Legion rest chiefly upon the same principle. In their officers and in each other they must recognise and reverence Christ Himself.’ My dear legionaries, the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ really is the very soul or life principle of the Legion. Sometimes, new legionaries are a bit surprised that the Standing Instruction states the first requirement of the Legionary is to attend the weekly meeting of the praesidium. One of the reasons is that the meeting is the cenacle experience or school for coming to know and practice the doctrine of the Mystical body of Christ.

In these last few months I have been trying to sketch a portrait of the inner life of Frank Duff. So up to now I think one can say with strong conviction that he was a man whose inner life was shaped by the Real Presence of Christ in both his Eucharistic Body and the Mystical Body of Christ the Church.

But of course, essential to the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ is the pivotal place of Mary in it. So the Handbook states: ‘ In addition the Standing Instruction emphasises the other legionary principle that the work must be done in such a spirit of union with Mary that it is she, working through the legionary, who really performs it.’ We need to habitually go back in prayer and study to the section of the Handbook entitled Mary and the Mystical Body and let it shape our inner life. Mary is not only the most important member after Christ of the Mystical Body but she is the Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ. What does that mean in practice? It means that Mary gives to each and every member of the Mystical Body of Jesus the love and total care she gave to Jesus in his earthly life. This is a tremendous truth of our faith. She really is the mother of our very souls and the grace life within us. There would be a great wound in our Legionary spirituality if we do not have an adequate grasp of this truth. The mission of Mary is to take care of and form Jesus in each one of us. We will continue to come back to the place of Mary in our lives in future Allocutios.

Let me conclude this short Allocutio by quoting from the section of the Handbook entitled: ‘In each one worked for the Legionary sees and serves Christ.’ Although it is applying the doctrine of the Mystical Body to visitation, it applies to every apostolate undertaken by the Legion such as street contact, visiting nursing homes, prisons, schools, universities etc. This was the secret of the inner life and apostolic work of Frank Duff. It is also the spirit of the Legion at its best. ‘Nowhere and in no case is visitation to be carried out in a spirit of philanthropy or mere human pity for the unfortunate. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25.40) With these words written on his heart, the Legionary must see Our Lord in his neighbour (who is all mankind without distinction) and render service accordingly. The evil, the unthankful, the afflicted, the despised, the outcast, the greatest objects of natural repulsion, all are to be viewed in this new light. They are surely the least of Christ’s brethren and (mindful of Christ’s words) to be rendered a princely and reverential service.

Always will the Legionary bear in mind that he is visiting not as a superior to an inferior, not as one equal to another, but as an inferior to his superior, as a servant to the Lord..’