The Legion and the Parish
The Parish is central to the identity and apostolate of the Legion. We all know that the Legion will not operate in a diocese without the express permission of the Bishop nor will it work in a parish without the permission of the Parish Priest. This is not just a wise practical administrative rule in the Legion, nor is it just a legal requirement or diplomatic manoeuvre; it is grounded in a profound doctrine of our Catholic faith. It is a fundamental and treasured principle of the whole Legion life and apostolate. It is the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. It would be impossible to rightly think of the Legion without the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ because the Legion is nothing else but the habitual effort to live out in the practicalities of our daily lives and in every apostolate the doctrine of the Mystical Body. Even all our rich inheritance of Marian doctrines, as in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, is situated in the mystery of Christ and his Church. It is not by accident, but certainly in Divine Providence, that the first Allocutio given by Fr. Toher at the very first and foundational meeting of the Legion was on the Mystical Body.
So let us try and unpack this theme of the Legion and the Parish a little bit more. The Parish is the Mystical Body of Christ among a particular group of people and normally in a particular place. The Priest represents the Risen Christ as Head of the Body and the laity represent Christ as his members. The Head and the Body cannot be separated. They mutually help each other. The Priest must have members and the members need the Priest. To work with the Priest is to work with our Blessed Lord. The Legion has grasped this doctrine well and has shown how it can be lived in the most practical terms. It tries to see and serve Our Lord in all the members of his Body and indeed to bring all others into the Body of the Lord. One sometimes meets people who say ‘yes’ to Our Lord but no to the Church. But one cannot separate Christ from his Body, so to say ‘no’ to the Church is to say ‘no’ to Christ inseparably living and working in and through the Church, His Body.
Mary provides another deep motive for the Legion in the Parish. Mary is not only the Mother of Christ in Himself but she is also the Mother of his Mystical Body, the Church. She is the Mother of every unit of the Church and so is the Mother of every Parish. The legionary seeks to share in Mary’s maternity of the Parish. The Legion seeks to be a presence of Mary in the Parish and to share in the Parish her conviction and practice of True Devotion to Mary, and because true devotion to Mary involves apostleship, the Legion should therefore make a significant contribution to promoting the lay apostolate in the Parish.
It would not be possible to say everything that could and should be said about the Legion and the Parish in a single allocutio, but it would be imperative to say that our Founder saw the Legion as following the example of Our Lord as closely as possible in his method of evangelisation. The Handbook puts it well: ‘The idea of the Priest, with a devoted band pressing round him to share his labours follows the example of Our Lord whose preparation for the conversion of the world was to surround himself with his chosen ones, whom he tutored and filled with his own spirit. That divine lesson was learned and applied by the apostles, who called on all to help them in the winning of souls.’ This is one of the preferred ways of evangelising for the Legion: to gather around the priest in the parish who represents sacramentally the Risen Christ as head of the body, and together with him care for the spiritual needs of every person in the Parish, Catholic or non-Catholic, indeed, to seek the salvation of every parishioner whatever their personal situation may be. The Parish of course is not the only place for the legionary apostolate except in the sense that the whole world is the Parish of the Legion. The Legion engages in many apostolates at the request or with the permission of Bishops that transcend parish boundaries but the parish remains the privileged place of the Legion presence and apostolate.
By way of conclusion and as further stimulus to discussion, let me quote from the document on the laity from the Second Vatican Council: ‘The parish offers an obvious example of the apostolate on the community level inasmuch as it brings together the many human differences within its boundaries and merges them into the universality of the Church.
(1) The laity should accustom themselves to working in the parish in union with their priests;
(2) Bringing to the Church community their own and the world’s problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which they should examine and resolve by deliberating in common. As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish. They should develop an every-increasing appreciation of their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, ever ready at their pastor’s invitation to participate in diocesan projects. Indeed, to fulfil the needs of cities and rural areas;
(3) They should not limit their cooperation to the parochial or diocesan boundaries but strive to extend it to inter-parochial, inter-diocesan, national and international fields. This is constantly becoming all the more necessary because of the daily increase in mobility of populations, reciprocal relationships, and means of communication no longer allow any sector of society to remain closed in upon itself. Thus they should be concerned about the needs of the people of God dispersed throughout the world. They should especially make missionary activity their own by giving material or even personal assistance. It is a duty and honor for Christians to return to God a part of the good things that they receive from Him.’
Of course, it is the greatest honour and privilege of the legionary to share the gift of the Catholic faith with those who have not yet received it or with those who may have lost their faith.