The other Sunday my son brought back from his parish church a free booklet entitled “33 Days to Morning Glory”. By Fr Michael E Gaitley MIC, it is “A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in preparation for Marian Consecration.” My instinct was to throw it in the bin, a reflexive response to a surfeit of devotional material, all of it worthy but also likely to overwhelm me. Then a friend came to stay; she had also received this same free booklet from her parish and was keen to make the consecration, so impulsively – and feeling guilty at my initial reaction – I decided to join her.
The 33 Days refers to a 33-day preparation before one of the great Marian feasts: if you start on January 9 you would conclude on February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. I started the consecration on February 20, which means it will conclude on March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation, when England will be rededicated as the Dowry of Mary. That sounded auspicious. Looking at the list of Marian feasts throughout the year, such as the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, the Immaculate Conception and so on, reminded me what an extraordinary treasury of devotion to Our Lady is contained in our Faith.
Fr Gaitley’s booklet (his MIC means he is a Marian of the Immaculate Conception) is designed to introduce a new readership to St Louis de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosary and St Louis’ own method of a 33-day consecration to Our Lady. I did this many years ago, in preparation for a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and found it heavy going: long daily prayers and litanies in an archaic diction; only duty to a commitment kept me going. What Fr Gaitley has done is to simplify and explain St Louis so that the Marian theology behind his mission in the 18th century becomes more accessible.
I was always struck by the influence of St Louis’s consecration on the late St John Paul II, who even took his papal motto, Totus Tuus, from St Louis. He had taken the Saint’s message to heart: that the quickest way to become a saint was to dedicate oneself to Mary. Another saint I learnt about in the booklet who made the same consecration and who constantly promoted it was St Maximilian Kolbe. Until his martyrdom at Auschwitz he had pondered the question, “Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?” and wondered why Our Lady had introduced herself to St Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858 as “I am the Immaculate Conception” rather than “I was…”
All this is explained in short daily passages, designed to deepen our understanding of the Blessed Trinity, Our Lady’s spousal relationship to the Holy Spirit and why consecrating ourselves to her is not a distraction from her Son but easily the best way to follow Him. I would unreservedly recommend this consecration to any reader who wants to renew their understanding of their Faith. Just because the booklet is free, don’t throw it away as I was tempted to do. In very readable and engaging explanations, Fr Gaitley’s enthusiasm for his subject will draw you in.
Love for and devotion to Our Lady is, or should be, one of the hallmarks of being a Catholic, along with the Mass and the Sacraments and loyalty to Rome. They are what distinguish us from other Christians. This reflection comes after reading about the sad fall from grace of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities for people with learning disabilities. I only met him once, when he came to the Catholic chaplaincy at Oxford some 25 years ago to give a talk. I was editing a small Catholic quarterly newspaper at the time and thought I would interview him.
I asked him what I thought was a straightforward question: “As a Catholic, where do you draw your strength for your work?” I assumed he might reply “From the Blessed Sacrament” or something. Instead there was a pause while he scrutinised me. Then, evading an answer, he asked me, “Where is this question coming from?” I was nonplussed. Later I was told that I had asked the wrong question; Vanier’s communities were ecumenical and he didn’t want to be “labelled” as a Catholic.
The memory of that brief encounter remained puzzling. To be a Catholic is surely not a “label”, however ecumenical one’s approach; it is one’s very identity.
After all, when the Nazi guards at Auschwitz asked St Maximilian Kolbe who he was, he answered without hesitation or evasion, “I am a Catholic priest.” In the light of recent revelations about Jean Vanier, I am left wondering if his evident embarrassment at my question was to do with a problem concerning his Catholic identity.