Legion of Mary  |  Legion of Mary Handbook



The Legion aims not at the doing of any particular work, but has as a primary object the making of its members holy. For the attainment of this it relies, in the first place, upon its members' attendance at its various meetings, into which prayer and devotion are so wound and woven as to give their complexion to all the proceedings. But then the Legion seeks to develop that holiness in a specific way, to give it the character of apostleship, to heat it white hot so that it must diffuse itself. This diffusion is not simply a utilisation of developed force, but (by a sort of reaction) is a necessary part of the development of that force. For the apostolic spirit is best developed by the apostolate. Therefore the Legion also imposes on each member, as an essential obligation, the weekly performance of some active work prescribed by the praesidium. The work proceeds from the meeting as an act of obedience to it, and, subject to the exceptions later indicated, the praesidium can approve of any active work as satisfying the member's weekly obligation. In practice, however, the Legion outlook would require the directing of the work-obligation towards actual needs, and among the latter, towards the gravest. For that intensity of zeal which the Legion strives to generate in its members requires a worthy objective. Trivial work will react unfavourably upon it, so that hearts that were ready to spend themselves for souls, and to return love for the Christ-Love, and effort and sacrifice for his labours and death, end by settling down to pettiness and lukewarmness.

"Not so easily was I remade as made. He spoke and all things were made. But while he made me simply and at once by a word, he has in the remaking of me said many words, and worked wonders and suffered much." (St. Bernard)


Important, however, as may be the work in hand, the Legion does not regard it as the ultimate or even as the chief object of its members' apostolate. Such work may employ two, three, or many hours of the legionary's week, whereas the Legion looks beyond this to every hour of that week as radiant from the apostolic fire which has been kindled at its hearth. The system that imparts this quality of fire to souls has put abroad a mighty force. The apostolic spirit enters in only as master, dominates every thought, word, and action; and in its external manifestations is not confined to set times and places. The most diffident and otherwise least equipped person becomes invested with a peculiar capacity to influence others, so that whatever the surroundings, and even without the pursuing of a conscious apostolate, sin and indifference will end by bowing to a power greater than themselves. Universal experience teaches this. Therefore, with the satisfaction with which a general contemplates important posts adequately held, does the Legion think of each home, shop, factory, school, office, and every other place devoted to purposes of work or recreation, in which a true legionary may be set by circumstances. Even where scandal and irreligion are at their worst, entrenched so to speak, the presence of this other Tower of David will bar the way to further advance and menace the evil. The corruption will never be acquiesced in; efforts at remedy will be essayed; it will be a subject of sorrow, of prayer; will be contended against determinedly, unremittingly, and probably successfully in the end.
Thus the Legion begins by bringing its members together to persevere with one mind in prayer with their Queen. Then it sends them into the sinful and sorrowful places, there to do a good work, and by catching fire in the doing to do a greater. Finally it looks out over the highways and byways of the everyday life as the object of a still more glorious mission. Knowing what has been done by limited numbers, reflecting that the potential material for its ranks is almost beyond number, believing that its system, if vigorously utilised by the Church, affords a strangely efficacious way of purifying a sinful world, the Legion yearns exceedingly for the multiplication of its members, that it may be legion in number as in name.
Between those working actively, those giving auxiliary service and those being worked for, the whole population can be embraced, and raised from the level of neglect or routine to that of enthusiastic membership of the Church. Consider what this can mean to village or town; no longer merely in the Church, but a driving force in it, sending directly or through the Communion of Saints its impulses to the ends of the earth, and into the dark places thereof. What an ideal - a whole population organised for God! And yet this is no mere ideal. It is the most practical and possible thing in the world to-day - if eyes are but uplifted and arms unfolded.

"Yes, the laity are a 'chosen race, a holy priesthood', also called to be 'the salt of the earth' and 'the light of the world'. It is their specific vocation and mission to express the Gospel in their lives and thereby to insert the Gospel as a leaven into the reality of the world in which they live and work. The great forces which shape the world - politics, the mass media, science, technology, culture, education, industry and work - are precisely the areas where lay people are especially competent to exercise their mission. If these forces are guided by people who are true disciples of Christ, and who are, at the same time, fully competent in the relevant secular knowledge and skill, then indeed will the world be transformed from within by Christ's redeeming power." (Pope John Paul II's address in Limerick, Ireland, October 1979)


This seeking "first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Mt 6:33), that is, its direct labours for souls, absorbs the Legion altogether. Nevertheless, it must not be overlooked that other things have been "added unto it." For instance, the Legion has a social value. This becomes a national asset to the individual country, and represents spiritual gain to the souls which it contains.
The successful working of the social machine demands, like any other machine, the harmonious co-operation of its component parts. Each part, that is the individual citizen, must do exactly what it is intended to do, and with the least possible amount of friction. If each does not render complete service, then waste enters in to disturb that necessary balance, to throw all the cogs out of alignment with each other. Repair is impossible, as it is infinitely difficult to detect the degree or the origin of the trouble; hence the remedy which must be adopted is to employ more force or lubricate with more money. This remedy still further impairs the idea of service or spontaneous co-operation, so that there is progressive failure. Communities have such vitality that they continue to function even though half their parts are misfits. But they work at a terrible price of poverty, frustration, and unhappiness. Money and effort are poured out to drive parts which should be moving effortlessly, or which indeed should be sources of power. Result: problems, turmoil, crises.
Who can deny that this is what obtains even in the best regulated states to-day? Selfishness is the rule of the individual life. Hate turns the lives of many into purely destructive forces, and each new day brings new and universal demonstration of a vital truth which may effectively be stated thus: "Men who deny God, who are traitors to God, will be false to every person and to everything less than God, to all things on earth and in heaven." (Brian O'Higgins.) The state is only the sum of the individual lives, so what heights can it be expected to reach ? A danger and a pain to themselves, what are the nations offering to the world at large but a bit of their own turmoil ?
But suppose that into the community there enters a force which spreads like a contagion from one to another, and which makes the ideas of self-sacrifice, mutual love, and idealism pleasing to the individual! What a change is effected! The grievous sores heal up, and life is lived on a different level. Suppose a nation were to arise which built its life on lofty standards, and held up to the world the example of a whole people putting its faith into practice, and hence as a matter of course, solving its problems. Who can doubt that such a nation would be a shining light to the world, so that the world would come to sit at its feet for the purpose of learning.
Now, it is unquestionable that the Legion possesses the power of making the laity vitally interested in their religion, and of communicating an ardent idealism to those who come under its influence, so that they tend to forget their worldly divisions, distinctions and antagonisms, and are animated with the desire to labour for and love all mankind. This idealism, being rooted in religion, is not a mere sentiment. It makes the individual think in terms of service, it elicits great sacrifices, it reaches heights of heroism, and it does not evaporate.
Why? The reason lies in the motive. Power must have a source. The Legion has a compelling motive for that service of the community. It is that Jesus and Mary were citizens of Nazareth. They loved that town and their country with a religious devotion, for to the Jews faith and fatherland were so divinely intertwined as to be but one. Jesus and Mary lived the common life of their locality with perfection. Every person and thing there was an object of deepest interest to them. It would be impossible to conceive them as indifferent or neglectful in any respect.
Today the world is their country and each place is their Nazareth. In a baptised community they are bound more intensely to the people than they were to their own blood-kindred. But their love has now to issue through the Mystical Body. If its members exert themselves in this spirit to serve the place in which they live Jesus and Mary will move through that place shedding their beneficial influences not only on souls but on the surroundings. There will be material betterment; problems will shrink. Nor is true betterment to be gained from any other source.
This attention to Christian duty in each locality would add up to patriotism for the nation. This word denotes uncharted territory, for what is true patriotism? There is no map or model of it in the world. An approximation is the devotion and self-sacrifice which develop during a war. But this is motivated by hate more than by love, and appropriately it is directed towards destroying. So it is imperative that a correct pattern of peaceful patriotism be provided.
It is this spiritualised service of the community which the Legion has been urging under the title: True Devotion to the Nation. Not only is that service to be undertaken out of the spiritual motive but it and all the contacts arising from it must be used to promote the spiritual. Operations which produced advance but only on the material plane would falsify the whole idea of True Devotion to the Nation. Cardinal Newman perfectly expresses that basic idea when he says that a material advance unaccompanied by a corresponding moral manifestation is almost too awful to consider. The correct balance must be preserved.
A booklet on this subject can be obtained from the Concilium.
Look, peoples of the world! If such be the Legion, would it not seem as if it offers, ready for use, a chivalry with magic in it to weld all men together in high enterprise for God: in service far transcending that legendary warfare of King Arthur, who - in Tennyson's beautiful verse - "drew the knight-erranthood of his realm: and all the realms: together in that Order of his Table Round: a glorious company, the flower of men: to serve as model for the mighty world: and be the fair beginning of a time."
"Thus the Church, at once a 'visible organisation and a spiritual community', travels the same journey as all mankind and shares the same earthly lot with the world: it is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God.

The Council exhorts Christians, as citizens of both cities, to perform their duties faithfully in the spirit of the Gospel. It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities; this is to forget that by our faith we are bound all the more to fulfil these responsibilities according to the vocation of each one." (GS 40, 43)

"A practical answer to this need and obligation underlined in the Council Decree is found in the legionary movement begun in 1960 and known as True Devotion to the Nation. The measure of success already secured points towards vast possibilities of development. But let us emphasise that what the Legion has to offer to the temporal order is not exceptional knowledge or expertise, not outstanding skills, not even great numbers of workers,-but the spiritual dynamism which has made it a world force and which can be harnessed to uplift any section of the People of God who have the insight and good sense to employ it. But the initiative must come from the Legion. While shunning anything suggestive of worldliness, nevertheless the Legion must ever be mindful of the world in the sense of the above Decree. It must realise that man has to live amid material things and that his salvation is to a large extent bound up with them." (Father Thomas P. O'Flynn C.M., a former Spiritual Director of Concilium Legionis Mariae)


Such a chivalry is needed at this time of particular peril for religion. Secularism and irreligion, aided by able propaganda, spread their corrupting influences in constantly widening circles and seem capable of engulfing the world.
Compared with these formidable forces, what a modest little flock the Legion is. Yet that very contrast emboldens one. The Legion is composed of souls who are united to the Virgin most Powerful. More, it contains within itself great principles, and it knows how to apply them in effective ways. It may be that he who is mighty will do great things to it, and through it.
The aims of the Legion of Mary and of those other legions which deny "our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 4) are diametrically opposed. That of the Legion is to bring God and religion to every soul; the object of the other forces is to accomplish the very opposite. But it is not to be thought that the legionary scheme was conceived in deliberate opposition to this empire of unbelief. Things worked out more simply. A little band gathered around a statue of Our Lady and said to her: "Lead us". United to her, they began the visitation of an immense infirmary, filled with the sick and sorrowful and broken ones of a great city, seeing her Beloved Son in each of them. They came to understand that so also is he in each member of humanity and that they should join in Mary's mother-work for him in each one. So, hand in hand with her, they set about their simple work of service, and lo, they have grown into a legion; and over the world that Legion is doing those simple acts of the love of God in man, and of the love of men for the sake of God; and in every place that love shows its power to stir and win hearts.
Likewise, the secularistic systems profess the love and service of man. They preach a hollow gospel of fraternity. Millions believe that gospel. In its name, they desert a religion which they think to be inert. And yet the position is not a hopeless one. There is a way of bringing back to Faith those determined millions, and of saving countless other millions. That hope lies in the application of a great principle which rules the world, and which St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, has stated thus: "The world belongs to him who loves it most, and who proves that love." People cannot help seeing, and being moved by a real faith which operates through a real heroic love for all men. Convince them that the Church loves them most, and they will return to Faith in spite of everything. They will even lay down their lives for that Faith.
No common love can conquer men thus. Neither will it be accomplished by a mediocre Catholicism which can hardly preserve itself. It can be done by a Catholicism which loves Christ its Lord with all its heart, and then sees him and loves him in all men of whatsoever description. But this supreme charity of Christ must be practised on such a scale that they who look on are driven to admit that it is indeed a characteristic of the Church, and not merely the acts of sublime members of the Church. Therefore, it must be exhibited in the lives of the general body of the laity.
But it seems a hopeless thing to fire the entire household of the Church with this exalted spirit? Yes, the task is herculean! So unending, indeed, are the perspectives of the problem, so infinite the hosts which possess the land, that even the courage of the strongest heart might well fail. But Mary is the heart of the Legion, and that heart is faith and love unutterable. So thinking, the Legion looks out over the world, and all at once excited hope is born: "The world belongs to him who loves it most." Then it turns to its great Queen, as it did at the beginning: "Lead us!"

"The Legion of Mary and its opposing forces, secularism and irreligion, confront each other. These forces, sustained by constant propaganda through the press, television, and video, have brought abortion, divorce, contraception, drugs and every form of indecency and brutality into the heart of every home. The simplicity and innocence of every new born babe is therefore left open to these devastating influences.

Nothing short of total mobilisation of the Catholic people will avail to resist that indoctrination. For this purpose the Legion of Mary possesses the perfect machinery. But machinery itself is useless without a sufficient driving force. This motive power lies in the Legion spirituality, which is a real appreciation of and reliance on the Holy Spirit and on True Devotion to His Spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary, nurtured on the Bread of Life, the Eucharist.

When these two forces come into conflict, the spirit of the Legion will prevail. Daily carrying their Master's cross, legionaries will effectively fight the modern softness, permissiveness, and weakness which is ruining our society today, and will finally triumph." (Father Aedan McGrath, S.S.C.)