Legion of Mary  |  Legion of Mary Handbook



To portray the dignity of the apostolate to which the Legion summons its members, and its importance to the Church, one can find no more emphatic words than the following authoritative declarations:
"From the fact of their union with Christ the head, flows the laymen's right and duty to be apostles. Inserted as they are in the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are asssigned to the apostolate. If they are consecrated a kingly priesthood and a holy nation (cf 1 Pet 2:4-10), it is in order that they may in all their actions offer spiritual sacrifices and bear witness to Christ all the world over. Charity, which is, as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate, is given to them and nourished in them by the sacraments, the Eucharist above all." (AA 3)
"Pope Pius XII once stated: 'The faithful, more precisely the lay faithful, find themselves on the front lines of the Church's life; for them the Church is the animating principle for human society. Therefore, they in particular, ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the head of all, and of the bishops in communion with him. These are the Church...'" (CL 9)

"Mary exercises over the human race a moral influence which we cannot better determine than by comparing it to those physical forces of attraction, affinity and cohesion, which in the order of nature unite together bodies and the parts of which they are composed. . . . We believe we have shown that Mary took part in all the great movements which constitute the life of societies and their real civilisation." (Petitalot)


The proposition is ventured upon that the health of a Catholic community depends upon the presence of a large apostolic class - belonging to the laity, yet sharing the outlook of the priest, and providing points of contact with the people and intimacy of control. Security depends on this complete union of priest and people.
But the essential idea of apostleship is an intense interest in the welfare and the work of the Church, and such interest there can hardly be without some feeling of participation. Thus the apostolic organisation is a mould which produces apostles.
Wherever these qualities of apostleship are not sedulously cultivated, it is certain that the next generation will have a serious problem to face in the lack of all real interest in the Church, and of all sense of responsibility. Out of this infantile Catholicism what good can come? And where is its safety but in a complete calm ? History teaches that such a nerveless flock is readily stampeded even unto the destruction of its own pastors, or else that it is devoured by the first fierce pack of wolves which comes upon the scene. Cardinal Newman states it as a principle that "in all times the laity have been the measure of the Catholic spirit."

"The great function of the Legion of Mary is to develop the sense of a lay vocation. There is a danger that we lay folk may identify the Church with the clergy and religious, to whom God has certainly given what we too exclusively call a vocation. We are unconsciously tempted to regard the rest of us as an anonymous crowd who have a chance of being saved if we perform the prescribed minimum. We forget that our Lord calls his own sheep by name (Jn 10:3); that - in the words of St. Paul (Gal 2:20), who, like us, was not physically present on Calvary - 'the Son of God loved me and gave himself up for me'. Each of us, even if he be only a village carpenter as was Jesus himself or a humble housekeeper like his mother, has a vocation, is called individually by God to give him his or her love and service, to do a particular work which others may indeed surpass but cannot replace. No one but myself can give my heart to God or do my work. It is precisely this personal sense of religion which the Legion fosters. A member is no longer content to be passive or perfunctory; he or she has something to be and to do for God; religion is no longer a side-issue, it becomes the inspiration of one's life, however humanly commonplace. And this conviction of personal vocation inevitably creates an apostolic spirit, the desire to carry on Christ's work, to be another Christ, to serve him in the least of his brethren. Thus the Legion is the lay substitute for a religious order, the translation of the Christian idea of perfection into the lives of layfolk, the extension of Christ's Kingdom into the secular world of to-day." (Mgr. Alfred O'Rahilly)


Like many another great principle, the apostolate is in itself something cold and abstract. Hence there is a very real danger that it may not exercise an appeal, so that the laity does not respond to the high destiny which has been held out to it, and, worse still, may even be deemed to be incapable of responding. The disastrous sequel would be that the effort to make the laity play its proper and indispensable part in the battle of the Church would be abandoned.
But, in the words of one qualified to judge, Cardinal Riberi, formerly Apostolic Delegate to missionary Africa and later Internuncio to China: "The Legion of Mary is apostolic duty decked out in attractive and alluring form; throbbing with life so that it wins all to it; undertaken in the manner stipulated by Pope Pius XI, that is, in dependence on the Virgin Mother of God; insistent on quality as the foundation of membership and even as the key to numerical strength; safeguarded by plenteous prayer and self-sacrifice, by exact system, and by complete co-operation with the priest. The Legion of Mary is a miracle of these modern times."

To the priest the Legion gives the respect and obedience which are owing to lawful superiors, yet more than this. Its apostolate is built upon the fact that the main channels of grace are the Mass and the sacramental system, of which the priest is the essential minister. All the strivings and expedients of that apostolate must have in view this great end: the bringing of the divinely-appointed nourishment to the multitude, sick and hungering. It follows that a first principle of legionary action must be the bringing of the priest to the people, not always in person - for that may be impossible - but everywhere in influence and in understanding.

This is the essential idea of the Legion apostolate. Lay it will be in bulk of membership, but working in inseparable union with the priests, and under their captaincy, and with absolute identity of interests. It will ardently seek to supplement their efforts, and to widen their place in the lives of men, so that men, receiving them, shall receive him who sent them.

"Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me." (Jn 13:20)


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. As has been beautifully said (Cardinal Pizzardo), it may well be that the strangers from Rome (Acts 2:10), who heard the preaching of the apostles on the day of Pentecost, were the first to announce Jesus Christ in Rome, thus sowing the seeds of the Mother Church which St. Peter and St. Paul soon after established officially. "What would the twelve have done, lost in the immensity of the world, if they had not gathered around them men and women, the old and young, saying: 'We carry with us the treasure of heaven. Help to scatter it abroad'." (Pope Pius XI)
The words of one Pontiff have been quoted. Let those of another be added to demonstrate finally that the example of our Lord and his apostles in relation to the conversion of the world is divinely meant to form pattern for every priest in relation to his own little world, be it parish, or district, or special work:-
"Happening to be one day among a group of Cardinals, the Holy Father (St. Pius X) said to them:- 'What is the thing most necessary at the present time to save society?' 'Build Catholic schools,' said one. 'No.' 'Multiply churches', replied another. 'No again.' 'Increase the recruiting of the clergy' said a third. 'No, no,' replied the Pope. 'What is most necessary at the present time is to have in each parish a group of laymen at the same time virtuous, enlightened, determined, and really apostolic.' This holy Pope, at the end of his life, counted for the salvation of the world on the training, by the zeal of the clergy, of Catholics devoting themselves to the apostolate by word and action, but above all, by example. In the dioceses in which, before being Pope, he had exercised the ministry, he attached less importance to the census of parishioners than to the list of Catholics capable of radiating an apostolate. He considered that in any class whatever, chosen ones could be formed. And so he classified his priests according to the results which their zeal and their abilities had obtained on this point." (Chautard: The Soul of the Apostolate, 4, l.f.)
"The pastor's task is not limited to individual care of the faithful. It extends by right also to the formation of a genuine Christian community. But if a community spirit is to be properly cultivated it must embrace not only the local church but the universal Church. A local community ought not merely to promote the care of the faithful within itself, but should be imbued with the missionary spirit and smooth the path to Christ for all men. But it must regard as its special charge those under instruction and the newly converted who are gradually educated in knowing and living the Christian life." (PO 6)

"God-made-Man found it necessary to leave his Mystical Body upon earth. Otherwise his work would have ended on Calvary. His death would have merited salvation for the human race, but how many men could have gained heaven without the Church to bring them life from the cross? Christ identifies himself with the priest in a special way. The priest is like a supplementary heart pumping on its way the supernatural life-blood to souls. He is an essential part of the spiritual transmission system in Christ's Body. If he fails, the system is blocked, and those who depend upon him do not receive the life that Christ intends them to receive. The priest should be to his people what Christ is to the Church, within due limits. Christ's members are an extension of himself, not merely employees, followers, adherents, supporters. They have his life. They share his activity. They should have his outlook. Priests must be one with Christ in every possible respect. Christ found it necessary to form a spiritual body for himself; the priest should do the same. He should form for himself members who are one with him. Unless a priest has living members, formed by him, united with him, his work will be reduced to negligible dimensions. He will be isolated and helpless. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you'." (1 Cor 12:21)

So that if Christ has made the Mystical Body the principle of his way, his truth, his life to souls, this same order precisely operates through the new Christ, the priest. If he does not apply his function to a degree which is veritably that full building of the Mystical Body referred to in the Epistle to the Ephesians (4:12, a text usually translated by 'edification of the faithful'), it will be in diminished measure that the divine life will enter souls and then issue fruitfully from them.
Moreover, the priest himself will be left deprived by virtue of the fact that though it is the mission of the head to minister life to the body, it is no less a fact that the head lives by the life of the body, increasing with its increase, sharing in its weakness if it wanes.

The priest who does not comprehend this law of priestly mission will go through life realising only a fraction of his power, whereas it is his true destiny in Christ to measure the horizons." (Canon F. J. Ripley)


"In the present circumstances the lay faithful have the ability to do very much and, therefore, ought to do very much towards the growth of an authentic ecclesial communion in their parishes in order to reawaken missionary zeal towards non-believers and believers themselves who have abandoned the faith or grown lax in the Christian life." (CL 27) It will be found that the growth of a true community spirit will be greatly promoted by the establishment of the Legion of Mary. Through the Legion, lay people become accustomed to working in the parish in close union with their priests and participating in pastoral responsibilities. The regulation of various parish activities through a regular weekly meeting is an advantage in itself. A higher consideration, however, is that those involved in the work of the parish will be provided, through membership of the Legion, with a spiritual formation, which will help them to understand that the parish is an Eucharistic community, and with a methodical system, which will enable them to reach out to everyone in the parish, with the aim of building up that community. Some of the ways in which the Legion apostolate may be undertaken in a parish are described in chp 37, Suggestions as to Works.

"The lay apostolate must be considered by priests as a definite part of their ministry, and by the faithful as a duty of the Christian life." (Pope Pius XI)


Again, the Church by exhibiting only a cautious routine would place the Truth, of which it is the custodian, in a very disadvantageous setting. If the young once form the habit of looking to purely worldly or even irreligious systems for the active idealism for which generous natures crave, a terrible harm has been done, for which future generations will pay.
Here the Legion can aid by making its programme one of enterprise and effort and sacrifice, such as will help to capture for the Church those two words "idealism" and "action," making them handmaids of the Church's doctrine.
According to the saying of Lecky, the historian, the world is ruled by its ideals. If this is so, those who create a higher ideal thereby lift all mankind; it being understood, of course, that the ideal is a practical one and that it is sufficiently in evidence to constitute a headline. Possibly it may be conceded that the ideals held up by the Legion conform to both of these requirements.
An important feature of the Legion is that its work is graced by many priestly and religious vocations among its members and their children.
But the objection will be made that amid universal selfishness, there are none who will assume the heavy burden of Legion membership. This reasoning is wrong. The many who answer the call to trivial action will quickly fade away and leave not a trace. The few who respond to the call to high endeavour will persevere, and little by little their spirit will communicate itself to the many.
A praesidium of the Legion can thus be a powerful means of helping the priest to enlist gradually the co-operation of the laity in the task of evangelising those committed to his care. Just so, the hour and a half spent once a week at the meeting, guiding, encouraging, spiritualising the members, will enable him to be everywhere, to hear everything, to influence everybody, to overcome all his physical limitations. Indeed, it seems as if zeal could not be employed to better purpose than in the directing of many praesidia.
Thus armed with his legionaries (in themselves such another humble equipment as staff, scrip, sling, and pebbles, yet because of Mary made the instruments of heaven), he can, like another David, go forth with certainty of victory against the most defiant Goliath of unbelief and sin.

"It is a moral force, not a material, which will vindicate your profession and secure your triumph. It is not giants who do most. How small was the Holy Land! Yet it subdued the world. How poor a spot was Attica! Yet it has formed the intellect. Moses was one, Elias was one, David was one, Paul was one, Athanasius was one, Leo was one. Grace ever works by few; it is the keen vision, the intense conviction, the indomitable resolve of the few, it is the blood of the martyr, it is the prayer of the saint, it is the heroic deed, it is the momentary crisis, it is the concentrated energy of a word, or a look, which is the instrument of heaven. Fear not, little flock, for he is mighty who is in the midst of you, and he will do for you great things." (Cardinal Newman: Present Position of Catholics)


The notion is general that the formation of apostles is mainly a matter of listening to lectures and studying textbooks. But the Legion believes that such formation cannot be effected at all without the accompaniment of the work itself; and indeed that talk about the apostolate, divorced from the actual work, can have the opposite effect to that intended. For it will be appreciated that in discussing how a work should be done, it is necessary to describe its difficulties and also to propose a very high spirit and standard of performance. To talk in that way to recruits, without at the same time showing by actual practice that the work is within their power, and in fact easy, will only intimidate them and deter them from undertaking it. Moreover, the lecture system tends to produce the theorist and those who think to convert the world by play of intellect. These will be disinclined to devote themselves to the humble employments and the laborious following up of individual contacts, on which everything really depends, and which, let it be said, the legionary so willingly accepts.
The Legion idea of formation is the master and apprentice method. This, it contends, is the ideal way of training, used by every profession and craft, apparently without exception. Instead of delivering lengthy lectures, the master places the work before the eyes of the apprentice, and by practical demonstration shows him how it is to be done, commenting on the different points thereof as he proceeds. Then the apprentice himself attempts the work, and is corrected in his execution of it. Out of that system emerges the skilled craftsman. All lecturing should be based on the work itself; each word should be linked to an action. If not, it may yield scant fruit. It may not even be remembered. It is strange how little of a lecture is remembered even by regular students.
Another consideration is that if a lecture system is proposed as the mode of initiation to an apostolic society, few will present themselves as recruits. Most persons are determined to be finished with school when they have left that state. Especially the simpler people are awed at the prospect of going back again into a sort of classroom, even though it be a holy classroom. That is why apostolic study systems fail to exert a wide appeal. The Legion is on simpler, more psychological lines. Its members say to other people: "Come along and do this work with me." Those who come are not presented with a classroom. They are presented with a work which is already being done by someone like themselves. Accordingly, they know that the work is within their own capacity, and readily they join that society. Having joined, having seen the work being done and taken part in it, having learned by listening to the reports and comments on that work the best method of doing it, they are soon found proficient in it.
"The Legion is sometimes criticised for lack of expertise on the part of its members, or because it does not insist that they devote long periods to study. So let it be said: (a) The Legion systematically utilises the contribution of its better equipped members. (b) While avoiding the extreme stressing of study, it does endeavour in appropriate ways to fit each one for his particular apostolate. (c) But the dominating purpose is to provide a framework through which the Legion may say to the ordinary Catholic: 'Come, bring your mite of talent; we will teach you to develop it and use it through Mary for the glory of God'. It must not be forgotten that the Legion is for the lowly and underprivileged as much as for the learned and powerful." (Father Thomas P. O'Flynn, C.M., former Spiritual Director of Concilium Legionis Mariae)