Legion of Mary  |  Legion of Mary Handbook


1 Respect for the meeting. Everywhere in the natural order, the transmission of power depends on the making or the breaking of a connection. Similarly in the Legion system there can be a vital interruption at one point. A member may attend the meetings, and yet receive little or no communication of that inspiration, devotedness and strength, which has been pictured above as the Legion life. There must be a union between meeting and member, and this union is not effected by a mere mechanical attendance on the part of the latter. An element must enter in to make that attendance an efficacious link between meeting and member, and this element is respect. On this respect (manifesting itself in obedience, loyalty, esteem) of member for meeting, everything in the Legion system depends.

2 The praesidium must be worthy of this respect.A body, which does not in its standards rise above the average of its members, lacks the first essential of a guide, and will not long hold their respect.

3 The praesidium must respect the Rules. Proportionately as the legionary gives that respect to the praesidium, will a communication of legionary life be made to the legionary; and as the essence of the legionary spirit is the effort to achieve excellence, the praesidium must set itself to win in the highest degree the respect of its members so that it may correspondingly influence them. A praesidium seeks to build upon sand, which claims from its members a respect which it does not itself give to the code under which it works; a fact which explains the insistence, throughout this handbook, on the necessity for exact adherence to the order of meetings and the general procedure as laid down.

4 The praesidium to be a model of steadiness.The Legion requires that the voice and action of its meetings shall be an example even to the most zealous member, and its multifold life enables it to play this part. The individual legionary may be prevented by illness, holidays or other unavoidable circumstances from performance of the duties of membership. But the praesidium, being composed of many who will not all be so hindered at the same time, will thus be able to rise above the limitations of the individual. The weekly meeting should not be omitted for any cause short of actual inability to hold it. Should the customary day of meeting be definitely obstructed, the meeting should be transferred to another day. The fact that a great number of its members will be absent constitutes no reason for not holding the meeting. It is better to hold a meeting of a few members than to drop it altogether. It is true that little business will be transacted at such a meeting, but at least the praesidium will have acquitted itself of its most important duty, and the business of its future meetings will gain immeasurably from the enhanced respect which its members will instinctively have for something which goes on almost in spite of those who compose it, which stands steady in the midst of their weaknesses, mistakes, and miscellaneous engagements, thus reflecting in some faint fashion the chief characteristic of the Church itself.

5 Heat and light. The room should be well-lighted and of comfortable temperature. Defects in this direction will convert to a penance the meetings that should be a pleasure, and will prejudice fatally the prospects of the praesidium.

6 Seating accommodation.Chairs, or at least benches should be provided for seating purposes. If the members are scattered around on school-desks or on other improvised seating-accommodation, an air of disorder will be created, in which the Legion spirit, which is a spirit of order, will not thrive.

7 Praesidia must meet at suitable times. The fact that most persons are at work during the day dictates that meetings be ordinarily held in the evening or on Sunday. But there are many who work during the evening and at night, and these must be provided for by having meetings at hours which suit them.

Likewise, shift-workers, that is those whose working-hours change periodically, must be catered for. Two praesidia with widely different meeting-times should co-operate to receive them. Those legionaries would alternate between the praesidia according to their free time. To ensure the continuity of attendance and work, the praesidia would need to keep in close touch with each other.

8 Duration of meeting. The meeting shall not last longer than one hour and a half from the appointed time for opening. If, in spite of efficient handling of the meeting, it is found that the business is frequently cut short or unduly rushed by the automatic closure, it should be taken as a sign that the praesidium has too much to do, and the sub-division of the praesidium should be considered.

9 Inadequate length of meetings. There is no minimum duration prescribed, but if meetings habitually last less than about an hour (of which the prayers, spiritual reading, minutes and Allocutio occupy a half-hour), it looks as if there is inadequacy in some direction. Whether it lies in the number of members or in the quantity of the work, or in the quality of the reports, it should be rectified. In industrial circles it would be deemed a grave fault of system to neglect to work machinery to full capacity, if there is a market for the output. Similarly, the Legion system should be worked to the utmost. No one can suggest that there is not a need for the highest possible spiritual output.
10 Late arrival or early departure. Legionaries arriving late for the opening prayers shall kneel down and recite privately the prayers (on the Tessera) which precede the rosary and the invocations which follow it. But the loss of the praesidium rosary cannot be repaired. Similarly, members obliged to leave before the conclusion of the meeting should first ask the permission of the President, and then kneel and recite the prayer, We fly to your patronage and the invocations which follow.

In no circumstances can the persistent late-coming or early departure of a member be permitted. It is true that the work may be done and reported upon, but indifference to the missing of the opening or concluding prayers may well be believed to denote a cast of mind alien to or even hostile to the real spirit of the Legion, which is a spirit of prayer. Harm, not good, would be the fruit of such a membership.

11 Good order the root of discipline. Upon
  1. the setting of the meeting faithfully according to rule;
  2. the orderly succession of duty to duty;
  3. the punctual taking of business as prescribed;
  4. the pervading note of Mary as the mainspring of that order; does the Legion rely for the development in its members of the spirit of discipline, without which the meeting is as a clear head on a paralysed body, powerless either to restrain its members or to drive them on, or to form them in any way. Without discipline, the members will be at the mercy of the natural human tendency to work alone, or with as little control as possible, at the work dictated by the whim of the moment, and in the manner one pleases--and out of which no good will come.
On the other hand, in a voluntarily-assumed discipline devoted to religious ends, lies one of the most potent forces in the world. That discipline will prove irresistible if it operates unwaveringly, yet at the same time without admixture of grimness, and in hearty responsiveness to ecclesiastical authority.

In its characteristic spirit of discipline the Legion possesses a treasure, which it is also able to bestow outside itself. It is a priceless gift, for the world alternates profitlessly between the opposite poles of tyranny and licence. A lack of interior discipline may be cloaked by the operation of a strong external discipline, the product of tradition or of force. Where individuals or communities are dependent on that external discipline alone, they will collapse if it be withdrawn, as in moments of crisis. Though the inner discipline is infinitely more important than any system of external discipline, it is not to be supposed that the latter is unimportant. Actually, each requires the other. When the two combine in proper proportion, with the sweet motive of religion intertwined, we hold that triple cord which - the Scripture pronounces - "is not quickly broken." (Sir 4:12)

12 Punctuality paramount. Without punctuality the Lord's command: "Set your house in order" (Is 38:1) cannot be fulfilled. A system that is training its members to disorder is warping them in a radical way. In addition, it is forfeiting that respect which is the basis of all right education and discipline. Surely that neglect of something vital which could be so easily supplied, is as insane a proceeding as the proverbial spoiling of the ship for the halfpenny worth of tar!
Sometimes a watch is placed carefully on the table but exercises no influence whatever on the course of the meeting. In other cases it does play a part in regard to the beginning, middle, and end of the meeting but none in regard to the regulation of the reports and other business; whereas the principle of punctuality and order must apply to everything from beginning to end.

If the officers are at fault in the above directions, the members should protest. Otherwise they are aiding and abetting.

13 Manner of saying the prayers. Some impetuous souls find it hard to hold back even in the matter of praying; and this wrong sort of leadership can draw an entire praesidium on to a way of saying the prayers which verges on the disrespectful. In fact, if there is one fault which is more or less general, it is that the prayers are recited too fast, seeming to denote a disregard of that injunction which bids legionaries to pray as if Our Blessed Lady herself, instead of her statue, were visibly present among them.
14 Prayers to be one with the meeting. From time to time it has been suggested that the rosary might be recited before the Blessed Sacrament, the members then proceeding to their meeting-room. This proposal is not allowable on the general principle that the unity of the meeting is essential to the whole Legion system. With the meeting one, all the business takes a distinctively prayerful character (producing eminent fruits of heroism and effort), which it would lose were the bulk of the prayers to be said elsewhere. Such a change would alter the whole character of the meeting, and hence of the Legion itself which is built upon the meeting. In fact the resulting organisation, however great its merits, would not be the Legion of Mary at all. Having said this, presumably it is unnecessary to state that the actual omission of the rosary or any other part of the prayers is-no matter what the circumstances may be-still less admissible. What the breathing is to the human body, the rosary is to the Legion meetings.

15 Church devotions and meeting. For the foregoing reason, a praesidium which has said the Legion prayers at some Church or other function prior to its meeting, is bound to repeat the full prayers at the praesidium meeting.

16 Special prayers at meeting. It is frequently asked if it is permissible to offer the prayers of the meeting for special intentions. As many applications for such prayers are made, it becomes necessary to define the position:-
(a) If it is a question of offering the ordinary Legion prayers of the meeting for a special intention, the ruling is that those prayers should be offered for the intentions of Our Blessed Lady, the Queen of the Legion, and not for any other intention.
(b) If it is a question of supplementing the Legion prayers by some other prayers for special intentions, the ruling is that the existing prayers are already long enough, and should not ordinarily be added to. It is recognised, however, that from time to time items of exceptional legionary concern may call for special prayer; and in that case, some short prayer may be added to the ordinary prayers of the meeting. It is emphasised that such additions must be of rare occurrence.
(c) It would, of course, be allowable to recommend special intentions to the members for inclusion in their private devotions.
17 Does the report offend against humility? Members have been known to justify a valueless report by saying that they felt it to be contrary to humility to parade the good which they were doing. But there is such a thing as a pride which imitates humility, and the poets have termed it the devil's favourite sin. Those members, therefore, should beware lest in that thought of theirs may lie the subtle workings not of humility but of pride itself, and not a little of a desire to exempt their actions from minute control by the praesidium. For surely, true humility would not urge them to set a false headline, which if imitated by the other members would ruin the praesidium? No, to a certainty, Christian simplicity would impel members to avoid singularity, to submit themselves sweetly to the rules and observances of their organisation, and to play fully their individual but none the less essential parts in the building up of the meeting, of which each report forms, as has been said, a brick.

18 Harmony the expression of unity. Harmony, being the outward manifestation of the spirit of love in the meeting, must reign supreme; and efficiency, in the Legion sense of the word, never excludes the idea of harmony. Good accomplished at the expense of harmony is a doubtful gain; while those failings which are in their essence opposed to it must be shunned in the Legion like a veritable plague. This refers to things like self-assertiveness, fault-finding, ill-temper, cynicism, and airs of superiority, at whose entry to the meeting harmony forthwith departs.

19 Work of each one a concern of all. The meeting begins with prayer, in which all realise that they have participated equally. This feeling of equal participation by all should characterise each item of the subsequent business of the meeting. Hence conversation or laughter between individual members must find no place there. Members should be taught that each case is a concern not merely for the one or two members who may be engaged upon it, but for all present, in such a degree that each one pays a spiritual visit to every person or place recounted as having been the subject of the work. Without this realisation, members will follow with a mere attention the reports and consideration of the work of others, whereas every moment must be full, not merely with the attention which one gives to an interesting account of work done, but with a sense of intimate contact, of personal concern.

20 Confidentiality of paramount importance. The Standing Instruction, read to the members month after month, should bring home to them the all important place of confidentiality in the Legion's scheme of things.
Lack of courage in a soldier is accounted shameful, but treachery is infinitely worse. It is treachery to the Legion to repeat outside matters of a confidential nature learned or discussed at the praesidium meeting. At the same time, there must be reason in all things. Sometimes over-zealous people may urge that in the interests of charity legionaries should withhold from the praesidium all names and reports which involve neglect of religion.

In this apparently plausible suggestion there is an error, and a threat to the Legion's life, as the praesidium could not function satisfactorily under such conditions:-
  1. The adoption of this course would be contrary to the general practice of Societies, all of which are accustomed to discuss their cases.
  2. The logical conclusion of the proposal would be that the co-visitors should maintain confidentiality even between each other.
  3. The unit of action and knowledge and charity is neither the individual member nor the pair of co-visitors. The praesidium is that unit, and the detail of all ordinary cases is due to that unit. If the reports are withheld, the unit becomes ineffective. Under the plea of charity the real interests of charity are prejudiced.
  4. There is no analogy with the case of the priest, whose sacred functions put him on a different plane to the legionary. The latter learns in visitation little more than any other respected person would, and what is often common property in the adjoining homes or district.
  5. To remove from members the obligation to furnish adequate reports is also to remove that sense of minute control which means so much in the Legion system. No effective advice or guidance or criticism can be given so that the essential idea of the praesidium is frustrated. The education and safeguarding of the members, which are based on the reports, are rendered impossible. Unless the members' weekly reports are adequately detailed to enable the minute control already referred to, indiscretions will almost certainly occur, with perhaps, detriment to the Legion.
  6. Strangest of all, the bond of confidentiality itself becomes loosened. For the guarantee of legionary confidentiality (so wonderfully honoured at present) is the praesidium grip upon the member. If this grip is weakened, the bond of confidentiality weakens with it. In a word, the praesidium is not only the unit of charity and confidentiality, but is also their mainstay.
The reports to the meeting are to be regarded as being in the same category as a family's discussion of its secrets, and should allow for the same freedom of expression, unless and until it is demonstrated that leakage is taking place. And even then, the remedy is not to limit reporting, but to expel the traitor.
It is recognised, of course, that an occasional extreme case may be encountered in which the circumstances will suggest an absolute privacy. Recourse should at once be had to the Spiritual Director (or, if he be unavailable, to some other competent adviser) who will decide the point.

21 Freedom of speech.Is it in order to voice one's disagreement with the methods of the meeting? The atmosphere of the praesidium should not be regimental but rather "family" in its character.

Therefore "fair comment" should be welcomed from the members. But obviously such comment must never be challenging in its tone or wanting in respect to the officers.

22 The Meeting the mainstay of membership. It is the human tendency to be impatient for visible results, and then to grow dissatisfied with whatever is obtained. Again, visible results are an uncertain test of successful work. One member secures them at a touch, while the heroic perseverance of another remains barren. A sense of wasted effort is followed by abandonment of the work, so that the work which is valued purely from the aspect of results, is a quicksand which will not support for long the ordinary membership. Such a support is essential. Legionaries will find it in the wealth of prayer, the ritual, the distinctive atmosphere, the reports of duty done, the blessed comradeship, the magnetism of discipline, the lively interest, and the very orderliness, which each week go to make up their praesidium meeting.
No thought there of waste of effort to unloosen membership, but everything to bind it fast! As meeting succeeds meeting in regular succession, there comes the sense of smoothly running machinery surely attaining the end for which it was contrived, and giving that fixed assurance of successful working upon which a persevering membership depends. Let the legionaries cast their thoughts a little further, and see in this mechanism Mary's engine of war for the extension of her Son's dominion. They are its parts. Its working depends upon the manner in which they lend themselves to it. Their faithful membership means its perfect working, which Mary utilises to achieve the results which she desires. These will be perfect results, for "it is Mary alone who knows perfectly where lies the greatest glory of the Most High." (St. Louis-Marie de Montfort)

23 The praesidium is a "Presence" of Mary. The advices of this section have in view the more perfect consolidation of the individuals into a body for comprehensive use in the official, pastoral apostolate of the Church. The relation between that communal apostolate and the individual apostolate might be likened to the relation between the liturgy and private prayer.

That apostolate is united to and sustained by the mothering of Mary "who gave to the world the Life that renews all things, and who was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role" (LG 56). She continues to fulfil that role through the ministry of those willing to help her. A praesidium places at her disposal a group of loving souls eager to help her in that office. It is certain that she will accept that aid. Therefore a praesidium may be imagined as a sort of local presence of Mary through which she will display her unique gifts and reproduce her motherhood. So it can be expected that a praesidium which is true to its ideals will bestow around itself life and renewal and healing and solutions. Places with problems should apply this spiritual principle.

"Bend your shoulders and carry her, and do not fret under her bonds. Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might. Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get hold of her, do not let her go. For at last you will find the rest she gives, and she will be changed into joy for you. Then her fetters will become for you a strong defence, and her collar a glorious robe. Her yoke is a golden ornament, and her bonds a purple cord." (Sir 6: 25-30)