Legion of Mary  |  Legion of Mary Handbook


The Society of the Patricians was established in 1955. Its purpose is to build up the religious knowledge of the people, to teach them how to explain themselves and to encourage them to apostleship. Its method was intended to be experimental but it has remained unchanged. Though minds were busy at first in proposing alterations, it is realised that all of these were but reversions to other established methods, such as the catechism class, the lecture system, the question and answer session. These have their own essential place, but they do not cope with what is probably the root problem of the Church: adult religious ignorance and the paralysed tongues of the laity. The Patricians has been showing itself effective in that field and therefore must be jealously safeguarded. Its system is a delicately balanced one. A small interference with it can change it into something radically different, just as a slight alteration of tuning brings in a different radio station.
Those other systems provide for one or a few well-versed persons doing the work of instructing a number of others: whereas the method of the Patricians is that of the Legion itself - a united approach to the task in hand. All work together in an active quest for knowledge.
Analysis shows the Patricians to be a true child of the Legion, for it contains the various characteristic elements which combine to form the Legion itself; it is a projection of the Legion system into the sphere of religious education.
In this department, Mary presides. It was she who brought Jesus down and gave him to the world. She has charge of all subsequent communicatings of him to men. This dominance of hers is signified by the Legion altar which must form the centre-point of the Patrician meeting. The Patricians gather round her to talk about the Church in all its aspects, that is about Jesus who is present in their midst according to his promise. This is a high form of prayer which is made easy by the variety of the meeting; it would not be easy to spend two continuous hours in regular prayer. This is one reason why the Patricians spiritualises while it instructs.
In the praesidium, the primary requirement is the obtaining from each member of a verbal report. The Patricians strikes the same note; its primary aim is the eliciting of a vocal contribution from everyone. The setting and handling of the meeting are to be directed towards that end. The atmosphere is to be friendly, appreciative, in fact that of the good family in which, though some are more talkative than others, all are found expressing their opinions. That tone depends on the absence of its opposites. The ordinary tactics of public debate are based on attack, condemnation, ridicule. If these appear in the Patrician meeting, the members will disappear.
If the family spirit is established in which the "smallest people" feel at home, then the Patrician foundation has been laid. Each contribution will tend to 'spark off' another one, as each link of a chain draws another along. Gaps in knowledge are filled in, detached items are formed into the mosaic of Catholic doctrine. As knowledge and interest grow, the individuals merge more into the oneness of the Mystical Body of Christ and are penetrated by its life.
In its other features, too, the Patrician procedure represents the application of legionary doctrine and technique. It is important that the legionaries should fully realise this so that they will throw into the working of the Patricians the same sort of conviction that they give to the praesidium. Then they will be well-armed for the task which confronts them.
It is the sorrowful fact that Catholics do not speak about religion to those outside the Church, and seldom to those inside it. A term has been devised for this Christian disorientation: Mutism. Cardinal Suenens sums up the position thus: "It is said that those outside the Church will not listen. But the real truth is that the Catholics will not speak." It seems to be the case that the average Catholic will not help another in the domain of religion. Sincere enquirers are not given the information which they seek, and the incorrect impression is created that Catholics are indifferent about conversions.
This extensive failure seems to menace the christian character itself, for Christianity is not selfishness. But the position is not as bad as it looks. In the main that silence and apparent unconcern proceed from lack of confidence:
(a) Those persons are excessively conscious of the defects in their religious knowledge. As a consequence they will avoid any occasion which would expose that weakness to the light of day.
(b) Even where knowledge is substantial, the items are separate, like the answers in the catechism. The mind has not performed the further operation of joining them properly together as the parts would be in, say, an automobile or the human body. There is the further complication that many items are missing and that others are not in proportion to each other. Even if assembled, the product would be similar to a machine in which the parts are misfits, and which will not function.
(c) In many cases there is such ignorance that faith has insufficient knowledge to rest upon. A state of half-belief exists. This has but to meet an irreligious environment to suffer disintegration.
Such is the problem.
The Patricians is a society controlled by the Legion. Each branch must be affiliated to a praesidium, and the chairperson must be an active legionary. A praesidium may have charge of several branches. A branch must have a Spiritual Director approved by the Spiritual Director of the praesidium. A Religious may act as Spiritual Director, and (where ecclesiastical authority permits) a lay person.

The term Patricians, like most of the other Legion names, is derived from the terminology of ancient Rome. The Patricians were the upper of the three grades of society, that is, the Patricians, the Plebs, the Slaves. But our Patricians aspire to bind all social grades into one spiritual nobility. Moreover the Patricians were supposed to be full of love of their country and of responsibility for its welfare. So our Patricians must be supporters of their spiritual fatherland, the Church. The Rule does not insist that they be devout or even practising Catholics, but only that their allegiance be broadly Catholic. Rooted anti-Catholic Catholics do not enter into this category. Unless the bishop declares to the contrary, non-Catholics may not attend the meetings.
The Patrician meeting is held monthly. Punctuality and continuity are essential. Meetings should not be omitted except it is genuinely impossible to hold them. It is not obligatory that a member attend every meeting. A system of reminding members of the next meeting will be necessary.
It is desirable that a branch should not exceed 50 in number, and even that size presents its difficulties.
Setting: To be avoided is the theatre effect of a platform and audience; but neither is there to be an air of disorder. As far as possible the seats are to be arranged in semi-circular formation with the table completing the circle. On the table is the Legion altar of which the vexillum is an essential part.The meeting should possess all the elements of attractiveness, including the material comforts of proper seating, lighting, and temperature.
Expenses are to be met by a secret bag collection, and a statement of accounts is to be given at each meeting.
Order of the meeting

  1. The meeting begins with the Patrician prayer said in unison, standing.
  2. A Paper or talk, strictly limited to 15 minutes, on the subject for discussion, is given by a lay person. It need not last that time. If it goes longer, it is like all excess - harmful. It is not necessary that the Paper be given by an expert. Expertness may mean too much learning and too great length, which at the beginning of the meeting could ruin it. It has been suggested, on the other hand, that there is no need for a Paper. But obviously it is necessary that some preliminary research be done on the subject. This can only be effectively ensured by appointing someone to do it. The meeting must be furnished with raw material on which to work.
  3. The Paper is followed by a general discussion. All the other parts of the meeting exist for this part and are to be directed towards its full functioning. There can be no discussion if the individual members do not contribute. The Patrician problem consists in inducing persons, who are initially unequipped or reluctant to talk, to do so. This problem must be solved for their own sakes and for the health of the Church.
    Accordingly every aid is to be brought to bear, and all adverse influences should be withdrawn. A harsh attitude towards erroneous or foolish statements (of which there will be plenty) would be fatal. It would frustrate the Patrician purpose which is to coax each one to disclose himself. Therefore freedom of speech is paramount and is to be fostered even if awkward things are uttered. It is to be remembered that those things are being repeated like a chorus outside where they receive no correction.
    So the main thing is that the contributions be made and not that they be wise and correct. The perfect ones may shine the most, but the common ones accomplish the most; they are training the inarticulate to speak.
    It is psychologically important that the contributions be directed to the meeting and not to any key-person in it. The idea is that when a speaker finishes, each listener is left face-to-face, so to speak, with that talk as something which calls for comment, almost as if it were a conversation between two persons. In the latter case reply would at once be forthcoming, and this readiness to reply is the position which it is sought to establish in the Patricians.
    It would disturb this psychological balance if people's minds were distracted elsewhere. For instance it would form such a distraction for the chairperson to divert attention to himself or herself by interjecting a comment or even appreciation; or for the reader of the Paper to intervene repeatedly to deal with points raised on that Paper; or for the Spiritual Director to solve each difficulty as it arises. Any tendency in those directions would be destructive. It would transform the meeting into a panel discussion in which a few individuals put questions and receive answers from a few experts.
    It is desirable that an atmosphere should be created which encourages timid persons to speak.
    The chairperson should be tolerant in regard to isolated irrelevant contributions. The calling of a person to order could have an intimidating effect on the whole assembly. But if that irrelevancy leads others off the track, then the chairperson must restore them to it.
    Persons should rise to speak. Probably the contributions would flow more freely if they remained seated. But this would risk reducing the discussion to a disorderly exchange of sentences amounting to a mere conversation.
    Members are not limited to a single intervention. But a person who has not spoken has a prior right to one who has already spoken.
  4. One hour after the beginning of the meeting the discussion is suspended. Immediately before this point the financial statement is given with a reminder that the secret bag will circulate immediately after the Spiritual Director's talk.
  5. Then some light refreshment (for example, tea/coffee and biscuits) is served. This is an essential feature of the meeting and must not be left out. It fulfils many important purposes:
    (a) the imparting of a helpful social aspect to the Patricians;
    (b) the exchange of thoughts;
    (c) the loosening of tongues;
    (d) the opportunity for apostolic contact.

    It has been suggested that the refreshments be omitted but that the interval be retained for the other purposes. In practice it would not be easy to justify the interval without the refreshments.

    This interval is to last 15 minutes.
  6. Then follows a talk of 15 minutes' duration by the Spiritual Director. Everything has worked towards this talk and it will be listened to with a concentrated attention. It is a vital ingredient, throwing into orderly, correct form the subject-matter of the discussion, raising it to the highest plane, and inspiring the members towards the greater love and service of God.
    It has been said: Why not put this talk at the end of the meeting where it could take account of all that had been said? The answer is that the talk is intended to form precious material for further discussion. This it could not be if it were at the end. There is another reason. It is that the talk may not be fully comprehended by all those present, in which case the "interpreting principle" (described later) will operate during the resumed discussion.
  7. After the Spiritual Director's talk, the general discussion continues until 5 minutes before the end.
  8. Then
    (a) the chairperson briefly expresses the appreciation of the meeting to the reader of the paper; there are to be no formal votes of thanks;
    (b) the subject for the next meeting is to be determined. The subjects should bear on religion. Merely academic, cultural, literary or economic topics should be avoided;
    (c) any other announcements are made.
  9. Then the final prayer, which is the Creed, is recited in unison, all standing.
  10. The meeting concludes with the blessing of the priest. This should be received standing so as to obviate the disorder of trying to kneel down between chairs in a crowded room.
    Thus the total length of the meeting is to be two hours. Precise time-keeping throughout is imperative. If any item exceeds its time, the others have to suffer and the balance of the meeting is upset. A chart, summarising the parts of the meeting and their timing, is given below.
    There is to be no summing up. There is no need to be
    distressed if some important issues have remained unsettled. There will be another and another meeting and in the end completeness will be found.
    There is no work-obligation. No tasks are to be assigned from the meeting. Pressure is not to be put on the members to take on additional activities. But the friendly contacts which develop should be used to lead people on in every way, particularly into Legion membership, active, auxiliary, or adjutorian. Wisely used, the Patricians can send out such strong impulses as will give benefit to everyone in the community.


  1. Group psychology. People require the help of each other, and naturally they assemble into groups. The group exercises its influence in the degree that it has rules and a spirit. Individuals endeavour to keep up with a group to which they belong, a fact which can work for good or for evil. They cease to be purely passive. They share in the life of the group. If they are at home in it, they will be a force in it. Applied to the Patricians, this means that a quiet but irresistible pressure exerts itself on all, including the most backward, to assimilate what they hear and to keep up in other ways. Of course a group, while accomplishing that much, can itself fail to advance. This is provided against in the Patricians by having some high-minded members who will ensure the flow of superior ideas. By the force of that group psychology, these ideas will be absorbed by the members, so that the body can be made to expand in quality all the time.
  2. The painful pauses. Long silences between contributions may prove disconcerting. The chairperson is tempted to start pressing the members to speak. This would be wrong policy. A sense of strain would be created, rendering everyone the less inclined to speak. The proper point of view here is that families do not feel the need for non-stop talking and that there is comfort in occasional pauses. So when that silence occurs, let all sit placidly as they would at home. The silence has to break. When it does, it will ordinarily be followed by an atmosphere of ease in which tongues move freely.
  3. Postponement of solution. There are two broad ways of settling a problem. One is to get the answer straight away from an expert. The other is to try to work it out for oneself. The former seems the direct and simple way, and most education is based upon it. Its defects are that the answer is often only half-understood, and that the pupils' resource and sense of responsibility are not developed. The second method is more laborious. It throws the problem on to the learners. They must make their own effort. When they present their rough product, expert guidance is given to them. Then again they are thrown on their own to struggle a little higher. The final result of this process of aided self-help is that they have really learned. As the solution has emerged from their own slow fashioning, they are at ease with it, will remember it, and are made confident for the future. That is the Patrician method. It further requires that when something inaccurate is stated, it should not at once be put right by authority, but should be left at the mercy of the discussion. It is most likely that it will be eliminated. If it should survive as grave error, it should be corrected but not in such a way as to humiliate. Think of Mary teaching her child.
  4. The asking of questions. Lecture systems recognise the desirability of producing a reaction in the audience, and accordingly they invite questions. Some persons respond; then the lecturer replies. The Patricians, on the contrary, does not welcome this but regards it as an interruption of the debate - almost equivalent to a short-circuit in electricity. Many persons will initially have no other idea of contributing but to address questions to one of the key-persons. If the attempt is made to answer them, the discussion would be struck at, and in fact turned into a classroom in which the members will not stay.
    Here the golden rule is that those propounding a relevant question must add on their own ideas as to the answer. This has proved itself able to turn the question usefully into the tide of the discussion.
  5. The building-up principle of the Patricians. To build up knowledge by adding, so to speak, brick by brick is good. But what takes place in the Patricians is rather multiplication than addition. The Patricians builds with living bricks in the sense that each new contribution interacts with all that has already been said, springing from them and in turn affecting them. Opinions are modified and new ideas are germinated. This complicated operation, worked on by grace, must inevitably cause a fruitful ferment in each mind. But it also produces a common effect, that is on the whole body. This effect is comparable to a flowing tide. It gathers the characters and thoughts of the members into a forward, positive impulse. This imparting of energy and direction to stagnant faith and religious outlook must result in the changing of lives.
  6. The key-roles. Just as the praesidium depends on its officers, so does the Patricians depend on its key-persons. These should be careful not to exceed their functions. If they do, they lessen the function of the ordinary members. They stray towards the schoolroom. It is vital that the Spiritual Director, the chairperson, and the reader of the paper keep within the time and other limits specified for them, no matter what the temptation to the contrary may be. Most people are uncomfortable in the presence of expertness and authority. Therefore those key-persons should act according to our Lord's own formula for the successful passing on of knowledge: "Learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart." (Mt 11:29) Probably it can be said that the more they efface themselves during the actual discussion, the more freely it will run. But this is not to restrict them drastically to their own prescribed times; they may intervene as ordinary members would, but with restraint.
  7. The "interpreting principle". Pre-eminent among the Patrician characteristics is its "interpreting principle." Thereby contributions, which for one reason or another are beyond the complete comprehension of the bulk of the members, are brought within the understanding of all. This means that advanced thoughts and difficult ideas can be expressed and eventually passed on to the simplest members in a form which they grasp. This capacity to place the most learned and the least learned on the footing of understanding each other is a jewel of great price. Here is how it operates: Let us suppose that the opening talk (or any contribution) is of such an advanced character that only ten per cent of those present understand it. Therefore if it were an ordinary lecture, it would be wasted. But in the Patricians, some of the ten per cent who had understood it, begin to discuss it. In practice they do this in a manner attuned to the standard of the bulk of the members, so that the difficult talk is in process of being reduced to the level of general understanding. Others then begin to speak, and finally an operation equivalent to that of grinding down corn into fine flour is accomplished. All the obscurities contained in that original talk have been, so to speak, interpreted or translated into the mental capacity of all the members. In this way nothing contributed to the Patricians is lost.
    This feature of the Patricians possesses an unique value in conditions such as those of the missionfield. There the task of the missionary is the teaching of the fulness of Catholicism to people whose language he does not completely understand and whose mentality is different from his own. The interpreting power of the Patricians bridges these deep chasms.
  8. Giving God something to work on. In this matter there is more at stake than the bringing together of a number of bricks and the moulding of them into a structure. There is the principle of grace which, surpassing nature, enables us to construct an edifice far larger than that for which we had the materials.
    We must realise that in the department of revealed religion nobody has the full answers. For faith and grace have always to enter in. Even the wisest arguments may not avail to bridge the gap, but it would be wrong to infer that less wise utterances are thereby useless. The fact is that God takes even the weakest contribution into his hands and does something with it. When all have done their best, the gap that seemed unbridgeable may have been covered. Whether it is that the gap was less than it was thought to be, or that the human contribution was bigger than it seemed to be, or that God just filled in what was lacking - one cannot tell. But the whole work has been done.
    The foregoing must always be our philosophy - and on a wider scale than for the Patricians. All must make their contribution even though they know it to be inadequate. A feeble effort is better than none. The converting of the world is the question of bringing Catholic effort to bear. There will be insufficient effort so long as Catholics are whispering to themselves: "I do not know enough and therefore I had better lie low". But this latter is the prevailing situation in which the Patricians seeks to play a helpful part.

(To be recited by all in unison, standing)

In the name of the Father etc.
Beloved Lord,
bless the Society of the Patricians
into which we have entered
for the purpose of drawing closer to you
and to Mary, your Mother, who is our Mother also.
Aid us to the knowing of our Catholic faith,
so that its transforming truths may be operative in our lives.
Help us also to an understanding of your intimate union with us,
by which we not only live in you, but also depend upon each other,
in such manner that if some relax, others suffer and may
Enable us to glimpse the weighty but glorious burden which is thereby laid upon us,
and to yearn to bear it for you.
We realise the kind of people we are:
The reluctance of our nature:
how unfitted we are to offer our shoulders to you.
Yet we have confidence that you will regard our faith rather than our frailty,
and the necessities of your work rather than the inadequacy of the instruments.
So, uniting our voice with the maternal pleadings of Mary,
we beg from your Heavenly Father and from you the gift of the Holy Spirit:
to abide with us:
to teach us your life-giving doctrine:
to supply all things that are needful to us.
Grant, too, that having been bounteously endowed,
we may generously give;
for otherwise the world may not receive the fruits
of your Incarnation and most cruel Death.
Oh do not let labour and suffering so great be wasted.
In the name of the Father, etc.


0.00 Patrician prayer (recited in unison, all standing).
Address by lay speaker (limited to 15 minutes).
0.15 Discussion.
0.59 Financial statement and reminder that the secret bag will circulate immediately after the priest's talk.
1.00 Tea interval.
1.15 Talk by priest (limited to 15 minutes).
1.30 Discussion resumed.
Secret bag collection.
Announcements (word of thanks to reader of paper,
date and subject of next meeting, etc.).
2.00 The Creed (recited by all in unison, standing).
Blessing of priest (to be received standing).
College and Junior Branches

In the following cases where it may be genuinely impossible to conform to the normal system, that is in:
(a) branches inside colleges and institutions, and
(b) branches where members are all under 18 years; the following compressed procedure (total length 1½ hours) is permitted:

0.00 Patrician Prayer, followed by lay Paper (limited to 5 minutes).
0.05 Discussion (40 minutes).
0.45 Interval (10 minutes) (tea may be omitted).
0.55 Talk by Spiritual Director (10 minutes).
Secret bag may be omitted.
1.05 Discussion resumed (20 minutes).
1.25 Announcements as above.
1.30 The Creed, etc. as above.

"The Patricians is a family affair. A family conversation about what concerns us all, open, frank and from the heart, is one of the delights of home life. We Christians, as Christ's brothers, belong to God's family. Thinking about our faith, talking it over and discussing its application in the spirit in which our Lord and the apostles chatted about the day's teachings at the end of a missionary day in Galilee - this is the spirit of the Patricians.

To know Christ Jesus as the wonderful, lovable teacher, master and Lord that he is, means that we have to soak our minds in his saving truths and feel thoroughly at home in talking about religion, just as we love to talk about our children, our home, our work. The Holy Spirit gives us all insights into Christ's truth. These we share at a Patrician meeting with others and learn in turn from them. There we are witnesses to Christ and our hearts burn within us as he speaks to us through the mouth of our neighbour.

In and through the Patricians God comes nearer; his truths impress us more deeply; and the Church as our field of endeavour becomes more real to us. Minds catch light from minds, hearts glow with faith, Christ grows within us." (Father P. J. Brophy)