To Jesus, Through Mary, In the Spirit of St. Joseph
By Jayson M. Brunelle, M.Ed., CAGS
So very few persons, pious Catholic Christians included, realize the tremendous role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the sanctification of souls. Being spiritual mother of the mystical body, she, along with the Holy Spirit, has the tasks of forming Christ in souls and nourishing her children with the milk of divine grace. St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the most outstanding Marian saints, along with a significant number of other great Marian saints and popes have consistently taught that the most appropriate response on our part to Mary’s role as spiritual mother is filial entrustment, or “total consecration” to her. This perfect devotion of total consecration to Jesus through Mary is truly the most sanctifying of all devotions. It is the purpose of this essay to study the essence of this devotion. We will begin with an exploration of Mary as Mediatrix of all grace, the firm theological foundation for Marian consecration. Next, we will study St. Louis de Montfort’s explanation of the nature and motives of the devotion. Finally, we will turn our attention to St. Joseph’s role in this devotion, focusing first on his spousal union with Mary as the ultimate model of total consecration, secondly on his role as “spiritual father” and protector of the mystical body, and finally on the universality of Joseph as a model of holiness.
I Mary, Mediatrix of all Grace
To understand the logic of total consecration to Jesus through Mary, we must first grasp Mary’s role as Mediatrix of all graces. This is the Church’s doctrine that every grace that comes to us from God comes through the willed intercession of Mary. But this role of Mary as Mediatrix of all grace is really the completion of her role as Spiritual Mother, and follows from her unique cooperation in the redemption of humanity with Christ on Calvary. So let us first review these two concepts of Mary as Spiritual Mother and Co-redemptrix.
A. Spiritual Mother
1 . Scripture
We find in Sacred Scripture two primary sources for our understanding of Mary as Spiritual Mother. The first is the passage of the Annunciation (Lk. 1:26). In giving her assent to become mother of Christ the Head, she also necessarily becomes mother of the body, the Church, which cannot be separated from that head. The second is Jn. 19:26 and following, which reads: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son. “Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother'” (Jn. 19:26-27). Dr. Mark Miravalle, contemporary Mariologist, explains that here the dying Jesus is not offering a suggestion but rather is stating a theological fact about Mary’s relationship to John, whom Church Tradition has consistently taught represents all of humanity (Miravalle, 60-61).
There is also clear evidence within Church Tradition of constant recourse to Mary as Spiritual Mother, beginning with the Church Fathers – who saw Mary as the New Eve, mother of all the spiritually living, – right up to the present pontificate of Pope BenedictXVI. We read in the Second Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium, “Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace” (Lumen Gentium, No. 61). Furthermore, Miravalle points out that “since Pope Sixtus IV (in 1477), no less than twenty-seven subsequent popes have declared Mary as Spiritual Mother with an always increasing specificity and clarity” (Miravalle, 62).
3. Theology of Spiritual Motherhood
The theology of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood is rooted in St. Paul’s doctrine on the Church as Mystical Body of Christ. As was previously stated, Mary, in giving birth to Christ the Head, also gave birth to the body connected to that Head, which is the Church. Thus, Mary, in giving birth to the source of all grace, can rightly be called “Spiritual Mother” of all who benefit from that grace.
1. From the Incarnation to the foot of the Cross
We have explained how Mary gave birth to the Church at the time of the Annunciation. But our analysis of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood would be incomplete without an understanding of her presence at the foot of the cross. It is true that Mary, in giving birth to the source of all grace, participated in giving spiritual life to all those alive with that grace, and therefore can be called our Spiritual Mother. But Mary most fully became our mother at the foot of the cross where she, in a completely singular way, participated in the redemption of humanity with Christ. It is for this reason that the Church ascribes to her the title “Co-redemptrix.”
2. Lumen Gentium
The “co” here in no way is meant to imply “equal with,” for Vatican II makes very clear that Mary’s cooperation in the redemption is entirely dependent upon and subordinate to Christ’s perfect redemptive act. Nonetheless, God willed that just as the first Eve participated in bringing about the fall, so too should Mary, the new Eve, participate in the restoration of humanity with Christ, the new Adam. Mary’s participation in the redemption is accomplished in two ways then: first, through the Incarnation, and secondly, at the foot of the cross. In the Incarnation, Mary provides Jesus with His body – the instrument of the redemption, just as Eve provided Adam with the fruit as the instrument of the fall. At the foot of the cross, united with the sacrifice of Christ, “Mary offered the maternal rights of her Son on the cross to the Father in perfect obedience to God’s will, and in atonement for the sins of the world.” This profound offering of Mary’s, wherein she offered “her own motherly compassion, rights, and suffering…merited more graces than any other created person” (Miravalle, 69). Vatican II speaks on this point: “Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of His suffering, associating herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Lumen Gentium, No. 58). How appropriate that Jesus should officially designate Mary as our Mother on Calvary, where she, in a totally unique and intense way, participated with him in the meriting of grace – life – for the human family.
C. Mediatrix of All Grace
Motherhood does not stop with the definitive act of giving birth, however, but continues in the nurturing and nourishing of children after birth. The doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all grace teaches that all grace that comes to us from God comes through the willed intercession of Mary. Thus, Mary’s role as Spiritual Mother is brought to fruition in the nourishing act of mediation. Moreover, it is fitting that Mary nourish her children with the grace that she participated in meriting for them. Her mediation, then, follows from her role as Co-redemptrix, and completes her role as Spiritual Mother.
1. Papal and Magesterial Teachings on Mary as Mediatrix
We find great consistency in the Papal and Magesterial teachings on Mary as Mediatrix. What follows is a list of particularly significant papal / Magesterial pronouncements concerning this issue: Pius VII called Mary the “Dispensatrix of all graces;” Pius IX stated in Ubi primum that “…God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation;” Leo XIII referred to her as the “dispenser of all heavenly graces,” and stated the following in Octobri mense: “With equal truth can it be affirmed that, by the will of God, nothing of the immense treasure of every grace which the Lord has accumulated, comes to us except through Mary…;” St. Pius X. called her “the dispenser of all gifts;” Benedict XV stated, “…we must recognize the mediation of Mary, through whom, according to God’s will, every grace and blessing comes to us…;” Pius XI declared, “We have nothing more at heart than to promote more and more the piety of the Christian toward the virgin treasurer of all graces at the side of God;” Vatican Council II referred to Mary as “Mediatrix;” John Paul II devoted the entire third chapter of his encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater to Mary’s “maternal mediation.” Furthermore, throughout his papacy, John Paul II spoke and wrote consistently and repeatedly of Mary’s universal mediation. Such teachings have additionally been echoed in the writings of Benedict XVI (Miravalle, 75-80).
2. Two Conclusions
This impressive display of consistency and repetition in the papal teachings of the ordinary magisterial leads us to draw two theological conclusions: “First, the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces must receive from the faithful ‘loyal submission of the will and intellect,’ which ‘must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ‘ex cathedra’…. Secondly, in light of the fact that the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces has been universally taught throughout the Church by popes of the last 200 years and by bishops in union with them, and in virtue of this universal teaching of the Church, the doctrine of Mediatrix of all graces already possesses the nature of a defined doctrine of the faith” (Miravalle, 80).
D. Mediatrix and Consecration
Having established the irrefutable validity of Mary’s role as Mediatrix of all graces, we can now understand the reason for entrusting ourselves to her, which is the essence of Marian consecration. For, how can a mother nourish a child who puts up resistance to her? The more perfectly entrusted to her we are, the more docile we are in her hands, the more perfectly can she nourish us with the milk of divine grace. St. Maximillian Kolbe states, “How can we dispose ourselves so as to receive the greatest possible influx of grace? Let us consecrate ourselves to the Immaculata….This is the most perfect means, the one Jesus prefers, and the one that will afford us the most abundant fruits of grace” (Manteau-Bonamy, 108). Mary, then, is most able to carry out her role as Mediatrix of all with respect to those who have fully entrusted themselves to her via a solemn consecration.
II To Jesus Through Mary
Let us now focus on consecration as such, following the path set by St. Louis De Montfort in his famed Treatise on True Devotion to Mary. We shall examine both the nature of and motives for total consecration to Jesus through Mary as presented by the saint.
A. The Nature of Consecration to Jesus Through Mary
1. To be ‘Hers’ is to perfectly be ‘His’
De Montfort begins his explanation of the nature of perfect consecration to Jesus through Mary with the following words: “All our perfection consists in being conformed, united, and consecrated to Jesus Christ; and therefore the most perfect of all devotions is, without any doubt, that which the most perfectly conforms, unites, and consecrates us to Jesus Christ. Now, Mary, being the most conformed of all creatures to Jesus Christ, it follows that, of all devotions, that which most consecrates and conforms the soul to our Lord is devotion to his holy mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to Mary, the more it is consecrated to Jesus… .Hence it comes to pass that the most perfect consecration to Jesus Christ is nothing else but a perfect and entire consecration of ourselves to the Blessed Virgin…”(De Montfort, 77). The key idea here is that the more perfectly we are consecrated to Mary, the more perfectly will we be consecrated to Jesus. Jesus is the last end of all true devotion to Mary. And the saint makes it clear that devotion to Mary is the most perfect means to the end of transforming union with Christ. Therefore, there can be no limitation to the degree of our belonging to Mary; for the more we are hers, the more perfectly we are His. Many, however, see devotion to Mary as more of an obstacle than a help to our union with Christ. They feel that the more of themselves they give to Mary, the less they have to give to Christ, as if Mary were the last end, keeping for herself whatever we give to her. De Montfort makes clear this point: “She presents these good works to Christ; for she keeps nothing of what is given her for herself, as if she were our last end. She faithfully passes it all onto Jesus. If we give to her, we give necessarily to Jesus” (De Montfort, 93-94).
2. How to be ‘Hers’ – Formula for Consecration
We must, then, belong entirely to Mary in order to perfectly belong entirely to Jesus. As the saint says, “We must give her (1) our body, with all its senses and members; (2) our soul, with all its powers; (3) our exterior goods of fortune, whether present or to come; (4) our interior or spiritual goods, which are our merits and our virtues, and our good works, past, present, and future” (De Montfort, 78). The saint points out that through this devotion, we give to God through Mary even more than we would through the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; for in the latter, we do not yet surrender “that which is dearest and most precious, namely, our merits and our satisfactions” (De Montfort, 79). In virtue of our baptism, we have the right of applying the satisfactory value of our good works to whomsoever we choose, either to ourselves or others. But through the consecration, we surrender this right to Mary. Instead of being detrimental, Miravalle explains how this is supremely beneficial to the mystical body: “Another spiritual effect of this Marian consecration allows for Mary as Mediatrix of all graces and Mother of the Mystical Body to distribute a person’s offerings and merits so as to benefit best the body of Christ. The distribution of spiritual benefits is not from our limited earthly perspective, but from the perspective of the Mother of Jesus who is Mother of the Mystical Body” (Miravalle, 113)
3. Renewal of Baptismal Vows
The second essential character of De Montfort’s formula for consecration is its “perfect renewal of the vows of holy Baptism” in Mary’s hands. His formula begins thus: “I, (name), a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today, in thy hands, O Immaculate Mother, the vows of my Baptism. I renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works, and I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after him all the days of my life and to be more faithful to him than I have ever been before…” De Montfort makes four important points about this particular renewal of the baptismal vows. First, usually the sacrament of baptism is administered in infancy, the vows being made for the infant by a sponsor. Here, the person himself freely renews the vows that were once made for him. Second, in baptism, a person does not explicitly give himself to Jesus through Mary, which is the perfect way of doing so. Third, in baptism, the person does not give to Jesus and Mary the right of disposing of the satisfactory value of his good works. And finally, the renewal of the baptismal vows makes it that much more difficult to “forget” what we have promised, forgetfulness of these vows being among the major reasons for our continual lapses back into sin (De Montfort, 80-82).
1. It Devotes us to the Service of God
The saint offers eight persuasive motives for the undertaking of this perfect consecration. We will, for the sake of brevity, restrict ourselves to the first five which, nonetheless, do provide an adequate overview of all the motives. First among them is that “it devotes us entirely to the service of God.” In short, everything a soul thus consecrated to Jesus through Mary does, be it great or small, is “done for Jesus and Mary,” in virtue of the unlimited and all encompassing character of our offering. We can say in truth and with confidence that we are always and everywhere at the service of Jesus and Mary.
2. An Imitation of Christ and the Trinity
The second motive is a very important one: “it makes us imitate the example of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Trinity and practice humility.” As Christians, Christ is our supreme model and exemplar in all things, in all his life. This being so, we see the fittingness of imitating our savior who, becoming a little child, entrusted himself unreservedly to the care of His mother, docilly allowing himself to be born of and nourished by her. De Montfort stresses this point: “Having, then, before our eyes an example so plain and so well known to the whole world, are we so senseless as to imagine that we can find a more perfect or a shorter means of glorifying God than that of submitting ourselves to Mary after the example of her Son?” (De Montfort, 89) The saint continues on to explain the dependence that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit had and have on her; the Father being dependent on her ‘fiat’ in the conception of the God-Man, and the Holy Spirit likewise being dependent on her ‘fiat’ in the distribution of every grace that comes to us by Him. “After so many and such pressing examples of the Most Holy Trinity, can we without extreme blindness dispense with Mary, can we fail to consecrate ourselves to her for the purpose of going to God and sacrificing ourselves to God?” (De Montfort, 89) Furthermore, as the saint puts it, “this devotion is a practice of great humility, which God loves above all the other virtues” (De Montfort, 91). And this is because we are not so bold and self assured as to approach our Lord Jesus Christ without the assistance of a mediator, in fact, the very same medium by which he chose to come to us – His and our most holy Mother Mary.
3. Obtains for us the Good Offices of Mary
The third motive is that “it obtains for us the good offices of the Blessed Virgin” (De Montfort, 91). First, the saint explains that Mary, “who never lets herself be outdone in love and liberality, seeing that we give ourselves entirely to her, to honor and to serve her, and for that end strip ourselves of all that is dearest to us, in order to adorn her, meets us in the same spirit” (De Montfort, 91). This is a key point to the understanding of living in union with the two Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Mary, seeing that we have given ourselves unreservedly to her, likewise gives herself entirely to us, adorning us with the plenitude of her graces and virtues. Just as what is ours, through consecration, becomes hers, so too does what is hers truly become ours. Speaking on this, the saint states, “She also gives her whole self, and gives it in an unspeakable manner, to him who gives all to her. She causes him to be engulfed in the abyss of her graces. She adorns him with her merits; she supports him with her power; she illuminates him with her light; she inflames him with her love; she communicates to him her virtues: her humility, her faith, her purity, and the rest” (De Montfort, 91-92). Thus, we see how consecration to Mary most perfectly unites us to Christ; for Mary’s heart becomes ours to adore Christ with. We adore Christ with the most perfect and pure love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; we contemplate His real presence in the Eucharist with the pure light of Mary’s faith; we hope in the divine Mercy and the Providence of the Father with the very certainty of Mary’s hope. A second aspect of this third motive is equally as amazing; Mary truly purifies, embellishes, and makes acceptable to her Son every gift we give to Him through her. Being in the fallen state that we are, even the best of our good works are usually not without some “stain of self love.” De Montfort, speaking on our good works states: “As soon as they are in her pure and fruitful hands, those same hands which have never been sullied or idle and which purify whatever they touch, take away from the present which we give her all that was spoiled or imperfect about it” (De Montfort, 93). What’s more, “she embellishes our works, adorning them with her own merits and virtues” (De Montfort, 93). He presents the analogy of a peasant who desires to give to his king a gift of an apple, which is all the peasant has to give. By itself, the apple is not a fitting gift for a king. But if the peasant were to give this apple to the Queen, who would then peel and artfully carve, slice and garnish it, and then place it on a gold platter and herself present it to the King, no doubt it would be well received. In like manner are our gifts purified, embellished, and made acceptable to God by the Queen of heaven and earth.
4. The Greater Glory of God
The fourth motive that De Montfort offers is that “it is an excellent means of procuring God’s greater glory” (De Montfort, 95). We are all obliged to labor for the greater glory of God, but scarcely do we attain to this noble end. Either we don’t desire to do so, or we don’t know where it is to be found. Mary, on the other hand, knows perfectly, and by entrusting to her all our merits and good works, we enable her to employ them to the fullest extent for God’s greatest glory.
5. An Easy, Short, Perfect, and Secure Way to Jesus
We find in the fifth motive profound insights into this Marian spirituality, particularly as it pertains to the interior life. The saint claims that this devotion of total consecration to Mary “is an easy, short, perfect and secure way of attaining union with our Lord, in which union the perfection of a Christian consists” (De Montfort, 96). How is it that this is an ‘easy’ way? In this fascinating section, De Montfort explains that it is true that there are other roads by which to reach transforming union with Christ, but that these roads are much more difficult. In his own words: It is an easy way. It is the way which Jesus Christ Himself trod in coming to us, and in which there is no obstacle in reaching Him. It is true that we can attain divine union by other roads; but it is by many more crosses and strange deaths, and with many more difficulties which we shall find it hard to overcome. We must pass through obscure nights, through combats, through strange agonies, over craggy mountains, through cruel thorns and over frightful deserts. But by the path of Mary we pass more gently and more tranquilly” (De Montfort, 96). Could the “obscure nights” he speaks of here be referring to the same “dark nights” experienced by such great mystics as John of the Cross and the Little Flower? Is it possible that this Marian path makes ‘detours’ around such dark nights? But he later goes on to say that ‘easier doesn’t necessarily mean fewer crosses and less suffering. In fact, it is often the case that these faithful clients of Mary experience greater sufferings, as this good mother wants nothing more than to transform the soul into a faithful replica of Christ crucified. So how is this easier? De Montfort answers: “That good Mother, all full of grace and of the unction of the Holy Spirit prepares her servant’s crosses with so much maternal sweetness and pure love as to make them gladly acceptable, no matter how bitter they may be in themselves.” Further on, he calls devotion to Mary “the sweetmeat and confection of crosses” (De Montfort, 97-98). Mary, desiring our greatest possible sanctification, will necessarily provide more opportunities and occasions for suffering, for it is precisely in suffering that we are conformed to her crucified Son. But she will do so in the sweetest possible manner; her heart will become a refuge in which her suffering clients will receive heavenly consolations reserved exclusively for such as them. And experiencing the goodness of this Mother, and the joys of paradise in her heart, these suffering servants will be entirely renewed and embrace their crosses all the more lovingly and joyfully. Secondly, De Montfort claims that this is a short way -“both because it is a road from which we do not stray, and because, as I have just said, it is a road we tread with joy and facility, and consequently with promptitude” (98). With Mary, we make strides in the spiritual life. First, it is difficult to stray from this road, for we are being guided and supported by Mary. Second, since we follow this path with “joy and facility,” we will necessarily reach our goal more quickly. Hence, this is a short way. Thirdly, this road to Jesus is a perfect one; first because Mary herself is the most perfect of all creatures, and secondly, because it was this way, and no other way, that Jesus chose in coming to us. If Christ Himself, the eternal Word of God, chose no other way than Mary in coming to us, would it not be presumptuous, arrogant, and foolish to think there exists a better or more perfect way of returning to Him? To stress this point, De Montfort makes the following remarks: “Make for me, if you will, a new road to go to Jesus, and pave it with all the merits of the Blessed, adorn it with all their heroic virtues, illuminate and embellish it with all the lights and beauties of the angels, and let all the angels and saints be there themselves to escort, defend, and sustain those who are ready to walk there; and yet in truth, in simple truth, I say boldly, and I repeat that I say truly, I would prefer to this new, perfect path the immaculate way of Mary” De Montfort, 100). Finally, the saint assures us that his path to Jesus through Mary is a secure way. First, it is secure in the sense of its rootedness in Tradition. Records available to De Montfort at that time suggested that, at least in France, this devotion had been publicly practiced since 1040 AD. But, as Miravalle points out, the essence of this devotion can be traced as far back as the fifth and sixth centuries (Miravalle, 109). Furthermore, Pope John Paul the Great assures us of the “security” of this way in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, wherein he states, “Furthermore, Marian spirituality, like its corresponding devotion, finds a very rich source in the historical experience of individuals and of the various Christian communities present among the different peoples and nations of the world. In this regard, I would like to recall, among the many witnesses and teachers of this spirituality, the figure of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, who proposes consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary as an effective means for Christians to live faithfully their baptismal commitments” (Redemptoris Mater, para 48) Second, it is secure in the sense that it is truly impossible for Mary to do anything other than lead souls to Jesus Christ. Mary, whose will is utterly conformed to the divine will, desires nothing but, and works exclusively for, the accomplishment of that divine will. But we can still ask whether it is ever possible for Mary to be a hindrance to our union with God. In response to this question, the saint replies with the following: “It is quite true that the view of other creatures, however holy, may perhaps at certain times retard divine union. But this cannot be said of Mary, as I have remarked before, and shall never weary of repeating… .Thus, so far from the divine Mary, all absorbed in God, being an obstacle to the perfect in attaining union with God, there has never been up to this time, and there never will be, any creature who will aid us more efficaciously in this great work” (de Montfort, 105).
III In the Spirit of St. Joseph
Having explored both the theological foundations of consecration to Jesus through Mary, as well as its essence and motives as presented by St. Louis de Montfort, let us now turn our attention to St. Joseph and his unique role in this devotion. John Paul II states in his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Gustos; “Besides trusting in Joseph’s sure protection, the Church also trusts in his noble example, which transcends all individual states of life and serves as a model for the entire Christian community, whatever the condition and duties of each of its members may be” (Redemptoris Gustos, para. 30). Thus, this section will be divided into three parts. First, we will present Joseph as the supreme “example,” or model of total consecration to Jesus through Mary. Second, we will examine his role as “protector,” or spiritual father of the mystical body. Finally, we will focus on how Joseph becomes a model for all, particularly the laity.
A. Joseph as Supreme Model of Union with the Two Hearts
Tradition has consistently regarded Joseph as among the highest in virtue of all the saints. This has much to do with the reality of his constant association with and solicitousness for Jesus and Mary. Yet we know very little about the life of this great protector of and provider for the Holy Family. Let us, then, explore the dynamic nature of St. Joseph’s sanctity, specifically as it pertains to his wholly unique relationship with the Two Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
1. Joseph’s Spousal Union with Mary Epitomizes Consecration to Her
We have already explained how total consecration to Mary is the most perfect way to union with Christ. The more perfectly we live in union with Mary, the more perfectly will we be united to Christ. The essence of consecration to Mary consists in the giving of our hearts (“heart” meaning the very totality of our being) to her. We also discussed how she in turn meets us in the same spirit, giving to us her heart. There is here an exchange of hearts; the two become so utterly united as to become one. Now, if we take this understanding of total consecration and compare it to St. Joseph’s spousal relationship to Mary, we can see how his union with her epitomizes total consecration to Mary. For, in his espousal of her, he gave his heart unreservedly to her and took her heart as his own. The hearts of Joseph and Mary became one; through the marital union, they became as “two in one flesh.” Thus, Joseph was necessarily united to the Heart of Christ, since the Immaculate heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus are inseparably united. Reverend Stanley Smolensk, contemporary Josephologist, explains this point: “[Joseph’s] interior life was based on his singular union with Jesus through Mary. He was consecrated to Jesus through Mary by his espousal to her…. Thus Joseph’s consecration is the epitome of all consecrations to Jesus through Mary” (Smolenski, 3). Thus, we can understand Joseph’s sanctity as the fruit of his union with the two hearts, based on his espousal union with the heart of Mary. And we too can model our total consecration to Jesus through Mary on St. Joseph’s “spousal” union with Mary. We, like Joseph, are called to “espouse” the Immaculate Heart of Mary; to give Mary our hearts undividedly and take her heart as our own.
2. ‘Spouse’ as Compared to ‘Slave,’ ‘Possession and Property’
Throughout the history of Marian consecration, there have been many different but complementary ways of describing the totality of the entrustment. St. Louis de Montfort was fond of the term “slave;” this, he believed, sufficiently expressed the unreserved nature of the consecration. St. Maximillian Kolbe, however, felt that even this term didn’t go far enough. Instead, he advocated the terms “possession and property.” But both of these great Marian saints fully agreed that to live this consecration was to live “with Mary, in Mary, through Mary, and for Mary” (Denis, 35). In short, to live with Mary is to take Mary as the model of all that we do; to live in Mary is to say that “Mary will be the only means used by our soul in dealing with God; she will be our universal refuge;” to live through Mary is to never go to God without her; and to live for her is to make her the proximate end of all our actions (Denis, 38). Yet, does not the model of “espousal” seem to most completely embody and connote the charism of living with, through, in, and for Mary? St. Joseph’s spousal union with Mary, then, epitomizes total consecration to her and serves as the perfect model for our union with the two hearts. Speaking on this, contemporary spiritual writer Aaron Joseph states the following: “in imitation of St. Joseph, we too can…espouse [Mary’s] heart, becoming “two in one flesh”(Gen. 2:24), in living with Jesus, loving God and neighbor. This way of St. Joseph can be seen in the imagery of old Jerusalem. As the temple of the Lord stood in the heart of this city of David, Jerusalem, containing the Holy of Holies, in a similar way, in the heart of Joseph, son of David(Mt. 1:20), through his spousal relationship with Mary, stands this Immaculate Temple of the Lord, whose heart contains the Spirit and the Light of Christ. Thus, Joseph, in his spousal relationship with Jesus through Mary, becomes…a model for the Church” (Joseph, 12).
3. Scriptural Basis for the Espousal Model
He goes on to offer solid scriptural grounding for the universality of the “espousal” model of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In Eccl.15:1-2, we read, “He that fears God will do good, and he that possesses justice shall lay hold on her (Wisdom/Mary) and she will meet him as an honorable mother, and will receive him as a wife married of a virgin.” Likewise, in Wisdom 8:2, “Her have I loved, and have sought her out from my youth, and have desired to take her for my spouse, and I became a lover of her beauty.” In both these passages, the “her” refers to personified Wisdom which the Church, in her Liturgy, interprets as representing Mary.
4. Espousal and Spiritual Motherhood
We must be careful here, though, to not make the mistake of thinking that this espousal model does away with or replaces Mary’s role as Spiritual Mother. On the contrary, the espousal model compliments Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood; for it is by our espousal of Mary’s Heart that Mary is most able to act as our Mother. As we saw earlier, consecration to Mary enables Mary to most fully carry out her role as Mediatrix of all graces. If this is true, then it follows that “espousal,” being the most perfect form of consecration, allows Mary to provide for us as Mother in the most perfect and complete manner.
B. Joseph as Spiritual Father of the Mystical Body
A second dimension to Joseph’s role in this devotion is his spiritual fatherhood of the Mystical Body, the Church. Smolenski explains this point: “He is the virginal father of Jesus. But just as Mary is the Mother not only of Jesus, but of His Mystical Body, the Church, as well, so Joseph is, in a relative way, the spiritual father of the Mystical Body, the Church, as well” (Smolenski, 2).
1. Dispenser of the Treasures of the Sacred Heart
How is it that Joseph provides for the Church as spiritual father? Blessed Brother Andre Bassett, known for his great devotion to the patriarch of Nazareth, held the following: “If Jesus remains the sole sanctifier, the never failing source of all graces; if the Blessed Virgin, who came nearest to this supernatural source, being the Mediatrix of all grace, turns the course of that stream towards the earth, then St. Joseph as the protector of the Church is the steward who distributes the divine favors to men” (Bergeron, 123). The Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, similarly had recourse to Joseph as the “dispenser of the treasures of [Christ’s] Sacred Heart.” Like Mary, whose role as Spiritual Mother is brought to fruition in the mediation of all grace to her children, Joseph’s role as spiritual father is likewise carried out through the mediation or distribution of grace. And we must acknowledge that his mediation is, in a certain sense, universal – that is, his intercessory power extends at least over all necessities and persons. De Domenico, OP states the following concerning the universality of Joseph’s mediation: “But the mediation of St. Joseph is something more than being more powerful than all the other saints except Our Lady. It is distinctly universal. The word universal implies “all” in some way” (De Domenico, 98). But does this universal mediation of Joseph pertain to all graces as well? Although the magesterium has made no official pronouncement on the matter, many theologians present evidence pointing to the affirmative. De Domenico, in his book, True Devotion to St. Joseph and the Church, offers seven proofs for Joseph as mediator of all grace after Mary. But regardless of whether or not Joseph mediates all graces to humanity after Mary, the fact of the unique universality of his mediation as Patron of the Universal Church remains undisputed. And this alone provides a firm foundation for recourse to Joseph as Spiritual Father. ‘
2. The Terrestrial Trinity
At this point, we begin to see how true devotion to St. Joseph, with an understanding of his roles as supreme model for consecration and spiritual father of the mystical body, completes, as it were, true devotion to Jesus through Mary. With Joseph, the picture is complete – the Holy Family is no longer Jesus and Mary, with Joseph haphazardly on the scene. Rather, Joseph’s presence is a necessary presence – necessary for us. He provides the example of one who lives in perfect union with Jesus through Mary. Further, he continues his providential function as spiritual father, assisting us through his intercession to live his union with the two hearts. The Holy Family, then, is composed of three distinct persons who are, nonetheless, truly one in love. How appropriate were the words of St. Francis de Sales on this, who stated, “We may say the Holy Family was a Trinity on earth, which in a certain way represented the Heavenly Trinity Itself” (Thompson, 12).
C. A Spirituality for the Laity.
Finally, Joseph is a model of holiness for all, particularly the laity. As we previously noted, John Paul II points out that Joseph’s example “transcends all individual states of life and serves as a model for the entire Christian community, whatever the condition and duties of each of its members may be.” Chapter five of Lumen Gentium makes clear that all persons, without exception, are called to Christian perfection. Smolenski explains how this universal call to holiness requires the universal spirituality that the Holy Family, the terrestrial trinity, offers: “Today the laity stand with the clergy and religious in the shared responsibility of the Church for evangelization and sanctification of the entire world. This requires a universal spirituality to direct to that goal. Because this call to holiness is universal, the foundation of this spirituality must be universal: the universality of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” (Smolenski, 1).
Thus, we have presented a profoundly sanctifying devotion; a perfect devotion to Jesus, through Mary, in the spirit of St. Joseph. We began with an explanation of Mary’s role as Mediatrix of all graces as the firm theological groundwork for Marian consecration. Then we explored the essence and motives of this consecration as explained by St. Louis de Montfort. Finally, we concluded by looking to St. Joseph’s role in this devotion, showing how true devotion to him, with an understanding of his roles as model and spiritual father, completes true devotion to Jesus through Mary, and provides the foundation for a spirituality that is truly universal in its scope. Let us hasten, then, towards an intimate union with Jesus, through Mary, in the spirit of St. Joseph. We close with the following words of John Paul II: “Following St. Joseph’s example, may all believers achieve in their own life a deep harmony between prayer and work, between meditation on the word of God and their daily occupations. May an intimate and vital relationship with Jesus, the Incarnate Word, and His Holy Mother always be at the heart of everything” John Paul, March 20, 1996).
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- De Domenico, Dominic. True Devotion to Saint Joseph and the Church. New Hope: St. Gabriel Press.
- De Montfort, Louis. True Devotion to Mary. Rockford: Tan. 1985.
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- John Paul, Pope. “An active silence of service to the Holy Family.” L’Osservatore Romano 27 March 1996.
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- Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Boston: Pauline Books. 1964.
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10. Redemptoris Custos. St. Paul Books. 1989.
11. Redemptoris Mater. Boston: St. Paul Books. 1987.
12. Smolenski, Stanley, Rev. “St. Joseph’s Place in the Third Millenium” Enfield: St. Martha Church. 1997.
13. Thompson, Edward. The Life and Glories of St. Joseph. Rockville: Tan. 1980.
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