“Totus Tuus,” Pope John Paul II’s oft-repeated refrain, didn’t come to him out of thin air. But that’s not to say that the Holy Spirit wasn’t involved.
The late Holy Father learned the inspiring — and possibly inspired — Latin phrase from St. Louis-Marie de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary, which he read and reread as a youth. “This saint’s teaching,” John Paul wrote in a 2003 letter to the Montfort religious family, “has had a profound influence on the Marian devotion of many of the faithful and on my own life.”
If consecration to Jesus by way of Mary can so move one of the greatest popes ever to lead the mystical body of Christ, think what it might do for the people in the pews. This would be a worthy notion to contemplate come the March 25 feast of the Annunciation, which commemorates the incarnational “proposal” of God to Mary by way of the angel Gabriel (“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you …”).
Father Lance Harlow and his flock at St. Charles Catholic Church in Bellows Falls, Vt., know firsthand the power of “total consecration” for the whole parish. When he arrived as pastor in 2005, he quickly set about looking for ways to unify the parish and help its people become holy. He knew the answer lay in St. Louis’ idea.
“Mary is the best way to Jesus,” explains Father Harlow. “She will make us saints. She is the key because she’s not a program but a person, the Mother of God. She’s central to the unity and renewal of the parish.”
Montfort Father Hugh Gillespie of St. Mary Gate of Heaven Church in Ozone Park, N.Y., concurs. “A Christian is no less than anyone who shares the life of Jesus Christ,” he explains, before adding that the best way to do that is to “allow Mary to fully form us into the likeness of her Son.”
“The end result is not just somebody just devoted to Mary, but another Christ — Christian in the full sense of the word,” says Father Gillespie. “This has to be the means of renewing a community because we are the body of Christ. We’re united in the community motherhood of Mary.”
Mother Knows Best
In Bellows Falls, Father Harlow introduced consecration two ways. Formally, during May and October, he runs small group cenacles to study True Devotion and inspire people to make their own consecration. In some way, every single parishioner is consecrated to Jesus through Mary, he says, even those who don’t do the formal de Montfort method, because every Jan. 1, on the feast of the Mother of God, at all Masses, Father Harlow consecrates the parish and its parishioners to her.
The intention is to renew the people’s faith through Our Lady’s intercession with the Holy Spirit. Each year, the pastor asks Mary to obtain one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for his parishioners.
Then, in many informal ways, Father Harlow keeps parishioners living out the consecration. One, he says, is “preaching about the importance of Our Lady in our life to the whole congregation.” Another: restoring Catholic tradition. He’s returned life-size statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph “back to their rightful places in the sanctuary.” He invests people in the brown scapular throughout the year, leads a novena at Masses leading up to the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and guides people in practical ways to live their consecration daily.
After studying de Montfort’s True Devotion in a priests’ cenacle seven years ago, Father Harlow wrote Echo of God. The book makes St. Louis’ teachings easily understandable for the average layperson; it also includes the complete text of St. Louis’ work. He recently launched EchoOfGod.com, a website to help people with practical ways of living the true devotion.
When Ed and Cathy August attended the parish cenacle, Cathy was inspired to do the de Montfort consecration. “I turn to the Blessed Mother with problems I have and, oftentimes, find an answer comes to me,” she says.
For his part, Ed says he never saw the need to get close to Mary in the past — but things have changed. “Through Father [Harlow] and his book, I’ve seen her in a different light,” he says. “I’m much more devoted to Mary now.” That includes the Rosary and lectoring at daily Mass. The Augusts are also involved with their parish’s Eucharistic adoration chapel.
Another fruit: Father Harlow added the Rosary before each weekend Mass. “I, as the pastor, lead the Rosary so that I can personally lead them to Jesus through Mary,” he explains.
The results of parish-wide consecration to Mary are evident. The number of people praying the Rosary before Mass continues to grow, says Father Harlow, and the lines for the confessional are longer, too.
Parishioner Rita Corliss says she was lapsed from the faith for 18 years when she heard Father Harlow preach. She enumerates several ways her life has been impacted since.
“Through Father [Harlow]’s classes and the True Devotion, Mary is more accessible to me, and I feel I can more easily ask for help,” says Corliss, who also visits EchoOfGod.com regularly. “I have a more deeply felt presence of her at Church; my prayer life is more powerful, and Mary provides me a role model for how to become a saint.”
Father Harlow points out the strong connection between Marian and Eucharistic devotions. “As Marian devotion increases,” he says, “Eucharistic adoration becomes strong.” At St. Charles, it’s perpetual.
John Paul II highlighted this link in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, writing, “Thanks to Saint Louis of Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric.”
Word has spread about consecration and Echo of God. Other parishes have invited Father Harlow to speak. He’s been asked to give conferences at the diocesan level, and he teaches about consecration in his deanery’s Catholic grade school.
In northwestern Vermont, Father Larry Ridgley at St. Rose of Lima Parish in South Hero and some parishioners studied Father Harlow’s book for a year. He finds it has brought true devotion alive and proved helpful in “entering this deeper understanding of giving Mary the power to form and shape [us] by the power of the Holy Spirit, like her Son.”
Back at St. Charles, daily Massgoers Warren and Mary Peschl have lived total consecration since 1961, when they lived in Long Island, N.Y. Warren says it becomes second nature: Even without thinking of it, he says, you’re always doing everything with Mary and wanting to say the Rosary.
“Whatever you’re doing, you’ll pray,” says Mary. “Life will never be the same.”
Father Harlow explains why. “Mary is not a methodology,” he says. “Constantly, I say in my preaching she’s a real human person who wants to have a relationship with you. Jesus gave her to us from the cross. You can go wrong with a program, but you can’t go wrong with Mary. There’s no detour with her because she always leads us to Jesus.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.