"Reading this book (St. Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary) was to be a turning point in my life …. This Marian devotion … has since remained a part of me. It is an integral part of my interior life and of my spiritual theology."
Pope John Paul II
True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is one of the greatest and most celebrated books ever written about Our Lady. Praised by popes, mystics and theologians, this profound and powerful book presents Mary as the essential and infallible key to the heart of Jesus. Nowhere will you find a deeper and more life-changing book on that quintessentially Catholic doctrine: the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Christian and the life of the Church.
Unpublished during the saint's life time, it has enjoyed the endorsement of the many outstanding popes the Church has been blessed with since its discovery in 1842. John Paul II, in particular, was its tireless champion, crediting True Devotion with a turning-point in his spiritual life, adopting his motto, Totus tuus, from St. Louis.
The key to De Montfort's Marian spirituality is that he considered Our Lady to be the infallible and chosen gate to the heart of Christ – To Jesus through Mary: it is Christ Himself Who is at the centre of True Devotion.
This edition has been re-typeset using the text of the 1947 edition originally published by The Father's of the Company of Mary,
Colbury, Totton under the imprimatur of Johannes Henricus, Epus Portus Magni, 21st May 1947.
The True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is probably, with St Alphonsus Liguori’s The Glories of Mary, the most celebrated and highly regarded treatise ever written on Our Lady. Unpublished during the life of the saint, it has enjoyed the vigorous endorsement of the many outstanding popes the Church has been blessed with since its discovery in 1842; and, although it went into something of an eclipse in the irresponsible ecumenical frenzy which followed Vatican II (Mary being a stumbling block for Protestants), John Paul II was to prove an eloquent champion, crediting True Devotion with a turning-point in his spiritual life, adopting his motto, Totus tuus, from St. Louis, and admitting him to the Universal Calendar. So we can see that there has been something of a de Montfort revival of late. Nevertheless, it would be true to say that St. Louis has always been rather less appreciated, and even less known, than we should expect of a missionary, mystic and theologian of his stature. I suspect that this is not an accident, but rather mysteriously consistent with the hidden efficacy of his influence during his lifetime.
Louis Marie Grignon de la Bacheleraie was born at Montfort on 31 January, 1673. When he was twelve, he was sent to the Jesuit college at Rennes. At the age of nineteen, he decided to pursue his studies in Paris (at St. Sulpice), making the long journey on foot, and giving away all his money to the poor on the way. Ordained priest at twenty-seven, he found his true vocation as a missionary to his native Brittany and the neighbouring Vendée five years later. A magnificent orator and catechist, and a transparently holy man, he worked a revolution in the religious life of the locals. For this, he earned the unforgiving hostility of the Jansenists. The Catholic Encyclopaedia recounts the most famous episode of this contest:
Grignion’s extraordinary influence was especially apparent in the matter of the calvary at Pontchateau. When he announced his determination of building a monumental calvary on a neighbouring hill, the idea was enthusiastically received by the inhabitants. For fifteen months between two and four hundred peasants worked daily without recompense, and the task had just been completed, when the king commanded that the whole should be demolished, and the land restored to its former condition. The Jansenists had convinced the Governor of Brittany that a fortress capable of affording aid to persons in revolt was being erected, and for several months five hundred peasants, watched by a company of soldiers, were compelled to carry out the work of destruction. Father de Montfort was not disturbed on receiving this humiliating news, exclaiming only: “Blessed be God!”
St. Louis’ trust in God was amply vindicated, for not only was the calvary eventually rebuilt, but his mission territories – Brittany and the Vendée – were the only parts of France to resist the Revolution seventy-five years after his death, remaining Catholic strongholds well into the late twentieth century: St. Louis had done his work well.
The same is true of the two congregations St. Louis founded shortly before his death – the Sisters of Wisdom (devoted to hospital work and the instruction of poor girls), and the Company of Mary (missionaries). At his death, these congregations numbered respectively only four sisters and two priests with a few brothers: both were to grow into major congregations whose activities stretched across the globe.
And so we find the same pattern with True Devotion: it seems appropriate that his most famous book was unpublished in his lifetime. As for the contents of this work of spiritual genius, it is enough to point out here that the key to de Montfort’s Marian spirituality is that he considered Our Lady to be the infallible and chosen gate to the heart of Christ – To Jesus through Mary: it is Christ Himself Who is at the centre of True Devotion.
St. Louis Grignon de Montfort died at St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre, 28 April, 1716. He was beatified by Leo XIII in 1888, and canonized by Pius XII in 1947.
It was in the year 1846 or 1847, at St. Wilfrid’s, that I first studied the life and spirit of the Venerable Grignion de Montfort; and now, after more than fifteen years, it may be allowable to say that those who take him for their master will hardly be able to name a Saint or ascetical writer, to whose grace and spirit their mind will be more subject than to his. We may not yet call him Saint; but the process of his beatification is so far and so favourably advanced that we may not have long to wait before he will be raised upon the altars of the Church.
There are few men in the eighteenth century who have more strongly upon them the marks of the man of Providence than this Elias like missionary of the Holy Ghost and of Mary. His entire life was such an exhibition of the holy folly of the Cross, that his biographers unite in always classing him with St Simon Salo and St Philip Neri. Clement XI made him a missionary apostolic in France, in order that he might spend his life in fighting against Jansenism, so far as it affected the salvation of souls. Since the apostolical epistles it would be hard to find words that burn so marvellously as the twelve pages of his prayer for the Missionaries of the Holy Ghost, to which I earnestly refer all those who find it hard to keep up under their numberless trials the first fires of the love of souls. He was at once persecuted and venerated everywhere. His amount of work, like that of St Anthony of Padua, is incredible and, indeed, inexplicable. He wrote some spiritual treatises, which have already had a remarkable influence on the Church during the few years they have been known, and bid fair to have a much wider influence in years to come. His preaching, his writing, and his conversation were all impregnated with prophecy and with anticipations of the later ages of the Church. He comes forward like another St Vincent Ferrer, as if on the days bordering on the Last Judgment, and proclaims that he brings an authentic message from God about the greater honour and wider knowledge and more prominent love of His Blessed Mother, and her connection with the second advent of her Son. He founded two religious congregations—one of men and one of women—which have been quite extraordinarily successful; and yet he died at the age of forty-three in 1716, after only sixteen years of priesthood.
It was on the 12th of May, 1853, that the decree was pronounced at Rome, declaring his writing to be exempt from all error which could be a bar to his canonisation. In this very treatise on the veritable devotion to Our Blessed Lady, he has recorded this prophecy: “I clearly foresee that raging brutes will come in fury to tear with their diabolical teeth this little writing and him whom the Holy Ghost has made use of to write it; or at least to envelop it in the silence of a coffer, in order that it may not appear.” Nevertheless, he prophesies both its appearance and its success. All this was fulfilled to the letter. The author died in 1716, and the treatise was found by accident by one of the priests of his congregation at St Laurent-sur-Sèvre in 1842. The existing Superior was able to attest the handwriting as being that of the venerable founder; and the autograph was sent to Rome to be examined in the process of canonisation.
All those who are likely to read this book love God; and lament that they do not love Him more; all desire something for His glory—the spread of some good work, the success of some devotion, the coming of some good time. One man has been striving for years to overcome a particular fault, and has not succeeded. Another mourns, and almost wonders while he mourns, that so few of his relations and friends have been converted to the faith. One grieves that he has not devotion enough; another that he has a cross to carry, which is a peculiarly impossible cross to him; while a third has domestic troubles and family unhappinesses, which feel almost incompatible with his salvation; and for all these things prayer appears to bring so little remedy. But what is the remedy that is wanted? what is the remedy indicated by God Himself? If we may rely on the disclosures of the Saints, it is an immense increase of devotion to Our Blessed Lady; but, remember, nothing short of an immense one. Here, in England, Mary is not half enough preached. Devotion to her is low and thin and poor. It is frightened out of its wits by the sneers of heresy. It is always invoking human respect and carnal prudence, wishing to make Mary so little of a Mary that Protestants may feel at ease about her. Its ignorance of theology makes it unsubstantial and unworthy. It is not the prominent characteristic of our religion which it ought to be. It has no faith in itself. Hence it is that Jesus is not loved, that heretics are not converted, that the Church is not exalted; that souls, which might be saints, wither and dwindle; that the Sacraments are not rightly frequented, or souls enthusiastically evangelised. Jesus is obscured because Mary is kept in the background. Thousands of souls perish because Mary is withheld from them. It is the miserable unworthy shadow which we call our devotion to the Blessed Virgin that is the cause of all these wants and blights, these evils and omissions and declines. Yet, if we are to believe the revelations of the Saints, God is pressing for a greater, a wider, a stronger, quite another devotion to His Blessed Mother. I cannot think of a higher work or a broader vocation for anyone than the simple spreading of this peculiar devotion of the Venerable Grignion de Montfort. Let a man but try it for himself, and his surprise at the graces it brings with it, and the transformations it causes in his soul, will soon convince him of its otherwise almost incredible efficacy as a means for the salvation of men, and for the coming of the kingdom of Christ. O, if Mary were but known, there would be no coldness to Jesus then! O, if Mary were but known, how much more wonderful would be our faith, and how different would our Communions be! O, if Mary were but known, how much happier, how much holier, how much less worldly should we be, and how much more should we be living images of our sole Lord and Saviour, her dearest and most Blessed Son!
I have translated the whole treatise myself, and have taken great pains with it, and have been scrupulously faithful. At the same time, I would venture to warn the reader that one perusal will be very far from making him master of it. If I may dare to say so, there is a growing feeling of something inspired and supernatural about it, as we go on studying it; and with that we cannot help experiencing, after repeated readings of it, that its novelty never seems to wear off, nor its fulness to be diminished, nor the fresh fragrance and sensible fire of its unction ever to abate. May the Holy Ghost, the Divine Zealot of Jesus and Mary, deign to give a new blessing to this work in England; and may He please to console us quickly with the canonisation of this new apostle and fiery missionary of His most dear and most Immaculate Spouse; and still more with the speedy coming of that great age of the Church, which is to be the Age of Mary!
F. W. Faber
Priest of the Oratory
Presentation of Our Blessed Lady, 1862.