Marian Spirituality and the Vincentian Charism (2)
by: Corpus Delgado, CM - Vincentiana, Number 4 Vol. 46, No. 4-5 2002-07
It seems to me that the best way to present this material is to focus on two central points that will constitute the two major sections of this work:  in the Vincentian charism what are the sources of inspiration for a Marian spirituality?  how can the lay Vincentian associations embody a Marian spirituality?
We will begin with some brief reflections on the concept of Marian spirituality.
Father Robert Maloney, CM describes spirituality in the following manner: It is, on the one hand, the specific way in which a person is rooted in God. It is, on the other hand, the specific way in which he or she relates to the created world. It is insight as the source of action. It is a vision that generates energy and channels it in a particular direction, thereby enabling a person to transcend himself or herself. For the Christian, it is a way of seeing Christ and being in him that directs the individual’s energies in the service of the kingdom. A spirituality is an energizing vision, a driving force .
Spirituality refers to the relationship between living life in accord with the Spirit and the following of Christ, a new manner of being and living in the Lord.
When we speak about a Marian spirituality our words should not be interpreted as referring to devotional practices in honor of the Virgin Mary. Rather when we refer to a Marian spirituality we are speaking about finding inspiration in Mary in order to follow Christ. Christianity does not consist of formulas, ideologies and concepts but is primarily a gift and a presence, an experience and life. The person of Mary questions us and inspires us to internalize Christian values and attitudes. Mary is presented to us as the most perfect disciple of Christ, as the first Christian, not precisely in the type of life she led, and much less for the socio-cultural background in which she lived and which today scarcely exists anywhere. She is held up as an example to the faithful rather for the way in which, in her own particular life, she fully and responsibly accepted the will of God, because she heard the word of God and acted on it, and because charity and a spirit of service were the driving force of her actions. She is worthy of imitation because she was the first and the most perfect of Christ's disciples. All of this has a permanent and universal exemplary value (Marialis Cultus, #35).
Mary is the perfect incarnation of Christian spirituality , or as Pope Paul VI said: Mary is a teacher of the spiritual life for individual Christians (Marialis Cultus, #21). It is in this sense that Mary is referred to as a type of the Church and of Christians: the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ (Lumen Gentium, #63). Mary, a daughter of Adam, consenting to the divine Word, became the mother of Jesus, the one and only Mediator. Embracing God's salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption (Lumen Gentium, #56). From the time of the Annunciation until the day that she stood at the foot of the cross, Mary is the perfect follower of Jesus: This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ's virginal conception up to His death (Lumen Gentium, #57). Mary allowed herself to be led unconditionally by the Spirit; she was filled with the Holy Spirit and her life was lived in accord with the Spirit .
From the earliest centuries Marian spirituality has flourished in a spontaneous manner in the Church. At different times Christians have proposed various forms and motives and expressions that were in accord with specific cultural-historical realities. Mary has been a grace who has nourished, in an on-going manner, the spiritual life of the faithful . This has also occurred in the Vincentian Family. Therefore it is indispensable to approach the inspirational sources of Marian spirituality in the Vincentian charism in order to understand how to promote a life-giving Marian spirituality in the Vincentian associations.
Inspiring sources of Marian spirituality in the Vincentian charism
At this time it is not necessary to enter into a lengthy discussion on the content and the scope of the phrase Vincentian charism . Allow me, however, to point out three elements that are relevant to this presentation.
a] We understand the Vincentian charism as a gift of the Spirit that was given by God to the Church in the person of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac; a gift of the Spirit that has been shared with Vincent’s and Louise’s followers who participate in the various institutions and associations that they inspired … has been shared with those followers who make every effort to live, to guard, to deepen and to develop this gift in harmony with the Body of Christ that is in a state of constant growth .
b] Even though the word “Vincentian” is etymologically related to the name Vincent, we cannot make reference to the Vincentian charism from the perspective of just Vincent de Paul. Indeed, the Vincentian charism cannot be understood apart from the contribution of Louise de Marillac. The more we study the relationship between Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, the more difficult it becomes to attribute to just one of these two individuals the inspiration that we know as the Vincentian charism.
c] The configuration of the Vincentian charism does not correspond in some exclusive manner to the era in which the Founders lived. The charism is a dynamic reality that is recreated in every era, a reality that is continually enriched and deepened and developed with the vitality of the responses of each individual and community and association that lives in a spirit of fidelity to the spirit.
Having expressed these precisions, let us now enter into the heart of this presentation: In the Vincentian charism, what are the inspirational sources of Marian spirituality?
Specifically I will refer to four sources:  the life of Mary as revealed to us in the gospel,  the faith of the Church that presents Mary to us as its most eminent member,  the experience of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac,  the experience of the Vincentian Family from the perspective of the appearances to Catherine Laboure. Even though these sources are quite distinct, they nevertheless appear to me to be the source of the Marian spirituality of the Vincentian Family.
The life of Mary
In the era of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, at the time of Saint Catherine’s apparitions, as well as at the present time, authentic Marian spirituality must nourish a personal and sincere encounter with Mary … an encounter that has its starting point in on-going contact with the gospel: we wish to point out that our own time, no less than former times, is called upon to verify its knowledge of reality with the word of God, and, keeping to the matter at present under consideration, to compare its anthropological ideas and the problems springing therefrom with the figure of the Virgin Mary as presented by the Gospel (Marialis Cultus, #37).
Quantitatively speaking, the New Testament texts with regard to Mary are very sparse. In the letters we find just one passage, Galatians 4:4 and we also find one reference in the Acts of the Apostles (1:14). There are two references in the gospel of Saint Mark (3:31-33; 6:3) and two in the gospel of Saint John (2:1-12; 19:26-27). More abundant details are presented to us in the infancy narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2).
The primitive kerygma is focused on the central event of the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ without any direct reference to Mary. But the whole New Testament recognizes the function of Mary as mother and model in the history of salvation … Mary is a woman worthy of praise and imitation.
a] Mary in the history of salvation
The role of Mary in the history of salvation can be understood in light of two expressions that we find in the gospel of Luke.
• The handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38). Mary is the instrument chosen by God to fulfill his plan and thus, God, in an unconditional way, remained faithful to his mission.
• Most blessed among women (Luke 1:42). Mary, among her contemporaries, is given preferential treatment. The blessings indicate her participation in the messianic gifts and her contribution to the salvation of humankind. This cannot be reduced to the fact of her giving birth to Jesus but must be viewed in light of the events that refer to Jesus’ liberating activity and that enable us to understand all the implications of Mary being the mother of the liberating messiah .
The mission of Mary in the history of salvation can be more fully understood when we reflect on the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:35) or when we reflect on Jesus being found in the Temple (Luke 2:48) or when we reflect on the two events in John’s gospel that make reference to “the hour” (John 2:1-12 and John 19:26-27).
b] Mary, a model for the People of God
During Jesus’ public life, the gospels present Mary as the mother who became a disciple (Luke 8:19-20, 11:28).
Luke and John present us with the characteristics that make Mary the perfect Christian and the model for all the people of God, for the Church. All the spiritual dimensions that characterize the mystical heritage of the poor of Yahweh in the Old Testament and that will be canonized in the gospel beatitudes, converge in Mary and constitute her spiritual dimension: poverty (Luke 1:48), service (Luke 1:38, 48; John 2:5), fear of God (Luke 1:29, 50), awareness of her own frailty (Luke 1:52), a sense of justice (Luke 1:53), solidarity with the people of God (Luke 1:52-55); joy (Luke 1:28, 47), openness and availability to participate in God’s plan (Luke 1:38, 51), confidence in the fulfillment of the promises of God who is merciful and faithful (Luke 2:19- 51) … all of these point out the profound religiosity of Mary , a religiosity that is in harmony with biblical piety. The Magnificat is the hymn of the poor that brings together all the elements of biblical history, brings together everything that is true and spiritual in Israel’s history … Israel who inherits the messianic blessings. The Magnificat presents Mary as the daughter of Sion, a remnant of the community of Israel who achieved perfection, who was willing to accept the messianic joy and willing to bring about the saving presence of God in the midst of humanity .
c] Mary, worthy of praise
The gospel of Luke invites Christians to praise Mary: from now on will all ages call me blessed (Luke 1:48); to join together with Elizabeth in order to call Mary blessed (Luke 1:42), to recognize the fact that God chose Mary to participate, in a decisive manner, in his salvific plan.
d] The acceptance of Mary’s motherhood
The gospel of John invites the followers to Jesus to accept Mary as their mother: and from that hour the disciple took her into his home (John 19:27). For the disciples of Jesus, among their possessions, among the things that were bestowed on them as a result of their communion with Christ, is their faith filled acceptance of Mary as their mother .
As we can see, the New Testament provides us with some essential elements that give form to a Marian spirituality: The reading of the divine Scriptures, carried out under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with the discoveries of the human sciences and the different situations in the world today being taken into account, will help us to see how Mary can be considered a mirror of the expectations of the men and women of our time (Marialis Cultus, #37).
The faith of the Church
The Church is the sacrament of Christ and the sacrament of following Christ. It is the primary and most authentic place for an encounter with the Father. The Church is the homeland, the privileged place where the Spirit is present and active.
In every historical era there is a resurgence of the temptation to be a Christian and to develop spirituality apart from the Church. Nevertheless the criteria of the ecclesial community force us to reflect on our personal Christian experience from the perspective of the gospel and Jesus’ manner of acting. It is this perspective that prevents us from living in a purely subjective/sectarian manner. It is also the ecclesial community that places before us the wonderful spiritual tradition of other Christians and raises up for us living witnesses who are animated by the Holy Spirit and who follow Jesus. It is in the common celebration of the faith, in deepening our understanding of the Word of God and in our shared response to various Christian commitments that the ecclesial community guides its members (in a mutual interaction) to live in accord with the will of God.
The Second Vatican Council dedicated the eighth chapter of the constitution, Lumen Gentium, to Mary: As the fruit of two tendencies, the presentation of the Virgin is magnificent, positive, balanced, biblical, ecumenical and inter-ecclesial. It would be truly difficult to write with any greater scriptural foundation or theological soundness or devotional unity that is found in that chapter of the constitution on the Church. This document places in relief the incomparable role of Mary in the history of salvation but does this in relation to Christ and the Church .
In 1974 Paul VI published his apostolic exhortation, Marialis Cultus and restated the doctrine of Vatican II with regard to the Virgin but also clarified the essential relationship of the Virgin to the Savior. The Pope also highlighted the framework for a Marian spirituality and devotion as he proposed Mary as model: the attentive virgin; the virgin in prayer; Mary, the virgin-mother; the virgin who presents offerings.
In 1987 John Paul II published the encyclical Redemptoris Mater in order to promote a new and more careful reading of what the Council said about the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and of the Church …here we speak not only of the doctrine of faith but also of the life of faith, and thus of authentic "Marian spirituality" (Redemptoris Mater, #48).
An authentic Marian spirituality must drink from the fountain that we refer to as the Church’s faith, a faith that is continually rethought and reformulated in the magisterium. It is impossible to construct an authentic Marian spirituality on the margins of or apart from the Church’s thinking … it is all the more impossible to do that in opposition to the Church’s thining.
The experience of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac
For those persons who are members of the Vincentian Family, the experience of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac are a permanent point of reference. We have been given the task of living, preserving, deepening and developing the Vincentian charism (cf., Mutuae Relationes, #11; Evangelica Testificatio, #11). Let us reflect on that experience which must inspire our Marian spirituality.
The experience of Vincent de Paul
Andre Dodin described Vincent’s Mariology in the following words: it seems to be the poor parent of the family .
The era of Vincent de Paul was characterized by the reaction of Catholics to the reformers . Therefore, there were multiple, and often exaggerated expressions of devotion to the Virgin Mary. In 1638 King Louis XIII consecrated the French Kingdom to the Virgin; Anne of Austria entrusted a religious brother with the duty of fulfilling various acts of piety, for example, pilgrimages to different Marian shrines and the offering of numerous gifts, etc. At the same time theologians and masters of the spiritual life developed many treatises that promoted devotion to the Virgin and the recognition of her privileges. On a popular level there were many confraternities, especially the Rosary Confraternity, as well as the organization of pilgrimages to centers of devotion and the multiplication of pious practices.
In this context we take note of the soundness of Vincent’s thinking and his manner of expressing his devotion and his relationship with the Virgin Mary. In the more than eight thousand pages of his letters and conferences we find about two hundred references to the Virgin. Vincent de Paul only speaks about the Virgin in passing and then in a moderate manner .
In 1600 Vincent celebrated his first Mass in the chapel of Our Lady of Remoulle. He later attributed his liberation from captivity to the Virgin Mary (CCD:I:6) . In 1623 Vincent made a pilgrimage with his family to the shrine of Our Lady of Buglose and in 1639 made a pilgrimage of Chârtres. He frequently concluded his letters with the phrase, in the love of Our Lord and his holy Mother (CCD:I:35).
From the time of the foundation of the first Confraternity in Châtillon-les-Dombes (1617) Vincent had proposed Mary as their patron: And because, when the Mother of God has been invoked and taken as patroness in important matters, everything can only go well and accrue to the glory of Jesus her Son, the Ladies take her for patroness and protector of the work, most humbly entreating her to take special care of it (CCD:XIIIb:3). We find similar references in the rules of the Confraternities that were established after Châtillon (CCD:XIIIb:5, 51, 54, 99, 113, 443).
Vincent agreed to consecrate the Company of the Daughters of Charity to the virgin Mary who would be the Mother of the Company. He exhorted the sisters to carry the rosary with them and to pray the rosary and the Angelus (CCD:IX:175). Vincent recommended that the Missionaries should have special devotion to the Blessed Virgin: we should likewise have special devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Confreres, therefore, both individually and collectively, should, carry this out perfectly: (1) by specially honoring every day this preeminent Mother of Christ, who is also our Mother; (2) by putting into practice, as far as possible, the same virtues as she did, particularly humility and chastity; (3) by enthusiastically encouraging others, whenever opportunity and means permit, to show her the greatest reverence and always to serve her loyally (Common Rules X:4).
Vincent warned the confreres about sentimentality and the excesses in the expression of love to the Virgin Mary. He wrote to M. Lambert and stated: You would do well to get rid of that young woman [one of the “illuminatae” of Chinon]. Advise her not to amuse herself with all those notion she has … Neither Our Lord nor the Blessed virgin had all of those ideas, and they conformed to the common life (CCD:II:112).
Vincent proposed Mary as a model: You should take the example of the Blessed Virgin (CCD:IX:72) because the Blessed Virgin, better than anyone else, fathomed the essence [of virtue] and showed how to practice them (CCD:XII:110). In his conferences and his letters he referred to various characteristics of Mary that should be imitated: her obedience to the will of God, her modesty and discretion, her sinlessness and humility and perfection and poverty, her perseverance and the fact that she referred to herself as the handmaid of the Lord and that she herself was called full of grace .
Vincent de Paul focused his attention on three events, on three mysteries in Mary’s life: the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation and the Visitation. These three mysteries constitute the letter and the spirit of her movement toward Christ and her life with God . Vincent’s contemplation of Mary is placed at the center of his spiritual universe: give oneself to God in order to serve God in the poor.
a] The Immaculate Conception
In the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, Vincent saw the humble and chaste virgin who emptied herself in order to open herself to God and in order to allow herself to be filled by God. These are fundamental attitudes for those persons who want to empty themselves and clothe themselves in the spirit of Christ: He foresaw, therefore, that, since his Son had to take on human flesh through a woman, it was fitting that he take it through a woman worthy of receiving him, a woman outstanding in grace, free of sin, filled with piety, and removed from all evil attachments. He brought before his eyes, then, all the women who were already living at that time and those who were to come and found none worthy of this great work except the Most Pure and Most Immaculate Virgin Mary. So, that is why he decided from all eternity to prepare that dwelling place for him, to adorn it with the rarest and most worthy benefits that no other creature possessed, in order that it might be a temple worthy of the Divinity, a palace worthy of his Son. If the eternal foresight searched so far to discover this receptacle of his Son and, having found it, adorned it with all the graces that could embellish the creature, as he himself declared by the angel he sent her as his ambassador, how greatly should we anticipate the day and the disposition required to receive him! (CCD:XIIIa:40).
To accept God, to become filled with God and clothed in Christ, to empty oneself like the Immaculate Virgin … Vincent de Paul highlighted these characteristics in the Virgin Mary.
b] The Annunciation
Humility prepares and sustains our offering to God. To know God and to affirm God as the only Lord, to recognize our status as “creatures”, to give ourselves to God in order to serve our neighbor … this is the second movement that Vincent discovered in Mary, in her annunciation: We have to acknowledge the essence and existence of God and have some knowledge of his perfections before offering him a sacrifice; that’s only natural; for, I ask you, to whom do you offer presents? To important persons, to princes, to kings; they’re the ones to whom you pay your respects. This is so true that God observed the same order in the Incarnation. When the angel went to greet the Blessed Virgin, he began by acknowledging that she was filled with graces from heaven: Ave, gratia plena; you are showered and filled with God’s favors, Madame; Ave, gratia plena. So then, he acknowledges her and praises her as being full of grace. And what does he offer her next? This beautiful gift of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit, taking the most pure blood o f the Blessed Virgin, formed a body with it, then God created a soul in order to give life to this body; and immediately the Word is united to this soul and body by a marvelous union. In this way, the Holy Spirit brought about the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation. Praise preceded sacrifice (CCD:XII:265-266).
Like Mary at the time of the annunciation, we ought to give ourselves to God in order to continue his work: So then, we’ve said that we’re seeking the kingdom of God. “Seeking” is just a word, but it seems to me that it says many things. It means putting ourselves in the state of always aspiring to what is recommended to us, working constantly for the kingdom of God, and not remaining in a cowardly state ... “Seek, seek,” implies care and action (CCD:XII:111).
c] The Visitation
To empty ourselves and to give ourselves to God means that our life is at the service of the poor: you have given yourselves to God in order to serve the poor. Vincent discovered in Mary’s journey to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, the third movement of his spiritual journey. He held up Mary’s promptness in the Visitation as a model for service on behalf of the poor: They will honor the visitation of the Blessed Virgin going to visit her cousin cheerfully (CCD:XIIIb:3). Vincent was able to deduce from this event practical applications for the life of a Daughter of Charity: The Company of the Daughters of Charity is established to love and serve God, and to honor Our Lord their patron and the Blessed Virgin. And how will you honor him? Your Rule tells you, for it goes on to make known to you God's plan in establishing your Company: “To serve the sick poor corporally by supplying them with all they need; and spiritually by seeing that they live and die in a good state” (CCD:IX:18).
Go wherever we will and Vincent, without any hesitation, will lead us to the poor. Like Mary, our life is a gift that we give to God in order to serve this same God in the person of those men and women who are poor.
The experience of Louise de Marillac
In contrast to Vincent, we find many references to Mary in Louise’s correspondence and writings … at times these references are developed very systematically.
The great dignity of Mary
In Louise’s writings we find preserved for us her reflections and meditations on the great dignity of the Virgin Mary. There Mary is presented as: • God’s collaborator in the Incarnation: The Son of God took a human body in the womb of the Blessed Virgin (SWLM:784 [A.14]) .
• Closely united to Jesus Christ who lives in her: a great love for her Son and sloe union with his divine humanity (SWLM:735 [A.32b]).
• A participant in the mystery of God in Christ: (SWLM:815-816 [A.32]).
• Greatly blessed: (SWLM:815-816 [A.32]).
• Mother of mercy: (SWLM:774-775 [A.14b]).
• Mother of grace: (SWLM:774-775 [A.14b]).
• A collaborator in redemption as she stood beneath the cross: (SWLM:695 [A.4], 831 [M.5b]).
The Virgin Mary, Immaculate, conceived without sin
We have at our disposition a reflection of Louise that is focused on the mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (SWLM:830 [A.31b], 734-735 [M.35b]). This is a well thought out and developed reflection. Louise wanted to gather together and give a structure to her thoughts on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. From the very beginning we are assured that she wanted to share with us her understanding of this mystery. When Louise wrote these words the Church had not yet proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (this would occur on December 8, 1854) but nevertheless this feast was celebrated and enjoyed wide popular support. The text of Louise actually summarizes the Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception:
• The Immaculate Conception must be viewed from the perspective of God’s saving plan, God’s loving plan;
• Even though Mary was conceived without sin, she is nevertheless a descendent of Adam, one who was prepared to become the worthy dwelling place of the Son of God;
• Mary, conceived without sin, responds to God’s calling by living a life of holiness … being filled with grace, Mary grew in grace;
• Because Mary was conceived without sin she was free from concupiscence which inclines one toward sin;
• We, as sinners, ought to imitate Mary’s life and in light of her dignity we should honor her and request her intercession … no one else is so united to Christ.
We should read slowly the text from Louise’s writing and then we will discover the depth of her convictions and the richness of her intuitions … these can provide us with valuable insight with regard to Marian spirituality as a dimension of the Vincentian charism.
Mary, the ideal for life
Louise de Marillac discovered and proposed the Virgin Mary as an ideal for life:
• A model for every state of life (SWLM:695-695 [A.4];
• A model with regard to the manner of fulfilling the will of God (SWLM:695-695 [A.4], 704 [A.10]);
• A model of poverty (SWLM:415 [L.516]);
• A model of purity (SWLM:140-141 [L.303b], 381-382 [L.333], 657 [L.639]);
Devotion to the Virgin Mary
a] What constitutes devotion to the Virgin Mary
Among Louise’s writing’s that have been preserved we find a beautiful synthesis with regard to devotion to the Virgin Mary . It is a systematic development of this theme that serves to enlighten us today:
All Christians should profess a great love for the Virgin Mary;
• In accord with the Church’s liturgy we should celebrate the feasts in her honor;
• We should imitate her life and her virtues;
• We should choose some small devotional practices.
b] The little practices of devotion of Louise in honor of the Virgin
In addition to these reflections and meditations on the Blessed Mother, we find in Louise’s correspondence and writings some very clear indications with regard to some very simple practices of devotion in honor of the Virgin Mary. We recall here those that are most important:
 After the death of her husband, Antoine Le Gras, Louise wrote a prayer of offering to the Virgin in which she placed herself and her son under Mary’s protection (SWLM:695-696 [A.4]).
 In her Rule of Life in the World, Louise lists various practices of devotion in honor of the Virgin Mary:
• The Office of the Blessed Virgin;
• A quarter of an hour of meditation in order to honor the instant when the Incarnation of the Word took place in the womb of the Blessed Virgin;
• Five decades of the rosary while meditating on one of the mysteries;
• Every first Saturday of the month a renewal of vows and good resolutions as proof that I have chosen the Blessed Virgin as my protectress;
• Pray an Ave in praise of the Blessed Virgin
• Fast on feasts of the Virgin (SWLM:689-691 [A.1]).
 In the catechism that Louise wrote she explained and recommended the recitation of the Ave and the rosary .
 In her letter to the Abbé de Vaux, Louise expressed her opinion with regard to the manner in which a Sister should pray the rosary: I will give you my views on the devotions of Sister Madeleine. I think that she could easily say two decades of her chaplet daily and three on Saturday for the complete rosary for the week (SWLM:65 [L.55]).
 Louise prepared and gave as gifts pictures of the Virgin … these were an expression of her love for the Virgin and an expression of her desire that the Virgin should always be honored (SWLM:140-141 [L.303b], 701-702 [[A.21], 732-733 [A.21b]).
 Louise composed a little rosary and wrote to Vincent about this matter: The little chaplet is the devotion for which I asked permission of your Charity three years ago as a personal devotion. I have in a small box a quantity of these little chaplets, along with some thoughts on this devotion written on a piece of paper, which with your permission, I wish to leave to all our Sisters after my death. Not one of them knows it. It honors the hidden life of Our Lord in his state of imprisonment in the womb of the Blessed Virgin and congratulates her on her happiness during those nine months. The three small beads hail her under her beautiful titles of Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. That is the main thought behind the devotion. By the grace of God, unworthy as I am, I have continued this devotion since the time I mentioned, but 1 hope to discontinue it, aided by God's same grace, if your Charity so orders. By means of this little exercise I intend to ask God, through the Incarnation of his Son and the prayers of the Blessed Virgin, for the purity necessary for the Company of the Sisters of Charity and for the steadfastness of this Company in keeping with his good pleasure (SWLM:140 [L.303b]).
Surely Vincent did not authorize this devotion. Louise seemed to make reference to this fact in another letter: I feel that I must tell your Charity that I was and still am sorry at having to abandon those little prayers because I believe that the Blessed Virgin wanted me to render her this small tribute of gratitude. But with her, I console myself by offering my renunciation to her and by resolving to please her in some other way and to serve her with greater fervor (SWLM:351-352 [L.304]).
In all of this Louise’s proposals with regard to this devotion has perdured in the traditional prayer of the Daughters of Charity and the Santisima Virgen which is said between the different mysteries of the rosary.
 In the Rule for the hospital Sisters, Louise referred to the practice of reciting the rosary (SWLM:747-748 [A.88]).
 In her prayers Louise called upon the intercession of the Blessed Virgin: My Savior, grant me this grace for the love which you bear for the Holy Virgin (SWLM:819 [A.26]).
Mary, the only Mother of the Company
It is most probable that Louise did not know her mother … she always looked upon Mary as her only mother. Louise entrusted that which she most cherished to the Blessed Virgin, her only Mother: her son and the Company of the Daughters of Charity. She wanted the Company to be consecrated to Mary and to view Mary as its only Mother.
The following texts that are taken from Louise’s correspondence with Vincent are an expression of those desires and convictions.
 Louise asked for permission from Vincent to go on a pilgrimage to Chartres: I beg you most humbly to allow me to make a pilgrimage to Chartres during your absence so that I may entrust all our needs and the suggestions I have made to you to the care of the Blessed Virgin. The time has surely come for me to reflect on myself in the sight of God. I must tell you that I am convinced that the good of our little Company requires it (SWLM:120 [L.110]).
 Louise then told Vincent about her pilgrimage to Chartres: We arrived in Chartres on Friday, October 14. My devotion for Saturday was to render to God, in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin, the thanks I owe him for the many graces that I have received from his goodness. Sunday's devotions were for the needs of my son. On Monday, Feast of the Dedication of the Church of Chartres, I offered to God the designs of his Providence on the Company of the Daughters of Charity. I offered the said Company entirely to him, asking him to destroy it rather than let it be established contrary to his holy will. I asked for it, through the prayers of the Holy Virgin, Mother and Guardian of the said Company, the purity of which it stands in need. Looking upon the Blessed Virgin as the fulfillment of the promises of God to mankind, and seeing the fulfillment of the vow of the Blessed Virgin in the accomplishment of the mystery of the Incarnation, I asked him for the grace of fidelity for the Company through the merits of the Blood of the Son of God and of Mary. I prayed also that he might be the strong and loving bond that unites the hearts of all the Sisters in imitation of the union of the three Divine Persons. In my prayers for myself, I placed in the hands of the Blessed Virgin the decision to be made concerning … (SWLM:121-122 [L.111]).
 Louise asked Vincent to consecrate the Company to Mary and to chose the Virgin as its only mother: My Most Honored Father, How can I express to your Charity, in the name of the entire Company of our Sisters, how fortunate we would consider ourselves if tomorrow, at the holy altar, you placed us under the protection of the Holy Virgin? I beg your Charity to obtain for us the grace to be able, henceforth, to look upon her as our only Mother since, until now, her Son has never allowed anyone to usurp this title in a public act. Please approve this request for the love of God and implore for us the grace to do what we must and will do, if your Charity sees fit and is willing to teach us (SWLM:621-622 [L.602]).
 In the Conference of December 8th 1658, Vincent prayed in the following manner: Since the Company of Charity has been established under the standard of your perfection, if we've hitherto called you our Mother, we now entreat you to accept the offering we make you of the Company in general and each of its members in particular. And because you allow us to call you Mother, and you are the Mother of Mercy, the channel through which all mercy flows; and because, as we believe, you obtained from God the establishment of this Company, be pleased to take it under Your protection (CCD:X:500).
 On various occasions Louise referred to the Blessed Virgin as the only mother of the Company: to give greater honor to the Holy Virgin and to renew the total dependence of the Company upon her as her most unworthy daughters, who look on her also as our most praiseworthy and only Mother (SWLM:735 [M35b]) … the Blessed Virgin, our true and only Mother (SWLM:281 [L.245)] … Moreover, my dear Sister, like a true Daughter of Charity, you must accept all that is said to you by the one who, here on earth, represents your true Superior [Mother] in heaven (SWLM:618 [L.598]).
 In her final words to the Sisters, that is, in her spiritual testament, Louise was insistent: Pray earnestly to the Blessed Virgin, that she may be your only Mother (SWLM:835 [Spiritual Testament]).
As we can appreciate, in Louise’s experience the presence of the Virgin Mary is one of calmness and firmness and her presence is felt in every aspect of life. As members of the Vincentian Family we must drink from this source of life.
The experience of the Vincentian Family from the perspective of the appearances to Saint Catherine Laboure
Saint Cather Laboure (1806-1876) and the message of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal has had a decisive influence on the life of all the groups of the Vincentian Family, more specifically it has influenced the orientation of their Marian spirituality. It is sufficient to recall the following realities: at the time of the apparitions to St. Catherine, the members of the Congregation of the Mission, as well as the Company of the Daughters of Charity and the Confraternities of Charity, were, for all practical purposes, dispersed and scattered about. The Miraculous Medal and the resulting Marian spirituality are decisive as we attempt to understand the rebirth of the Vincentian foundations.
As a result of his devotion to the Virgin Mary, Jean Gabriel Perboyre (1802-1840) was strengthened to give witness to Christ. He spread devotion to the Miraculous Medal in China, convinced of the fact that the whole world overflowed with Mary’s mercy … in the Vincentian Family we find many such witnesses.
Several branches of the Vincentian Family trace their origin to the apparitions of the Virgin to Catherine Laboure: the Vincentian Marian Youth Association, the Miraculous Medal Association and other groups that have arisen from these branches.
Frederic Ozanam (1813-1853) died on the feast of Mary’s birth and during his life had great devotion to the blessed Mother. He carried the Miraculous Medal with him and was concerned about publicizing the conversion of Ratisbonne, a conversion that occurred through the mediation of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Frederic also established the feast of the Immaculate Conception as the feast of the Conferences of the Vincent de Paul Society.
We could say that the history of the Vincentian Family cannot be fully understood without this influence and relationship to the Immaculate Virgin of the Miraculous Medal.
The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity and the Congregation of the Mission, the Statutes of the Vincentian Marian Youth Association and the Miraculous Medal Association, as well as the practices of the other groups, … all of these point out to us the value of the experience of Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal and its significance for the Marian spirituality of the Vincentian Family.
The lay Vincentian associations give form to a life-giving Marian spirituality
Having considered the various sources of the Marian spirituality of the Vincentian Family we now focus our attention on some proposals that can give form to a life-giving Marian spirituality … here we are specifically referring to the lay Vincentian association .
We speak about giving form to a life-giving Marian spirituality, but isn’t Marian spirituality perennial? Isn’t Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)? How can we speak about giving form to a life-giving Marian spirituality? Yes, Christ is the same but the people who have to accept Christ in the various historical eras are not the same … and the cultural and anthropological situation in which people find themselves is also not the same. Thus people in every era must drink from these inspirational sources and must continually up-date the expressions of this Marian spirituality. Mary has nourished the spiritual experience of Christians in every era of the church’s history but her person has been recreated in many various forms. At the beginning of the third millennium, can the Vincentian Family drink from these inspirational sources and give form to a life-giving Marian spirituality?
Allow me to suggest some specific approaches.
Love of Mary
All truly Christian souls should have great devotion to the Blessed Virgin, especially in her role as Mother of God. They should honor her, also, because of the virtues with which God endowed her for accomplishment of his holy designs (SWLM:785 [M.33]). These words that were written by Louise de Marillac place before us the first approach with regard to a life-giving Marian spirituality. We find this same ideas expressed in the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity: Whoever seeks to follow Jesus Christ will also encounter her who received him from the Father. Mary, the first Christian … (Constitutions , 1.12).
Throughout its history and in every one of its institutions and groups, the Vincentian Family has given a conspicuous place to the Virgin Mary. Mary is recognized and invoked as Mother. All Christians, and therefore every one of us, members of the Vincentian Family, are invited to accept Mary as one of our most treasured and beloved possessions . In the Vincentian association we have to promote a true love for Mary and we should be mindful of the words of S. De Flores: Today Christians desire an authentic and personal encounter with Mary, one free of outdated ideas and concepts, one based on contact with the gospel and expressed in an intimate dialogue with her, in a totally renewed dialogue .
This then is our first proposal: that in all our Associations we cultivate an authentic love for Mary.
To live like Mary
Once again Louise de Marillac guides us as we formulate our second proposal: Let us take Our Lady as the model for our daily lives and bear in mind that the best way to honor her is by imitating her virtues (SWLM:785 [M.33]).
The Second Vatican Council reminds us: true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues (Lumen Gentium, #67).
The change in focus with regard to Marian spirituality, a change that resulted from the Second Vatican Council, can be seen in the fact that the Council places Mary before us as one who should be imitated rather than as one to whom we should pray. Mary is exalted less in her privileges and more in her functions; less in her accomplishments and more in her example.
Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac are very clear as they place Mary before us as a model and an ideal for our life. At the same time the Miraculous Medal can be viewed as a summary of Mary’s life and thus a support for the Christian life.
Nourished by the inspirational sources of Marian spirituality in the Vincentian charism, our associations should make every effort to give form to the following characteristic of Mary … characteristics that should be a part of every Christian.
a] Called and chosen
Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac affirmed the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. The apparition of the Virgin to Catherine and the message of the Miraculous Medal also proclaim this same mystery: if after the announcement of the heavenly messenger the Virgin of Nazareth is also called "blessed among women", it is because of that blessing with which "God the Father" has filled us "in the heavenly places, in Christ" … it is a blessing poured out through Jesus Christ upon human history until the end: upon all people … In the mystery of Christ she is present even "before the creation of the world," as the one whom the Father "has chosen" as Mother of his Son in the Incarnation. And, what is more, together with the Father, the Son has chosen her, entrusting her eternally to the Spirit of holiness (Redemptoris Mater, #8).
Like Mary, all Christians, from the day of their baptism, are called to honor in themselves the state of grace, which is friendship with God, communion with him and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Marialis Cultus, #57), thus becoming holy and irreproachable with regard to love.
Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac often stated: God is calling you! Oh, what a great vocation it is to be called by God! (SWLM:791 [A.89b], 260 [L.217]; CCD:IX:192)
Recognizing the greatness of our calling and election which occurred at the time of our Baptism, our response should be one of generosity and on-going conversion (cf. SWLM:693 [A.3]).
b] Attentive to and willing to follow the Father’s will
Mary is brought into the mystery of Christ through the event of the Annunciation: She who at the Annunciation called herself the "handmaid of the Lord" remained throughout her earthly life faithful to what this name expresses. In this she confirmed that she was a true "disciple" of Christ, who strongly emphasized that his mission was one of service: the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). In this way Mary became the first of those who, "serving Christ also in others, with humility and patience lead their brothers and sisters to that King whom to serve is to reign," and she fully obtained that "state of royal freedom" proper to Christ's disciples: to serve means to reign! (Redemptoris Mater, #41)
From the time of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, the event of the Annunciation has inspired the members of the Vincentian Family. The life of Catherine Laboure is a story of fidelity to the will of God, a story that is interwoven with ministry, simplicity, humility, charity and silence. The Miraculous Medal has led to the writing of many heroic pages of fidelity to God, many pages of authentic Christian living and conversion. Like Mary, the members of the Vincentian Family have to know how to live with an attitude of openness to the transformative power of the Spirit in order to know how to surrender themselves completely to the fulfillment of God’s will.
c] So that Christ abides with us
Mary’s whole life is one of complete communion with her Son … she faithfully accompanied the Lord on every road he took. Her divine maternity led her to total self-surrender. It was a clear-eyed, generous gift that was consistently maintained. It wove together a history of love for Christ that was intimate and holy, that was truly unique, and that culminated in glory (Puebla, #292). The union of Mary with Christ is expressed in a visible manner in the Miraculous Medal --- the union of the two hearts and the letter “M” interwoven with the cross. Indeed, the Vincentian charism consists of identifying ourselves with Christ and clothing ourselves in the spirit of Christ in order to continue his mission. In this process the members of the Vincentian Family must contemplate Mary whose whole life was one of complete communion with Christ .
d] To proclaim the gospel of charity to the poor
Mary, the faithful disciple of Christ, lived her life in an intimate relationship with Christ and collaborated in his work: far from being a timidly submissive woman or one whose piety was repellent to others, Mary is not only the admirable fruit of redemption but she also actively cooperated in the mystery of redemption .
Paul VI described evangelization as a true birthing: For the Church, evangelizing meaning bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #18). The Pope also pointed out the extent of Mary’s service and highlighted the various situations in which a followers of Christ ought to make present the power of the gospel: The modern woman will recognize in Mary, who "stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord," a woman of strength, who experienced poverty and suffering, flight and exile (cf. Matthew 2:13-23). These are situations that cannot escape the attention of those who wish to support, with the Gospel spirit, the liberating energies of man and of society (Marialis Cultus, #37).
Evangelization and service on behalf of the poor constitute the reason for the existence of all the institutions and associations of the Vincentian Family. On numerous occasions Vincent proposed Mary’s promptness at the time of the Visitation as a model for our service on behalf of the poor: They will honor the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin going to visit her cousin cheerfully and promptly (CCD:XIIIb:3). The open hands of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, her veil that covers the earth and embraces the poor, Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, the spirituality of the Magnificat, Mary’s solicitude as a Mother as she cooperates in the birth and the education of the brothers and sisters of her Son (cf. Redemptoris Mater, #6) … all of these Marian traits should continue to inspire the evangelizing service and the charitable creativity of the Vincentian Family as they confront the thousand and one faces of poverty today.
At the beginning of this presentation we stated that to speak about Marian spirituality means that we find inspiration in Mary as we follow Christ. This then is our second proposal for a life-giving Marian spirituality, namely, to live as Mary lived: [a] called and chosen [b] attentive to and willing to follow the Father’s will [c] so that Christ abides with us [d] to proclaim the gospel of charity to the poor.
To celebrate the mystery of Christ with Mary
In order to formulate our third proposal with regard to developing a life-giving Marian spirituality in the Vincentian charism, we once again have recourse to the suggestion of Saint Louise: All truly Christian souls should have great devotion to the Blessed virgin, especially in her role as Mother of God. They should honor her, also, because of the virtues with which god endowed her for accomplishment of his holy designs (SWLM:785 [M.33]).
Beginning with the Second Vatican Council, the documents of the Church clearly point out the path:
• The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #10).
• In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ's mysteries, holy Church honors with especial love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #103).
• Christ is the only way to the Father, and the ultimate example to whom the disciple must conform his own conduct, to the extent of sharing Christ's sentiments, living His life and possessing His Spirit. The Church has always taught this and nothing in pastoral activity should obscure this doctrine. But the Church, taught by the Holy Spirit and benefiting from centuries of experience, recognizes that devotion to the Blessed Virgin, subordinated to worship of the divine Savior and in connection with it, also has a great pastoral effectiveness and constitutes a force for renewing Christian living (Marialis Cultus, #57).
• This cult, as it always existed, although it is altogether singular, differs essentially from the cult of adoration which is offered to the Incarnate Word, as well to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is most favorable to it. The various forms of piety toward the Mother of God, which the Church within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine, according to the conditions of time and place, and the nature and ingenuity of the faithful has approved, bring it about that while the Mother is honored, the Son, through whom all things have their being and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, is rightly known, loved and glorified and that all His commands are observed (Lumen Gentium, #66).
• The Church understands that she is inspired by Mary who is the model of the spiritual attitude with which the Church celebrates and lives the divine mysteries (Marialis Cultus, #16)
• When the Church considers the long history of Marian devotion she rejoices at the continuity of the element of cult which it shows, but she does not bind herself to any particular expression of an individual cultural epoch or to the particular anthropological ideas underlying such expressions. The Church understands that certain outward religious expressions, while perfectly valid in themselves, may be less suitable to men and women of different ages and cultures (Marialis Cultus, #36).
In light of these principles, the members of the various associations of the Vincentian Family have to learn to celebrate the mystery of Christ throughout the liturgical year, just as Mary did. Fidelity to these principles will require that at different times we re-examine and update our devotion to the Virgin Mary. Keeping these criteria before us we ought to be attentive to the details that surround the various expressions of our devotion to the Blessed Mother. These expressions of our devotion to the Virgin Mary cannot be developed in a manner that is distinct from that of our Vincentian spirituality.
In the Word of God, in the life of the ecclesial community, and in our own spiritual tradition we find inspirational sources for a Marian spirituality in the Vincentian charism … and indeed, following Christ in accord with the Vincentian charism we find inspiration in this Marian spirituality.
 Robert P. Maloney, CM, The Way of Vincent de Paul. A contemporary Spirituality in the Service of the Poor, New City Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1992, p. 13.
 S. Galilea, El camino de la espiritualidad (The path of spirituality), Bogotá, Ediciones Paulinas, 1982, p. 104.
 This highlights Mary’s relationship with the spiritual life. If the Christian life is an openness to the kingdom of God, then Mary is the poor virgin who in an exemplary manner opened herself totally to the kingdom; if the Christian life is life in Christ, then Mary is the believer who participates in the saving work of the Lord and does so in a spirit of fidelity, attentiveness and perseverance; if the Christian life is life in the Spirit, then Mary is the first person upon whom the Spirit is poured forth and thus she acts with a new heart and gives witness to Christ and praises God’s interventions in history … S. De Flores, Nuevo Diccionario de espiritualidad (S. de Flores, T. Goffi, A. Guerra, dir.), Madrid, Ediciones Paulinas, 1991, 9. 1162.
 T. Goffi, Nuevo Diccionario de Mariologia (New Dictionary on Mariology) [S. De Flores, S. Meo, E. Tourón, dir.], Madrid, San Pablo, 1988, p. 668.
 In recent years numerous studies have been published on the Vincentian charism; cf., El charisma vicenciano, memoria y profecía, XXVI semana de estudios vicencianos, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 2001.
Cf., Mutuae Relationes, #11; Evangelica Testificatio, #11; Sister Juana Elizondo, DC, Vincentian Charism and Spirit, in Vincentiana 1998, volume 42, #4-5, p.323-340.
 S. de Flores, op.cit., p. 1160; cf., Deuteronomy 28:4; Judges 5:24; Judith 13:18, 15:12.
 Ibid., p. 1161.
 The scene described by John has a salvific, messianic, ecclesial and universal dimension; it is a scene of intimate revelation related to “the hour”. The disciple is given a representative, typological significance. S. de Flores, op.cit., p. 1162.
 F.M. López Melús, María de Nazaret, la verdadera discipula [Mary of Nazareth, the true disciple], Salamanca, Sigueme, 1999, p. 335.
 A. Dodin, Le culte de Marie et l’experience religieuse de M. Vicent de Paul in Vincentiana (1975), 207-225. Other studies on this theme: J.P. Renouard, El sentido mariano en la experiencia spiritual de San Vicente in Las apariciones de la Virgen María a santa Catalina Labouré, Salamanca, CEME, 1091; V. de Dios, Marianismo Vicenciano in Diccionario de espiritualidad vicenciana, Salamanca, CEME, 1997.
 In 1523 Luther wrote: If it were not for the abuses that surround Marian devotion, I would not have insisted on the total abandonment of these practices.
 V. de Dios, op.cit., p. 351; cf., A. Dodin, op.cit.
 Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, edited and translated by various Daughters of Charity and members of the Congregation of the Mission, New City Press, New York, 1985-2009. All future reference to this work will use the initials (CCD), followed by the volume number, followed by the page number. These references will appear in the text and not as footnotes.
 Cf., En Tiempos de San Vicente y hoy, Editorial CEME, Salamanca, 1999, Vol. II, p. 368 (there one will find numerous texts that refer to these characteristics).
 A. Dodin, op.cit., p. 219.
 Spiritual Writing of Louise de Marillac: Correspondence and Thoughts, edited and translated from the French by Sister Louise Sullivan, DC, New City Press, Brooklyn, 1991. All further references to this work will use the initials “SWLM” followed by the page number, followed by the letter number [L.34] or the manuscript number [E.14] or [M.5b].
 All truly Christian souls should have great devotion to the Blessed Virgin, especially in her role as Mother of God. They should honor her, also, because of the virtues with which God endowed her for accomplishment of his holy designs. Her eminent dignity obliges us to honor her in some way each day. The best way to do this is to unite ourselves to the Church, especially at those times which it has set aside for the express purpose of paying homage to Mary. We should rejoice with her and congratulate her for the choice which God made of her by uniting his humanity and his divinity within her womb. We should also implore her to assist us to preserve in our own hearts a close union with God. When we are filled with gratitude for the graces that God has bestowed upon us through the Incarnation and the exemplary life of Jesus Christ, let us look upon the Blessed Virgin as the channel through which all these benefits have come to us and thank her by acts of love. Let us take Our Lady as the model for our daily lives and bear in mind that the best way to honor her is by imitating her virtues. We should particu1arly honor her purity since we are the spouses of Jesus Christ. We should also imitate her humility which led God to do great things in her. Following the example she gave us by living apart from her parents as a very young child, we must be detached from all things. In all of our actions, let us practice these virtues, of which Mary has given us the example, and beg her to offer them to her Son in our name. Let us celebrate, in a special way, the Church feasts honoring Mary and meditate, during the day, on the mystery proposed. Each day, let us implore her to help us to render to God the service we have promised him and to be as submissive as she was in accomplishing his holy will. We should faithfully recite, each day, those prayers which we have chosen to honor her. These should include acts of love as well as of joyful praise for the glory that is hers in heaven. Finally, let us continue to hope that we will one day be with her and will thus be able to render to her all the honor due to her in the divine plan (SWLM:785-786 [M33]).
 The Spanish text refers to the catechism that Louise wrote and that document has not been translated and included in the Select Writing of Louise de Marillac.
As everyone knows there are many other groups and associations within the Vincentian Family. Here we refer to the lay associations that were founded by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac (AIC) or those groups that have arisen as a result of the apparitions of the Virgin to Catherine Laroure (MMA, VMY, MISEVI) or other groups that have risen up around her (Vincent de Paul Society); cf, Betty Ann McNeil, (monograph) The Vincentian Family Tree, Vincentian Studies Institute, 1996.
 Cf., John 19; Redemptoris Missio, #45.
 S. de Flors, op.cit., p. 1151.
 In the Virgin Mary everything is relative to Christ and dependent upon Him (Marialis Cultus, #25).
 The reference in the Spanish text reads: Marialis Cultus, #37 but only the first part of this quote appears there … the part about her being an active collaborator in the mystery of redemption is not in #37 and I could not find any similar reference in the entir
Translated by: Charles T. Plock, CM