The System and Functions
The Handbook states: “The Legion is an army — the army of the Virgin Most Humble.” Like any army it must be built on discipline, tactics, and morale. It therefore calls for an “unrelaxed discipline,” a discipline that is based on true humility and that must “bear on all the affairs of daily life and be ever on the alert for opportunities to promote the general object of the Legion, namely, to destroy the empire of sin, uproot its foundations and plant on its ruins the standard of Christ the King.”
Since the Legion “places before its members a mode of life, rather than the doing of a work,” it provided “an intensely ordered system, in which much is given the force of rule that in other systems is merely exhorted or left to be understood, and in regard to every detail of which it enjoins a spirit of scrupulous observance.”
Despite some criticism of its inflexible rules, this point of faithful adherence to the Legion system in all its details is so important that the Hand-book says that the Legion “deems a member to be a member to the degree to which he submits himself to the Legion system, and no more.”
1. Mary’s army
Like any army, the Legion is composed of members who are in active service (active members) and those who support the troops by their work and their prayers (auxiliary members). Modeled on a military model, the Legion took its nomenclature from the old Roman legion. Using such Latin terms as Praesidium, Curia, Senatus, etc., gave the Legion a note of universality and unity.
The basic unit of the Legion is the Praesidium. This is the parish or institutional unit, and it ranges from approximately four to twenty active members, to which may be affiliated an indefinite number of auxiliary members, whose obligation it is to sustain the active members by their prayers and sacrifices. The prayers that the Legionaries, both active and auxiliary, must say every day are to be found on the official prayer card of the Legion, called the Tessera.
Each Praesidium is made up of four officers: president, vice- president, secretary, and treasurer. It holds its meetings once a week. Since the Legion “took root from the St. Vincent de Paul Society,” it is to be expected that its method of procedure is much the same. It is invariable and consists of: 1. prayer to the Holy Spirit; 2. recitation of the Rosary; 3. spiritual reading; 4. reading of the minutes of the previous meeting; 5. verbal account of the preceding week’s work, given by each member; 6. recitation of the Magnificat; 7. assignment of work for the coming week; 8. discussion based on the Handbook; 9. concluding prayers; 10. blessing by the spiritual director.
2. Governing bodies
It should be noted that “no praesidium shall be established in any parish without the consent of the parish priest or of the Ordinary.” In addition, no Praesidium can be organized in a locality without the express permission of the governing body immediately above it, called the Curia. This permission can only be given if the new group pledges itself to adhere faithfully to the rules and regulations as set down in the Legion Handbook.
When two or more Praesidia are established in a certain area, a higher body, called a Curia, is formed. This group is made up of all the officers of the Praesidia in the locality and chooses its own officers from among them. When one Curia is placed in charge of several Curiae, it becomes a Comitium. This body does not generally exceed the boundaries of a diocese. Above the Comitium is the Senatus, which is the governing body for a whole area. Finally, there is the Concilium, which is the central governing body of the Legion throughout the world. Its headquarters are located in De Montfort House, Dublin, Ireland.
3. What is the objective of the Legion of Mary, and how does it achieve this objective?
The Handbook states: “The object of the Legion of Mary is the glory of God through the sanctification of its members by prayer and active cooperation, under ecclesiastical guidance, in Mary’s and the Church’s work of crushing the head of the serpent and advancing the reign of Christ.” It is interesting how the Legion Handbook identifies Mary’s work with that of the Church, in what concerns “advancing the reign of Christ.” This Legion objective gives it full right to be called Catholic Action.
Pope Pius XI once defined Catholic Action as “the participation of the laity in the true and proper apostolate of the Church.” The Legion of Mary is Catholic Action founded on Mary. The Second Vatican Council’s decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (AA) states that the “perfect model of this apostolic spiritual life is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles. Everyone should have a genuine devotion to her and entrust his life to her motherly care.”
4. Through union with Her
To recognize from the very outset the role and influence of Mary in the dual work of personal sanctification and the apostolate, and then to submit oneself fully to this maternal influence through intimate union with the Mediatrix of all Graces to become an instrument of conquest in her virginal hands is the secret of the Legionary apostolate — such is the method proper to the Legion of Mary. To be sure, there are many approved forms of Catholic Action. As Pope Pius XII pointed out: “’Catholic Action is not confined within a closed circle’ nor is it such that ’it pursues its object according to a special method and system,’ so as to abolish or absorb the other active Catholic organizations.”
In other words, some organizations will stress the study and the application of the laws of psychology; others will concentrate their efforts on studying the social and intellectual milieu, etc. All of these are methods that, it will be readily conceded, merit our admiration and support. In the Legion of Mary, however, the method is entirely different. Placing itself, from the very outset, above all human strategy, it establishes a soul firmly in the realm of faith.
Since the Legionary’s principal task is “to bring Mary to the world as the infallible means of winning the world to Jesus,” it is obvious that “the Legionary without Mary in his heart can play no part in this.”17 Hence the necessity for each Legionary to seek union with Mary through imitation of her virtues and complete dependence upon her. “Its members thus grown into living copies of Mary, the Legion sees itself in truth a Legion of Mary, united to her mission and guaranteed her victory.”
5. Marian apostolate
This union with Mary, and imitation of her virtues, will inevitably lead to an apostolate that is essentially Marian, that is to say, an apostolate through which Christ will not only be seen in every person but will be tended to and cared for with the love of Mary herself. To quote the words of the Handbook: “In and through her Legionary, Mary participates in every Legionary duty and mothers souls, so that in each of those worked for not only is the person of Our Lord seen and served, but seen and served by Mary, with the same exquisite love and nurturing care which she gave to the actual body of her Divine Son.”
For the Legionary, as for Mary herself, a crowd is never just a crowd. It is an assemblage of individual people, each meriting particular attention, infinite love. Hence the Legionary instruction: “The Legion must direct itself to the individual soul.” This is the way the Legion envisages the problem of people in the aggregate. It does not presume to belittle or ignore crowd psychology; rather, it seeks to transform that crowd by approaching and transforming the individuals in it.
In a word, the Legion method or technique is both spiritual and psychological. It is spiritual in that it is based on union with Mary; it is psychological in that it is based on sound elementary psychology.