On several occasions Frank Duff, our founder, expressed the conviction that if the whole Legion was blotted out and forgotten but there was one praesidium left that followed the spirit and letter of the Handbook it would have the same potential to expand and spread throughout the whole world just as did the original band that met on the eve of the Nativity of Our Lady in 1921. The original group of legionaries were an inconspicuous group of people. The unbelievable success of that first group was not due to any exceptional organising ability, nor were they particularly influential or gifted. Their achievements were due to one thing alone and that is internal quality. And every praesidium has the same potential as the original group.
But what was the secret of that original group, what was its inner power or dynamism or to put it in more modern terms, what was its special charism and absolute guarantee of success? Let us listen to the words of our Founder: ‘If you ask me now in a few words to say to you what that power lies in, I’ll tell you that it lies in its approach to the Blessed Virgin. That is the central germ. That first group offered itself deliberately to Mary, to be used by her in her mothering of souls. That was the notion which brought them together and that was the thought which filled them.’ The first praesidium had just read and committed itself to the practice of the True Devotion to Mary and that became the motor power of everything worthwhile in the Legion. There can be no stopping of the Legion anywhere in the world or in any generation of old or young or middle-aged legionaries if it has really and truly and effectively offered itself to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Make no mistake about it. She is the power behind the Legion. It cannot fail with Mary at its heart and the inspiration of its apostolic action.
To more fully understand the offering that the Legion makes to Our Lady we must see it in the context of the Mystical Body of Christ. Jesus continues his life in his Body the Church. He seeks to live his inner attitude and bonding to His Mother Mary in and the through the Church. The Legion like the Church as a whole seeks to reproduce the love of Christ for his Mother. His is the supreme love of Mary. His love is the ultimate true devotion to Mary. The Legion seeks to share in his utter love and commitment to his Mother. But then we seek to have the mind and heart of Mary towards the Mystical Body of Christ. She loves and cherishes each and every member of the Mystical Body just as she was completely centred on the historical Christ. She is totally focused on the Risen Lord living in his Mystical Body. Her divinely given role is the mothering of the Mystical Body. The mothering of souls. And the Legion seeks with all its heart to share with Mary her mothering of souls. The Legion seeks to be a real and special presence of Mary the mother of the Mystical Body wherever there is a praesidium.
Let me conclude with some extracts from our Founder’s own words instead of my paraphrasing of them. In one of his talks he says: ‘The special relation which existed between Our Lord and His Mother – that relation between Our Lady and the Mystical Body – is necessary to the life of that body. Our Lady’s place in salvation was an extraordinary one. It’s very important that we should get a glimpse of it, and one of the special occupations of the Legion of Mary is trying to give its members some idea of the wonderful place that she fulfilled from the first. From the first moment, God built His whole plan of salvation of the human race on that woman. That is the amazing situation. Without her prayer and co-operation, Our Lord would not have come.’
‘The Incarnation – that is, the coming of Our Lord on earth, the taking of human flesh, and all this other drama that we have been touching on – depended upon her. First of all He took His flesh from her, just as every child takes its flesh from its mother. But she played a part in regard to Him over and above that played by the ordinary mother in regard to her child. She brings the child into existence and she nurtures and she loves that child. Our Lady went further than all that because Our Lady was brought into the very mystery of salvation in a way which would be very profitable to go into but would take a little time. The Blessed Trinity brought her in as a co-operator. It built salvation, not only on her body, but on her will as well. It depends upon the will of the Holy Trinity and the will of this one woman.’
‘Therefore, when we think in terms of the Mystical Body and realise that it is carrying on Our Lord’s life – it is working miracles as He did; it is preaching and converting; forgiving sin and all these other things that were such parts of His life – so it is loving her. It must love her to distraction. It must depend on her will. It must always have her in view, that is absolutely essential. That’s the intention of God and we must not fail in that. We must reproduce that unique relation between the son and the mother.’
‘The Church without her would be in a position equivalent to that of the natural body without a heart. That would be a monstrosity. As she is by the law of God made necessary to the functioning of the Mystical Body, so we must understand that fact and we must enter thoroughly into it. Therein lies the value, the secret, of whatever has happened to the Legion: in that and in nothing else, the fact of trying to understand that and exploit it. If we do not understand that and act on it, whatever the cause, we upset the due balance, and that heavenly nuclear reaction of grace does not operate properly in us. On the other hand, the section of Catholicism which does embrace Mary in that full way and sets out with her to try to share in her mothering function towards the Church – understanding her – that section of Catholicism was used by the Holy Trinity as its instrument in the world. It is not something which is proper to the Legion: it’s open, it’s a destiny which lies waiting for any body of Catholics anywhere.’