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Marist Bulletin - Number 259

 

Father Champagnat’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin
10/08/2006

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The Constitutions of the Marist Brothers declare at n° 74: “Like Father Champagnat, we go to Mary as a child to its mother. By prayer, and by studying what the Church is saying about Mary, we seek to deepen our relationship with her. Her great feast days, especially the Assumption, which is the patronal feast of the Institute, are special times for intensifying our devotion to this Good Mother.”
We suggest that you read some pages of Father Champagnat’s life.

It could be said that our beloved Father had imbibed this devotion with his mother’s milk, for she and his pious aunt were both very devoted to the Blessed Virgin. They had striven to instil this precious devotion into his heart from his earliest infancy.
During his childhood and while he lived in the bosom of the family, his devotion took the form of reciting a few short prayers that he had been taught; but once he had decided to become a priest and when he was actually in the seminary, his piety towards the Mother of God increased perceptibly and he undertook numerous practices to merit her protection and to prove to her his tender affection. It was then he took the resolution to say the rosary every day, a resolution that he faithfully kept all his life. He loved also to make frequent visits to Mary’s altar and it was in these communing with her that he came to understand that God wished to sanctify him and prepare him to labour for the sanctification of his neighbour, through a special devotion to that divine Mother. His motto from then on became: “All to Jesus through Mary, and all to Mary for Jesus.” This saying reveals the spirit which guided him and was his rule of conduct throughout life.
Looking on the Blessed Virgin as his Mother and as the path which would lead him to Jesus, he placed under her protection his studies, his vocations and all his plans; he consecrated himself to her every day and offered her all his actions so that she might deign to present them to her divine Son. It was in one of his frequent visits to the Blessed Virgin that the idea struck him of founding a congregation of pious teachers and of naming it after the one who had inspired it. Since he himself felt a special inclination to honour the Blessed Virgin, judging others by himself, he believed that the name of Mary would suffice in itself to attract subjects to the congregation which he was intending to found. He was not deceived.
Faithful to his resolution of always going to Jesus through Mary, on leaving the seminary after ordination, he made his way to Fourvières in order to consecrate his ministry to the Blessed Virgin; and each time that business took him to Lyon, he visited the shrine of Fourvières to renew that offering and that consecration, at Mary’s feet.
When he was appointed curate of La Valla, he went there on a Saturday and wanted his holy ministry to begin on the feast of the Assumption so that Mary might bless its first fruits and herself present them to her divine Son. That is the way he acted all his life, offering and entrusting to Mary all his plans and works, and he would begin them only after prolonged prayer for her blessing. Every day, during his visits to the Blessed Sacrament he would go and pay homage to the Blessed Virgin. Yet that wasn’t enough to satisfy his piety. In his own room, he erected a small altar on which he placed her statue. There, at all hours of the day, he sent up fervent prayers to her, and often remained long hours prostrate at her feet.
Perceiving that the altar of Mary in the parish church was in a state of bad repair, he had another one made at his own expense, and restored the whole chapel. In the parish of the La Valla, at some distance from the village, there is a shrine in honour of the Blessed Virgin, under the title of Our Lady of Pity. Marcellin visited it often; and several times a week he went there in procession with some pious members of the faithful to celebrate Holy Mass. On the way there, they sang the Miserere Mei, and on their return, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin.
From his very first year as curate, he introduced the pious practice of the month of Mary in the parish church. At that time, it was a little-known practise; within a few years, it was to produce great fruits of salvation both in the whole of France and in the entire Christian world. He led the exercise himself each morning after Mass. To promote it, he distributed in the parish, many copies of the booklet, the Month of Mary, and other works calculated to inspire devotion to the august Mother of God. Hence, in a short time, the practice of the month of Mary spread to every hamlet in the parish and soon each family had its place for prayer, where they gathered in the evening before a picture of the Queen of Heaven to beg for her protection, to sing her praises and to meditate on her greatness and goodness.
When he had founded his Institute, the month of Mary became a community exercise; it was even made a practice in the schools and an article of Rule was framed in these terms: “All the Brothers will have at heart the careful performance of the month of Mary exercise and will arrange for the children to carry it out with pleasure and devotion.”

Life of Father Champagnat, p. 332-334.

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