Montfort and the Laity
The Context in Montfort’s Time
In order to understand the role that Montfort assigned to the laity in his life and mission, it is important to understand the period and the context in which he lived. It is true that from the seminarian who was ordained a priest in Paris in June 1700, and from the apostolic missionary who died at St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre on April 18, 1716, we cannot expect a theory on the management of the laity in the spirit of Vatican Council II (1962-65), which gave the laity its rightful place in the Church. However, many involvements of the laity can be found in the Montfortian missions, in areas that are perfectly in agreement with the intellectual level of the time, where, very often, the ideal was simply to “believe what the Church believes”.
A House Called “Providence” in Every Mission
During his missions, Montfort made it a rule that it was necessary to rely solely on the alms from the parishioners to meet the cost of the missions. He even went to the extent of saying that these contributions were essential for the success of the missions (cf. Rules of the Missionary Priests of the Company of Mary, 50). It is said that the missionaries received plenty by way of these contributions from the parishioners, and with the surplus that was received “he had meals prepared for the poor, everyday”. Grandet in his biography of Montfort even goes to the extend of saying that the young girls who were engaged in the preparation of the meals for the poor in this House of Providence also busied themselves sewing dresses to be distributed to the poor who came in there. Though it is believed that the House of Providence existed in a place only for the duration of the missions there, this was an opportunity for the laity live out their catechism lessons, by serving Jesus in the poor and expressing their solidarity with the poor in practical ways, because they considered the poor as Jesus.
Lay People Involved in Different Activities during the Mission
It is said that the during the missions of Montfort, all the different types of participation were solicited from the laity; some cleaning and tidying up the churches, other more skilled ones taking up the painting, paving, masonry work, wood work, weaving, embroidery, etc. This was a practical way of teaching everyone that the upkeep of the place of worship was the responsibility of everyone concerned. Another area where all the laity participated enthusiastically was the planting of the cross in every mission. It is reported that at Pontchâteau some eight hundred persons were working freely for a period of fifteen months for the construction of the Calvary in 1709. The only salary that was promised to them was to have the favour of contemplating the statues that were to be erected, so that they could get some rest from the tiredness of the day’s hard labour. Montfort, the chief architect, was shaping up these rough laymen to understand the wisdom of the Cross.
The Processions during the Missions
The processions that were organized by Montfort during all the missions he conducted in the different Parishes were a cherished activity for all the laity. The memory of the symbols and the gestures used during these processions, like carrying the statue of Mary, venerating the Bible, kissing of the baptismal font while entering the Church, all remained engraved in the hearts of the participants more than any sermons could do. There is no doubt that these were simple means used by Montfort to build up the Christian personality of the laity.
Montfort deeply believed in the grace of the Pilgrimages. He also knew well how to communicate his faith to the laity. At the beginning of Lent in 1716, 33 White Penitents of St. Pompain proposed to the missionary a pilgrimage on foot to the shrine of Our Lady of Ardilliers in Saumur, lasting for one week. Montfort wrote down some precise rules to be observed during the pilgrimage, which included mutual charity, frequent silence, mortification or fasting, and obedience to the appointed Superior. He gave them an objective for this pilgrimage: “To obtain from God, through the intercession of Mary, good missionaries and the gift of Wisdom”. This pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Ardilliers in Saumur was revived in 1982, under the influence of the Brothers of St. Gabriel. Since then, a group of lay people have been taking part in this Pilgrimage every year to pray for “true missionaries and Wisdom, through the intercession of Mary”.
The Renewal of the Spirit of Christianity
What the laity realized with Montfort, the Apostolic Missionary, is simply a means “to renew the spirit of Christianity among the faithful” (Rule of the Missionaries, 56)
The Renewal of the Baptismal Promises
According to Montfort, every baptized person becomes a true slave, by the love of Jesus Christ (TD 68). But in the real life, he often lives with as much license as if he had not promised anything to God (TD 238). During the parochial missions, Montfort relied on the popular religious practices in order to restore the Christian life, notably the Associations, the Confraternities, the plays on the stage and the Rosary as a union to the attitudes and the mysteries of Jesus who offered himself up for the forgiveness of sins. Above all, Montfort made the renewal of the baptismal promises the culminating point of the missions, in response to the order that he received from Pope Clement XI, during his audience in June 1706. Montfort took the opportunity of this moment of renewal, to make it as one of the most solemn and the most serious exercises of all. Everyone went back home with his signed certificate of renewal, in order to “keep those promises faithfully until death”. Such is the basis of the spirituality applied for all laypersons, with a marked insistence, well used at that time, on “the flight as the plague” of all the places where the devil crouches.
The Consecration to Jesus through Mary
To the souls predestined to go forward in the spiritual life, Montfort proposed a subtler sieve: “The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus” (TD 120). The refinement of the spirituality proposed to the laity is therefore to renew the baptismal promises through the hands of Mary, and to offer their whole person, their actions and possessions, unconditionally (LEW 227). The vocabulary slavery, which was well accepted at that time, is there to express the concept that the process was absolute and total.
Pope John Paul II concluded the Jubilee Year on January 6, 2001, saying: “The perspective in which must stand the whole pastoral progress is the one of holiness.” Faithful to his apostolic mission, Montfort used all the pedagogic means that, for 300 years, have printed an original mark on the spirituality of the laity.