33 Days to Morning Glory
A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration
Michael E. Gaitley, MIC
“Why I Wrote This Book, and How It Works
I wrote this book for one main reason: Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary (Marian consecration) truly is “the surest, easiest, shortest, and the most perfect means”1 to becoming a saint, and there should be an easy and updated way to dive in to such a blessing.
NO EASY WAY… ‘TIL NOW.
I ran into a problem when I was writing my other do-it-yourself retreat, Consoling the Heart of Jesus. In that book, I spoke about how awesome, amazing, and life-changing total consecration to Jesus through Mary is, but I didn’t have time to explain it fully. So, I recommended that people read St. Louis de Montfort’s classic book on Marian consecration, True Devotion to Mary.
In True Devotion, de Montfort lays out a course of preparation for Marian consecration that lasts 33 days. Problem is, it’s not so easy to follow the format as laid out in the book itself. (The prayers are on different pages, you have to hunt them down, flip back and forth, etc.) To solve this problem, the de Montfort Fathers published a smaller book called Preparation for Total Consecration. That book gathered all the prayers together and made it easier to follow de Montfort’s 33 days, but there was still a problem for me.
De Montfort’s 33-day preparation is loaded with litanies and prayers but lean on information about consecration. Years ago, when I first began his preparation format, I clearly remember the impression it made on me: “What have I gotten myself into?!”It seemed I’d begun a 33-day prayer marathon, and I wondered if I’d be able to persevere to the end. Eventually, I resigned myself to the idea that to gain the crown of Marian consecration, I’d just have to “pay my dues” by reciting the long list of prayers that grew each week. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fitting that we make some kind of sacrifice in order to receive a gift as great as Marian consecration. Moreover, I don’t mean to disparage vocal prayer, which has immense value and is an “essential element of the Christian life.”2 It’s just that I personally find more spiritual fruit not in reciting long prayers but in pondering in my heart inspiring teachings on Marian consecration. I’ve learned there are not a few others who feel the same way, and I don’t want them to miss out on such a treasure as Marian consecration because of so many lengthy prayers.
So, I wrote this book. I did so with the belief that a preparation for Marian consecration (or a preparation for renewing one’s consecration) doesn’t have to be a prayer marathon. Rather, it can be a less daunting experience of spiritual reading and prayerful pondering. Of course, there are those who may find more spiritual nourishment in the original, 33-day preparation, and that’s great. But I wanted to provide an alternative for those who, like me, sometimes struggle with saying so many long prayers. Also, I wanted to provide for everyone — litany lovers included — an updated version of St. Louis’s original 33-day preparation that would include new riches from contemporary sources, a Marian consecration for the Third Millennium.
NO UPDATED WAY … ‘TIL NOW.
In Consoling the Heart of Jesus, I made an amazingly bold claim. I said one could get all the graces of a 30-day Ignatian retreat not in 30 days but in just one weekend. In being so bold, I took my cue from Venerable Fr. Pio Bruno Lanteri (1759-1826), who claimed that someone could have everything he needs to become “a great saint” not in 30 days but in just 8 days. Why did Lanteri believe his retreats could be shorter than yet just as effective as 30-day retreats? Because he gave them with a special emphasis, what I call his “secret weapons”: Divine Mercy and Mary. And why did I believe my retreat could be even shorter than Lanteri’s? Because Lanteri died more than 180 years ago, and since his death there’s been even greater insight into his secret weapons, making them even more powerful. With these more powerful weapons, I concluded that we could have even more effective retreats, even in a weekend.
So, in Consoling the Heart of Jesus, I spent most of the pages unpacking the rich, new insights that have to do with one of Lanteri’s secret weapons: Divine Mercy. Thus, I covered a lot of material from two of the great, contemporary Mercy Saints: Thérèse of Lisieux and Maria Faustina Kowalska. Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time then to dwell on the rich, new insights concerning Marian consecration. I touched on those insights but couldn’t go into great depth. Fortunately, that’s what we get to do here.
In the pages that follow, we’ll be hearing not only from the first great apostle of Marian consecration, St. Louis de Montfort, but also from other Marian giants who came after him. In doing this, we’re simply following de Montfort’s own example. In his day, he gathered and synthesized the teachings of the best experts in Marian spirituality. Were he alive today, there’s no doubt he would present the teachings of our contemporary “Marian experts.”
Who are the contemporary Marian experts? There are plenty of them, but I’ve chosen for our reflection “the big three.” Specifically, I’ve picked the top three Marian saints who have most dramatically added to the beauty and richness of consecration spirituality. They are St. Maximillian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and St. Pope John Paul II. When we add St. Louis de Montfort to this mix, we’ve got a grand total of four Marian giants who will help lead us through a power-packed and updated form of Marian consecration.
HOW THE RETREAT WORKS.
Every week of this four-week retreat (plus five days for review), we’ll read about how one of our four giants of Marian consecration lived out his or her consecration to Jesus through Mary. The goal will be not just to read about them and their teaching but, like Mary, to ponder their message in our hearts. So, for 33 days, we won’t be going through a long list of prayers. Rather, we’ll do our best to spend all day, each day, pondering the day’s teaching. (Or, if we do our reading in the evenings, we can spend the day pondering the previous day’s teaching.) As we know from Sacred Scripture, this heart-pondering attitude is specifically Marian (see Luke 2:19, 51), and it’s something we can do no matter how busy we are. Moreover, I’ve included a short prayer to go with each day’s reading to help us ponder the day’s lesson. And because our goal during these 33 days is to remain in an atmosphere of heart-pondering prayer, I’ve called this time not just a preparation but a retreat.
Of course, 33 days is a long time to be on retreat, and it just might happen that, despite our good intentions and best efforts, we’ll miss a day (or days) of the readings and prayers. If this happens, we need not get discouraged, and we surely shouldn’t quit! Instead, I suggest that we simply read the text for the days we missed as soon as we can and keep going with the retreat. The Lord knows what’s in our hearts, and if our desire truly is to make the consecration, we shouldn’t let any temptations stop us. Believe me, it’s very likely that we’ll face temptations to cancel our preparation. But let’s not give in. Let’s do our best to be faithful to the readings and the prayerful pondering for each day. If we falter because of negligence, let’s tell the Lord we’re sorry, trust in his mercy, make up the missed readings, and keep going.
The reason I suggest that we make up any missed readings has to do with the structure of the retreat: Each day’s teaching builds on the next, and all the parts converge at the end to give a complete picture of Marian consecration. So, we surely wouldn’t want to skip an essential part. Moreover, because this retreat is so structured, it may be helpful at the outset to briefly consider a breakdown of the four full weeks of the retreat, keeping in mind that the last five days are reserved for review:
Week 1 — St. Louis de Montfort
Week 2 — St. Maximillian Kolbe
Week 3 — Blessed Mother Teresa
Week 4 — St. Pope John Paul II
* Again, five days remain after the fourth week. The first four of these days (29-32) are dedicated, in turn, to a review of each one of the weeks. The fifth day (day 33 of the preparation) is reserved for reviewing the prayer of consecration that will be recited the following day, the Marian Feast, the “34th” day. *
Now, before we begin the retreat itself, I thought I’d include an introduction to Marian consecration. This introduction is not part of the 33 days of preparation. Instead, it’s a kind of preparation for the preparation. And this is a good thing, because while the introduction can be read at any time, I recommend doing the retreat itself during one of several specific times. In other words, I suggest that we follow St. Louis’s advice to schedule the 33 days of preparation so they will end on the vigil of a Marian feast day.
[Editor’s Note: We commence this particular 33-day preparation for total consecration on Nov. 5 in order to make or renew our total consecration on Dec. 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the start of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.]
… [T]here’s never a bad time or a wrong time to prepare for consecration. This is just the ideal. …
Actually, before you begin the introduction, here’s one more thing you might want to consider: making a group retreat. While it’s customary to make retreats on one’s own, many people find small-group formats to be particularly effective. If you’re interested in this option, see the information pages at the end of this book.
Introduction to Marian Consecration
WHY “MORNING GLORY”?
When you first saw this book, you may have wondered, “Why is it called 33 Days to Morning Glory?” The “33 days” part should now be clear — it refers to the days of preparation — but maybe the “morning glory” part isn’t so clear. I chose this part of the title because I think it best captures what Marian consecration is all about: A new way of life in Christ. The act of consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary marks the beginning of a gloriously new day, a new dawn, a brand new morning in one’s spiritual journey. It’s a fresh start, and it changes everything.
I had the experience of a gloriously new morning in my own spiritual journey when I consecrated myself to Mary* for the first time on December 8, 1995.
- Author’s Note: Sometimes I will refer … to Marian consecration as a consecration “to Jesus through Mary;” at other times, I will refer to it simply as a consecration “to Mary.” The two expressions have the same meaning. After all, Mary’s whole purpose and mission is to bring souls into union with her divine Son, Jesus. She’s not in competition with him. So, if I say “consecration to Mary,” its full meaning is “to Jesus through Mary.” In fact, any “to Mary” expression used in this book should be taken as “to Mary … for the sake of Christ, for the sake of God, for the sake of the Trinity.” Here on out, I’m going to presuppose this because it would be too repetitive to explain it every time.
It was the end of the first semester of my freshman year in college. Earlier that semester, a friend had given me a copy of St. Louis de Montfort’s book, True Devotion to Mary. When I saw the words on the back cover, declaring that it presents a “short, easy, secure, and perfect” way to become a saint, I was sold. I thought to myself, “Hey, this is the kind of way I need!” So, despite having a pile of homework, I started reading. Before I was even halfway through the book, I stopped, set it down, and resolutely decided, “I will do this consecration.” Afterward, I picked the next available Marian feast, ran the 33-day prayer marathon, and made the consecration with great fervor. That day totally changed my life. I look back on it now, and I can truly say that everything changed. Everything opened up. It was a gloriously new morning in my walk with Christ, now with Mary.
Saint John Paul II describes consecration to Mary as having had a similar effect on him. He even says that his reading of de Montfort’s book was a “turning point” in his life. In fact, his consecration to Jesus through Mary was so important to him that he adopted as his papal motto de Montfort’s own words that summarize total consecration to Jesus through Mary, “Totus Tuus,” (“Totally Yours”). Also, it’s reported that the Pope recited the long version of de Montfort’s consecration prayer every day.
I’ve met many people who have consecrated themselves to Mary, and they completely relate to the Pope’s words about how it’s a turning point in one’s life — or, as I put it, “a gloriously new morning” in one’s spiritual journey. It truly does make a difference. It truly is “the surest, easiest, shortest, and the most perfect means” to becoming a saint, which brings me to another reason why I chose to include “Morning Glory” in the title.
THE DAWN OF GLORIOUSLY NEW SAINTS.
As I mentioned in the introduction to Consoling the Heart of Jesus, St. Louis de Montfort predicted a couple of interesting things about his book, True Devotion to Mary. First, he said that after his death, angry demons would come to hide the unpublished manuscript so no one could ever read it — and, in fact, the manuscript was lost for more than a century after his death. The saint wrote:
I clearly see that raging beasts shall come in fury to tear with their diabolical teeth this little writing … or at least to smother it in the darkness and silence of a coffer, that it may not appear.
De Montfort went on to say that his manuscript would eventually be discovered and published and that its Marian spirituality would help form some of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. Moreover, his prediction about these saints wasn’t that they would be just a few people. Rather, he hoped there’d be a whole army of these greatest of saints:
This very foresight [about the beasts coming for the manuscript] encourages me, and makes me hope for great success, that is to say, for a great squadron of brave and valiant soldiers of Jesus and Mary, of both sexes, to combat the world, the devil, and corrupted nature, in those more than ever perilous times which are about to come.
In this passage, de Montfort describes the times that would come as “more than ever perilous.” I don’t think anyone would argue with me that we live in perilous times. In fact, in many ways, our time truly is marked by unprecedented evil. But don’t worry, because here’s some good news: In times of unprecedented evil, God wants to give unprecedented grace. For, as St. Paul wrote, “Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more” (Rom 5:20). And one of the ways God gives his superabundant grace in our time is by raising up some of the greatest saints ever. Saint Louis describes these saints as follows:
The Most High with His holy Mother has to form for Himself great saints who shall surpass most of the other saints in sanctity as much as the cedars of Lebanon outgrow little shrubs.
How can this be? The saints who have come before us surely are impressive. Moreover, the virtue and holiness of people in our day — present company included — isn’t exactly stellar. Yet, that’s the amazing point. God wants to form saints from the little souls. He wants to form saints according to the pattern of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Look at it this way: The Immaculate Conception of Mary, the grace whereby she was conceived without the stain of original sin, is an incredible gift of mercy. What’s particularly remarkable is that Mary did nothing to deserve or merit this grace. It was a total gift — won by the merits of her Son. Mary wasn’t an embryo in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, praying the Rosary to merit this gift. Rather, she received it at the very moment of her conception, the very moment she came into being. So, she did absolutely nothing to deserve it. It was God’s own initiative to give this totally free and wonderful gift.
So with us. God is offering the people of our time a powerful and effective way to become great saints, and it’s not because we’re so good. Rather, it’s because our times are so perilous, and God wants his mercy to triumph through Mary. So, he gives us poor, sinful souls an amazing gift — what St. Louis calls a little known “secret”:
Poor children of Mary, your weakness is extreme, your inconstancy is great, your inward nature is very much corrupted. You are drawn (I grant it) from the same corrupt mass as all the children of Adam and Eve. Yet do not be discouraged because of that. Console yourselves and exult in having the secret which I will teach you — a secret unknown to almost all Christians, even the most devout.
What is this blessed “secret”? It’s the spirituality of a true devotion to Mary, a spirituality of total consecration to Jesus through Mary. It’s what this retreat is all about. Before we begin, I should give a summary explanation of Marian consecration, the understanding of which will deepen over the course of our retreat.
WHAT IS MARIAN CONSECRATION?
What follows is the overview of Marian consecration that I presented in my book, Consoling the Heart of Jesus. If you’ve already read it there, feel free to skip this section. However, it doesn’t hurt to review, right?
To properly understand the essence of total consecration to Jesus through Mary, we’ll first need to reflect on an important point: Jesus wants to include all of us in his work of salvation. In other words, he doesn’t just redeem us and then expect us to kick back and relax. On the contrary, he puts us to work. He wants all of us to labor in his Father’s vineyard in one way or another. Why he didn’t just snap his fingers and so order things that everyone in the world would individually hear and understand the Gospel by some private, mystical revelation, we don’t know. What we do know is that Jesus relies on others to spread his Gospel and that he commissions his disciples to preach it to all (see Mt 28:19-20). He basically says to them and to us, “Let’s get to work!” Of course, that God wants to include us in his work of salvation is a great gift and glorious privilege. Truly, there’s no more important work to be done.
While everyone is called to lend a hand in the great work of salvation, not everyone has the same role. For example, St. Paul says, “There are varieties of service and … there are varieties of working” (1 Cor 12:5-6). He goes on to say that God has appointed to the work of salvation “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators” (v. 28). Whoever we are, God has appointed us to a special task in his great work.
Among the various roles God has given to his children, there’s one that’s radically more important than all the others: the task he gave to Mary. We all know that God uniquely blessed Mary by choosing her to conceive, bear, and nurture Jesus Christ, our Savior. But do we also realize that her blessed work didn’t end once Jesus left home and began his public ministry? After the three years of Mary’s hidden life during Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus brought her back into the picture of his work of salvation at its most crucial time, the “hour” of his Passion. At that hour, we might say he fully revealed Mary’s special task — the same task she had begun some 33 years before and that she still continues.
Jesus fully revealed Mary’s special task shortly before his death. It happened when he looked down from the Cross and said to Mary as she stood with the Apostle John, “Woman, behold, your son” and to John, “Behold, your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). At that moment, Jesus gave us one of his greatest gifts: his mother as our mother. Of course, Mary isn’t our natural mother. She’s our spiritual mother. In other words, just as it was once her task some 2,000 years ago to give birth to Christ, to feed and nurture him, and to help him grow and develop into a man, so also, from the time she first said yes to being the mother of Jesus until the end of time, Mary’s task is to give spiritual birth to Christians, to feed and nurture them with grace, and to help them grow to full stature in Christ. In short, Mary’s job is to help us grow in holiness. It’s her mission to form us into saints.
“Now, wait just a minute,” someone might say, “isn’t it the job of the Holy Spirit to make us holy?” Indeed, it is. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier. It is he who transforms us at our Baptism from being mere creatures into members of the Body of Christ, and it is he who helps us in our ongoing transformation into Christ through continued conversion. Great. So how does Mary come into all of this?
Mary is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel declared to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son and that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her (see Lk 1:31-35). When Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), we can see most clearly that she’s the spouse of the Holy Spirit, for at that moment, she gave the Holy Spirit permission to conceive Christ in her womb. Thus, at that moment, the already unfathomably deep bond between Mary and the Holy Spirit that had begun (in time) at the first moment of her Immaculate Conception was revealed as nothing less than a two-become-one marital union (see Gen 2:24). As a result of that union, the Holy Spirit is pleased to work and act through his spouse, Mary, for the sanctification of the human race. Of course, he didn’t have to be so united to Mary. It was his free choice (and that of the Father and the Son), and in that choice he takes delight.
So, it’s Mary’s great God-given task, in union with and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to form every human being into “another Christ,” that is, to unite everyone to the Body of Christ and form each person into a fully mature member of this Body. Therefore, every human being is invited to rest in the womb of Mary and be transformed there, by the power of the Holy Spirit, more perfectly into Christ’s own image. Yes, if we want to become more fully Christ, then we need to belong more fully to Mary. By going to her and remaining with her, we allow her to accomplish her mission in us. We allow her to form us into other Christs, into great saints. But how do we do this? How do we belong more fully to Mary and allow her to fulfill her mission in us? Simple. We say yes, just like she did.
Mary has a deep respect for human freedom. She knows from her own experience in Nazareth what a free yes to God can do (see Lk 1:38), and so she doesn’t pressure us into giving her our yes. Of course, she always cares for her children, but she won’t force us to enter into a deeper relationship with her. She surely invites us to such a relationship and patiently waits for us to accept her invitation, but she remains respectful. Still, if we could see how much longing hides behind her silence, we’d say yes to her if only to give her relief. In fact, saying yes to her gives her more than relief. It gives her joy. Great joy. And the more fully we say yes to Mary, the more joyful she becomes. For our yes gives her the freedom to complete her work in us, the freedom to form us into great saints. This brings us to the essence of what Marian consecration is all about.
Marian consecration basically means giving Mary our full permission (or as much permission as we can) to complete her motherly task in us, which is to form us into other Christs. Thus, by consecrating ourselves to Mary, each of us is saying to her:
Mary, I want to be a saint. I know that you also want me to be a saint and that it’s your God-given mission to form me into one. So, Mary, at this moment, on this day, I freely choose to give you my full permission to do your work in me, with your Spouse, the Holy Spirit.
As soon as Mary hears us make such a decision, she flies to us and begins working a masterpiece of grace within our souls. She continues this work for as long as we don’t deliberately choose to change our choice from a yes to a no, as long as we don’t take back our permission and leave her. That being said, it’s always a good idea for us to strive to deepen our “yes” to Mary. For the deeper our “yes” becomes, the more marvelously she can perform her works of grace in our souls.
One of the greatest aspects of being consecrated to Mary is that she’s such a gentle mother. She makes the lessons of the Cross into something sweet, and she pours her motherly love and solace into our every wound. Going to her and giving her permission to do her job truly is the “surest, easiest, shortest and the most perfect means” to becoming a saint. What joy it is to be consecrated to Jesus through Mary!
Now we’re ready to begin the retreat and learn more about this blessed “secret” and the man who so powerfully proclaims it to the world: St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort.”