This overview of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary is the first of a series reviewing several different spiritual practices that can more fully open our hearts to discernment and gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit can animate the Church through each of us. An outpouring of the Spirit among the laity is an urgent necessity as the whole world becomes increasingly aware of the failures and even evil of clericalism. As I wrote in the introduction to this series, “Sadly, but unsurprisingly, few members of the clergy or even religious education directors have put much effort into teaching [discernment of charismatic gifts] to their flocks. We really must take it upon ourselves to self-educate and disciple each other in the ways of opening our hearts to the movements of the Holy Spirit.”
What Does Marian Consecration Have to Do with the Holy Spirit?
Since this is a series about inviting the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts, why are we starting off with a discussion about consecrating ourselves to Mary?
One reason is temporal: the traditional practice of Marian Consecration is to do 33 days of preparatory readings and prayers before making an act of consecration on a Marian feast day. The Solemnity of the Annunciation, the celebration of Mary’s great fiat, is March 25th, which means 33 days of preparation should start on February 20. (In 2019, at least—leap years would make it February 21, and some years the Solemnity of the Annunciation is transferred to a different date, if March 25th falls during Holy or Easter Week.) So this is an auspicious time to decide to embark on this particular spiritual journey.
Another reason is that the Holy Spirit is often the Person of the Trinity who is hardest to conceptualize and relate to, precisely because we have little experience of relating to “spirits” in our culture. We all know what a father is. We can read an action-packed biography of Jesus in the Gospels, and visualize those events occurring among real people who looked and acted much like us. But the mental reference for the Holy Spirit is far more obscure. So an excellent bridge from the flesh and blood realities we can understand to the Spirit is the one human creature who had a one-flesh relationship with the Spirit: Mary, mother of Jesus.
Father Michael Gaitley explains the intimate relationship of Mary and the Holy Spirit succinctly in the introduction to his book about Marian Consecration, 33 Days to Morning Glory:
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.
Mary is much easier for our earth-bound minds to understand. To our understanding of “father” and “son,” we can readily add “mother.” This is not to say that Mary is part of the Trinity, but that she has the greatest intimacy with the Trinity of any created person. She models for us giving our free and enthusiastic consent to the Holy Spirit penetrating our being and conceiving something new in each of us: a unique enfleshment of what it means to be Christ-like. The Spirit works with and through our own DNA and experiences to produce the many gifts that together form the fully functional Body of Christ. Pondering Mary, as she herself pondered the works of the Spirit, is an excellent way to gain understanding in how the Spirit works, and how we can freely cooperate and avoid gumming up the works with our own agendas.
It is significant, also, that we are looking to the example of a woman as we consider the best example of living in the Spirit. For men, especially those who hold positions of religious authority, this can provide a radically new perspective. Try to act more like a woman? Submit to the guidance of a woman? Yes, that is exactly what is called for, since God has revealed that we all relate to God in a “feminine” way. (Cf. Eph 5:21-32, Rev 21:2) But not like a stereotypical woman of one’s particular culture. Act like a particular woman, whose words and actions have been recorded and handed down for two millenia. And you can have an actual, not merely metaphorical, relationship with Mary.
For women, seeing the real person of Mary as a mother figure and mentor can be incredibly liberating, especially in cultural contexts that demand silence and subjugation from women. While there is plenty of Marian mythology that paints her as silent and subservient, these caricatures of Mary flatly contradict the Scriptures. She accepts a pregnancy that will subject her to condemnation, and travels through the hill country to help her cousin Elizabeth, without stopping to ask permission from her betrothed. She cajoles Jesus into His first miracle. She stands resolute at her son’s horrific execution, and presides over the assembly of believers at Pentecost. Her star soliloquy in Scripture is nothing short of bold and radical:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
– Luke 1:46-55
It is recommended for a person who has consecrated himself or herself to Jesus through Mary to recite this Magnificat prayer daily, as a regular reminder of our role model—and our destiny when we have been made perfect in Christ. Personally, I have made it my practice over the past two years, since I first made my consecration, to pray the Magnificat after receiving the Eucharist every day, and it has been transformative beyond all telling.
Fr. Gaitley describes what it means to not only look to the real Mary as a role model, but to be consecrated through her. We are saying to her:
“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.