People often see notices about meetings of the Legion of Mary and the organization’s service activities in their parish bulletins or on announcement boards, but most are unfamiliar with what it means to be a member of the Legion.
It is not just a group dedicated to devotion to the Blessed Mother, although that devotion is at the core of everything the Legion does. Membership demands firm commitment to prayer, weekly service activities and group meetings.
The Legion of Mary is described as the largest apostolic organization of lay Catholics, with an estimated membership of more than three million members around the world.
The Legion started in the United States in 1931 and has received approval from the last six popes. It also received an endorsement at the Second Vatican Council. According to the Legion’s South Carolina home page, “the main purpose of the Legion of Mary is to give glory to God through the sanctification of its members.”
Members seek holiness through prayer and cooperation. They do the work of the church and the Blessed Mother.
The Legion was founded in Dublin, Ireland, on Sept. 7, 1921, by a layman named Frank Duff (1889-1990), who was deeply committed both to his faith and service to the poor. He founded the Legion with the dual purpose of advancing the spiritual development of its members and furthering Christ’s work in the world through Mary. It evolved into one of the first large lay movements in the church.
Duff attended the Second Vatican Council in 1965 as a lay observer on an invitation from Pope Paul VI. In 1996, then-Archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell introduced the cause for Duff’s canonization.
Another notable Legionary is Edel Quinn, a native of Ireland who worked to establish the Legion in East and Central Africa until her death in 1944. In 1994, she received the title of Venerable after being honored by Pope John Paul II.
The Legion’s organizational names are based on those used in the ancient Roman army.
Members of the Legion are known as “legionaries,” and are organized into parish-based praesidia, which meet weekly. The meetings consist of prayer, including the rosary and specific Legion prayers, spiritual readings from the Legion’s handbook “Legio Mariae,” discussion of spiritual matters, and individual member reports on works they have accomplished during the week.
During meetings, members refer to each other as sister or brother. A spiritual director, named by the parish priest, guides each praesidium.
Men and women under age 18 can join as junior members.
The group also has auxiliary members, including priests, men and women religious, and lay people who commit themselves to daily prayer for the Legion. Some sources estimate auxiliary membership worldwide at 10 million.
Legionaries are actively encouraged to recruit new members, who must apply for membership in the Praesidium. They are considered probationary members for three months, and then can become full members.
A curia supervises several praesidia. The next levels of organization include the comitium, supervising several curia; the Regia, over larger territories; and the Senatus, which oversees a nation or large territory. The Legion’s highest seat, the Concilium, is based in Dublin.
Legionaries commit themselves to perform the Spiritual Works of Mercy, to participate in parish life and outreach work. Regular volunteer work by Our Lady of Good Counsel Praesidium in Columbia (based at Our Lady of the Hills Church) is an example of the wide range of activities. Each week, Legionaries from this praesidium make home visits to parish shut-ins and families, and to hospital and nursing homes; do prison ministry; teach CCD and RCIA classes; and lead Scout troops and youth groups.
On visits to hospitals and nursing homes, Legionaries offer to pray for and with patients and their families, bring Communion, and hand out rosaries, miraculous medals, Marian literature and other spiritual material.
Legionaries also frequently act as RCIA sponsors, visit newly baptized Catholics and participate in evangelization programs.
Pope John Paul II spoke on the work of the Legion of Mary in an address to Italian legionaries in October of 1982. Known for his own deep devotion to Mary, the pope told the group:
“Yours is an eminently Marian spirituality … above all because it bases its methods of spirituality and apostolate on the dynamic principle of union with Mary, on the truth of the intimate participation of the Virgin Mary in the plan of salvation,” Pope John Paul II said.
“In other words, you intend to render your service to every person, who is the image of Christ, with the spirit and solicitude of Mary,” he said.
Sources: www.sclegionofmary.org, www.legion-of-mary.ie.