St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716)

Important dates:

1973: Louis Marie was born on January 31, 1673, in Montfort, the eldest surviving child of a large, deeply Catholic family. At the age of 12 he entered the Jesuit College in Rennes, where a local priest inspired him to preach missions to the poor. It was there that he began to hear his call to the priesthood. For two years he attended the Sorbonne University in Paris, then the renowned Seminary of Saint Sulpice which attracted at the time theologians from all corners of France and beyond.

1700: He was ordained a priest.

1701: Father Grignion was named chaplain of the Poitiers Hospital, a place housing the poor and destitute. He surprised and sometimes irritated the establishment by wanting to live with the poor, treating them as equals. He preached the love of Christ-Wisdom and the Espousals of the Cross. He abandoned his family name «Grignion» and signed his letters Father de Montfort, to underline the importance of the place of his baptism.

1703: Montfort spent this year in a state of uncertainty: he disturbed others by his ascetic life, his ways of placing himself on the same level as the poor, his brilliant love for Mary. He was asked to leave Poitiers. After a short time in a hospital in Paris, he was then called upon to help reform the Hermits of Mount-Valerian, a task he performed exemplarily. The poor in Poitiers asked to have him back and he returned. There he founded the "Daughters of Wisdom." At this time Fr. de Montfort preached local missions but he was often misunderstood.

1706: He made a pilgrimage to Rome to ask the Pope's permission to leave for the Eastern missions, but Clement XI, who approved of his methods, sent Montfort back to France with the title of "Apostolic Missionary."

1707: He joined the team of parochial missions at Saint Brieuc (France). A beloved preacher, he seemed to elicit the envy of his peers who excluded him. So he settled in the Saint Lazarus Hermitage near Montfort, where he attracted crowds, preaching right there or in nearby localities.

1710: At Pontchateau he rallied thousands of people to build a huge Calvary on a hill surmounted by three crosses, with the Garden of the Agony and the Garden of Eden, the water of baptism and the presence of the Virgin Mary. It was to be an important spiritual place. But on the eve of its dedication and blessing, pressed by the Jansenism movement which opposed the project, the King ordered the Calvary to be razed and Montfort was barred from preaching in that diocese. He was then received in the dioceses of Luçon and La Rochelle where his apostolate bore great fruit. 

1716: During a mission in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, he died on April 28, 1716, at the age of 43.  

A man of the Baroque Era

The Baroque Era loved to explore the far limits of the universe and those of the human minds as well as hearts: Montfort and the expression "slavery of love" are typical of the Baroque era which explored the limit of the possible.  The 17th century is the Age of Reason. The men of these times wanted to understand, reason, prove, and give logic to discourse and intelligence to the Faith. Montfort was a typical author of the 18th century: his Treatise is strongly structured and he enumerated his arguments.  As a cleric, Montfort stood apart from his contemporaries by his meekness and his spirit of dialogue with the partisans of the Reform. He corrected the excesses of Mariolatry existing in his time, he reoriented popular piety toward Christ and baptism: the Incarnation and the sacrament of baptism are at the heart of his Marian consecration.  

Montfort, a courageous, non-conformist man

Montfort managed to transcend the mind frames and habits of his time, in order to live the Gospel message in a radical way, especially after he began to consider the poor in Poitiers as his equals, and when he developed a thorough and fecund apostolic strategy.  His apostolic methods drew from those of his predecessors: he used hymns, lectures, gave dialogue-based conferences, allowed his audience to ask questions; he would organize processions, led in a deep devout silence just after his homily; he would exhort the people to go to confession and make honorable amends, receive Holy Communion, renew their baptismal vows. His own originality rested in his requests to have the faithful pray in front of representations of the mysteries of the rosary and in proposing to them a "Contract of Alliance":

 I give myself totally to Jesus Christ by the hands of Mary to carry my cross behind him all the days of my life.

This brief prayer is the popular translation of the consecration or perfect devotion, which wasn't reserved to the elite but preached to all.

Montfort was one of the first to give the renewal of the baptismal vows an essential place at the heart of the mission ceremonies, encouraged in this by Pope Clement XI who sent him to "renew everywhere the spirit of Christianity by the renewal of the baptismal vows." Today the baptismal vows pronounced as a child through the godparents are renewed at the Profession of Faith and during the Easter vigil.

Furthermore, Montfort was an innovator by introducing the giving of one's self to Christ by the hands of Mary in the ceremony of the renewal of baptismal vows (CA 1-3) and by identifying the two spiritual paths (TD 120).  Montfort wrote many religious pamphlets. The most famous are: SM: The Secret of Mary; LEW: Love of Eternal Wisdom; C: Canticles ; CA: the Contract of Alliance; LFC: Letter to the Friends of the Cross; SR: The Secret of the Rosary; TD: True Devotion to Mary; BPM: The Burning Prayer for Missionaries.   

Future Doctor of the Church?

The teachings of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort are noted for their great quality, pertinence, and new depth. Currently, the cause for his doctorate is being examined in Rome. One thing is already sure: his theology and spirituality, centered on the Incarnation, have been used by Vatican II and by Pope John Paul II.

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Bibliography:

LOUIS-MARIE GRIGNION DE MONTFORT (saint), Œuvres complètes, Seuil, Paris 1966

Louis Le CROM, Un apôtre marial, saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Tourcoing 1946

Louis CHATELLIER, La religion des pauvres, Aubier, Paris 1993

Dictionnaire de spiritualité montfortaine de S. de FIORES, Novalis, Outremont (Quebec), 1994

S. de Fiores

F. Breynaert