The Marian Vow of Unlimited Consecration to the Immaculate: A Spiritual Profile
As the Founder and Father General of the entire family of the Franciscans of the Immaculate (Friars, Sisters, Poor Clares, Tertiaries, and M.I.M.), Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli has distilled and put into writing for his children the illumination he has received over the decades about the Marian Vow. This work is the fruit of his life of prayer, study, and missionary activity. It is the fruit of his profound union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The following are some excerpts of the writings of the Founder on the Marian Vow, which is the essence of the Franciscans of the Immaculate.
One could say, in fact, that [the Marian Vow] enriches the spiritual life [of the Franciscans and Poor Clares] in such an extraordinary manner as to bring it to the absolute peak of all spirituality, placing it upon the summit of the entire ascetical and mystical journey. After all, we are speaking of a journey which brings about the transfiguration of the person into the Immaculate, that is, into She who is the “most holy Woman,” the one who is “full of grace” (Lk 1:28), the one who has “the face which most resembles that of Christ” (Par. 32, 85-86).
The splendid models of this marianiziation-christification in accordance with the potential and vitality of the Marian Vow are, above all, the four Patron Saints of the Franciscans of the Immaculate: the Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, the Seraphic Mother St. Clare of Assisi, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe and St. Pio of Pietrelcina. These four models are a paradigm of superlative sanctity and beauty.
Reflection, meditation, study, and prayer, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will help us to penetrate evermore deeply the Marian Vow which is centered in the ineffable mystery of the Immaculate Conception, in She who is the Paradise of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Love Without Limits For The Immaculate – A Gift From Above
The Marian Vow of unlimited consecration to the Immaculate is a gift “from above” (Jm 1:17). It is a gift which is the fruit of an initial divine inspiration of the greatest Marian Apostle and Franciscan Martyr of the twentieth century: St. Maximilian M. Kolbe.
The initial inspiration which the Saint received, in fact, is that of a fourth vow by which the friar, in consecrating himself, dedicates himself without reserve to the “missionary character” [of the Church in general and the Franciscan Order in particular]. Thus, he becomes an instrument in the hands of the Immaculate according to the obedience he receives from his superiors who can send him to any “mission” whatsoever.
It is from this root, that is to say, from the fourth vow of a Marian-missionary character, that the Marian Vow has blossomed forth for the Franciscans of the Immaculate, friars and sisters. It is a “proper” religious vow of unlimited consecration to the Immaculate which has sprung forth from the very soul of the Seraphic Father St. Francis who was made worthy by the Immaculate Herself to conceive and bring forth anew the evangelical life of the Seraphic Order when he dwelt at the Portiuncula of St. Mary of the Angels.
The Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure, describes this ineffable grace very well: “In the Church of the Virgin Mother of God, therefore, dwelt Her servant Francis and he petitioned insistently with continual cries Her who had conceived the Word, full of grace, that She might deign to be his advocate. And the Mother of mercy, obtained by Her merits that he himself would conceive and bring forth the spirit of evangelical truth” (FF 1051).
From St. Francis this precious gift, which emerges in the Marian Vow, was given to St. Maximilian and then to our religious family of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. It has been given in order to transfigure those consecrated to the Immaculate by “transubstantiating” them into the very person of the Immaculate. In this way, the most perfect Franciscan life is realized in accord with St. Francis and the Seraphic Rule, a life which arrives at the most sublime christification, which is that of the Immaculate Herself.
The Marian Vow, therefore, is no longer distinguished by the “missionary character” alone, but also by the totality of the religious life itself according to the Seraphic Rule. Through the Marian Vow this life and Rule become utterly “Mary-formed” for the highest and most perfect “conformity-to-Christ,” namely, that of the Immaculate Herself. Thus, this way of life is fruitful for the salvation of all souls unto the supreme glory of the Most Holy Trinity. “When we shall have become Her,” writes St. Maximilian, “our entire religious life too and its sources shall be of Her and Her alone” (SK 486).
Thus, it can also be said that the Marian Vow bears with it the very same “Christ-conformity” of the Immaculate which, for the Franciscan of the Immaculate, becomes the ideal to strive for through unlimited consecration to Her. As such, the Marian Vow renders each Franciscan of the Immaculate Her “absolute property,” as St. Maximilian expressly states (SK 1160), even to the point of being lost in Her, being transfigured and “transubstantiated” entirely into Her, as again St. Maximilian teaches (cf. SK 508).
Consequently, the Marian Vow is the first of the four religious vows which are pronounced in the religious Profession of the Franciscans of the Immaculate according to the Seraphic Rule. It constitutes the Marian source of the whole seraphic life of christification. It can be said that the Marian Vow prolongs the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation of the Word which occurred in the Heart and womb of the Immaculate.
It is readily understood, then, that the Marian Vow is a special grace which flows forth from the very Heart of the Mother and Mediatrix of all graces. We are speaking of a vow which, in fact, intends to articulate the maximum of the totality of seraphic love, the dedication of man’s entire heart, which means the fullness of the whole person’s vital love. It could also rightly be called the vow of unlimited love for the Immaculate, a love directed through Her to God and to all creatures, a love which is ultimately directed towards the salvation of all souls in Christ and in the Church for the greatest glory of the Most Holy Trinity.
Love Without Limits For The Immaculate – The Primary Raison d’être
The Marian Vow of unlimited consecration to the Immaculate, therefore, is a vow “proper” to the Franciscans of the Immaculate, friars and sisters. It is rooted in the Seraphic Rule and deepened and developed in all its charismatic content of grace (which is also extended and shared as a private vow among the secular members of the Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix, called the M.I.M.).
The Marian Vow is, as a matter of fact, the primary raison d’être:
– of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate who are a new branch of the First Order of St. Francis in historical continuity, therefore, with the O.F.M.s, the Conventuals and the Capuchins, by virtue of the exact same form of religious life according to the Seraphic Rule confirmed by Pope Honorius III;
– of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate who constitute an historical novelty of great importance and worth because they are the first religious Institute of women to profess the Rule of St. Francis, that is, the very Regula Bullata of the First Order. It can and must be said, therefore, that the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, united to the Order of Minors by the same Regula Bullata, represent the very first First Order of women. Who does not grasp the great value and singular merit of such a first-fruit?
On a par with the other three religious vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity, this Marian Vow is specifically an essential constitutive vow of the spirituality and discipline of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, friars and sisters. And it can also be said symbolically that the Marian Vow is comparable to the Marian Portiuncula of St. Mary of the Angels, that entirely Marian womb of Franciscanism so cherished by St. Maximilian and brought to fruition, according to the divine will, by this new little religious family of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, friars and sisters (together with the secular members who make up the Association M.I.M., and other individuals).
In reflecting on the entire program of life linked with the Marian Vow, it can rightly be said that as the Portiuncula of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi is considered the completely Marian “womb” of Franciscanism, so, too, the Marian Vow, assimilated with the Portiuncula, can be considered the completely Marian womb of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. The latter, then, have developed the Marian dimension of Franciscan spirituality and life by drawing forth afresh from the fountainhead of the Seraphic Rule and the life of the Seraphic Father.
The Marian Vow is, therefore, what distinguishes the Franciscan of the Immaculate, friar or sister, and is “the soul of the Constitutions,” as St. Maximilian said (SK 485). This distinctive feature appears even visibly by the Miraculous Medal which the Franciscan of the Immaculate wears over his heart, attached to a gray-blue habit, and by the additional “knot” on the cord. A Franciscan of the Immaculate can be recognized immediately and easily: he always wears the habit, carries the Medal of the Immaculate visibly over his heart, and has the additional knot on the cord.
Consequently, it can also be said that in relation to the other three vows, the Marian Vow has a distinctive and specific character which immediately manifests the proprium of the charism, the “novelty” and the specific spirituality of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. The Institute is rooted in toto in the Franciscan charism and spirituality which is common to all Franciscans of the First Order.
During the time when St. Maximilian was permitted to speak and write on this theme he presented the Marian Vow—which he called the “fourth vow”—as limitless consecration of oneself to the Immaculate whose unlimited character prompted one to accept the call to go to the mission lands, even the most difficult and dangerous, even where martyrdom is expected (cf. SK 395, 398, 399, 402, 409, 412, 419, 492, 588, 653).
Unfortunately, St. Maximilian was not able to leave us an organic and articulated treatise on the Marian Vow, but only various insights scattered throughout a small part of his writings (ten of his Letters). These, nonetheless, are sufficient to gather the substance of the Marian Vow in its constitutive elements. His insights are elaborated and united in a single synthesis in the Constitutions of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, friars and sisters. As such, their potentiality in content and worth are developed and enriched for a Franciscan life in accord with the Seraphic Rule, a life fully “marianized” and “christified” in the school and in the footsteps of St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Maximilian, and St. Pio of Pietrelcina.