Let us celebrate with pageantry the centenary of the Legion of Mary of which I am a proud life member. For a hundred years now the Legion of Mary has been a veritable tool of evangelization at the service of the Church and the people of God outside of it. What started with a first meeting which took place in Myra House, Francis Street, Dublin, Ireland, on 7 September, 1921 has become a lay apostolic association, fully approved by the Church, operating under the powerful leadership of Mary Immaculate, Mediatrix of All Graces and which has touched every segment of the Church’s life. It has done so in over 170 countries of the world. Long before most of the societies we have today emerged, the legion worked tirelessly to rally its members to holiness of life through prayer, works of charity, home visitation, recovery of lapsed members, teaching of catechism, and winning souls for God.
The legion had a meticulous mode of monitoring the progress of its members even through the structure of its meetings, where the allocutio was designed to ensure that every legionary engaged in works of charity, every single week (legionary work) and reported back on it at the next meeting. It was an effective commitment to social welfare. The secret bag collection at each meeting kept the mind of legionaries focused on the importance of giving what they can to promote the welfare of the needy around them. There was time for celebration too, even during the annual gathering of the ACIES Could we really find a more prayer-oriented society than the legion? Forgive me if I doubt it. The daily prayer of the Tessera and the Rosary encouraged legionaries to be spiritually disciplined in daily prayer, even if they did not have the privilege of owning a breviary or more sophisticated prayer texts.
In itself the Catena legionis ensured that the prayer of the legionary was never focused on just material things alone, but on praise to God for the great things he has done for all. Regular spiritual reading from the legion book ensured that members are constantly reminded of who they are and ought to be. Summarily, being a good legionary simply means that when the priest says “Go the Mass is ended”, you understand him to mean: “go and continue the Mass elsewhere outside the church building in faith and charity”. Till date, as of old, the Legion of Mary promotes vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. Many, who are Bishops, Priests, Religious and even Catechists today, were nurtured and sponsored by the legion of Mary and continue to be supported by it.
Perhaps the most valuable activity of the Legion of Mary in days of yore was the reconciliation of families in conflict or turmoil. It was a service which the young missionary church of various countries, needed so very much in order to grow and stabilise. Thankfully, it still continues because far many more families today need reconciliation and peace than ever before. Little wonder that the members of this group deserve such a militant name “legion”. In fact, many writers have maintained that the very name of MARY, written differently with the same alphabets would read ARMY, a peace and reconciliation army, of course. Not a few people are familiar with the saying “A catholic without a rosary is like a soldier without a weapon”.
It is a tribute to the role which the Legion of Mary has played in popularising the rosary prayer over the years. Regrettably, being such a modest, unassuming church society, most of the hard work done by the Legion of Mary to bring the Church up to its current status may have been lost on many. In fact, so many legionaries have abandoned the Legion of Mary and many who should be part of the legion are not inspired to do so. I plead that this centenary celebration be exploited to highlight the virtues and good work of the legion over the years, not just for the sake of admiring them but in order to impress similar virtues upon younger church societies and associations.
In the last 100 years, indeed numerous associations and devotional societies have emerged in the Church, claiming different charisms and spirituality. This is a very good thing but how many of these can claim such a balanced mix of prayer, spirituality, charity and pastoral focus today like the Legion of Mary of old? How many of them evangelize, help families, promote catechesis and do charity all together? Very few if any! I challenge all other church societies to hold themselves up to the same standards as the centenary old Legion of Mary, especially in obedience to Church authority and commitment to holiness of life and charity.
The Church and their members would reap abundant benefits for today’s mission of evangelization. Yes indeed, the object of the Legion of Mary is the glory of God through the holiness of its members developed by prayer and active co-operation in Mary’s and the Church’s work. The Centenary celebration of the Legion of Mary should arouse in us all, renewed love and respect for this devotional group which is probably the most versatile of all in our missionary Church. Happy Birthday! Legion of Mary… “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising…?”
Most Rev. Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo is the Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese