Least Marian yet Most Marian
The Marist approach to Mary, graphically mirrored in Icons of Mary in the Eastern Christian Church, helps us understand what seems to be a curious aspect of Marist spirituality. In the Constitutions that Colin wrote for the priests and brothers of the Society of Mary, he had a special section entitled “Marists are to be especially devoted to the Blessed Virgin”. One would naturally expect to find such a chapter in the Constitutions of a Marian congregation.
Yet when one examines what Colin recommends as “special practices” one finds nothing more or less than what was traditional practice for every Catholic!
Furthermore, in the present Constitutions of the Marist Fathers and Sisters and the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary, there is no section devoted to Mary in herself.
In all its years of existence, the Society of Mary has not initiated any special form of devotion or place of devotion to Mary. No significant prayers to Our Lady or books on Our Lady have been written by Marists. Marists have not identified themselves with any particular image or cult of the Blessed Virgin.
It seems that the Society of Mary is a Marian congregation with the least external reference to Mary.
And yet, in a review of Marian Congregations made 60 years ago, a Jesuit researcher said of the Society of Mary: “No other institute seems to us so totally and exclusively Marian”.
How can one explain what seems to be a contradiction?
The clue to this paradox can be seen, again, in the Icons of Our Lady. Instead of focussing attention on Mary, the Marist tries to identify with her, and so tries to be someone whose attention is focussed on the needs of people, and on the “extension and development of the mystery of the Incarnation”.
The Marian Icons of the Eastern Church may help us also to understand another slant given by Colin himself in his Constitutions. Generally, Constitutions of Religious Congregations followed a set pattern. Article 1 of the Constitutions dealt with the aims of the Congregation; Article 11 dealt with the way to achieve those aims; and Article 111 dealt with some distinguishing mark of the Congregation. Significantly, Article 111 of Colin’s Constitutions dealt not with Marists and Our Lady, but with “Relationships with people in the Church and in Society”.
Clearly, Colin saw the best way to describe the Marist was to situate him or her in relationship with the Church, with the world, and with other people. In this way Marists show their devotion to Mary by reflecting her attitudes and way of life in the world.