Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Anticipation of the New People of God

February 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Jean Coste

We have seen that the Society of Mary started from an awareness, the conviction of a desire, that Mary wished to save all her children, gathering them into a new people of God. Therefore, our center of gravity is eschatological. The center is not our Society, which happens to be called “of Mary,” but really, our center of gravity is where we are going, the realization of this wish of Mary: tomorrow, at the end of time, there will be a new people of God gathered around Mary. The Society of Mary is just an anticipation of that people, and we will try to develop that this, morning.

A good text on this is the famous passage of the Summarium that Father Colin wrote while in Rome. It was a bit courageous of him, because he wrote it as an official text in Latin, addressed to the Pope and to the Cardinals expressing his vision.

“The general aim of the Society is to contribute in the best possible way both by its prayers and its efforts to the conversion of sinners and the perseverance of the just, and to gather, so to speak, all the members of Christ, whatever their age, sex, or standing, under the protection of the Blessed Mary Immaculate, Mother of God; and to revive their faith and piety and to nourish them with the doctrine of the Roman Church, so that at the end of time, as at the beginning, all the faithful may, with God’s help, be one heart and one mind in the bosom of the Roman Church, and that all, walking worthily before God and under Mary’s guidance, may attain eternal life. For this reason, entry to the Society is open even to laymen living in the world in the Confraternity or Third Order of the Virgin Mary.” (Antiquiores Textus I, p.83, n.109)

Here you have everything: this idea that we are geared towards a people of God that will be at the end of time like at the beginning; the eschatological time. The Society of Mary is to feed them with the doctrine of the Roman Church, in the bosom of the Church. Colin says it’s not a questioning of the Church, this new people of God. Still, in a certain sense, it will be different, it will be a Church gathered around Mary. Mary will be the image of this new people of God towards which we are moving.

Of course, such a presentation could not help but arouse a reaction in those who read it, and the man in charge of the examination of Colin’s planned Summarium, Cardinal Castracane, a cardinal of the Roman Curia, did react. It was very rare for someone coming to Rome to express such an eschatological vision.

Father Colin a few years later, speaking to the confreres in Belley, said:

“Ah, I laugh when I think of the simple and good-natured way in which I acted. I just quite simply put in my request for approbation of our confraternity of the Third Order; that there would be seen at the end of time what had been seen at the beginning: cor unum et anima una (one heart and one mind); that by means of it, all the faithful, all who remained in God would have but one heart and one mind. Cardinal Castracane burst out laughing and said to me, ‘So, the whole world will be Marist, then?’ ‘Yes, Eminence,’ I told him, ‘The Pope, too. He is the one we want for our head.’ Well, you know, I gained three briefs for the Third Order as a consequence. Ah, Messieurs, let us bestir ourselves; our undertaking is a bold one; (laughingly) we intend to invade everywhere. When will the time come?” (OM 2, doc. 427.2)

This is typical eschatological thinking: we are moving to something, we do not know when the time will come, but that’s what we want.

Now, what to think about that famous expression of Colin: “Yes, the Pope too.” Very often in the past it has been interpreted as a kind of joke. Father Colin makes too broad a statement about everybody being in the Society of Mary. The Cardinal laughs and then Father Colin tries to regain his balance by a good joke. He says, yes, the Pope also will be a member of the Society of Mary, he will even be our head.

Is it just a joke? For me, not at all. For me, here, we are really at the center of the thing. This idea of the Pope as a member of the Order is a theme that is central in all the eschatology of religious orders of the past. That was made clear for me at a symposium I attended in January. I was asked to make a talk about the eschatology of the Marists, and when I arrived at this text, and said that even the Pope would be Marist, the director of the seminar became radiant. After, he said, we have here once more the reemergence of this theme, which he explained was a recurrent theme in the eschatology of the religious orders – the Pope would be a member of the order at the end of time.

Since the Middle Ages, there has been this recurrent eschatological theme in religious orders. It started with the famous Joachim of Flores, who developed a kind of eschatological scheme under various forms. The basic idea is that there will be three Ages in the history of the Church: the Age of the Father, the Age of the Son, and the Age of the Spirit. The representative of the Age of the Father is the patriarch. At this time, the fundamental institution is marriage, the patriarch with so many wives and sons etc. This age lasts up to the end of the life of John the Baptist. After that starts the Age of the Son, the Age of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ comes, founds the Church. The representative of this Age is the priest, the priest who is the priestly celibate. You still have marriage for ordinary people, but you also have priestly celibacy. After that will come the third age, the Age of the Spirit. This Age will be represented by an inspirational people, people really living with the Spirit inspiring them. There is no longer a need for marriage, and the image of this third age is the monk. A religious order of monks will bring about this new type of Church, a Church of all people inspired by the Holy Spirit and living celibacy.

Of necessity, the Pope really has to be a member of this order if it is to become the new Church. This is a recurrent theme in the eschatology of the Augustinians for instance. The Augustinians had a kind of picture in which the Pope of this last age was represented wearing the dress of the Augustinians. That’s the logic, if you like, of this eschatological thinking.

The question arises: did Father Colin have this type of thinking?  At the time of the symposium  I said no, but after that, I discovered a few things that really made me think. First of all, one of the great people through whom this Joachimite way of thinking spread in Christianity was St. Bridget of Sweden, someone Father Colin was reading. Father Colin never spoke of the three ages: the Age of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. However, one aspect of this eschatology of religious orders at the end of the 18th Century into the 19th Century was that the Age of the Spirit was substituted by the Age of Mary.

This idea of the Age of Mary is different from the traditional Joachimate scheme, but it is still, in that line, it’s just that the image of the last age is no longer the Holy Spirit but Mary.

There would be a new Church in the last age, and this new Church will now be a Marian Church, it will be prepared by a Marian order. Let us now look at the famous theme of Colin that we have to work towards a new Church. Document 120 of the A Founder Speaks says:

“Let us take courage and work hard, but always hidden and unknown. Let us keep away from those who rely on a merely human eloquence. The Society must begin a new Church over again. I do not mean that in a literal sense, that would be blasphemy. But still, in a certain sense, yes, we must begin a new Church. The Society of Mary began with simple, poorly-educated men, but since then, the Church has developed and encompassed everything. We, too, must gather together everyone through the Third Order – heretics alone may not belong to it.”

It’s really that theme. We are working towards a new Church. It will encompass everybody. You cannot speak of a Church with people left out, only the heretics, those who purposely don’t want to be part of it. But all the others are called to be part of this Church. We are working towards that, and it will be done through the Third Order. Not everybody will be monk, not everybody will be a priest, or a brother or sister, but everybody will be a part of it through the Third Order.

This is all in line with this eschatology. There is a connection between the Marists and the idea of the Pope being a member of the order in the last Age that I think we should not hide or avoid. It is a strong eschatological text.

There are also other texts. At the Chapter of 1872, there were many differences between Colin and Favre. This was to be a Chapter of reconciliation, but Colin was still a bit afraid about meeting the Fathers and having to come to one of the sessions. He preferred to send a document first and have this read, then he himself would come. This document was read by Father Jeantin:

“I have recently sent to you a little outline sketch of the Third Order of Mary. You were perhaps surprised by some of the ideas, but I have never understood it in any other way. The Third Order of Mary, in my eyes, must be an immense association to embrace the whole world. Sinners and even ungodly men enter it. The share that they will thus have in the prayers and good works of the tertiaries will prepare their conversion. Likewise, parents may have their children inscribed. In a word, the whole world will come to the Third Order of Mary, and all souls shall be enrolled under the banner of the Mother of God.”

After that, Colin comes to the Chapter and he takes up this theme again:

“You will be astonished to hear that I have a great ambition: to seize the whole universe under the wings of Mary by means of the Third Order. The Third Order is not an essential part of your congregation, but the Blessed Virgin entrusted to you like a bridge–the expression is not my own–to go to souls, to sinners. Never have the nations shown such eagerness to turn to the Blessed Virgin, and, at the end of time, there will be only one kingdom, the Kingdom of the Blessed Virgin.”

This text is so puzzling. We thought up to now that at the end of time there would be only one kingdom, the Kingdom of Christ. But you have here something of this eschatology: there will be a third age and this will not be the Age of the Spirit; it will be the Age of Mary. The last kingdom will be the Kingdom of the Blessed Virgin. We have to read these texts; we have to accept them; they are a part of the thinking of our Founder. We cannot say good things about the Third Order if we do not have this whole picture in our head.

Through these texts, we have come to better understand Colin’s concept of the Third Order. Now, let us look at what was made of this involvement of lay people in the first century of the Society of Mary. We see that it was really a question of embracing the whole world, of gathering into it all kinds of people. Well, what was done? How much of this eschatological vision was put into practice?

When did this idea of having lay people involved in the Society of Mary really start? There is no doubt that it started with the idea of the Society itself, in 1816 in the major seminary of Lyons. One of the images used by Courveille was that the Society would be a tree with three branches. And what were these three branches? Not Fathers, Sisters, and Brothers. Rather it was like the three branches of the great orders of the past: the First Order of Men; the Second Order of Women, the Nuns and the Third Order of Lay People, those who will not be religious, but who will share in the spirituality of the big Order.

Clearly this was the meaning because immediately Champagnat raised his hand and said, “But you are forgetting something, you are forgetting Brothers.”  They said, “Yes, take care of brothers, if you are interested in it” and so the Brothers came into the picture, perhaps only half-an-hour after the start, I don’t know. In any case, the first idea was three branches, and the Third Order was one of them.

When did anything start happening towards realizing this idea? Very soon after all the first Marists were separated in 1816 and sent to parishes as parish priests or parish assistants. Courveille was sent to Verrieres, where there was a parish and a minor seminary. Courveille was only in Verrieres one year. Seven years later, a letter written by the parish priest refers to Courveille: “We have an association of the Holy Family” (he is asking indulgences for it, and he said) “Mister Courveille wanted to make out of this association, the Third Order of the Marists.”

Therefore, in his first year of ministry Courveille is preoccupied with gathering people into a confraternity of the Holy Family that could become the seat of the future Third Order.

We also have the case of a brother of one of the twelve seminarians who signed the Promise of Fourviere, Alouis Perrault-Maynard, a layman very attached to the Society of Mary. When he died, he bequeathed his library to the Society of Mary and it’s still in the library of the General House. He used to sign “s.m.” after his name and it seems that he really considered himself a lay member of the Society of Mary.

We don’t know what all the first Marists did. We know what Father Colin did. Sometimes it has been emphasized that he had several confraternities in his parish. That does not mean anything; every parish at that time had a confraternity of the Holy Rosary, of the Blessed Sacrament, etc. What is characteristic of Colin is that he used to gather lay people in the presbytery. The Foundress of the Marist Sisters, Jeanne-Marie Chavion, who was the housekeeper and therefore was very interested in details and in accounting, said that “Thirty men used to gather in “the presbytery like children.” This “like children” perhaps makes us laugh, but what she means is that it’s very easy to gather children in a presbytery but less easy to get adults, especially the tough peasants of Cerdon in there. But Father Colin used to gather thirty of them, and she has probably counted all the chairs in the presbytery. What’s really interesting, she adds, “If they had stayed in here, the whole parish would have become a religious community / or a community,” I don’t remember whether she said, “religious,” but that’s the meaning. If they had stayed there, all the parish would have been involved, they would have created a kind of “people of God” around them.

I think that’s really the idea for him. I don’t think a Marist can work with the idea of just involving canonical religious with a special dress and a special rule and special bells in a convent, no! The Marist almost automatically tries to involve lay people in what he is doing. If they had stayed there the parish, and not the three priests, would have been a religious community.

The real beginning of the Third Order however was the Association of the Tertiary Brothers of Mary, in 1831 in Lyons. Just a word about French History. In the year 1830, there was a Revolution in France and the good Christian king, Charles the Tenth, was overthrown. Another king came to the throne who was not a good Catholic and therefore, the question for many good Catholics was should we take the oath of fidelity to this new king? Very soon Rome said yes, you may in good conscience take the oath to the new king, but even with the permission of Rome many people preferred not to.

Therefore, you had a number of men who held official posts under the previous regime who were required to take the oath but who preferred to lose their jobs rather than take the oath of fidelity to the new king. Among them you have a postman, a barrister and others who were the personal guards of the previous king. All preferred to lose their jobs. But don’t cry too soon for them and their sad situation because they were Lyonnais. A good Lyonnais, as you know, can spend the income of their incomes, and that is enough money not to oblige them to work for a living.

In other words, they were completely free to dedicate themselves to anything. They no longer had a job, but they were free to dedicate themselves to something. Many of them were under the direction of Father Cholleton, who was the director of the major seminary who had been the protector of the Marist project. Many of them also were members of a congregation that existed at that time, the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin, a lay congregation existing in Lyons with Cholleton as its spiritual director.

Through Cholleton, these men very soon came into contact with the Society of Mary. We have the account book of one of them, and there we see the expenses made by these men to Valbenoite, to L’Hermitage, to Belley and to the three houses where the Marist Fathers were. These people also tried to make a pilgrimage to see all the Marists, one after the other, to discover possible things to do for them. They started at Christmas 1832, at a boarding school just close to the Basilica of Fourviere, a place that is now a big convent of the Cenacle. They asked the boarding school to have a Marist as a chaplain. At that moment Pompallier was designated to become the chaplain of the Third Order. Colin, who at that time was already playing the role of a central superior, accepted and sent a letter saying: Yes, that’s good, I agree that Pompallier goes with these people to be their chaplain.

So, you have this boarding school run by these pious men, but also others not running the boarding school, all of whom were living at home having various occupations in Lyons but members also of this new association. What association? It was the Association of the Tertiary Brothers of Mary and Pompallier was their chaplain. Very soon he became the organizer and he wrote them the first Rule. These rules were more or less for what we would call today a secular institute. Their motto was “Obvious Christian, but hidden religious.” We will be openly Christian, faithful to our faith, but nobody will know that we will be religious. They really would be religious because they will take the three vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. The director of the association was to be a layman; the priest would only be a chaplain. Since they are Tertiary Brothers of Mary, the chaplain will be a member of the Society of Mary.

Who were these men? They were absolutely first-class men. When the association was dissolved a few of them joined the Society of Mary as priests, and one became the secretary of the Propogation of Faith that was in Lyons – a very powerful finance organization. Another became a member of the directive council of this, while yet another continued as a director of an important boarding school in Lyons. They both continued to be deeply involved in helping the missions. Also, when Father Eymard started the Third Order in Lyons, they became members of it. They also helped Eymard in the founding of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. They were people really able to fill all the needs of the Church of that time, men deeply involved, generously involved. They were certainly an excellent group of people.

What happened to them? They functioned with this Rule up to 1836. In 1836 Bishop Pompallier was appointed the first Vicar Apostolic of Central Oceania. He left. They tried to continue for two years. After that, they said that with Pompallier gone their Rule was too heavy and that it was not possible to keep living this kind of religious and lay life at the same time. So, they asked Colin to relieve them of their vows. Of course, this was the start of the disintegration of the group. Finally, the group disbanded and three of them joined the Marists to follow their vocation to the priesthood, and the others became very involved laymen as we have said.

So, in a certain sense, the idea was that the Society of Mary would not exist without the involvement of laity, and we see this happening in a plurality of forms. We see this association of Verrieres, this Perrault-Maynard, these meetings at Cerdon and this Association of the Tertiary Brothers of Mary. There is no real Third Order in existence at the time, but we see Marists interested in doing something with lay people.

Now let us go back to Colin. What did Colin think and do up to 1845, when Peter Julian Eymard comes into the picture? We don’t know whether Colin had made any special intervention in terms of lay people during 1816. He was probably just one of the twelve in the group, and cannot say that he had any special influence at that stage on the question of the Third Order. We have seen what he was doing at Cerdon. We also know that in his first Rule written at Cerdon, there was a place for the Third Order. He will see, “Before God, the parts of the Society of Mary in my first plan were: the Fathers, the Sisters, and the Third Order and that the Marist Brothers came after.” Therefore, he had made a place for the Third Order in his first Rule. The first attestation we have of his ideas about the Third Order is found in a letter from Father Champagnat to Bishop Devie. It’s very interesting to see this first attestation of The Third Order connected with the other branches of the Society of Mary. It’s Champagnat who writes to Devie in 1833:

“The ideas of Father Colin about the Third Order please me very much. I hope that with the ideas of your Excellency, it will be worked out, etc.”

Therefore you have an idea of Colin’s, an idea is known by Champagnat. You have also certain ideas of the Bishop, and by putting all that together, something good will emerge. Champagnat is part of it and glad to see that the thing is going ahead.

What was really starting at Belley at that time? It was a question of meetings at the Marist Sisters’ convent. When in Rome Colin wrote to Convers: “Try to gather all the associates of the Third Order, because in Rome, this association is looked upon very well.” I don’t know where he found that it is was looked upon very well because Castracane would in fact react against it. But, in any case, Colin encouraged Convers to keep these meetings going in the Marist Sisters’ convent. Notice that it’s at the Marist Sisters’ place. You had Champagnat, now you have the Marist Sisters. Something I like very much, is that the Foundress of the Marist Sisters says in a narrative that at a certain stage, they had a retreat for the women of the Third Order, and she took part with them. For the time, I don’t think it was common for religious, the Superior of a religious congregation, to mix with simple lay people and to have the same retreat. No, you need to have a special retreat for nuns, but she made the retreat with the associates of the Third Order. In a letter of Mayet’s dated 1838, he says that the mother of the Marist Sisters had been cured by St. Philomena. And he says: “The Foundress of the Marist Sisters, a Marist herself” Therefore, he considered the mother Foundress as a Marist. She was a very old woman, but spiritually, he considered her as Marist most probably because she was herself a Tertiary. As such, she was a Marist, part of the same business and house.

In 1833, Colin goes to Rome. He presents the Third Order and he gets the reaction of Castracane. After that he does not get the approbation of the Society of Mary. He does not get very much. But because of the confusion in the minds of the various officials in the Roman Curia he does finally get three briefs for the Third Order. Castracane had made it very clear that the Third Order would not to be approved, but in the end, because of this confusion, the only documents that Colin came back from Rome with were three briefs of indulgences for the Third Order of Belley. Colin of course was very happy but here comes the problem: if we use these briefs to gather people in our house what will be the reaction of the parish priests? For one year, Colin just keeps the briefs in his drawer without even showing them to the bishop.

After a year, he shows the briefs to the bishop, because they needed an executor in order to be carried out. The bishop agrees to sign them, but even after that, Colin does not use them. In 1838, he will say, “I  still have my briefs in my drawers.” Belley was a very small town and yet it had a great big medieval cathedral, which had been restored in the last century. Even if all the people of Belley came to Church on the same day for the same Mass, the Cathedral would still have been left half-empty. Therefore, the bishop said, Ah! you will begin this Third Order and people will go less often to my Cathedral, it will be more empty. For Colin, that was enough. What is the Society of Mary for? It is to help all the people of God. Therefore, if we start by doing a work of separation, drawing people to our little chapel, and leaving the cathedral empty, that’s really contrary to what we are supposed to do. For this reason, he chose not to do anything and therefore the Third Order of Mary in Belley just died out, it was not developed.

In Lyons, after the departure of Pompallier and the break up of the Tertiary Brothers of Mary dissolved, something still remained. It was a feminine association to which Pompallier had given the magnificent title, the Christian Virgins, or the Christian Maidens. These continued even after Pompallier’s departure and Colin gave to them a number of Marist Fathers, one after the other, as directors.

The minutes of their meetings have been preserved and it’s good perhaps to read a few of these minutes to realize what this association was. From October 27, 1837:

“Father, (the chaplain), informed us that the ship with missionaries bound for Polynesia had arrived at Valparaiso at the end of June, and that, probably, they are in the islands by now. And so, we are redoubling our prayers for them, and the success of their mission. For this reason, we have agreed among ourselves to say our Rosary every day for that intention, keeping in mind the mystery of the Holy Rosary, and how this beautiful prayer, which has obtained so many outstanding favors, is like a powerful weapon in our hands, with which we are helping the holy missionaries to triumph over the power of hell. For it must not be forgotten that we are united to the whole Marist Order;”

A few days later:

“We talked about the news we received about the missionaries of Polynesia, and we recounted our zeal for the glory of God, remembering that, although we are dispersed in the midst of the world, we are part of the Marist Order, and we ought to collaborate by our prayers with the great work that these holy missionaries have undertaken for the glory of God.”

There we see the nature of these meetings of Tertiaries: to receive news from our mission and to help the missioners to convert the sinners. While listening to the news, they were sewing clothes for missionaries. That was it. They were working materially for the missions, praying for them and listening to the letters from the missionaries, because they were part of the Marist Order. They really felt a part of the Society, that was the spirituality, if you like, of the first Tertiaries.

History however was to repeat itself. One day, a young curate (not all the young curates are necessarily very wise) at Saint Paul’s Church in Lyons said in the pulpit: “Look at the Marists, who already have so many works in Lyons, and now they are starting a new one. They’re starting to separate people from the Church, by having people in their chapel, and that cannot go on like that.” As soon as Colin heard this, he said, “That’s the end of it. We stop the meetings. History repeated itself.

Colin could not imagine the Marists making a division and drawing people to themselves. It’s so contrary to the whole idea of the Society of Mary. It exists just in order to anticipate a people that is comprised of everybody. That’s the great paradox of the Third Order for Colin. His vision was so great, so broad, and the possibility of starting it so different that every start was simply, a kind of betrayal of the vision.

For 26 months the women had no meetings. They did keep faith however and went to the Cure d’Ars who said, “Yes, the Third Order is a good thing, ask Colin to give you a new chaplain.” And so, after 26 months, they got a new chaplain. After a while though, this chaplain was appointed to another house, and they were again left without anybody. When they came to Colin this time he said: “They are still hoping, they are still wanting something! If it is so, that’s the sign that it is the will of God. I will now take care of that.”

This was the big turn around in the history of the Third Order. Colin had promised to take care of them, and when Colin became really determined to do something, he did it, and he gave them his best man, Julian Eymard. That’s the next stage, if you like, of the history of the Third Order: Eymard comes into the picture.

Julian Eymard was a secular priest of the Diocese of Grenoble, who joined the Society of Mary in 1839. Very soon he was given the important job of being the spiritual director of the minor seminary of Belley. After that Colin called him to Lyons to become Provincial, which meant, practically, Vicar General, because the Society of Mary was not yet divided into provinces. He became the “right hand” of Colin, his immediate collaborator. In 1845, Eymard underwent the first of his three great Eucharistic experiences in which he discovered his vocation as the Founder of a Eucharistic congregation. The first happened in 1845 while bearing the Blessed Sacrament at the Corpus Domini procession. As a result, he said that he would no longer preach on anything but Jesus in the Eucharist; it was the start of his vocation.

In December of the same year, Colin asked Eymard to become the director of the Third Order of Mary. Immediately Eymard’s soul was on fire, he was a man of great enthusiasm, of real spiritual energy and he started to develop the Third Order in a marvelous way. The section of the Christian Maidens continued. He founded the Christian Mothers, the Christian Little Girls, the Little Daughters of Mary. He also developed a section of young men and all of them spread out in Lyons. Imagine the possible total number of people being affiliated to the Third Order of Mary, people aggregated to the Third Order, even without knowing it. There will be the sinners inscribed into the registers by their wives, or by their sons, or by their mother, and also the unborn children. Eymard starts the idea that has always been a part of the Third Order, of inscribing unborn children as part of the Third Order.

Eymard starts this expansion of the Third Order, and he has great success. He was a great confessor. He knew many souls in the confessional and he gathers them up as members of this new Third Order. But what was his conception of the Third Order? We could summarize it in one word: it was a “centripetal” conception. Father Colin’s conception of the Third Order was definitely centrifugal. It was eschatological, the center of interest was the people of God of tomorrow. We were supposed to work along that line by helping as many people as possible to know Mary. The image for Colin, if you like, is the ship: you have the Blessed Mother as the prow of the ship, and after that, you have the Marist Fathers, Marist Sisters, Lay People, and Marist Brothers. After that, you have all the ways that extend up to the infinite. That’s the people of God of tomorrow, going towards the end of time with Mary as the head, a typical centrifugal, dynamic concept. It was the one that we found in the minutes of this Association.

Eymard’s concept is exactly the opposite. It is a centripetal one. You know, they are now developing this science of linguistic analysis, where for example, you take all the speeches of President Kennedy, and you find how many times he used this word, or this tense of the verb etc. Through an analysis, you try to get into the mind of the man. If this technique was applied to the writings of Father Eymard, the first prize will be won immediately by the word, “center.” It’s typical of somebody who will found a congregation of adorers. You have the center of everything in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the center of the monstrance, which is at the center of the altar, the center of the church. We have to go to the center.

So too the Third Order. For Eymard the ideal Third Order was the Regular Third Order, those who were practically religious gathered around Christ all the time. But imagine also, another possibility for a regular Third Order. He called them “Houses of Nazareth,” communities formed in the families themselves. After that, you will have the normal Third Order with fraternities. After that, the affiliation, and after that, the aggregation. With all of these, the nearer you are to the center, the better the Tertiary you are.

He also changed the name Third Order. It had been the “Confraternity for the Conversion of Sinners and the Perseverance of the Just.” It became the “Third Order of Mary and of the Interior Life.” He gave to the Third Order new practices: nothing dreadful, nothing absolutely monastic. For instance the practice of a quarter of an hour meditation every day, and never to go to theater, never to read novels. It’s not very much, but it’s enough to change completely the image of the Third Order. It’s no longer the People of God embracing everybody, it’s something for an elite. Even the quarter-of-an-hour meditation every day for lay people is something you may ask of lay people, and maybe some will do more than that, but don’t ask that of everybody. Absolutely impossible. Ask young people today belonging to the Third Order never to go to a movie and never to play a guitar and you will not have a lot of them. That’ll be it. To ask a woman of Lyons never to go to the theater, never to read a book, that really did mean that she was part of a kind of elite. She could not be part of this great People of God as seen by Colin

So, the concept of the Third Order was very different, but it was a great success. At one time Fr. Eymard heard of a missioner going to Rome and he said, “Oh, you could take advantage of your presence in Rome and obtain some indulgences for the Third Order.” The man made a kind of presentation of the Third Order, asking for indulgences but was told they couldn’t be given to something which did not exist. First the institute had to be approved canonically, then after that indulgences could be given.

It happened that Father Tiner did get the approval of the Third Order from Pope Pius IX, who then delegated the Archbishop of Lyons to canonically institute the Third Order of Mary. This was done on December 8th 1850. All of this was done without the consent of Colin, even though Colin’s name appears officially in the supplications. Of course Fr. Colin did not like this at all, and he became very angry. For him, this official approbation of the Third Order was a great danger. It would give more publicity, further highlight the Third Order and therefore increase the difficulty with the secular priests. Therefore Colin was determined to change Eymard and he took him away from the direction of the Third Order, sending him to La Seyne as Superior of the college there.

Eymard stayed there until August of 1855. At that time he was relieved of his superiorship by Favre. He had practically already decided to leave the Society. He was sent for a few months to a Marist house in Chantrie where he wrote the manual of the Third Order of Mary. Immediately after that he went to Paris and obtained the dispensation of his vows and became the founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers.

After that came the last stage of the history of the involvement of Marists with Third Order lay people. The Third Order continued to develop along Eymard’s lines. It developed where the Marists had their houses of course but also in places where there weren’t any Marists, for example around Nantes in the west of France where many missioners came from. The Third Order developed through the families of these missionaries.

The Regular Third Order also came into existence in the missions of Oceania. This was where the Third Order was introduced by the Marist Fathers to give a title to the first woman pioneers who went to Oceania after 1857. I won’t develop here the very interesting question of the origin of the SMSMs. For the moment I just want to say that there was this very unique kind of Third Order of Mary in the Missions of Oceania.

After that, we come to the famous Chapter of 1870-1872 when Colin is finally recognized again as the real Founder of the Society of Mary, and its real legislator. He writes the Constitutions of the Society of Mary. He has also written the Constitutions of the Sisters. It is now a question for him of also writing the Constitutions of the Third Order. He’s tired and it’s not easy. He does not work at that. In the meantime, another fact comes into the picture.

Father Mayet was a personal friend, an intimate friend of Father Eymard. After the death of Eymard in 1868, Mayet started to write a biography of the life of Eymard. Mayet indeed was a good writer who had published many best sellers, for instance a Life of Marie Estelle and a Life of Captain Marceau, both best sellers with many editions. He was a really good author. He wrote a Life of Eymard, which he could have published, but of course, the authorities of the Society of Mary asked him to show it to the Blessed Sacrament Fathers to avoid any difficulties.  Mayet therefore decided also to send it to Colin.

Chapter six of the book covered the topic of Eymard and the Third Order. Mayet was aware that Colin would not be completely happy, and he said to a man going to La Neyliere: Try to get Father Colin to read it, but try to make sure that he reads everything up to the end, that he does not make up his mind about it after only the first pages.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. After the first pages, Colin said, I don’t want to hear anything more about it. That’s not at all the Third Order! Not at all! Not at all! It’s another concept. I let Eymard do that, but I have never agreed with it. It’s another Third Order. Mayet, of course, was deeply distressed and he never published his book. It is still in manuscript form in the archives of the Society of Mary.

Perhaps because of this, Colin decided to do something with the Constitutions of the Third Order. He therefore wrote the Constitutions in Latin with the help of Father Jeantin. He first published a short text written in French. What is to be found in these Constitutions?

Firstl, the name, “Third Order,” does not appear. They are the Constitutions of the Confraternity for the Conversion of Sinners and the Perseverance of the Just. Second, there is not a word about the approbation of Pius IX, but only a reference to the old briefs of Gregory XVI, the famous briefs that Colin has kept in his drawers. He now takes them out just to see that what he is writing is not the Constitution of the Third Order of Eymard but as it was first planned in 1833. Again there appears the famous idea of the universal motherhood, Mary is the Mother of All, and therefore, the Third Order should be open to everybody. He also gives the Third Order the same ends as the Society of Mary. They are members of the Society of Mary tending to the same ends just like in the Society of Mary.

After that, he writes an article on the various persons who can be admitted into the sodality. He makes room for those who would like to lead a more perfect life, but for those he would like to have a kind of Regular Third Order. And what are the exercises? Of course, he has to take account of what Eymard has said, and he therefore touches on the question of the theater and the question of the novels but they are no longer prohibited. They are just shown as possibly dangerous, and in that case, you will make a personal decision about them. That’s a very significant difference. He also insists on participation in parish life, and no time is specified for meditation. Just a monthly meeting is mentioned and a just few simple rules.

As for the administration of the Third Order, the Marist Fathers will only have the general direction and the inscription on the registers, something that had a great importance at that time. If you are aggregated by inscription, you benefit from the graces and therefore, the Marist Fathers will have the registers. The directors of the Third Order however will be the parish priests, it wont be in the hands of the Marists to draw people from the parishes to their chapels. The Third Order was a gift given to the parish priests. We give them the possibility with this association to develop Marian piety and to prepare their people.

Father Colin wrote his Latin Constitution for the Third Order and it was printed. We still have a few copies of the printed Constitution, but what happened to them? That’s the problem.

In the summer of 1874, Fr. Alphonse Cozon came to La Neyliere. He was a good Marist and Fr. Colin spoke to him about two things. He gave Fr. Cozon two spiritual missions: one, to take care of the lay brothers, to write a manual for them which he did. Secondly, he was also asked to write a manual for the Third Order because the only one in existence was Eymard’s, and of course it was not quite in accordance with the new Constitution of the Third Order.

Cozon accepted this mission from Colin, although it was not an easy one, and he was certainly one of the men who had best understood Colin’s thinking on the Third Order. That’s what he wrote about. The text has been published in English in S.M. document #4, by Father Ed, Edwin Keel. In it we read this:

“According to the idea of the Very Reverend Father Founder, the Third Order ought not to be confined within the limits of the Society. It ought, in a certain sense, to be a work outside of the Society to which the Society will communicate its spirit, the spirit of the Holy Virgin. Its development ought not be limited to the dimensions of the Society. It ought not to remain in our hands, but pass to others. It ought not to be an essential mechanism of the Society, nor revolve around it as a planet around the sun, but ought to radiate freely in the Church. It would be wrong to consider it .as a valuable means for aiding the Society by interesting the pious faithful in its works. It is, rather, the medium for transmitting further the impetus received from Mary, so that, passing through the Fathers and the Tertiaries, it might keep on going, and finally disappear at the farthest reaches, so to say, of the Church, without any personal consideration.”

That’s exactly the centrifugal concept of Colin, marvelously understood by this man who went to La Neyliere to speak to Colin.

And what did Cozon do? The first thing was to get Colin’s Constitution of the Third Order approved by a General Chapter. They had been written, but in the meantime, nothing had happened. Cozon prepared a postulatum to effect this. What happened to this postulatum is really interesting for the history of the Society of Mary.

Father Cozon presented this postulatum to the 1880 Chapter, but it was the year of the expulsion of the religious from France. The Chapter has to deal with very hot problems, and they decided to divide all the postulatum into two catagories, the urgent ones and the non-urgent. Of course the Third Order postulatum  went into the not-urgent which were never discussed. In 1884, the postulatum was presented again and the Chapter decided to refer it to the  General Administration, the easiest, most common solution of any Chapter when it doesn’t want to deal with anything. Of course the General Administration put it in its files. In 1886, the postulatum was again presented  and was again referred to the wisdom of the General Administration.
In 1893, perhaps Cozon was sick or had dispaired, I don’t know, but in any case, he did not present his postulatum. But in a 1900 he presented it again. This time, finally, it was considered and the Chapter appointed a special committee to deal with it. The president of this committee was Father De Mijolla, the Director of the Third Order and of course, the man’s choice was already a conclusion. He showed great respect for Cozon, who was one of these men loved by everybody. Cozon however was now very harsh. He said that the Third Order of Mary as organized now was contrary to the Founder’s views. Of course, Father De Mijollan said in his report: Is that true? Where has the Third Order been organized? It had been organized at Cerdon with all the confraternities founded by Colin; therefore, it was Colin who had organized the Third Order. The name had been given by Colin, and Colin speaks of the Third Order in many texts!

Therefore, he said, no, the Third Order had been organized by Colin. Colin has always approved what had been done by the directors, the petition for the canonical approbation bore Colin’s name. The Third Order has its existence as the Third Order of Colin.

It’s a good report, starting from a good intention, but based on a succession of completely false assumptions. Everything in this report is false. The confraternities in Cerdon had nothing to do with the Third Order. Colin has used the name “Third Order,” but always as a secondary name. The real name for him was “Confraternity for the Conversion of Sinners and Perseverance of Just. He had not approved of the direction of Eymard. Finally, his name does appear in the petition for the canonical approbation, but it was without him knowing it. This report of course, won the conviction of all at the Chapter, which unanimously said that the existing Third Order was not different from that in Father Colin’s mind. It therefore had to continue like that. And that was the end of it. After that , Fr. Cozon of course could not represent the postulatum. It had been defeated. But now he tried something else.

In 1919, there was to be a new edition of the Eighth edition of the Manual of the Third Order. Cozon tried to prepare a new Manual, a faithful one. He was very old at the time, and he wanted to be faithful to the mission received from Colin. He prepared a new manual with the full text of Colin’s Constitution, but his manual was not published. There was an Eighth Edition, but it was printed without these elements from Cozon. Finally, Cozon died in 1924.

What happened to Colin’s vision after that? It was taken almost unexpectedly to Ireland in the 1950’s. Father Brendon Hayes tried to realize it. He had come to know of this idea through his study in the archives and was completely taken by it. He tried to realize it by creating an association called: Genoa Coehi, The Gate of Heaven. He took the name from the beginning of Colin’s, since Mary is the Gate of Heaven. It was also an idea of St. Bridget that the Mother of Mercy is the Gate of Heaven for sinners. The idea of this Third Order was to be open to young boys, and everybody could be member of it; something more in the line with Colin.

Many Irish Marist Sisters and even Fathers came to know about the Society through this association of Genoa Coehi. Father Brendon Hayes, who was a good historian, wrote the history of this Cozon postulatum, taking it from all the original documents. He also wrote several other booklets about the Third Order. He really is the one who has rediscovered all these problems between Colin and Eymard about the Third Order.

And so, we come to the 1962 Congress of the Third Order. I was there in Rome at the time and I remember very well the background to it. It of course was after the studies of Brendon Hayes and the great question was: Would this Congress reconfirm Eymard’s Third Order, or try to go back to Colin’s vision? We were not speaking of vision at that time, but of Colin’s ideas.

Two interesting men in Rome at that time were Father Buckley, Superior General, and Father Charil, Director General of the Third Order. I spoke with both of them. For Buckley it was clear, the Third Order of Eymard works, it exists, so let us not give the substance for the shadow. Don’t give up what exists for the vision of somebody who has never been able to realize anything. That’s true, Father Colin, himself had never really carried anything for the Third Order.

Charil was different, he was much more taken by Colin’s vision, but I remember him telling me, “But, my poor Coste, of course, of course, that would be the ideal, but, you know, what was Colin’s idea? It’s to put the Third Order into the hands of the secular priests. Whenever it has been tried, the parish priests were not interested, and the Third Order very soon died. The only way to have a good Third Order is to have it in our hands. Colin’s idea was good, but perhaps he was a bit of a dreamer. Practically, it was already decided before the Congress, that nothing would change, it would reconfirm Eymard’s concept.

As a matter of fact, Father Hayes came, and gave a talk on Eymard. I almost cried during the talk because such a good historian, practically tried to conceal the history in order to show that, after all, Father Colin and Father Eymard weren’t so different. He made a very good spiritual talk but betraying in a certain sense all the strengths that were in his original studies. The conclusion was that the Third Order would continue under the approbation but that other forms could be authorized, other developments. Also, if the name “Third Order” was not acceptable in certain places, it could be replaced by something else. It was an effort to enlarge the picture, but the idea was that the Third Order is what it is.

After that, nothing really happened regarding the concrete realization of Colin’s vision. Nothing happened, if you like, at the center, up until the most recent Congress. This Congress, unfortunately was not a General Congress, but only a Congress of the English-speaking promoters. Fr. Hickey, who was supposed to direct it, could not cope with the many language problems; he could not understand the members. Therefore, he said, we would have only an English-speaking Congress. Perhaps it was good because there was a great unity, more possibility of understanding. There were none of the problems of translation, etc. I think, this may have been one of the reasons for its success.

The Third Order Congress took place in Rome in June of 1979. It was understood from the beginning that there would be complete freedom of speech; no pre-announced decisions. There would be complete freedom for examining the problem. The historical talks this time were not given by Father Brendon Hayes, who unfortunately had died, but by your servant here. I gave four big talks trying to explain all the problems of the Third Order as I have expressed it very briefly to you this morning.

Following these talks the men broke up into various groups, and worked by themselves. I was not present at their discussion. Having considered all the questions, they came out with a two page statement. There are three stated sections, letters A, B  and C.

Conference  in Rome: May 29th. – June 8th., 1979.

Throughout his life Father Jean Claude Colin was fired by a vision that sprang from the exciting inspiration shared by the seminarians in Lyons in 1816:

  • Mary’s desire to gather all the children of God into the bosom of the Church.
  • a new Church, as it were
  • a Society “open to all people”.
  • “the whole world Marist” through the laity.

In our day the Church is experiencing renewal:

  • the Church is discovering new ways to be missionary.
  • the laity are being restored to full, active membership and participation.
  • the Church is understanding itself as the PEOPLE OF GOD.
  • in all this, Mary’s place and role in the Church has been clarified.

Events of recent years in the Society of Mary:

  • more friendship and collaboration among the religious branches of the Marist Family – Fathers, Brothers, Sisters.
  • research on our origins and spirituality, culminating in Father Coste’s illuminating address to the 1977 General Chapter.
  • the adoption of Colin’s Constitutions, together with a Constitutional Statement filling out the total Colinian vision by the Chapter.
  • – initiatives in several Provinces (and in other branches of the Marist Family) expanding the Third Order of Mary or exploring other ways of associating laity with the life and mission of the Society of Mary.
  • – finally, this Conference of English-speaking Promoters of the Third Order of Mary.

All these events in the Church and the Society of Mary lead us to believe that we are at a turning point in the life of the Society:

  • a moment of great potential.
  • a moment of serious challenge to realize further the vision of Father Colin.
  • a moment to rediscover the vital and integral place of the laity in our Society and mission.
  • a moment calling for concerted efforts by all members of the Marist Family: Priests, Brothers, Sisters, Members of the Third Order of Mary, other Laity associated with us.

What might Father Colin’s insight mean today? First of all, it is much broader than a Third Order. “The Society exists to anticipate and prepare a Marian people.” (J. Caste) Our Founder’s vision for our Society is fully realized when the laity:

  • experience Mary’s motherly care and live by her example.
  • share in all we have been given as Marists.
  • Collaborate in the mission entrusted to us.

For our aim is nothing less than to support with Mary the whole People of God, and to give them the Marian character that God wills for His People, for He has constituted Mary Archetype and Mother of His Church.

So we must build up the Church, local and universal. We must promote the People’s full share in the life, mission and holiness of the Church, the laity’s emancipation and full flowering. This is the aim of all Marist ministry, since Mary wishes to touch the lives of all people. She wishes to be present among them as she was among the Apostles, and to see them renewed in the spirit of Christ.

For the laity to exercise their full role in the missionary activity, the suffering and the prayer of the Church, there is an urgent need for a fresh, vital apostolic spirituality within the reach of all. Our Marist spirituality, in its simplicity, is just that: anyone and everyone may be inspired by the image of Mary present in the Church from the very beginning. It is our privilege to share this with all the people we serve.

Our Society has always included laity who experience and live with us the awareness of the “gracious choice” to be members of Mary’s family. The Society of Mary and its mission are not integral without the inclusion of the laity – working side by side with us. to our mutual advantage and growth, sharing a common source of life and inspiration: Mary to whom we belong. The Third Order of Mary has been the traditional way in which this was realized, and has kept this ideal alive for us. Tertiaries, as all Marists:

  • belong to Mary
  • do her work
  • and express her presence today.

The Third Order of Mary has proved effective and might be made more effective and attractive.
Other ways exist and still others need to be tried, since a plurality of forms and models of associations are needed today.

C. The Task ahead
And so a great work lies ahead of us.

We want to:

  • explore all of this with Marist Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Laity.
  • comprehend better what we as Marists possess and can give.
  • share the fullness of our Marist vision with the Third Order Marists who are already part of the Family.
  • find ways to offer to others what has been given to us as Marists.
  • stimulate all Lay Marist Groups to take responsibility for the life, growth and initiatives of their Groups.

This statement made no harsh decision, in any case, it was not an administrative but a deliberative body; therefore it took no position for or against Eymard or Colin. But, for the first time people have started from the vision of Colin, and that’s really our reference point and not just the approbation of a Third Order by Eymard. We start from the vision of Colin. We compare it to the situation of today. We recognize that in practice, the association of Marist lay people with the Marists in the past has been through the Third Order, that the Third Order is valid, and, that it has done a lot. It is one but it can go out in the line of plurality.  In that sense, that’s our present situation. It certainly calls for creativity from our part.

Source: Jean Coste, Conference Three FRAMINGHAM RETREAT 1980

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