Classic Mariologist, St. Louis de Montfort, describes five characteristics of a true devotion to Mary, not to be confused with what he defines as false devotions. Those with honest intentions to maintain a life of holiness will exemplify these hallmarks with sincerity and intention.
It’s important to note that the root of every true devotion to the Blessed Mother is humility. A person who prays for humility will necessarily remain connected to Our Lady in times of peril, for aid in difficulties, throughout triumphs and celebrations, and in the mundane of ordinary daily living.
St. Louis de Montfort warns the potential Marian devotee against false devotion to her, which is fickle, often exterior, duplicitous, and rooted in pride. Many seemingly devout Catholics claim to love the Blessed Mother, because they practice every devotion to her, namely, praying the Holy Rosary, wearing the Brown Scapular and Miraculous Medal, consecrating their material and spiritual goods to her, and the like.
But St. Louis says we must guard ourselves against mere external devotions. True devotion, as we will see, requires what is arduous for the sake of our greater good.
True devotion to Mary is interior
Anything that evokes permanent change in a person must originate in the heart. It must not only be heartfelt, but it must also be an act of the will. Therefore, we consciously choose to live in accord with the principles of one who wants to truly please God by honoring His Mother. We do so out of a great desire to love her and ultimately, to love God.
Love of Our Lady is tender
Think of St. Therese of Lisieux’s theology of childlike faith when you consider this principle of true Marian devotion. A devotee isn’t just paying homage to her through rote prayers. Instead, s/he feels a deep affection for her as a child to a mother. We turn to Mary for everything – our temporal and spiritual needs, our concerns and fears, our frustrations and difficulties.
Tenderness for Our Lady means we have great confidence in her love for us. We run to her with arms outstretched and allow her to nurture us back to bodily or spiritual health. We do this without hesitation or fear that our love for her might offend God.
Honoring the Blessed Mother leads to holiness
It has been said that those who pray to the Blessed Mother with sincerity of heart avoid all sin. Even those living in mortal sin, once they turn to her, stop sinning altogether. This is a sign that the soul is growing in holiness, because one who loves does not want to offend those whom it loves.
St. Louis believed that a true devotee also strives to imitate Our Lady’s ten principle virtues of “profound humility, lively faith, blind obedience, continual prayer, universal mortification, divine purity, ardent charity, heroic patience, angelic sweetness, and divine wisdom.” These, we can say, are guidelines for our spiritual growth, as well.
Prayer to Mary must be unwavering
Remember the parable of the seed that fell upon rocky ground and thorns (see Matthew 13)? These were the ones who were fickle in their love for God. Instead, we must be like the seed that falls upon rich soil, so that our roots become strong and will not vacillate when storms and times of tumult strike our lives. A sincere devotion to the Blessed Mother is similarly sturdy, steady, and unwavering.
St. Louis describes this constancy as being “unchangeable.” That is, we remain committed to daily prayer, even in times of spiritual aridity, and we strive for what is noble, good, and true in all our endeavors. It’s the “avoid evil, do good” philosophy put to use every day.
Marian consecration leads the soul away from self and toward only God
This final principle of true devotion is what St. Louis calls “disinterested.” This doesn’t mean lack of interest or apathy; on the contrary, it means a person is detached from oneself. It’s akin to St. Ignatius of Loyola’s holy indifference, meaning that we become less and less self-focused and more and more focused on God.
In other words, when we rightly honor our Blessed Mother, we seek God alone, and we begin to love Him for His own sake – not for what He grants us or out of vain attachment to our own will.