One of the spiritual practices for the Montfortian consecration, for the week dedicated to growing in knowledge of Mary, is to make "acts of love" to her. But the saint doesn't explain what he means by this.
Catholics are often familiar with the traditional prayer called the "Act of Love," which is directed at God:
O my God,
I love you above all things,
with my whole heart and soul,
because you are all-good and worthy of all love.
I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you.
I forgive all who have injured me,
and ask pardon of all whom I have injured.
There are of course many little prayers like this that go by the name of "Acts," which has always intrigued me. There is an "Act of Faith," for instance, and an "Act of Contrition." Quite often the prayer is called an "Act of..." some interior disposition, some thing that cannot really be produced at will. Faith is given to us by grace, we believe, and so is contrition. But I love the idea that no matter what our interior dispositions we can choose to make an "act" that nonetheless contains an infinitesimal spark of grace, seemingly willed into existence by our own choice to speak the words of the act aloud. Maybe we are always carrying just enough of that spark around that to pray these Acts is always a response to an interior, ever-free-for-the-taking grace and that the praying of them is always an effective, if small, demonstration. To pray the Act of Contrition is to be, in a tiny way, contrite. To pray the Act of Faith is impossible unless there is that tiny mustard seed. To pray the Act of Love is a way, a little way, to love God.
But what is an act of love to Mary?
There are, of course, two meanings of "love." Commonly I say that I love someone when I deem him lovable, when I am attached or attracted to him in some way. At the same time, the technical Christian meaning of "to love a man" is to wish him good, or to act in a way that is ordered towards his ultimate good. I think it was John Paul II who said that the opposite of loving a person is not hating him; the opposite of loving him is using him, as a means to an end; very well then, you might phrase it this way, that the technical Christian meaning of loving a person is treating him entirely as an end and not at all as a means.
At first I thought, well, the first, common meaning of "love" of Mary is too trivial to even consider, compared with the first. Who wouldn't love Mary? Have you ever read that litany? Seat of Wisdom, Cause of our Joy, Mystical Rose, Virgin Most Prudent? But then I thought -- maybe it isn't so trivial to love what is good. Lots of us react with envy, resentment, vanity, and even anger when faced with someone who is, well, truly better than we are. It is hard always to appreciate someone who, we feel, makes us look bad by comparison. So perhaps there is something difficult, and so worthy, in the sincere prayer, "I love you, Mary; I admire your virtues and I aspire to imitate you in everything, and I seek to know you more and be ever close to you," Perhaps this small prayer of affection is a kind of act of real love.
Trying to wish Mary good, or to act in a way that is ordered towards her good, is a bit trickier. What can we possibly do to benefit her? It is not like she is a soul that needs our prayers. She is Queen of Heaven, after all! But if Mary is full of grace, then her will is perfectly aligned with God's will, and that means that what she wants is what God wants. Therefore to try to give her what she wants -- assuming she wants anything -- is to give her something that is ordered toward her ultimate good.
For an ordinary human, giving him what he wants may or may not be ordered towards his good. He may want something that will harm him. We can try to give him what he "needs," and if we do that and if we have accurately assessed his needs, we can be safely assured that we at least will not give him something bad for him. Mary "needs" nothing. But she may "want" something. And it is safe to give her what she wants, or to wish her what she wants.
And what does she want?
A couple of clues come from Mary's own words in Scripture.
Number one: "Do whatever he tells you." An act of obedience to Jesus is an act of love toMary.
Number two: "All generations shall call me blessed." Another act of love to her, I think, is to acknowledge that she is blessed, "for God has done great things to her." Note how she points to God and desires that we acknowledge not just her blessedness, but the grace of God that is the cause of it. The Ave Maria is the quintessential Marian prayer, and its heart is this declaration and acknowledgment of Mary's blessedness.
If we are willing to look outside Scripture and consider the messages that have come out of worthy apparitions, we find other requests. Fatima comes to mind first, of course. Even if you are not "into" Marian apparitions, the requests made at Fatima have the marks about them of authentic love: make reparations for others' sins and ingratitudes against the Heart of Mary, pray and make sacrifices on behalf of sinners, pray the Rosary for peace, among other things.
When I went Googling around for an "act of love to Mary," I found this short and simple prayer:
"Jesus, Mary, I love you. Save souls."
I repeated it a few times as I was unloading the dishwasher, and I came to believe that it is actually quite a fitting act of love to Mary. Here's why:
- First, it expresses a simple love of Jesus, who is in first place. I think it is clear that Mary wishes her son to be loved, honored, and acknowledged above and before and prior to herself.
- Second, it expresses simple affection for the Virgin herself.
- Third, it asks for the salvation of sinners. If you follow the Fatima message, you know that one thing Mary wants us to do is to pray for sinners.
- Fourth, it is an acknowledgment of their intimate cooperation, as it is addressed to both.
All this, plus whatever effects there may be of merely praying the prayer -- sacrificing that tiny slip of our much-demanded attention, that moment of thinking our own thoughts according to our own designs, and instead pausing interiorly to align our mind with something that comes from outside it. I did this small thing of my own free will in order to love Mary. That makes it, almost inherently, an act of real love.
With this little prayer, the Ave, and the rosary, plus all the teachings of Christ to follow at any moment, I think we never need wonder how to go about loving the Blessed Virgin.