July 1st, 2017 is an auspicious day in Canada’s history, not only because it is the 150th anniversary of our country, but also because the Bishops of Canada have chosen to mark this great occasion by consecrating our nation to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.1 This is not the first time such a consecration has taken place. In 1947, Canada was consecrated to our Blessed Mother during the National Marian Congress in Ottawa, a gathering held in honour of the centenary of the Archdiocese of Ottawa that focused on the hope for lasting world peace. A few years later, as part of the 1954 Marian Year (to mark the centenary of the solemn proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary), the Catholic Bishops of Canada joined together to consecrate the country to her Immaculate Heart.2
The 150th Anniversary consecration follows in this sacred tradition. The date is significant not only for political reasons, but also because 2017 marks the centennial year of the appearances of Our Lady of Fátima. In consecrating our nation once more to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the desire is that it should “enrich our faith, allow a more abundant outpouring of God’s spiritual and temporal gifts on us, and enable us even more to fulfill our calling and mission.”3
What is consecration?
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines consecration as “an act by which a thing is separated from a common and profane to a sacred use, or by which a person or thing is dedicated to the service and worship of God by prayers, rites, and ceremonies.”4 Consecration is not an exclusively Catholic practice; in fact, it is a custom that can be traced to ancient times: to early Egyptian cults, Semitic tribes, and the Romans. It was a common religious practice among the Jewish people. For example, in chapter 24 of the Book of Exodus, Moses designated the entire Hebrew people as the People of God.5
But in all things, God is the one who takes the initiative. He is the one “who consecrates us before all else. Through Baptism, God makes us his adoptive children and confers on us his very own holiness of life and love. … To consecrate ourselves to him personally, then, is to make a faith-filled decision in which our response to God’s love for us is uniquely our own.”6
All consecration is ultimately a consecration to God, so when we consecrate ourselves to Mary we don’t diminish or substitute our love for God in any way. If anything, our devotion to Mary enhances our relationship with God, for Our Blessed Mother always points the way to Him. Consecration to Mary, then, is a means to embrace our Christian calling more deeply so we can continue to abide in God’s grace, to live in more profound union with Him, and “commit ourselves to him and his Kingdom with greater fervour.”7
History of Consecration to Mary
The notion of ‘belonging’ to our Blessed Mother is not a new idea. Our belief in her universal maternity has its roots at the foot of the Cross, where Jesus gave Mary as Mother to us all (cf. John 19:26-27). But it was not until the 4th century that St. Ephrem the Syrian, a Doctor of the Church, would write of the power of Mary’s protective care and intercession. By the 5th century, a form of personal consecration to Mary had been established; those who chose to consecrate themselves in this way were called ‘servants of Mary’, and the practice was sometimes referred to as ‘holy servitude’. However, it wasn’t until the 7th century that St. Ildephonsus of Toledo introduced the repeated and consistent use of consecration to Mary. He emphasized its Christocentric nature, saying, “What is delivered up to the Mother rebounds to the Son. Thus passes to the King the honor that is rendered in the service of the Queen.”8
Recognizing Mary’s powerful protection, cities and regions began to consecrate themselves to the Blessed Virgin as early as the 9th century. In the 11th century, St. Odilo (of the Cluny Abbey) began to spread the formal practice of personal consecration to Mary. This custom became common among religious communities such as the Cistercians, Benedictines, and Carmelites in the 12th century; it was during this time that the Cîteaux Abbey in France introduced the motif of the protective mantle of Mary. In the 17th century, the Church consecrated the month of May to Our Blessed Mother.9
Among all the great devotees of the Virgin Mary, it is St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716) who is acknowledged as “one of the great masters of the spirituality underlying the act of ‘consecration to Mary’.”10 In his Total Consecration to Mary, he ‘proposed to the faithful consecration to Jesus through Mary, as an effective way of living out their baptismal commitment’.”11 He emphasized the act of consecration as “a conscious recognition of the singular role of Mary in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church, of the universal and exemplary importance of her witness to the Gospel, of trust in her intercession, and of the efficacy of her patronage, of the many maternal functions she has, since she is a true mother in the order of grace to each and every one of her children.”12 Although several popes, including Bl. Pius IX and Ven. Pius XII, have encouraged devotion and consecration to Our Blessed Mother, it was St. John Paul II whose great devotion to Mary led him to take as his motto the words, Totus Tuus – “all yours.”
Our Lady’s Love for Canada
Devotion to Mary has always had an important place in the history of Canada. From the time of the arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries in the early 17th century, countless missions, dioceses, eparchies, parishes, schools, cities, and buildings have been named in her honour.13 In his book, Under Mary’s Mantle, Fr. Émile-Marie Brière writes, “Deep and heart-felt devotion to Our Lady characterized the founders of Canada and its early pioneers. The Catholics of France and New France were aflame with the idea that the new country would be Christianized through Mary. From the very earliest times Our Lady has been active as a loving Mother of her children in Canada.”14
The first recorded Marian miracle in Canada was attributed to Our Lady of Roc Amadour.15 In 1536, the explorer Jacques Cartier had set out on his second voyage to the New World, landing near the St. Charles River (a branch of the St. Lawrence River) in Québec. But that winter, his men fell ill and began to die of scurvy. Cartier had brought a picture of Our Lady of Roc Amadour along with him from France, and the suffering sailors gathered in the crypt of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi to invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Roc Amadour. They then solemnly processed into the woods with her image where they attached it to a tree, continuing to sing Marian hymns and begging Our Lady to heal them. Not long after, Cartier encountered native peoples who taught them how to brew a medicinal tea with the needles and bark of the Aneda tree (a Canadian white cedar tree). Although twenty-five of his men had already died from scurvy, the remaining crewmembers all recovered after drinking this tea. Cartier regarded it as “a true and clear miracle,” and the crypt where the men had gathered to pray became a shrine in honour of our Blessed Mother.16 It was the first of countless miracles in Canada attributed to Our Lady’s intercession.
Although we generally think of Marian shrines as being associated with great miracles, our Blessed Mother does not always choose to reveal herself in the miraculous or the extraordinary. She also shows her desire to be “deeply present in the simple aspects of our day-to-day lives. Her miracles are humble and hidden, for she is the tender Mother of lowly, little people the world over, welcoming and embracing them with the open arms of love.”17 In the image of Our Lady of Combermere, we are reminded that no aspect of our lives is so small or seemingly insignificant that it escapes our Blessed Mother’s care and attention. At the blessing of her statue, Bishop Smith said, “We seem to be living in a confused world, one becoming more confused all the time. As the years go by, it seems to me that the solution to the things troubling us will be cared for by Our Lady. She promised to help us, so long as we do our part. So if we listen to her words, in whatever work we do, and dedicate ourselves to her, we will have an opportunity to make recompense to God for many of the sins of the world.”18
And so, as we join with our Bishops in consecrating our great country once more to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, let us entrust ourselves to her care. We hope in her protection: that she will hear the cries of our hearts and intercede for us before the throne of God, that we may always find ourselves sheltered in the folds of her protective mantle. And so with these simple words of personal consecration we dare to pray, “My Queen and my Mother, I give myself entirely to you. And in proof of my affection, I give you my eyes, my ears, my tongue, my heart, my whole being without reserve. Since I am your own, keep me and guard me as your property and possession.”
Sharon van der Sloot
Prayer for the Consecration of Canada
to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary on July 1, 201719
Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, when the first Christian believers came to these shores, they planted a Cross made of the fresh timber of the New World
as a sign of their faith in your Son and the power of his Resurrection, placing their lives under your maternal protection and venerating you as the Immaculate Conception. You show us how to live a life free from sin in Christ Jesus and, by our baptism, we hope to share fully with you in the freedom of the glory of the children of God. You have accompanied us on our path through history, in times of peace, conflict, and reconciliation, and as we arrived at a greater sense of unity and nationhood.
With full confidence we come before you today giving thanks to God on the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Gathered in the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
we place ourselves completely in the sanctuary of your Heart and commit the past, the present and the future of Canada to your maternal care.
For this reason, I, [name], Arch/Bishop/Metropolitan/Eparch of [name], commend to your Immaculate Heart the portion of the People of God entrusted to me. Together with the other Archbishops, Metropolitans, Bishops and Eparchs of Canada, I also consecrate the people of our country to your maternal Heart which teaches us to trust in God’s loving plan.
Immaculate Mother of God, we find ourselves at a crossroads in our history; we are grateful for advances in science and new discoveries, yet we know the human heart is tempted by selfish interests and false ideas about the human person and freedom. Help us, as Catholics, to live in peace with all people of good will and to dialogue with respect and friendship.
Loving Mother of Our Lord, help us to uphold religious freedom in Canada, and the natural rights of parents and families; inspire us to protect the unborn, to help the poor, the marginalized, and to give support to the infirm and elderly.Weighed down by our concerns, but hopeful for the future, we turn to you, the new Eve, Mother of all the living, for help and strength.
Your Son is the beginning of God’s New Creation and you are his Masterpiece: intercede for our Churches, for all our people, especially for the Indigenous Peoples, the first stewards of this land of Canada, and all who come here to live, take refuge, or visit.
May the Cross of your Son, planted on Canadian soil and in Canadian hearts, be known as the Tree of Life, whose fruit is visible and available to all in the garden of this world.
Mary our Mother, we place our country Canada in the sanctuary of your Holy Heart for we know that there we will find Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Let us now ask the intercession of Our Lady according to the titles with which she has been especially honoured in Canada:
Litany for Canada
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us.
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Sacred Heart of Mary, pray for us. (St. François de Laval)
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us. (Jesuits dedicated their mission to the Immaculate Conception)
Star of the Sea, pray for us. (The Acadians)
Our Lady of Roc Amadour, pray for us. (Jacques Cartier)
Our Lady of Recovery, pray for us. (Samuel de Champlain)
Our Lady of the Cape, pray for us.
Our Lady of Victory, pray for us.
Our Lady of Good Help, pray for us. (St. Marguerite Bourgeoys)
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Snows, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Prairies, pray for us.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. (Patroness of the Americas)
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us.
Our Lady of Canada, pray for us.
1 Each Bishop is invited to consecrate his individual diocese (or eparchy) on July 1, 2017. Later in the year, all the Bishops of Canada will be invited to participate jointly in the consecration of Canada to the Blessed Mother when they gather for the CCCB Plenary Assembly in September 2017. (Cf. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Catholic Bishops of Canada invited to consecrate Canada to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” CCCB Website, April 28, 2017; available from http://www.cccb.ca/site/eng/media-room/4725-catholic-bishops-of-canada-invited-to-consecrate-canada-to-the-blessed-virgin-mary; Internet; accessed 5 June 2017.)
2 Cf. Ibid. The 1954 consecration took place during a celebration at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape, near Trois-Rivières, Québec.
3 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Consecrating Canada to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Insights for Adult Catechesis; available from http://www.cccb.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/Consecration_of_Canada_-_QA_resource_for_adults_-_EN.pdf; Internet; accessed 5 June 2017, 6.
4 Augustin Joseph Schulte, “Consecration,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908); available from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04276a.htm; Internet; accessed 5 June 2017.
5 Cf. Ibid. There are many other Biblical examples of consecration, including the consecration of the priests (Exodus 29), the Levites (Numbers 3:6), and the Nazarites (Numbers 6).
6 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Consecrating Canada to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Insights for Adult Catechesis, 2.
8 “Consecration and entrustment to Mary,” Wikipedia; available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consecration_and_entrustment_to_Mary; Internet; accessed 7 June 2017.
9 Cf. Ibid.
10 Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines” (December 2001); available from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020513_vers-direttorio_en.html#Chapter%20Five; Internet; accessed 7 June 2017, 204.
13 Cf. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Catholic Bishops of Canada invited to consecrate Canada to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” CCCB Website, April 28, 2017.
14 Fr. Émile-Marie Brière, Under Mary’s Mantle: Our Lady’s Love for Canada (Combermere, Ontario, Canada: Madonna House Publications, 2000), 3.
15 Devotion to Our Lady of Roc Amadour goes back to the 3rd century, when an anchorite named Amator Rupis carved out a cell for himself in one of the mountains near Cahors, France. He also hollowed out of the rock a small place of prayer to the Mother of God, Our Lady of Roc Amadour. The little statue of the Blessed Virgin resembled those which the new Christians of Gaul venerated in the hollows of oak trees, and it became the instrument through which many miracles were granted to the fervent pilgrims who came to invoke Our Lady’s intercession. Among these pilgrims were such famous personages as the knight-errant, Roland (nephew of Charlemagne, who was immortalized in the epic Le Chanson de Roland), King Henry II of England, St. Louis, King Charles the Fair, King John, King Louis XII, and the beloved Archbishop of Cambrai, François Fénelon (who was also a well-known 17th century theologian, poet, and writer). The feast day of Our Lady of Roc Amadour is celebrated each year on September 24th. (Cf. Mathieu Orsini, Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the History of Devotion to Her; Roman Catholic Saints [website]; available from http://www.roman-catholic-saints.com/our-lady-of-rocamadour.html; Internet; accessed 9 June 2017.)
16 Cf. “Quebec City: Our Lady of Rocamadour Shrine,” La Carte Mariale du Monde [website]; available from http://www.cartemarialedumonde.org/en/sanctuary/our-lady-rocamadour-shrine; Internet; accessed 10 June 2017.
17 Brière, Under Mary’s Mantle: Our Lady’s Love for Canada, 199.
18 Ibid., 201. The feast of Our Lady of Combermere is celebrated each year June 8th, the anniversary of the date on which the statue was blessed by Bishop William Smith.
19 Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Prayer for the Consecration of Canada to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 1 July 2017,” available from http://www.cccb.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/Prayer_for_Consecration_of_Canada_-_EN.pdf; Internet; accessed 11 June 2017.
* For more information on this image, see http://blog.apahau.org/helene-millet-claudia-rabel-la-vierge-au-manteau-du-puy-en-velay/.
** Attributed to the German sculptor, Michel Erhart (c.1445-1552). Work location UlmAuthority controlVIAF: 45096461ISNI: 0000 0000 8124 0348LCCN: n83198675GND: 118685147RKD: 257110WorldCat – Own work (own photograph), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2293730.
*** “Our Lady of Combermere,” Madonna House [website]; available from http://www.madonnahouse.org/about/; Internet; accessed 11 June 2017.
**** Image from Consecration of Canada to Mary – Prayer Service Template; available from http://www.calgarydiocese.ca/resources/consecration-canada-prayer-service-template.html; Internet; accessed 12 June 2017.