Mother and Mistress
In describing certain dimensions of our consecration, there are two terms we ought to try to recover for spiritual use. The meanings of these terms have been altered over the centuries or have acquired undesirable connotations. One beautiful title for Mary, which many saints of old have used, is “Mistress.” This is simply the feminine form of the word “Master,” as “Lady” is of “Lord.” The word “Lady” also needs to be rehabilitated, for its common usage makes it apply to almost any woman and not specifically to a noble woman who holds great authority and power.
Nowadays, the English word “mistress” is mostly used to describe a woman with whom a married man is having an affair. Thus many would perhaps not wish to use the term for the all-pure Virgin Mother and Queen! Personally, however, I have gotten used to calling Mary my heavenly Mistress, for it is another way to call her my Queen or my Lady, but perhaps it is even a stronger term than those, for it implies a kind of “ownership.” This sort of relationship is developed at length by St Louis de Montfort in his classic book, True Devotion to Mary.
If Mary is my Mistress, then I am necessarily her slave, though in a special and beautiful sense. This word, “slave,” is another term with which many people are uncomfortable. But let’s at least try to understand its meaning in the writings of the saints. We may adopt or reject any such term for use in our spiritual lives—though we are not free to dismiss dogmatic titles like Mother of God, Ever-virgin, Immaculate Conception, etc—but we ought at least to have some understanding before we make any decisions.
First of all, “slave” is a biblical term that often is not translated accurately. In English bibles, it is usually translated “servant,” perhaps because the translators think we cannot tolerate the word of God in full strength. When you read “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1), you should know that it really says “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” Likewise, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”(James 1:1), is really “James, a slave of God…” St Paul also goes on at length in Romans (6:15-23) about how we are no longer slaves of sin but “slaves of God” (6:22). He sums it up clearly when he writes: “You are not your own; you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). So when St Louis de Montfort invites us to become slaves of Christ by giving ourselves as such to Mary, he is affirming with St Paul that we are not our own, and thus his background is biblical.
St Paul also said to St Timothy: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor” (1 Tim. 6:1). If the Bible says that earthly masters are to be considered “worthy of all honor,” we ought all the more to honor Mary, who is our heavenly Mistress! Of course, St Louis’ idea of slavery also has nothing to do with a cruel and inhuman institution. St Louis is thinking more of the European monarchies of his day, and according to his cultural background he would have us be devoted slaves of a benevolent King and Queen.
There’s another point that we should consider. “Slave” is, in a practical sense, closer in meaning to “son” or “daughter” than it is to “servant.” We all know Mary as our Mother, and that is the primary way to approach her. But if we wish to consecrate our lives to her, she acquires an additional sort of authority over us, which merits the title “Mistress” (or Queen or Lady, if you prefer). A servant is basically a hireling who works for pay and has little relation to those who hire him apart from his work. A servant still belongs to himself. A slave, however, belongs to his master (or his mistress), but so does a young child belong to his mother and father! The child is not independent of them, he needs and depends on them for everything, and obedience is expected from him. He does not merely perform a series of tasks and then do whatever he wishes when his service is done. So both a little child and a slave are under the absolute authority of the one(s) to whom they belong, unlike a servant.
The point is this: we ought to consider it an honor to be slaves of our heavenly Mistress, because we should desire to belong to her. Sift out the negative connotations and think of it as total belonging. By our consecration to Mary, we belong to her, and in belonging to her, we belong to the Lord, for, as you recall, whatever we offer to Mary, she offers to God as her own, for his good pleasure and greater glory.
A few more texts from St Louis de Montfort will help us understand this:
“It is the most decided wish of the Son that we should come to Him through His Blessed Mother. We honor and please Him by doing so, just as a subject would please and honor his King by making himself a slave of the Queen… A king will glory in the fact that the queen, his companion, has slaves… since the honor paid to her and the power she exercises is honor done to him and is his power; and can it be credited that Our Lord—Who, as the best of all sons, has shared His entire power with His Blessed Mother—should take it amiss that she has her slaves?” (True Devotion, #76).
“Since we lower ourselves willingly to a state of slavery out of love for Mary, our dear Mother, she out of gratitude opens wide our hearts enabling us to walk with giant strides in the way of God’s commandments. She delivers our souls from weariness, sadness and scruples. It was this devotion that our Lord taught to Mother Agnes de Langeac, a religious who died in the odor of sanctity, as a sure way of being freed from the severe suffering and confusion of mind which afflicted her. ‘Make yourself,’ He said, ‘my Mother’s slave, and wear her little chain.’ She did so, and from that time onwards her troubles ceased” (The Secret of Mary #41).
“One day, the Blessed Virgin appeared to [Mother Agnes], and placed a golden chain about her neck to show her how pleased this good Mother had been when she made herself the slave of Jesus and of Mary; and Saint Cecilia, who accompanied the Blessed Virgin in this vision, said to Mother Agnes: ‘Blessed are the faithful slaves of the Queen of Heaven, because they shall enjoy true liberty…’” (True Devotion, #170).
If you still have some difficulty with the word “slave,” yet you understand and accept the concept of total belonging and perpetual service, there is another term that can be used: “bond-servant.” I have seen this in at least one biblical translation. It is a synonym for “slave,” meaning literally one who is bound to serve another without any wages. Yet this term is also open to the spiritual understanding of a personal “bonding” with the Heart of Mary. As such it has nothing to do with the “bondage” of one who is a slave against his will.
So as bond-servants of the Queen, we bind ourselves to Mary’s service, without expecting any “wage” in return, yet still full of confidence that this service will incline the loving Heart of Jesus to freely grant us his overflowing grace and mercy. The very word “religion” is derived from a Latin term meaning “to bind,” so the Christian faith is essentially a binding of ourselves to Christ in loving service for the fulfillment of his will, in the hope of receiving the gift of eternal life. To bind ourselves to Christ by becoming bond-servants of his holy Mother is a particularly blessed and fruitful way of living our life in Him.
Finally, let us remember these words of St Louis de Montfort, to encourage us in our faithful service of the Queen, which is ultimately service of the King: “Whenever you turn your thoughts to Mary, Mary refers your thoughts to God in her own personal worship, so that you cannot praise or honor Mary without Mary immediately praising and honoring God in your name… When she is praised, when she is loved, when she is honored or when any gift is made to her, it is God Who is praised, loved and glorified, and it is God Who receives the gift through Mary and in Mary” (True Devotion, #225). Everything finds its goal and fulfillment in God, and therefore all we do must be ultimately intended to glorify Him. By giving ourselves over to our beloved Mistress, we know that the best possible worship, prayer, sacrifice, and service will be offered to the Lord, for she will make it as perfect as her own. Blessed are the faithful slaves of the Queen of Heaven!
To be continued…