One of the beautiful paintings that adorn the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, is a scene (see right) showing Mary and the Christ-child at the foot of the Cross with Saint John and Saint Francis. The Child inquires of His Mother whom she prefers between the two. Mary points to Francis. This is a Fresco "Madonna with St Francis and St John the Evangelist" by Pietro Lorenzetti (c. 1320) which is located in the Lower Church, San Francesco Basilica, Assisi.

In the Life of Saint Francis, as early as 1208 when he begins with the renovation of St. Mary of the Angels of the Portiuncula, he takes the Holy Virgin Mary as his Advocate. Thus Mary becomes the protector of the Order.

"Some are shocked to hear it said that the Franciscan Order is a Marian Order, yet what other description can be given it in view of the role acknowledged by Francis for the Virgin of Virgins in his form of life and the seemingly unlimited praise showered by him on the Mother of God. For he 'rendered special praises and poured forth prayers and offered his devotion to the Mother of Jesus - how many and in what ways, it is not humanly possible to tell.' (II Cel. 198). And 'after Christ, he placed his trust especially in her.' (Leg. Maj. 9,3)1

Many Franciscans overlook the fact that Mary plays a very definitive role in the life and spirituality of all our members and followers. In some of the groups of friars, the Holy Rosary is not said in community. Some consider it a private devotion but inasmuch as Mary is central to the Franciscan spirituality, it seems appropriate that she be honored in the praying community. Many SFO fraternities, at their monthly meetings, make an effort to pray the Rosary, or the Franciscan Crown Rosary, and this practice should never be discouraged.

The Virgin Mary is central in our lives, not only that of Franciscans, but everyone. "By the beginning of the 13th century the world had begun, from greed, to grow cold to Divine love as revealed in the mystery of the Cross, precisely to that love of Him 'who didst deign to die for love of our love.' (from a prayer of St. Francis). That this charity of the Divine Heart might be understood, appreciated and shared more widely and intensely in the Church and for the Church by living the poverty of the Virgin in the Spirit, the Immaculate (the Mediatrix of all graces and Queen of the Angels always waits at the Portiuncula as at Nazareth) interceded that Francis might be chosen to form a new Order in the Church.2

St. Francis was known to spend long hours every night in contemplation. In Celano (1 Cel 24) while staying at the house of Bernard of Claravalle: "And he (Bernard) used to see him praying all night, very rarely sleeping, praising God and His Mother the glorious Virgin." And St. Bonaventure notes "After Christ, he placed all his trust in her." (Leg. Maj. 9,3), and further, "where the Order of Minors had by the merits of the Mother of God had its beginning, it might develop with her help." (Leg. Maj. 4,5)

Francis speaks of Mary as the "Spouse of the Holy Spirit." The greeting Franciscans use when we meet each other, and when we write other Franciscans, "Pax et Bonum" (Peace and Good), is equivocal to the "Shalom" Mary would have used when she visited St. Elizabeth the mother of St. John. St. Francis regarded the Holy Spirit as the true founder of the Franciscan Order. Certainly today, that remains true. Secular Franciscan fraternities would not spring up here and around the world were it not for the Holy Spirit. Since he regards Mary as the "Spouse of the Holy Spirit," the Blessed Virgin should be central in our Franciscan spirituality.

St. Maximillian Kolby is a martyr of our time. He was born in Poland near Lodz, in 1894. In 1911 he joined the Conventual Franciscans, he took the name Maximilian, and made temporary vows in 1911. In 1917, he founded Militia of Mary Immaculate in Rome to advance Marian devotion. St. Maximillian Kolby, the founder of the Militia of Mary Immaculate, re-emphasized this strong tie, the devotion to the Blessed Virgin, in our modern 20th & 21st Century lives, between our Franciscan roots and the present.

There are of course many other Franciscan saints whose devotion to the Blessed Virgin was fully in context with their Franciscan way of life.

The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, particularly Chapter II, Art. 9 spells out St. Francis Marian spirituality as it pertains to the SFO: "The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to his every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently."

Then, in Art. 16,1 of our Constitution: "The brothers and sisters should cultivate intense love for the most holy virgin, imitation, prayer, and filial abandonment. They should manifest their own devotion with expressions of genuine faith, in forms accepted by the Church." and in 16,2: "Mary is the model of fruitful and faithful love for the entire ecclesial community. Secular Franciscans and their fraternities should seek to live the experience of Francis, who made the Virgin the guide of his activity. With her, like the disciples at Pentecost, they should welcome the Spirit to create a community of love."

Franciscan Fraternities often meet for an hour or two each month. Within that timespan, most of which could be devoted to communal prayer (Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary, various prayers of St. Francis and other Franciscan saints, etc.) there need also be time for formation and sometimes the time just isn't enough! As a result, the Rosary is often dispensed with, and we understand that. But let's try to include a Rosary or at least a Decade of the Rosary in our meetings. Of course, we have the Franciscan Crown Rosary, and we could pray that instead, but as long as we honor our Mother Mary, it doesn't really matter which prayer is said. Just don't forget our Blessed Lady!

Franciscans that we are, let us continually strive to keep the Blessed Virgin Mary central in our lives as our Seraphic Father did. If we do this, our devotion to Jesus will continue to grow until we will come to enjoy the Heavenly Banquet with Jesus, Mary, the Angels and the Saints.

Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Revisited 2 May 2010