What does it means to live in unlimited consecration to the Virgin Mary? Going beyond merely living in imitation of her, it means being transformed into her likeness. St. Maximilian employs the term “transubstantiation” to describe the effect of this transformation. Transubstantiation refers to the miraculous conversion of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. But the Martyr of charity shows how, by way of analogy, this term also legitimately illustrates an infallible principle of the spiritual life: we reach union with God only through Mary, and we reach perfect union with God through a life of unlimited consecration to her.
Let us disappear in her! May she alone remain, and we in her, a part of her. But is it licit for us, such wretched creatures, to rave in this manner? Nonetheless, this is the truth; this is reality.1
I don’t know anything, either in theory and still less in practice, about how one can serve the Immaculate, be an instrument in her hands, her servant, son, slave, property … and how to become herself. She alone must instruct each one of us at every moment, lead us, transform us into herself, so that we may no longer live, but she may live in us, just as Jesus lives in her and the Father in the Son.2
In a letter to Fr. Anthony Vivoda, who edited the Italian language version of the Knight of the Immaculate, Il Cavaliere dell’Immacolata, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe explains the doctrine of transubstantiation into the Immaculate:
Who is the Immaculate? Who can understand that perfectly? Mary, the Mother of God, Immaculate, or rather the “Immaculate Conception” itself, as she deigned to call herself at Lourdes.
We know what “mother” means. But we cannot grasp with our minds and our limited brains what “Mother of God” means. Only God comprehends perfectly what the “Immaculate” means.
One can understand a little what “immaculately conceived” means. But the “Immaculate Conception” is full of consoling mysteries. If the Immaculate permits, we will establish a Marian Academy where we will study, teach and publish for the whole world who the Immaculate is. It may be an Academy with a doctorate in Mariology. This field is not much known, yet it is so necessary for practical living, and for converting and sanctifying souls…
We belong to her, to the Immaculate. We are hers without limits, most perfectly hers; we are, as it were, herself. Through our mediation she loves the good God. With our poor heart she loves her divine Son. We become the mediators through whom the Immaculate loves Jesus. And Jesus, considering us her property and, as it were, a part of his beloved Mother, loves her in us and through us. What a lovely mystery!
We have heard of persons who are obsessed, possessed by the devil, through whom the devil thought, spoke, and acted. We want to be possessed in this way, and even more, without limits, by her: may she herself think, speak, and act through us. We want to belong to such an extent to the Immaculate that not only nothing else remains in us that isn’t hers, but that we become, as it were, annihilated in her, changed into her, transubstantiated into her, that she alone remains, so that we may be as much hers as she is God’s. She belongs to God, having become his Mother. And we want to become the mother who would give the life of the Immaculate to every heart that exists and to those who will still come into existence. That is the M.I.—to bring her into every heart, to give her life to every heart. Thus entering these hearts and taking full possession of them, she may give birth to sweet Jesus, who is God, that he might grow in them in age and perfection. What a magnificent mission! True?… Divinizing man to the God-Man through the Mother of the God-Man.3
St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe uses the expression transubstantiation into the Immaculate to describe the desired effect of total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The use of the same term that describes the complete substantial transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ to describe our complete substantial offering of ourselves to Mary is not accidental. Nor should it surprise us, since we commonly use the term “consecration” for both as well. In the case of the consecration of the Eucharist, nothing of the substances of the original bread and wine remain, but only the Body and Blood of Christ. In the case of the consecration of ourselves to Mary, we can say with St. Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ [living in Mary] lives in me” (Gal 2:20). In Kolbe’s thought, it is only through transubstantiation of ourselves into Mary that we can attain transubstantiation of ourselves into Christ. This hinges on the Franciscan thesis, because God created the world for Mary, and Mary for Christ.4
To quote the classical Aristotelian axiom: “What is first in intention is last in execution.” Christ was the first in the mind of God before the creation of the world. The thought of Christ was “followed” immediately in the mind of God by the thought of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was predestined by God’s eternal decree to be the Mother of Christ. In the return of all created things to God the Father (cf. Jn. 1:1; 16:28), “the equal and contrary reaction,” says St. Maximilian Kolbe, “proceeds inversely from that of creation.” In creation, the saint goes on to say, the action of God “proceeds from the Father through the Son and the Spirit, while in the return, by means of the Spirit, the Son becomes incarnate in [the Blessed Virgin Mary’s] womb and through Him love returns to the Father.”5 So it was that Mary came before Christ in time; and so it is that we must be transubstantiated into Mary in order to be transubstantiated into Christ.
It was St. Paul himself who first pointed out the connection between our own transubstantiation into Christ and the transubstantiation of the Eucharistic bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, when he said: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrations, speakers in various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor 12:27-28); and “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). To the early Christian community, St. Paul’s references to the Body of Christ must have brought the Eucharist immediately to mind, as it should to any Catholic today. But St. Paul tells us that the Body of Christ is the Church. And St. Francis tells us that the Church is Mary: the Virgo Ecclesia Facta—the Virgin-Made- Church.6 Thus, when we use the expression transubstantiation into the Immaculate to refer to our consecration to Mary, we are also referring to our membership in the Church. In the words of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner:
The use of the term “transubstantiation” to describe the ultimate perfection of the union of love between divine and human will known as the Immaculate Conception recalls a parte rei the connection between the mystery of Mary on the one hand (and derivatively any type of Mariology, whether “Christo” or “Ecclesio” typical) and that of the Eucharist, whether in reference to the Head of the Church or in reference to the members of the Body of Christ perfectly incorporated into that Body.7
It follows that it is only by means of being transubstantiated into Mary, the Created Immaculate Conception, that we can be united to God as she is uniquely united to God, being transubstantiated with her into the Uncreated Immaculate Conception, the Holy Spirit.8 In virtue of this transubstantiation, we are possessed by the Immaculate, and we are thereby formed into a single community or Church sharing her personality. Thus, “we become the mediators through whom the Immaculate loves Jesus. And Jesus, considering us her property and, as it were, a part of His beloved Mother, loves her in us and through us.” This co-mediation with the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus is precisely what defines our membership in the Church, as expressed by the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner expounds:
The transubstantiative action whereby the Eucharistic sacrifice and presence is realized, a sacrifice and presence directed to the perfect communion of the members of the Church and so to the realization of a Church sine macula et sine ruga (Eph. 5, 27), is by the will of God linked to the mediation of the Mother of God and to the virginal maternity of the preeminent member of the Church, the Immaculate Virgin. That link is not only per Mariam in the sense that without devotion to her and without her mediation we will not be properly and/or sufficiently disposed to be fully incorporated or transformed into Christ as members of His Body, but also in Maria, in the sense that when our participation in the mystery of the Eucharist as Sacrifice and Sacrament is all that it should be, then the communion of the members with the Head and with each other is Marian in mode. What St. Bonaventure calls the Marian mode of the Incarnation and Redemption, applied to the Church as its realization, might be called the Marian personality of the Church, or the triumph of the Immaculate Heart, effectively the transubstantiation of all the members of the Church into the Immaculate so as to share in the Spirit of the Father and the Son, to be one as they are one (cf. Jn. 17), a transformation in this life consummated in the Eucharist.9
Pope Bl. Paul VI tells us that we can never venerate Mary at the level she merits, precisely because of the mystery that unites her to Christ.
Therefore our Blessed [St. Maximilian Kolbe] is not to be reproved, nor the Church with him, because of their enthusiasm for the formal religious veneration of the Mother of God. This veneration with its rites and practices will never fully achieve the level it merits, nor the benefits it can bring, precisely because of the mystery that unites her to Christ, and which finds fascinating documentation in the New Testament. The result will never be “Mariolatry,” just as the sun will never be darkened by the moon; nor will the mission of salvation specifically entrusted to the ministry of the Church ever be distorted if the latter honors in Mary an exceptional Daughter and Spiritual Mother. The characteristic aspect, if you like, and the original quality of Blessed Kolbe’s devotion, of his “hyperdulia” to Mary, is the importance he attributes to it with regard to the present needs of the Church, the efficacy of her prophecy about the glory of the Lord and the vindication of the humble, the power of her intercession, the splendor of her exemplariness, the presence of her maternal charity. The [Second Vatican] Council confirmed us in these certainties, and now from heaven Father Kolbe is teaching us and helping us to meditate upon them and live them. This Marian profile of our new Blessed places him among the great saints and seers who have understood, venerated and sung the mystery of Mary.10
Thus, Pope Bl. Paul VI assures us that the terminology chosen by St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe to sing the mystery of Mary, including that of our incorporation into the Virgo Ecclesia Facta by means of our transubstantiation into the Immaculate, will never be “Mariolatry” or distract us from the Person of Jesus Christ, “just as the sun will never be darkened by the moon.” Moreover, Pope Bl. Paul VI tells us that the vital importance of St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Marian maximalism (hyperdulia) with regard to the present needs of the Church is confirmed rather than denied by the Second Vatican Council, which has given the Church its direction for the new Millennium. That direction is necessarily Marian. In the words of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner:
The choice of [St. Maximilian Kolbe’s] terminology is interesting, seemingly inspired from on high. For it pinpoints the Marian mode of our incorporation into the Body of Christ and of our communion with Him, above all in the Eucharist. The miracle of consecration of bread and wine via their total conversion or transubstantiation into the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass is the basis for our total transformation or analogically “transubstantiation” into Christ, a “conversion” which remains imperfect until it is fully activated in a Marian way, viz., analogically via transubstantiation into the Immaculate, so that the Church might be “immaculate”: sine macula, sine ruga. The personality of the Church as distinct from that of Christ her Head is precisely the personality of the Immaculate. And so it must also be for each member, actual and potential. Whence we may speak not only of a kind of presence of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ, but also of a Marian presence, whereby every aspect of the Church, including the hierarchical and Petrine, is animated.11
1 – St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Scritti di Massimiliano Kolbe, Roma (1997): SK 461.
2 – SK 556
3 – SK 508
4 – Hence St. Bernard of Clairvaux says “that for this Blessed Virgin, who was to be his Mother, God created the whole world”, In Salve Reg. s. 3. For an exposition of the Franciscan thesis on the Absolute Primacy of Jesus and Mary in God’s plan of creation, cf. Fr. Maximilian Mary Dean, F.I., A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ, Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA (2006).
5 – SK 1318
6 – The title “Virgo Ecclesia Facta”, or Virgin-Made-Church, is applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Francis of Assisi in his Salute to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Cf. Fr. Johannes Schneider, O.F.M., Virgo Ecclesia Facta: The Presence of Mary in the Crucifix of San Damiano and in the Office of the Passion of St. Francis of Assisi, Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA (2004): p. 70.
7 – Fr. Peter Damian Ma. Fehlner, F.I., St. Maximilian Ma. Kolbe, Martyr of Charity—Pneumatologist, Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, MA (2004): p. 150. Subsequent citations are abbreviated PDF.
8 – Cf. SK 1318.
9 – PDF: pp. 150-151.
10 – Pope Bl. Paul VI, Homily for the Beatification of Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe (October 17, 1971).
11 – PDF: pp. 147-148.