1. Theology of devotions
  2. The Founder's devotions
  3. Devotions in the Oblate tradition

Devotions that do not deal with the major mysteries of our faith (such as the Father, Christ, the Spirit, the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary) have not been the object of very extensive research on the part of theologians or ure scholars. The major dictionaries of liturgy, theology or spirituality are very brief in this regard.

On the other hand, it has always been the Church’s concern to suppress devotions which border on idolatry or illusion, giving full freedom to the Spirit to breathe life into genuine popular piety. Nonetheless, it has encouraged some special forms of devotions, the fruit of which has become evident through the centuries, for example, the way of the cross, the rosary, and devotion to one’s guardian angel.

For the requirements of this article, we can say this: the essential element in devotions is the use of some created reality to lead the human heart to a living relationship with God. The reality used can be a material object which has become sacred, such as the cross, relics, sacramental signs, etc., or else it can be a social reality directly related to God, such as the Church as an institution, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Pope; or furthermore it could be a particular human reality, such as the souls in purgatory, and the men and women saints.

In the New Testament, all creatures become parables that speak of the Kingdom of God. For Jesus, in a very special way, persons are often the means used to go to the Father, especially those who inspired admiration in him because of the faith they shared, for example, the little ones and the humble (Matthew 11:26), or the Centurion (Matthew 8:10), or the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28).

In the Church, throughout its history, devotions have developed in regard to realities related to the life of Jesus (Mary, Joseph, the Archangel Gabriel, the manger, the house of Nazareth…); and also in regard to persons throughout the ages who are considered intimate friends of Jesus because of their holiness; and also in regard to places or objects known to be special mediators of God’s presence, such as relics or pilgrimage sites.

The popularity of all these devotions has varied throughout the centuries according to countries and temperaments, according to the place allotted to palpable signs in the daily lives of peoples or individuals. People did not always avoid concentrating on the signs as if they were the main reality, and as a result, produce a superstitious piety. But it would also happen that the signs would safeguard the heart which was engaged in a relationship with the true God and would provide a protection against a vague, abstract and disembodied piety.

The Founder’s devotions
Saint Eugene de Mazenod lived at the end of a century in which the human heart was given more importance than the Cartesian spirit, “classicism”, and the gardens of Versailles. It was the revolution of people who were more dominated by emotion than by reason.

In addition to this, Eugene bore in his personality the vibrant breath of Southern France, swollen to great gusts by the warm Mediterranean winds.

Some of the more ardent devotions which he developed had the same roots as the foundations of his interior life: for example, his devotion to the Trinity, to Christ the Savior, to the Immaculate Virgin, to Saint Joseph, to the Apostles, to the Church, etc. This dictionary devotes an article to each one of these themes. In addition, however, we find certain special devotions in which his heart manifests an incredible spiritual vitality: it is only about these that we will speak.

It will not come as a surprise to see the importance of signs to nourish his intimate and profound relationship with the Lord – but without ever allowing them to lapse into sensationalism or sentimentality. Father Toussaint Rambert has this to say on the subject: “Such, then, was Bishop de Mazenod’s piety: imbued with a lively faith, it embraced everything; it was great and lofty like his spirit; generous, broad and strong like his will, ardent and affectionate like his heart; simple, upright and sensible just like his fine soul […] He was endowed with an almost instinctive avoidance of the eccentric and of novelties in devotions. Initially, he did not dare to condemn these novelties, because he was well aware that the Holy Spirit could be found in them, that he is unceasingly manifest in the Church, that the forms of his manifestations are limitless, that he blows where he wills, and that God’s gifts are almost as varied as there are just souls on earth. But for him, he felt no inclination, no attraction in this regard. He was only inclined to the lofty, ancient and perpetual devotions of the Holy Church, our Mother.” [1]


For the Founder, the most important signs that bound him to God were everyday occurrences, happy or sad; and the more mysterious they were, the more they enabled him to plumb the depths of the Trinity, of Providence, of the Holy Spirit, of the divine Will, of the glory of God. [2]


In speaking of special devotions of the Founder, one must take particular note of the angels, especially the guardian angels.

He calls upon their intercession before undertaking important projects [3]; he always thanks them when a difficult endeavor succeeds [4]; every morning, he entrusts his day to his guardian angel [5]; he loves to remain in contact with his friends through their individual guardian angels [6]. He also likes to pray and have others pray the Office of the Guardian Angels on Tuesdays [7]. To complete these all too brief observations, we could read the summary given by Father Eugene Baffie with regard to the Founder’s devotion to the holy angels. [8]


In other places in this dictionary, we will find the paramount importance the Founder gave to signs such as the Eucharist, the Cross, the Passion and the Divine Office. But there are other important signs to point out: the Word of God, the liturgy, relics, and scapulars – these supplied the nourishment for which Eugene de Mazenod yearned in order to draw him close to God.

The Word of God. For Eugene de Mazenod, the book of the Word, especially the New Testament, was the only authentic source of all apostolic actions which were truly evangelical. His attitude of veneration is evident in a letter he wrote in 1805 to a friend he met during a trip to Paris: “[…] I have gathered together below some words of consolation that I have been careful to draw from the pure wellspring, in the book of life, that admirable code where all needs are foreseen, and the remedies are prepared. So it is by no means Eugene, it is Jesus Christ, it is Peter, Paul, John, etc., who send you this wholesome food which, when received with that spirit of faith of which you are capable, will certainly not be without effect.” [9]

While meditating on the Word of God in the seminary, he expressed his veneration: “Let us adore Jesus Christ as he taught his Apostles his admirable doctrine that they were enjoined to pass on to us for our sanctification […] We owe the same respect to the Word of God […] as if we heard it from the very mouth of Jesus Christ […]” [10]

The importance of the Word of God had already been planted in his heart as a child in Venice when his great uncle made him read chapters from the New Testament to him. The book he used was one he kept all his life. [11]

His attachment to the Word of God as the source of every evangelizing word is clearly evidenced in an article by Émilien Lamirande [12]. The Founder’s instinctive reference to this Word is illustrated in two articles by Father Georges Consentino [13] and Father Sylvio Ducharme [14], where they indicate the ural sources of our Constitutions and Rules.

The liturgy. For the Founder, the liturgy was a privileged place to put his heart in contact with his Creator and Savior, and to gather the believers in living and splendid gestures of faith. “I hunger and thirst for these beautiful religious ceremonies”, he wrote in his diary, on March 8, 1859. In 1856, at the end of the ceremonies of Holy Week, he noted in his diary: “[…] these are beautiful days; a foretaste of Paradise”. Father Rambert makes the following observation: “[…] the simple, upright and exuberant piety of Bishop de Mazenod inclined him to have a great love of the pomp of religious ceremonies […] Nothing gave him more joy than the public ceremonies and especially the general processions […] where the whole city seemed to come together in a unanimous sentiment of faith and love to provide a procession for our Lord Jesus Christ” [15]. Nothing could give his Marseillian heart more consolation, nor make his love throb more fervently than to see the faithful assembled around our Savior. That is why he refused to allow the pontifical celebration of Pentecost to be canceled on the grounds that he was dying. [16]

Scapulars. The Founder does not seem to have attributed much personal importance to scapulars as objects of veneration or devotion. It was rather as part of the habit of a family consecrated to Mary that he asked Rome to grant the Oblates two scapulars proper to them: the white scapular of the Immaculate Conception decreed at the Chapter of 1837 as a sign of consecration to Mary [17] and the blue scapular of the Immaculate Conception decreed at the Chapter of 1856, as emblems proper to those who preach the Virgin Mary. [18]


The importance the Founder gave in his daily life to the mystery of the Communion of the Saints is a rather exceptional phenomenon. We can say that he habitually lived in the presence of the saints as his brothers and sisters who revealed to him various of aspects of the heart of God. They found a place in his spirit where a theology was developing which was dear to his heart and which he himself acknowledged as being rather daring. [19]

Yet, his gaze on this mystery permeated his heart. After a ceremony celebrating the solemn jubilee of the Church in Spain, Bishop de Mazenod wrote this in his diary: “This joy was due to the great concourse of saints whose palpable presence it was impossible not to sense and to the happiness one experienced at being a part of this Catholic Church which held God as its Father and all redeemed men as brothers” [20]. This gives us a better understanding of his taste for liturgical prayer. [21]

Among the saints, the souls in purgatory held a very special place in the heart of the Founder. [22]

But perhaps the most moving aspect of his devotion to the saints was manifested in the veneration he showed for their relics. This was not a case of sentimentality, but a genuine encounter with persons who were the friends of God, with brothers and sisters united with him in Christ [23]. This point of view enables us to understand better his being deeply moved when he found himself in the presence of the relics of Exuperius [24], of Saint Serenus [25], the former Bishop of Marseilles, of Bishop Gault [26], who was a former Bishop of Marseilles as well, of Saint Lazarus, the alleged founder of Marseilles [27]. He was also very attached to the memory of deceased Oblates who showed signs of holiness. [28]

Another characteristic of his devotion to the saints was the attention he paid to their patronage. For him, patrons were very important, either as models, or as intercessors, or as protectors, always as friends cooperating with him in the service of the Kingdom, in his personal life as well as in his apostolic endeavors.

Firstly, there were his personal patrons: Saint Charles [29], Saint Joseph [30], and Saint Eugene [31]. All along his ascent to the priesthood, he called upon the saints of the Martyrology who specially represented each step to the priesthood [32]. For his Youth Congregation, he chose Saint Aloysius Gonzaga [33]. From the very inception of his Congregation of Missionaries, he entrusted it to Saint Vincent de Paul [34] and later on to Saint Alphonsus Liguori [35], then to Saint Charles [36], and to Saint Francis de Sales [37]. Moreover, he would call upon the assistance of Saint Leonard of Port Maurice to watch over the apostolic zeal of his Oblates [38]. Later on, in the daily litanies, he would introduce the saints whose lives were an inspiration for apostolic zeal: Saint Fidelis, Saint Dominic, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Philip Neri, Saint Joseph Calasanctius. In his very first letter, he had told Abbé Henry Tempier that their rule of life would be drawn from Saint Ignatius, Saint Charles, Saint Vincent de Paul and the Blessed Liguori. [39]

He was always attentive to the patrons of the Diocese of Marseilles: “Once he became the Bishop of Marseilles, Bishop de Mazenod considered himself as the official administrator of the interests and the glory of all the saints whose virtues and relics made up the century-old patrimony of his Church”. [40]

As a missionary preacher, he always insisted on establishing a deep interior relationship with the patron of the parish where he was going to preach [41] and he asked the Oblates to do the same.

Finally, any occasion was a good occasion to call upon some saint – man or woman. Consequently, he felt particularly close to Saint Teresa because of the Carmelite convent the Oblates owned in Aix and because of the Carmelites who had died in this convent [42]. The dates of the signing of contracts and of setting up of a house were deemed important with reference to the saints whose feast was celebrated on those days [43]. The mere passing through Marseilles of the relics of St. Exuperius led him to spend hours in prayer in fraternal union with this saint. [44]

In all the foregoing, the most important reality and the most significant element to be retained was the Founder’s extremely deep awareness of his family relationship with all the saints of heaven, the souls in purgatory, as well as with those persons whom he wished to lead to the Lord. He made very little distinction between the members of the Church Triumphant, Suffering or Militant which made up the Body of Christ, if not in regard to the power of their intercession and protection. All of them were for him dear friends with whom he loved to communicate – whether it was with the maid servants gathered at the church of the Madeleine or with Saint Exuperius. The Communion of the Saints was not, first and foremost, a point of doctrine, but an everyday very living reality. That is why he called upon the saints of the Church Militant as well as the others for support in difficult situations; he spoke of all of them with the same feeling and affection.


At the end of this too brief look at the Founder’s devotions, one is struck by the rather unusual balance between a lively sensitivity and a lucid faith, with no deviation toward superstition or toward a disembodied intellectuality. He appears as a light for an age where fear of popular religious emotion often tends to push people toward a misguided deprivation of all that is visible.

Devotions in the Oblate tradition

In general, we can say that drawn along by the current trend in the life of the Church the devotions lived by the Oblates in the Founder’s lifetime have gradually lost their importance with the passing of time.


The Founder inserted into the text of the Constitutions and Rules only the three major devotions: to Christ the Savior, the Cross and to Mary Immaculate; the others stem only from customs in daily life and from the directories. After the Founder’s passing, the Oblates held to this orientation each time they reworked our book of life.


For their part, the General Chapters have allotted very little space to Oblate devotions in their official decrees. They limited themselves to promoting the editing and approving of various directories in which certain devotions were mentioned.

We could perhaps point out a few scattered cases. In 1873, the Chapter insisted on giving saints’ names to our houses and to the places they were located, in accordance with a custom which harked back to the time of the Founder [45]. The same requirement would be repeated by several Chapters that followed: 1898, 1920, 1947.

The Chapter of 1887 made the decision to ask the Congregation of Rites to elevate the feast of Saint George to the rank of double major as a favor to the Oblates, but the report does not give the reason behind this devotion.

In 1893, the Chapter decided to relinquish the feast of Saint Lazarus because it was a local devotion specific to the diocese of Marseilles.

The 1879 Chapter expressed the desire to petition the Holy See to elevate the feast of Saint Marguerite Mary Alacoque to the solemnity of a double rank.

The Directory for Juniorates. For a considerable length of time, the General Chapters stressed the drawing up of directories of formation for the juniorates, novitiates and scholasticates. [46]

In the directory prepared for the students in the juniorate, as drawn up by Father Alexander Soulerin and published in 1891, chapter VI lists the devotions which are especially recommended. After having made mention of the major devotions toward Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, he added devotion to the guardian angels, the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, as well as the patrons of youth: Saint Stanislas Kostka, Saint John Berchmans, with a preference for Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. These choices were not ordained by long-standing tradition, but because these were the devotions recommended by Rome. [47]

The Directory for Noviciates and Scholasticates. From the years 1831-1835 onwards, there was a directory drawn up for noviciates and scholasticates in manu form; it remained in use until 1876 when Father Rambert touched up the text and published it through Mame. [48]

In the chapter on devotions in the manus, great importance was attributed to the angels, just as had been done for the juniorates. The following devotions were added: devotion to “the Apostles, especially Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint John the Evangelist, all the founders of orders, the saints who distinguished themselves by their love for Jesus Christ: Saint Augustine, Saint Bernard, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Peter Alcantara, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Saint Stanislas Kostka, and among the holy women: Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Teresa, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Magdalene de Pazzi, etc.” [49]. This directory asked the novices to consecrate each day of the week to a particular devotion by directing “their prayers, good works and ejaculatory prayers” to this end. [50]

But in Father Rambert’s text, he limited himself to speaking about devotion to Our Lord (Holy Childhood, Passion, Eucharist, Sacred Heart), to Mary and to Joseph. He concluded his text with these words: “Such are the main devotions that we feel limited to recommend as being more proper to the Oblates and more in conformity with the spirit of their vocation. We could list others of high quality and capable of producing much good for souls, but they would not have such a general application to our common needs […] In this matter, it is better to leave each one free to follow his own special inclination after having consulted his spiritual director. The only things to be avoided are: 1) To take on too many devotions, for in that case, far from contributing to our spiritual growth, these devotions would set up obstacles by taking away freedom of spirit and peace of soul; 2) Never to despise any of those devotions approved by the Church. Since they find their source in the Holy Spirit, they are all worthy of our respect.” [51]

Since the manus of 1831-1835 were rarely cited until 1876 – especially by the Founder – and since in addition to that Father Rambert had a deep love of the Founder, would it be mistaken to assume that his interpretation of the recommended devotions was more in touch with Oblate tradition than what one finds in the manus and even in the directories for juniorates published fifteen years later?

Oblate prayer books. There were eight different Oblate prayer manuals: 1865, 1881, 1897, 1913, 1929, 1932, 1958 and 1986. Except for the very last one, all the editions retained the traditional devotions mentioned in this article. The most recent edition greatly modified this orientation by eliminating almost all the prayers other than those addressed to God, the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the Holy Apostles. The only litanies retained were particular examen to keep in touch with the saints dearest to the heart of the Founder. In other instances, much more emphasis was placed on prayers, either from the Founder or from the present Missal.


The various Superiors General hardly spoke about the traditional Oblate devotions except for those dealing with the Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate.

However, from the first anniversary of the Founder’s death, they began to exhort the Oblates to build an ever stronger relationship, first of all with the Founder, and soon after with the Oblates who had left their mark in the Congregation because of their holiness. Naturally, there is no official mention of “devotion”, but what it really consists in is this: to rely upon their intercession, to allow oneself to be influenced by their example, to draw inspiration from them for life and fidelity. [52] We can say that Father Leo Deschâtelets was the first great promoter of devotion to the Founder by various initiatives which cultivated an awareness in the whole Congregation in such a way that the beatification of the Founder appeared as the normal blossoming forth of Oblate piety rather than the beginning of a whole new devotion.


How do we see ourselves today in regard to this tradition of Oblate devotions, without losing anything of the values it carries, but also without regressing to behavior that would not be authentic for contemporary spirituality?

It seems that the Founder gave us the key to this in his extremely powerful attachment to the Communion of the Saints. Above and beyond this or that special devotion, he bore in his heart a deeply social faith which led him to live in total solidarity with all those the Father loved and Christ saved. Suffice it to bring to mind the text from his diary quoted above and written in the wake of the ceremony celebrating the jubilee of the church of Spain. “This joy was due to the great concourse of saints whose palpable presence it was impossible not to sense and to the happiness one experienced at being a part of this Catholic Church which held God as its Father and all redeemed men as brothers.” [53]

It really seems that the spiritual orientations presently being raised up by the Spirit in the ecclesial community tend to draw us out of our too individualistic faith perspective to lead us to live in fraternal communion with humanity as a whole in our various encounters with God.

We find these orientations already very vigorous and alive in our Founder to a degree a little out of the ordinary for his times. For us, in turn, to assume these orientations in our lives is to plumb the depths of our Oblate tradition. And we can say that our most recent prayer manual supports this orientation by replacing several prayers addressed to individual saints by prayers which put us in touch with various categories of people seeking God or who have found him: such as ecclesial communities, the laity, priests, missionaries, Oblates living and death.