In 2012, if you began preparing for Total Consecration on Ash Wednesday, you would end up making your consecration on the feast of the Annunciation. In 2012, I had never heard anyone talk about this devotion in real life and I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about. But my internet research suggested it was legit and the coincidence of the dates appealed to me strongly, and so, on Fat Tuesday of 2012, I decided I was going to “do” a Total Consecration.
Total Consecration is a devotion that was introduced by the seventeenth century French priest, St Louis de Montfort, and promoted in the twentieth century by St Maximilian Kolbe. By consecrating yourself to Mary, you offer her your whole self and everything you do so that she can teach you how to be one with Christ. After all, Mary is perfect because she only wants what Jesus wants. St Louis outlined thirty-three days of prayer, with designated themes for each week, leading up to the day of consecration itself, which ideally should occur on a Marian feast day. I am terrible at Lent, and I always struggle to come up with something “good” that I can stick to, but the combination of intensity and structure in the Total Consecration preparation seemed just right.
So off I went to my nearest Catholic bookstore and bought the only copy of the prayers I could find. For the first week, I was on fire. Maybe that’s a funny thing to say about prayer but I bet you can relate. Every night, I looked forward to getting the book out and spending some time in prayer. I had no trouble connecting with the text or staying focused. Afterward, I would float down the hall to the bathroom to get ready for bed, feeling peaceful and accomplished. Finally, I was succeeding at Lent! I wasn’t just succeeding — I was crushing it!
The second week, I flagged a bit. But it was in the third week that I totally beached. I was no longer excited to read the day’s reflection. Instead, I rushed through the reading so I wouldn’t fall asleep in the middle of it. Five minutes after I’d finished, I had trouble remembering what I’d read. I was definitely not crushing anything any more.
One night, as I got into bed, I thought sadly about the contrast between that night’s boring and already-forgotten prayer and the authentic, loving evenings I’d enjoyed only a couple weeks before. The exact question that came into my mind was, Did this even count anymore? Could I even be described as “praying” when I was barely even reading the words? Maybe I should just give this up and try again prior to another feast day.
I’m not sure why, but I decided to see it through. Perhaps it was because I didn’t know what else I would “do” for Lent if I gave this up. So I carried on with the preparation days, trying my best to be attentive, but never really connecting again with the prayers.
Finally, March 25th rolled around — the Feast of the Annunciation. I prepared a little card with the words of the consecration prayer and took it with me to church before Mass. I knelt at Mary’s altar, said the prayer, signed the card and lit a candle as St Louis de Montfort recommends. Then, I took my seat for Mass.
The Mass I was attending that night was in the Old Rite, so shortly after the priest entered the sanctuary the congregation knelt. As soon as I hit the kneeler, I felt a wave of grace wash over me. I don’t quite know how to describe it. It was like standing in a literal wave. All I could do was pour out gratitude from my heart. It remains the most supernatural experience I’ve ever had. I felt as if my worry about whether or not my prayers had “counted” was addressed and answered.
I offer this story as encouragement. Sometimes when you’re trudging along with unfulfilling prayers, it could mean you should follow your heart to something different. But I think Lent, or any other long-term commitment, is different. If you’ve committed yourself to Total Consecration, or a 54-day novena, or a regular adoration slot, or 40 days without red wine, it’s only human to get discouraged. There will probably come a point when you’ll be tempted to give it up for the best possible reasons. Who wants to offer God dry, un-heartfelt prayers? But He appreciates persistence, and He hears those prayers even when you barely do.
So hang in there. See it through. It counts.