The Baptismal Vows And Slavery to Jesus in Mary
Sin Is Slavery
It is the glory of our modern world, we are told, to provide us with freedom. The past was a time of tyrants and their oppressive laws, which restricted the exercise of man’s free will. But the present has delivered us—as far as is possible—from external impositions on liberty of choice. Now you can think as you want, act as you want, live as you want. Nothing stands in your way, neither God, nor moral code, nor natural law. And so you are perfectly free.
Behind this epitome of liberal thought, however, lies a grave sophism. To be subject to nothing is to be subject to whim. Any man who gives free rein to his will is a slave, indentured to his lower nature, which mercilessly carries him to his own destruction. When the intellect is not subject to truth and the will to good, then destructive passions arise to rule the both of them.1
In a heated argument with the Pharisees, Our Lord tells them that His truth will set them free. They protest that they have never been slaves to anyone, but He replies that “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (Jn. 8:33-34). Sin, in fact, is the ultimate tragedy for a man, for its service so enfeebles his will that he can no longer choose what is best for him; he can only choose what is destructive. He becomes a slave of death.
Thus, by defining true freedom to be a total lack of constraint, liberals “promise liberty, while they themselves are slaves of corruption” (II Pet. 2:15).
Freedom from Sin’s Slavery
In this light, the terrible drama facing every man coming into this world is that he is born a slave. The presence of Original Sin in the soul of an infant places him under the dominion of sin and in bondage to the devil. His life is out of control and headed for destruction unless he be set free. But this freedom is not gained easily, for no chains are heavier than those of sin.
By the infinite mercy of God, of course, we are provided with a Savior, someone who can save us from this slavery. But how does He do this? By taking the form of a slave, says St. Paul (Phil. 2:7). To rescue us from bondage, Our Lord placed Himself in a state of total submission, like unto that of a slave: He constantly professes His total subjection to the will of the Father starting with His first words (cf. Heb. 10:7); He places Himself in a state of total dependence on His Mother for a period of 30 years; and He dies the death of a slave (crucifixion), as if helpless before the violence of His enemies. Sin’s shackles were broken through a life of total subjection.
From the time of Our Lord’s Redemptive Act, men are offered the freedom of Christ (cf. Gal. 4:25), which they accept by receiving the waters of Baptism. In this sacrament, it is not sufficient for sin to be wiped away. That would be only a temporary solution for man’s slavery, and he would quickly be back in a state of bondage. On the contrary, it is necessary for the candidate to “switch sides”, to take on a new life, a new mode of existence. Quite simply, the baptized must be brought into the life of Christ Himself.
St. Paul is at pains in many passages to make Catholics understand that their lives are now assimilated to that of Christ. In the early Church, catechumens walked down steps to be immersed or buried in a pool of water before rising up and walking up the other side. This was a symbol, St. Paul remarks in Rom. 6:3-4, of their death and resurrection, mirroring those of Our Lord. As a result, they can “walk in newness of life”; they now live the life of Christ.
But the life of the baptized must not only take on the features of the end of Our Lord’s life, but of its totality. His life was one of dependence and slavery; so must ours be. It was not a slavery to sin, which is one of unwillingness and violence, but a slavery of total, voluntary, loving submission to God. Such is the life that we are called to live with Christ.
This is the reason for St. Paul’s invitation: “As you yielded your members as slaves of uncleanness and iniquity unto iniquity, so now yield your members as slaves of justice unto sanctification.…[N]ow set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and as your end, life everlasting” (Rom. 6:19-22).
The fact is that the only path that frees us from the slavery to sin is the one of subjection to God; there is no third option for man. Our Lord traveled this path most perfectly, as did Our Lady, who calls herself the “slave of God” twice in Scripture (cf. Lk. 1:38, 48).2 And it is Baptism that accomplishes this transition from servile slavery to loving slavery, from slave of the devil to slave of Jesus Christ.
“We do not belong to ourselves,” says St. Louis de Montfort, “but are entirely His, as His members and His slaves, whom He has bought at an infinitely dear price, the price of all His Blood. Before Baptism we belonged to the devil, as his slaves; but Baptism has made us true slaves of Jesus Christ, who have no right to live, to work or to die, except to bring forth fruit for that God-Man; to glorify Him in our bodies and to let Him reign in our souls, because we are His conquest, His acquired people and His inheritance.”3
And the Catechism of the Council of Trent says that we Catholics, “above all others, are under the obligation of devoting and consecrating ourselves forever, like faithful slaves, to our Redeemer and our Lord.”4
The Ceremony of Baptism
This fuller understanding of Baptism’s role shines a light on the beautiful ceremony which has been witnessed so often by Traditional Catholics, especially those blessed with big families. It is striking to modern sensibilities how unabashedly the Church treats the candidate as being under the dominion of the devil, as belonging to him.
In the simpler and more familiar infant Baptism, the candidate is not allowed into the church building until two exorcisms have been performed. The devil is driven off by the breath of the priest’s mouth and the infant is marked repeatedly with the sign of the cross, which is like a gate barring the demon’s re-entrance.
From the very beginning, the candidate is informed of the requirements for his change of allegiance. The godparents ask faith and eternal life for the baptizandus, and the priest immediately speaks of the service that he will have to render to obtain these things: keep the commandments and love God with his entire being.
Once everyone has entered the church and prayed together the Apostles’ Creed and the Our Father on the candidate’s behalf, the priest immediately goes after the devil again, with a third and final exorcism, the only one performed inside the church. That completed, he is confident that the enemy has been definitively repulsed, and he wants to open up the passageways for grace. To do so, the priest repeats a gesture of Our Lord (cf. Mk. 7:34), using his own spittle to anoint the child’s senses, which sin and the devil have up to this time stopped up and so prevented the influx of divine life.
Now comes the time for the candidate to bind himself definitively to the new life, the eternal life that he has requested. Knowing the reality of man’s fallen condition, Mother Church does not hesitate to exact vows from the infant, which will oblige him forever. There are two triple interrogations, one to reject Satan and the other to embrace Christ. Three questions, it seems, are needed for completeness. Satan alone must not be renounced, but also his way of acting and his way of appearing, that is, his spirit. There must be a definitive break with the slavery to the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Just as necessary are the questions connected to the new life: one concerns God the Father, one God the Son, and one God the Holy Ghost. By believing in Them and the order that They have established for our salvation, the candidate implicitly binds himself to live according to that order. This is his new and blessed slavery, which he then immediately begins when the water is poured in the name of the Three.
“Every Christian,” says St. Louis de Montfort, “before his Baptism, was the slave of the devil, seeing that he belonged to him. He has in his Baptism, by his own mouth or by his sponsor’s, solemnly renounced Satan, his pomps and his works; and he has taken Jesus Christ for his Master and Sovereign Lord, to depend upon Him in the quality of a slave of love.”5
A More Perfect Slavery
The same St. Louis, at the beginning of his priesthood, was unsure as to what path God wanted him to take. To know God’s will, he traveled to Rome on foot in 1706 and obtained an audience with Pope Clement XI. Though he spoke of his attraction of heading off to the foreign missions, the Pope told him rather that he was to preach missions in France, and specifically that he was to instruct the people and the children in their catechism and have them make solemn renewals of their baptismal vows.6
From that point, St. Louis faithfully fulfilled this commission, preaching innumerable missions and having the attendants sign contracts attesting to the solemn renewal of these vows, which, quoting St. Augustine, he called the greatest and most indispensable vows.
But, more than this, St. Louis saw that the most appropriate spirit for such renewal was one of loving slavery to Jesus Christ. Only such a spirit would go with that of the baptismal ceremony itself. To truly enter into this spirit, it was necessary to imitate Our Lord as perfectly as possible. He became a slave for us, subjecting Himself totally to His Mother, surrendering all. And so we, in turn, must place ourselves in total dependence on His Mother and give her everything that we have in the order of nature and grace. Once we have done this willingly and lovingly—and so enslaved ourselves to her—only then are we completely enslaved to Jesus Christ. In this way, Our Lord’s own Mother becomes the means for the most perfect renewal of our baptismal vows.
“The most perfect consecration to Jesus Christ is nothing else but a perfect and entire consecration of ourselves to the Blessed Virgin, and this is the devotion which I teach; or, in other words, a perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy Baptism.”7
The word “slave” is rightfully one to which much odium is attached, when considered in its traditional meaning. The lovers of the world today, especially, would hasten to say with the Pharisees that they have never been the slaves of anyone. The Catholic, however, who has been incorporated in Christ by his Baptism, provides a new use for this word: that of a total, voluntary, loving submission to his Savior Jesus Christ.8 What more perfect response could be given, in fact, to a world that is so convinced of its dignity and so proud of its independence from God?
And, for those who wish to be the most perfect slaves of Our Lord, it is clear that they can only do so by in turn placing themselves in a total loving dependence on Our Lady. Let all who read this, then, live most faithfully the vows of their baptism by happily bearing the title of “slaves of Jesus in Mary.”
1 Cf. St. Augustine, The City of God, on Adam’s sin (Bk. 13, Ch. 13): “The fact is that the soul, which had taken perverse delight in its own liberty and disdained the service of God, was now deprived of its original mastery over the body; because it had deliberately deserted the Lord who was over it, it no longer bent to its will the servant below it, being unable to hold the flesh completely in subjection as would always have been the case, if only the soul had remained subject to God.”
2 Several of the New Testament authors refer to themselves as the slaves of Jesus Christ: Sts. Peter, Paul, James and Jude.
3 True Devotion to Mary, §68.
4 End of the treatment of Article 2 of the Creed.
5 True Devotion to Mary, §126.
6 Cf. Louis Le Crom, Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (Clovis, 2010), pp. 223-224.
7 True Devotion to Mary, §120.
8 Unfortunately, it seems that even this Scriptural and Catholic slavery is odious to the Conciliar Church. On August 2, 2001, the Congregation of Saints declared that St. Louis de Montfort could not be made a Doctor of the Church. It seems that the primary reasons were his unecumenical Marian devotion and undemocratic language. See Le Sel de la Terre, No. 84, pp. 75-86.