According to a pious legend, one day St. Francis of Assisi had a vision in which he saw his friars trying to reach Christ by a ladder that was red and very steep. After climbing a few rungs, they would suddenly fall back. Our Lord then showed St. Francis another ladder, white and much less steep, at whose summit appeared the Blessed Virgin, and He said to Francis: “Advise your sons to go by the ladder of My Mother.”
Among those devotions rich in Franciscan, and especially Capuchin Franciscan, tradition is devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. St. Francis of Assisi was among the greatest Marian devotees in the history of the Church and, according to the Second Vita of Thomas of Celano, had a love for her that was beyond words. “Inexpresseble,” he writes of Francis’ love for the Blessed Virgin, “for it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother.” St. Francis chose her as the patroness and Queen of the Friars Minor and exhorted his friars to always possess a true and living devotion to the Mother of God. This loving devotion is imbued in his famous Salutation to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Hail, O Lady,
Mary, holy Mother of God:
you are the Virgin made Church
and the one chosen by the
most holy Father in heaven
whom He consecrated
with His most holy beloved Son
and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete,
in whom there was and is
the fullness of grace and every good
Hail His Palace!
Hail His Tabernacle!
Hail His Home!
Hail His Robe!
Hail His Servant!
Hail His Mother!
And (hail) all you holy virtues which through the grace and light of the Holy Spirit are poured into the hearts of the faithful so that from their faithless state you may make them faithful to God.
In imitation of their holy founder, the Capuchins have promoted and popularized Marian devotion throughout the Church in the last four centuries. Indeed, it was due in large part to the writings of the Franciscan theologian, Blessed John Duns Scotus, that led the Church to proclamation the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
All of the Capuchin saints, from St. Conrad of Parzham to St. Pio of Pietrelcina, have had a strong and fervent devotion to the Blessed Virgin and she has been integral to their Franciscan spirituality. Promoting devotion to her has been incorporated into the Capuchin Constitutions:
Let us, in particular, venerate, especially through liturgical worship and the rosary the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, conceived without sin, daughter and handmaid of the Father, mother of the Son, and spouse of the Holy Spirit.. let us especially promote devotion to her among the people.
In 1910 St. Pope Piux X exhorted the followers of St. Francis: “Beloved sons, you will preserve holiness of life, joined with purity and integrity of doctrine if you cultivate a fervent devotion to the Queen of your Order, the Immaculate Mother of God, for the omnipotent God wished us to have all things through her who is the Mirror of Justice and the Seat of Wisdom.”
The following documents further elaborate the friars’ devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary: