‘My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God’
Our Lady of Fatima
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary dates back to the Middle Ages, but it was really through the work of Saint John Eudes around 1680 that it began to take on a specific form and to be actively propagated. In the forty years prior to that date, he had observed a feast of the Heart of Mary in February each year.
Traditionally, the imagery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary depicted the Heart either pierced by a single sword (in reference to the prophecy of Simeon at the time of the Presentation in the temple), or by seven swords (referring to the Seven Sorrows of Mary), or else encircled by roses.
In 1830, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Saint Catherine Laboure in the Chapel of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity, on the Rue du Bac in Paris, to reveal the Miraculous Medal – on the reverse of which are found the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, side by side. This made the wishes of Heaven clearly known regarding how these two devotions were to be viewed – that is, together.
In 1944, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, celebrated originally in August but moved in 1969 by Pope Paul VI to the Saturday following the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The greatest events surrounding devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary were undoubtedly those at Fatima in 1917, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three young children. Here, She spoke explicitly about the devotion to Her Immaculate Heart and explained the purpose of this devotion –
“You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go; to save them, God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.. In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
Later, She would return to request the Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart and the Communions of Reparation on the First Saturdays. She had shown the children Her Heart encircled by thorns, later noting that these were “the thorns placed there by ungrateful men, and there is no-one to remove them”. The requested Consecration was made by Pope St John Paul II on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1984, and the First Saturdays devotion is now well-established in the Church.
Throughout the history of the Faith, the Church has placed the Blessed Virgin before us as the Model of all Christians; She is our exemplar, the one who teaches us and leads us to Christ, Her Divine Son. This is Her role as Mother of the Church and of all mankind. Pope Paul tells us –
“The memory, venerable brothers, is still vivid in our mind of the great emotion we felt in proclaiming the august Mother of God as the spiritual Mother of the Church, that is to say, of all the faithful and of the sacred pastors, as the crowning of the third session of the Second Vatican Council, after having solemnly promulgated the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.(3) Great also was the happiness of numerous Council Fathers, as well as of the faithful, who were present at the sacred rite in St. Peter’s basilica and of the entire Christian people scattered throughout the world” (Pope Paul VI, ‘Signum Magnum’)
Our task is to follow Her example and come ever closer to the Lord. St John Paul tells us –
“Mary lived with Her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring His every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in Her Heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon Her Heart, were always with Her, leading Her to reflect on the various moments of Her life at Her Son’s side. In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which She recited uninterruptedly throughout Her earthly life. Even now, amid the joyful songs of the heavenly Jerusalem, the reasons for Her thanksgiving and praise remain unchanged. They inspire Her maternal concern for the pilgrim Church, in which She continues to relate Her personal account of the Gospel. Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of Her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary.” (Pope St John Paul II, ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’)
To ‘see with the eyes of Mary’, we can do no better than enter into Her Immaculate Heart, the first Monstrance of the Lord, that Heart which pondered all the events and mysteries of the Life of Jesus.
This Heart, ‘full of grace’, consented to the Incarnation; was overflowing with maternal joy at the Nativity; constantly enjoined others to ‘do as He tells you’; suffered silently in union with Christ at the foot of the Cross and consented to be the Mother of all men; watched in agony as the Sacred Heart of Her Son was pierced by the lance; broke as the lifeless Body of Her Son was placed in Her arms; supported and prayed for the Apostles; and now, in Heaven, continues Her motherly role on behalf of all of us.
This Immaculate Heart, completely attuned to the will of God, is a treasury of holiness, prayer, grace, and contemplation of the Lord. It is the surest path to lead us to the Lord, for She takes us along the very path which She Herself walked in life and reveals to us the secrets which She ‘pondered in Her Heart’. This Immaculate Heart is truly our refuge in life and at death and is the way that will lead us to God.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us – be our refuge and the way that will lead us to God.