Through devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we are attracted to Mary’s immense love for her Son. This leads us to recognize that her Immaculate Heart is inseparably bound up with the Sacred Heart of Jesus as two hearts of love joined for eternity.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
18 October 2017
The Catholic Encyclopedia informs us that devotion to the Immaculate Heart is a special form of devotion to Mary. In this devotion, the attention of the faithful is directed to the physical heart itself; however, this in itself is not sufficient:
The faithful must read therein all that the human heart of Mary suggests, all of which it is the expressive symbol and the living reminder: Mary’s interior life, her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her virginal love for her God, her maternal love for her Divine Son, and her motherly and compassionate love for her sinful and miserable children here below.
The consideration of Mary’s interior life and the beauties of her soul, without any thought of her physical heart, does not constitute our devotion; still less does it consist in the consideration of the Heart of Mary merely as a part of her virginal body. The two elements are essential to the devotion, just as soul and body are necessary to the constitution of man.
In devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, what especially attracts us is Mary’s love for her Son and for the Father. In recognition of this love, we are moved to the realization that devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is inseparably connected to the adoration of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, since Mary constantly points the way to the Savior of humankind with maternal care and love. Further, Mary’s entire existence can only be understood in light of her constant and selfless cooperation with the salvific and redemptive acts of her Son.
The Catechism of The Catholic Church explains: “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ” (487).
The Gospel Invites The Christian Faithful to Love and Honor Mary
The Gospel itself invited early Christians to devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as it continues to do so today, for we join in solidarity with Elizabeth and say: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Mary responds to these words by adoring and praising the Mighty One who “has done great things for me” (1:49).
Mary’s visit with Elizabeth was a time filled with joy; yet the Cross had already cast its shadow upon her Immaculate Heart, for in Simeon’s prophecy she learns that she will not remain untouched by the suffering of her Son: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
St. John’s gospel directs the faithful toward devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in his narration of the scene at the base of the cross. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (19:26-27).
The Virgin Mary and the beloved disciple listen to Jesus’ words in silent adoration. They say nothing. It is Jesus who sees his Mother, and it is Jesus who gives his Mother to all the faithful. We too, like St. John, are to take Mary into our home; that is, into our hearts. As we reflect on Mary standing and looking upon her crucified and suffering Son through tear-filled eyes, we are ourselves caught up in the profound sorrow which pierced her heart and perhaps prevented her from speaking. Although struck by this sorrow, within Mary’s heart resided a burning trust in God that moved her to abandon herself in favor of Providence and the salvific will of the Father.
St. Augustine tells us that, at the foot of the cross, Mary “cooperated through charity in the work of our redemption.” Frederick M. Jelly, O.P., writes that Mary “is the ‘woman of faith’ par excellence. And as mother of the ‘beloved disciple,’ she is the most excellent example of faithful discipleship in her Son’s ‘eschatological’ family, the Church” (Madonna: Mary in the Catholic Tradition 56).
The Immaculate Heart: Beauty and Purity, Fidelity and Love
Through devotion to the Immaculate Heart, we are led into the depths of the Father’s superabundant love that he poured out upon Mary. “The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love’” (CCC 492; cf. Eph. 1:3-4).
In his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, Pope St. John Paul II explained that Mary “has a precise place in the plan of salvation,” for “in the mystery of Christ she is present even before the creation of the world, as one whom the Father has chosen as the Mother of his Son in the Incarnation.” Together with the Father, the Son chose Mary, “entrusting her eternally to the Spirit of holiness. In an entirely special and exceptional way, Mary is united to Christ.”
It is precisely because of Mary’s exceptional and wholly unique union with Christ that it is important to cultivate a relationship with her, devoting ourselves to the desires of her Immaculate Heart, for her will is perfectly united to her Son’s. Mary does nothing in isolation of her Son, nor does she direct her spiritual children, the Christian faithful, anywhere but toward her Son. As we meditate upon the purity of the sweet Virgin, upon her unwavering holiness and upon her complete fidelity to the plan of salvation, the importance of seeking the help of her intercessory prayer becomes undeniably apparent.
During St. Bonaventure’s “Fourth sermon on Annunciation,” he described Mary as a “tabernacle” in which the Lord rested. He encourages the faithful to turn toward the Blessed Mother for help:
Let us go to the Virgin with great confidence, and we will tranquilly find her in our necessities. Therefore this tabernacle is rightly to be honored, and to this tabernacle flight should be made, in which the Lord rested so familiarly, so that the Blessed Virgin herself could say truly and literally, “Who made me rested in my tabernacle.” (IX, 673)
Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, reminds the faithful that devotion to the Virgin Mary is an integral aspect of Christian worship:
This devotion [to the Virgin Mary] fits . . . into the only worship that is rightly called “Christian,” because it takes its origin and effectiveness from Christ, finds its complete expression in Christ, and leads through Christ in the Spirit to the Father. . . . And the increased knowledge of Mary’s mission has become joyful veneration of her and adoring respect for the wise plan of God, who has placed within His family (the Church), as in every home, the figure of a Woman, who in a hidden manner and in a spirit of service watches over that family and carefully looks after it until the glorious day of the Lord.
St. Bernard was an eloquent and devoted witness to the beauty and purity of Mary’s untarnished Immaculate Heart:
Let us honor her for the purity of her body, the holiness of her life. Let us marvel at her fruitful virginity, and venerate her divine Son. Let us extol her freedom from concupiscence . . . Let us proclaim her to be reverenced by the Angels, desired by the nations, foretold by the patriarchs and prophets, chosen out of all and preferred before all. (qtd. in The 33 Doctors of the Church, 296).
St. John Paul II noted that from the first moment of Mary’s existence, she shared in the salvific and sanctifying grace of the eternal Son of the Father (RM 10). It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the Son, who leads us through the Son to the Father, and who, by the merits of Christ’s redemption, moves us to conversion and thus justification. In order for our sanctification in Christ to take place, it is necessary to respond to the divine impulses that the Holy Spirit infuses into our souls. It has always been the role of Mary, as Mother of the faithful, to draw her spiritual children into the same docility to the Holy Spirit as she herself so perfectly manifested. Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary opens the way for us to deeper union with Christ, just as her womb opened the way of salvation for humankind.
Please support Joy In Truth with a tip!
Photo Credit: Leopold Kupelwieser [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.