By Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
Human life is dependent, in a special way, on the proper functioning of the heart. By its pulsations every minute of the day and night, blood is circulated to every part of the body. If it ceases to function for but a short period death follows. Yet, unceasing as is its beat, as a rule we are unaware of the heart’s activity, sending life-sustaining blood to every limb and organ.
While the heart controls the flow of blood through the arteries and veins according to the needs of the body, it is itself influenced by thoughts of the mind and acts of the will which affect our emotional nature. Thus the heart can beat fast or slow, strong or weak – according as it reacts to these impressions.
This interaction between body and soul seems to affect the movement of the heart more than any other part of the body. For this reason, from time immemorial, actions which are more properly those of the soul, have been attributed – as a manner of speaking – to the heart. All the dispositions of one’s moral or spiritual makeup – whether good or bad – are spoken of as centered in the heart.
Thus the word “heart” has come to be used to convey various states of the human spirit, as if it were the seat of the affections, the source and seat of the various dispositions of the soul. In this sense, we can speak of one having a kind heart, a hard heart, a generous heart, a broken heart, a sorrowful heart, etc.
The heart then, is not merely a symbol of these interior dispositions and acts of the soul, it is affected by them and beats in sympathy with them. For this reason, the heart, in the language of the spiritual life, stands for the interior life of the individual, a symbol of the depths of the human soul, the center of choice and commitments whether good or evil.
There are numerous instances in the Old and New Testament, in which the word “heart” is used as explained above. To mention a few:
- “My heart shall not fear.” (Ps. 26)
- “The heart of Pharaoh was hardened.” (Exod. 7:13)
- “Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” (Mt. 11:29)
- “Blessed are the clean of heart . . .” (Mt. 5)
- “Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)
We know from our faith that God prepared Mary in a unique way for the sublime role she was to play in the divine plan. From the first moment of her conception she was freed from the stain of original sin – and from all its disturbing consequences. Body and soul, she was immaculate from that first moment until the end of her earthly life. And since in her there was not the slightest obstacle to grace, there was a constant growth in that divine life every conscious moment of her earthly existence. So sublime is her fullness of grace, that the sanctity of her soul not even the angels can comprehend. As Pope Pius IX wrote in the Apostolic Constitution “Ineffabilis Deus,” declaring Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.
“From the very beginning, and before time began, the Eternal Father chose and prepared for His only- begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the fullness of time, He would be born into this world . . . Wherefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts drawn from the treasury of the Divinity, that this Mother, entirely free from all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess a fullness of holy innocence and sanctity, than which under God, one cannot imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can fully comprehend.”
Since Mary was endowed with so perfect a human nature without stain or unbalance of any kind, her Heart responded perfectly and most delicately to every act and disposition of her soul. In the language we are using, in her Heart she experienced a more intense love for her Son – on the purely natural level – than did any other mother, for no other Son was as lovable, and no mother’s heart was as capable of love, for none was ever as pure. And for the same reason, she suffered when her Son suffered as did no other mother.
And being the universal Mother of all mankind in the order of grace, she loves each one of us with a love that we can never fathom; and because of this her Heart is deeply joyed when we love her Son – by keeping His commandments, while it is deeply pained when we offend Him – by breaking His commandments . . . a pain symbolized (as we will see) by thorns piercing her Heart on all sides. It was to ask reparation to her Immaculate Heart that a prophetic message was given to the world at Fatima in 1917.
In the second apparition of Our Lady to the children at Fatima (June 13, 1917), she revealed: “Jesus wishes to establish devotion to my Immaculate Heart in the world. I promise salvation to those who embrace it.”
This does not mark the beginning of this devotion, for among many others, St. John Eudes who lived in the 1 7th century, wrote extensively of devotion to the Heart of Mary. Yet, Our Lady’s promise of the grace of salvation to those who embrace it, has given a special impetus to the spread of this devotion in the present century. Nor must we imagine that devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary depends on the authenticity of private revelation. It rests on a solid theological foundation. As the renowned theologian and scholar of Fatima, the late Dr. Joaquin Maria Alonso, C.M.F., director of “Ephemerides Mariologicae” (Madrid) has stated:
“The ‘Heart of Mary’ – as well as the ‘Heart of Jesus’ symbolizes, in agreement with the best theology of our times the expressed aspect of the person considered, showing her love by the ‘natural’ symbol of the Heart.”
On Dec. 7, 1925, seven years after the apparitions at Fatima, while Sr. Lucia was in her room at the convent of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, Our Lady appeared to her accompanied by the Child Jesus. The Blessed Mother held in her hand a Heart that was surrounded by thorns that pierced it on every side. The Child Jesus spoke first:
“Have pity on the Heart of your most Holy Mother. It is covered with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to remove them with an act of reparation.”
Our Lady then spoke to Sr. Lucia:
“My daughter, look at my heart surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, try to console me, and announce that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, go to Confession and receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for a quarter of an hour while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.”
We will not dwell on the details of Our Lady’s request mentioned above, as they are sufficiently explained in many books and booklets. If, however, one would ask why Our Lady asked for Communions of reparation on five first Saturdays – instead of some other number, Our Lord answered that question when he appeared to Sr. Lucia May 29, 1930. He explained that it was because of five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, namely, blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, against her perpetual virginity, against the divine and spiritual maternity of Mary, blasphemies involving the rejection and dishonoring of her images, and the neglect of implanting in the hearts of children a knowledge and love of this Immaculate Mother.
So dear is the Heart of Mary to her Divine Son, and so much is He pained at the offenses and blasphemies against her Immaculate Heart, that as Fr. Thomas McGlynn, O.P. expresses it:
“God has told us now, through Fatima, that we can make reparation to Him if we repair the suffering we have caused her. The Heart that received the fullness of participation in the divine life, that knew the affections of a mother for Jesus Christ during the years at Nazareth, that went through the agony of seeing Him die, that honors Him in heaven more than all the rest of creation, is now gloriously proclaimed by Him through Fatima.”(VISION OF FATIMA, P. 211) TO JESUS THROUGH MARY
Lest there should be any misconception about the place of devotion to Mary in Catholic piety, while we honor in a special way the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of Jesus i.e. the person of Mary in her eminent sanctity and glorification by God, we do this because it is the wish of her Son, who knows well that true devotion to His Mother leads souls to Him. As Pope Pius XII wrote in his encyclical celebrating the centenary of the apparitions at Lourdes:
“Everything in Mary leads us toward her Son, our only Savior, by whose foreseen merits she was preserved immaculate and full of grace; everything in Mary lifts up our hearts to the praise of the Holy Trinity.”
And as Our Lady revealed to Lucy, June 13, 1917: “I will never abandon you, my child. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”
The Church sees Mary, then, not as the goal, but as the guide, who always leads souls who honor her with true devotion – to her Son, especially to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. This is expressed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical REDEMPTORIS MATER on the Marian Year:
“The piety of the Christian people has a/ways very rightly sensed a profound link between devotion to the Blessed Virgin and worship of the Eucharist: this is a fact that can be seen in the liturgy of both the East and the West, in the traditions of the Religious families, in modern movements of spirituality including those for youth, and in the pastoral practice of the Marian Shrines. Mary guides the faithful to the Eucharist.” (n. 44)
This connection is clearly seen in the great Marian shrines, especially at Lourdes and Fatima, where there are continual Masses being celebrated during the day, a daily procession of the Blessed Sacrament, perpetual adoration of Our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist, and everywhere the recitation of Our Lady’s Rosary, which centers our attention on the joyful, sorrowful and glorious aspects of her Son’s redemption of mankind.
When we pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for help in time of need, she in turn points to the Tabernacle, to Him Who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and has a way of conveying to us what she said to the steward at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” (Jn. 2:25)
Because of Mary’s fullness of grace, enlightening her mind to understand the divine plan as no other human person understood it, and bringing total surrender of her will to the will of God, – there was an unceasing “yes” in the Heart of Mary to the will of the Father, occasioning an unceasing flow of grace from the Holy Spirit, Who fashioned her Heart more and more into the likeness of her Son. For this reason the Hearts of Jesus and Mary beat in perfect unison, and with each passing day Mary’s soul grew in a deeper understanding of the divine plan of Redemption.
Throughout her entire life the Heart of Mary breathed a silent “yes” to every expression of the divine will. While the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel affords us one of the few glimpses of the Heart of Mary, long before that moment, and ever after it – including at the foot of the Cross on Calvary – it was ever the same: “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” (Lk. 1:38)
Like her divine Son, Mary triumphed over sin and Satan by her total surrender to the Father. Satan is rebellion personified, and insofar as he can induce others to rebel against God he gains a certain dominion over them. Whereas, insofar as we heed Mary’s warning and surrender to God’s will, and bring others to do so, we undermine the influence of Satan in the world, and contribute to peace.
Jesus, by His surrender to the Father, conquered Satan and redeemed mankind; and Our Lady, by her surrender in union with that of her Son, was given a unique role in the distribution of the graces won by her Son on Calvary, and will be given a special role in Satan’s final defeat.
Because of the boundless love between Our Lord and His Mother, what offends the Heart of the Son, offends the Heart of the Mother. For this reason our Divine Savior wishes that we offer reparation to the Heart of His Mother along with that to His own Sacred Heart. Pope Pius XII spoke of this in his encyclical HAURIETIS AQUAS, n. 124.
“In order that favors in greater abundance may flow on all Christians, nay, on the whole human race, from devotion to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, let the faithful see to it that to this devotion the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God is closely joined. For, by God‘s will in carrying out the work of human Redemption the Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably linked with Christ in such a manner that our salvation sprang from the love and the sufferings of Jesus Christ to which the love and sorrows of His Mother were intimately united. It is, then, entirely fitting that the Christian people – who received the divine life from Christ through Mary – after they have paid their debt of honor to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, should also offer to the most loving Heart of their heavenly Mother the corresponding acts of piety, affection, gratitude and expiation . . . “
These same sentiments were expressed by the Mother of God when she appeared to St. Catherine Laboure in 1830, and gave to the world the miraculous medal. On the reverse side of that medal is a large M surmounted by a cross, and below it, two hearts, one surrounded by a crown of thorns, the other pierced by a sword, symbolizing Jesus and Mary, the sufferings of both united for our redemption.
Little Jacinta, the youngest of the three children who received Our Lady’s messages at Fatima, was not the least in the understanding of that message and the living of it. She received special communications from the Mother of God in the last days of her life relative to devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Shortly before going to the hospital where she would die apart from her family, she spoke to Lucia, revealing a clear understanding of some important aspects of that devotion:
“Tell everybody that God grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask her for them; and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side Tell them also to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace, since God has entrusted it to her. If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much . . .”