Introducing the Devotion
In 1854, Pope Blessed Pius IX, proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This established the truth that Mary, from the moment of conception, was free from sin. And this means that Mary is ‘Full of Grace’ – that Divine Grace flows unhindered into and through Her. She is unable to do anything other than be entirely devoted to God.
Therefore, Our Lady cannot act apart from His Divine Will. And She is unable to do anything other than love. With Her whole being, She loves: God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And She loves each of us, her children, so tenderly.
Whilst we fallen creatures can only aspire to Holiness, Mary was, from the moment of her conception, our perfect model – the one who shows us how to love God and how to purify our sinfulness.
The seat of the Blessed Virgin’s love is, of course, Her Heart, Her Immaculate Heart, which was formed pure and perfect in her Immaculate Conception. And we are called to be devoted to Her pure Heart, as a refuge – a refuge in which we can bathe in the sweet love of our true Mother. And where we can learn to model our lives on the will of God and return the love to Him, as her Immaculate Heart does with every beat.
Now, we are called to pay homage to Mary’s Heart, through acts of prayer and devotion. Just as throughout the centuries, those who have gone before us have done. And they, like ourselves, were helped and aided by Saints, Popes and those who also rendered special devotion to Mary’ s Immaculate Heart.
But in all of this, we must not forget the guidance of Mary Herself, who – at Fatima above all – specifically called us to Devotion to Her Immaculate Heart, through acts of sacrifice and reparation.
St. John Eudes and the DevotionHere, in this article, we will consider a little of the history and theological understanding of this devotion to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart – particularly during the last four centuries.
For although veneration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary began in the middle ages, it was only in Seventeenth Century France that this particular devotion became intensively developed and widespread.
Our story then begins with St. Jean Eudes (1601-1680) who, in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries, fervently spread the devotion throughout France and the Catholic world.
He developed a new theology of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. For he recognised the importance of seeing how the Sacred Heart of Jesus had been born from the Immaculate Heart of His Blessed Mother: that His Heart was formed in imitation of Hers.
For not only was the Sacred Heart of Jesus born of Her Immaculate flesh, It was also born from Her Immaculate love: A love most pure and focused solely on God, expressing God’s will alone. And of course, Her pure and tender love was embodied within Her Immaculate Heart.
St. Jean Eudes’ focus was therefore particularly on the Incarnation of Divine Love. And in St. Jean Eudes’ eyes, this commenced with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. For, not only did She perfectly love God, She also reflected His love.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus was formed then, from the marriage between the Divine Love of the Holy Ghost and Mary’s Immaculate love. Of this, he wrote:
The Heart of Christ is a temple of divine love. It is the uncreated and eternal love, namely, the Holy Spirit who has built this magnificent Temple and built it from the Virginal blood of the Mother of love.
To him, therefore, these two Hearts are both Sacred and indissolubly linked. They work together to bring Divine Love into the world.
And so it was to these two Hearts that St. Jean Eudes founded the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. He wrote and established two Feasts to their Hearts and spent his lifetime spreading devotion to them. Consequently, at his beatification, Pope St. Pius X gave him the title: ‘Father, Doctor and Apostle of the liturgical worship of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.’
In 1993, Pope St. John Paul II wrote a letter to the Superior General of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. In it, he summed up St. Jean Eudes’ understanding of the relationship between the Sacred and Immaculate Heart. Quoting St. Jean Eudes, he wrote:
[St. Jean Eudes] never separated his contemplation of Jesus from that of his Mother: “Oh, Jesus, only-begotten Son of God, only-begotten Son of Mary, I contemplate you and I adore you, living and reigning in your Blessed Mother, and he who is all and does all in her.”’ [Italics mine].
Similarly, when St. Francis de Sales and St. Jean de Chantal founded the Visitation order, they believed that their ‘little Congregation was the work of the hearts of Jesus and Mary’ (St. Francis de Sales).
Together, these three saints formed part of a movement, which developed a new school of French spirituality – a school which, in part, focused on the contemplation of Divine love for humanity. They saw this love not only expressed through the Sacred Heart of Jesus Himself, but also through the Immaculate Heart of His Blessed Mother.
Difference between the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts
However, we must be clear that a profound difference exists between the love of the Sacred Heart and that of Her Immaculate Heart. Because the love of the Sacred Heart is the love of God – because He is God. Whilst the love of the Immaculate Heart, is a reflection of God’s love and the most perfect example of love for God.
In his great book, Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World, Donal Foley clarifies this point, when he writes:
Devotion to Mary’s heart is essentially concerned with the love that her heart has for Jesus, for God. It is not an end in itself, and really the love of her heart is meant to be a model for the way we should love God. So, as in all things Marian, she leads us closer to God [Italics mine].
This love of God is profoundly witnessed at the Annunciation, where we clearly see how Mary’s Immaculate Heart is deeply integrated and wedded to the Holy Trinity.
For, at the Annunciation, Mary’s Heart expressed Her love to God the Father, when in perfect obedience, She said ‘Yes’. This love, in turn, became manifest ‘in love’, so to speak, with the Holy Ghost, Her Divine Spouse, at the moment of the Conception of the Eternal Word. It was then integral in the forming of the Immaculate flesh of Her Divine Son.
In these unfathomable mysteries, She is our perfect example, one which, in our life of faith, we are called to follow.
For, each one of us is called, as Jesus said, ’to love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind (St. Luke x. 27).’
We are called to allow this love to shape our lives, through complete obedience to the Father, openness to the graces of the Holy Ghost and total abandonment to the friendship and Communion with Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Marian Apparitions and the Immaculate Heart
Although devotion to the Immaculate Heart was initially developed by St. John Eudes, the story does not stop there. It continues to develop – particularly throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.
For, in these two centuries, many apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary have been witnessed to. And during these Apparitions, She began to give certain indications in regard to Her Heart.
However it was not until Fatima, in the early Twentieth century, that the Blessed Virgin explicitly spoke of Devotion to Her Immaculate Heart.
But before we turn to the astonishing story of Our Lady of Fatima, let us first note how the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré, in 1830, at the Rue du Bac in Paris.
There, she presented a vision of a medal to that saint – and requested that the medal be struck – which was later to become known as the Miraculous Medal. And on the reverse side of the medal, given in the vision, one sees the image of the two Hearts, Sacred and Immaculate …
Very soon after in December 1836, the Parish Priest Fr. Charles Desgenettes at Our Lady of Victories in Paris, received inner messages, asking that he consecrate his troubled parish to the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary.
He did so and this led to the founding of a Confraternity of Our Lady of Victories, which promoted the idea of intercession through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Consequently, this roused further enthusiasm for consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
Due to the rapid growth of the movement and the insistence of the Pope, the Confraternity grew into an Arch-Confraternity. And a short while later, again in the Rue du Bac, Paris, there began a further series of apparitions, which also took place in the house of the Sisters of Charity.
For, in 1840, Justine Bisqueyburu, a novice, was making a retreat, when Our Lady appeared to her, revealing Her Immaculate Heart. As Donal Foley describes the repeated apparition, Our Lady appeared:
Wearing a long white dress with a blue mantle. In her hand she held her Immaculate Heart pierced with a sword and surrounded with flames … During the apparition of 8 September 1840, Our Lady’s birthday, an extra detail was added as Justine saw her holding a scapular of green cloth in her left hand.
On one side there was a representation of Mary as she had appeared in the apparitions previously, and on the reverse: “a heart all burning with rays more brilliant then the sun and as transparent as crystal; around it were the words: Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.’
Continuing in the same vein, we may note that when Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette at Lourdes in 1858, She announced Herself as the Immaculate Conception. This, as we noted at the outset, had become Dogma in 1854, pronounced by Pope Blessed Pius IX.
Apparition of Our Lady of Fatima
But, as we have indicated, it is not until Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima, in 1917, that we first hear, from Her Blessed lips, specific references to devotion to Her Immaculate Heart. And these references are not easy or comfortable. For they come with startling and even terrifying images about the state of humanity’s faithlessness and the horrifying consequences of so offending God.
These messages are therefore focused on the urgent need for reparation. Our Lady implores the young shepherd children to make sacrifices of reparation themselves.
She also tells Lucia, the oldest of the three, that whilst the others will shortly go to heaven, she will remain for a long time on earth. For Lucia had a great work to do. The august Mother of God told her:
Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne [Italics added.]
After Our Lady had spoken these words, the children experienced the grace of God flowing profusely from the hands of Mary onto themselves. They then saw, according to Lucia:
A heart encircled by thorns which pierced it. We understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, and seeking reparation.
Years later on the 13th June 1929 in Tuy, Spain, when making her Holy Hour in the convent chapel, then Lucia again had a vision of this same heart, which appeared to her with the Blessed Trinity. Mary again spoke to her, saying:
The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the Bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means. There are so many souls whom the Justice of God condemns for sins committed against me, that I have come to ask reparation: sacrifice yourself for this intention and pray.
It was in the Third Apparition at Fatima, many years before this appearance in Spain, that Our Lady first spoke of the consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart. Then, She uttered these words:
Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
She then showed them a terrible vision of hell, where, as She said:
The souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out … [for] God … is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and the Holy Father.
To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church.
The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.
First Saturdays Reparation to the Immaculate Heart
There is much controversy surrounding this requested consecration of Russia. For the Church did not immediately act upon Lucia’s words. However, in 1984, St John Paul II performed a consecration which some have interpreted as fulfilling the request given to Sister Lucia. Others disagree and claim that we are still witnessing the horrific results of her errors having spread to the West.
Without doubt, we can say that we are experiencing terrible attacks to the Faith. Christians are being persecuted everywhere. Even now in the West, it is becoming unsafe to be Christian. We must pray hard for the preservation of the Faith. Perhaps we can turn to to the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady and practice that which she has asked, sacrifice and reparation and of course, praying the Holy Rosary.
Now, in terms of this, an important devotion has indeed spread throughout the Catholic world. It is the Communion of Reparation to the Immaculate Heart on the First Saturdays asked for at Fatima. For Lucia was faithful to the mission which was entrusted her …
Because when Lucia was eighteen, in 1925, Our Lady appeared to her with the Child Jesus and again, showed her Her Heart, surrounded by thorns. The Child Jesus said:
Have pity on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother. It is covered with the thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to remove them with an act of reparation.
Mary then spoke, saying:
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 say 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.
Lucia was again visited by the Child Jesus, Who encouraged her to develop and spread this devotion.
Then, in May of 1930, whilst Lucia was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she heard a voice, interiorly, which explained to her the meaning and importance of the Communion of Reparation on Five First Saturdays.
This interior locution gave her to understand five forms of blasphemy and offence, committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These are as follows:
Against the Immaculate Conception, against Mary’s Virginity, against Her Divine Maternity and Her Spiritual Motherhood of mankind, for the offences of those who encourage in the hearts of children indifference, contempt and even hatred of her, and finally, as reparation for those who outrage her in her holy images (Foley).
Lucia then understood that Our Lady is establishing Devotion to Her Immaculate Heart, in part, to repair the damage created through these blasphemies aimed against Her Heart. For these blasphemies not only hurt Our Blessed Lady, they are mortally dangerous to our souls, slandering one of our greatest means of salvation – striving for perfection, through imitation of Mary.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary surrounded by the crown of thorns epitomises the effect of these blasphemies. It is up to us to do something, which, of course, is what Our Lady at Fatima has called us to. For, as the Child Jesus said, “Her Heart is pierced by these thorns at every moment and there is no-one to remove them.”
We see here then very different ways to comprehend and practice devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
With St. Jean Eudes and his contemporaries, we find the beautiful contemplation on the love, embodied by and reflected from Mary’s Immaculate Heart. We also see how the Sacred Heart of Jesus was formed, both Its flesh and Its love. from this Immaculate Heart.
Then, at Fatima, we find a very different relationship to this devotion. We find one that is focused on the need of sacrifice and reparation. Whilst, in both, there is an emphasis on Mary’s perfect union to the will of God, at Fatima, Her union brings a message of terrible danger, if we do not act, through penance and sacrifice. Far from simply contemplating Her pure and Immaculate love, this is an urgent plea to action and change.
With the message of Fatima we witness Mary, still totally devoted to the will of God, but as an agent of sacrifice. She can do nothing else, but call us to sacrifice too. For She, through Her complete union with the Godhead, sees all that is happening and understands what needs to be done, in order to bring humanity back to God. As the perfect Mother, She is offering Her Heart in order to bring this about.
Therefore we could say that both images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary do have a shared end – to bring us most fully into relationship with our Creator and Saviour, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
As prayed by Pope Ven. Pius XII during World War II:
Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, in this tragic hour of the world’s history, we entrust and consecrate ourselves to Thy Immaculate Heart, our only refuge, our hope, our salvation. Have pity on this world, torn by the most terrible conflicts, burning with the fires of hate, victim of its own sins. May Thy Heart be moved at he sight of so much ruin, pain and sorrow.
We consecrate to Thy maternal Heart our persons, our families, our country-the whole of humanity. Protect and save us!
O Heart of Mary, source of true love, fill our selfish hearts with divine charity and with that true brotherly love without which there can never be peace. Grant that men and nations may understand and fulfil the precept of Thy Divine Son, LOVE ONE ANOTHER, in order that true peace may be firmly established in the Justice and Truth of Christ.