Starting from today, I will be away for approximately two weeks, but before I go I would like to leave with a post on Our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, first and most faithful amongst the disciples of Our Lord, source of His humanity, and paramount in beauty amongst all His creation. May we all learn to revere her and honour her as the angels do ceaselessly, as one who most perfectly receives the grace of Christ, and most wondrously reflects His glory.
Today, following the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, is the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As I briefly mentioned in yesterday’s post, both Saint John Eudes and Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque – the two most influential saints in developing the devotion to the Sacred Heart as we now know it – insisted upon the mystical unity of the heart of Jesus and that of His Mother. Devotion to the Immaculate Heart, and emphasis on its inseparability from devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was further developed and given particularly vivid expression in the writings of Saint Louis de Montfort, and Saint Maximilian Kolbe.
The alliance of these two hearts is key to understanding devotion to the Immaculate Heart – for it is essential to our understanding of Mary’s inner life (which is mainly what is signified by the ‘heart’ here); that she was and is joined to God (both in His divine nature, and in His Incarnation) by profound bonds of faith and love, as well as the strong maternal bond she felt for Jesus as her earthly son. A key scriptural text that formed part of the basis for this devotion is the prophecy of Simeon, who said to Mary:
‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign that is spoken against
(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also)
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.’
The third line above is often translated as ‘a sword shall pierce through your own heart also’, as in biblical thought, the heart is the seat of a person’s will and desires, where intellect and emotion are unified, and is thus a symbol of the unity of a person – who one is as a whole being, not just the sum of one’s beliefs or interests. Simeon was prophesying that Mary would share at the deepest level of her being with the sufferings which would befall Jesus, as He appeared to the people of His day as a sign of contradiction, exposing the true nature of their hearts to the light.
This sharing in Jesus’ suffering is shown in John 19:25-27, where we find Mary at the foot of the Cross, unwilling to turn away from His pain and dereliction, and at which point Our Lord tells John (here emblematic of all disciples) that Mary is now to be his Mother also. The Church has always seen this as an indication that all Christians should therefore consider the Blessed Virgin to be their Mother in faith. Also, by virtue of being the theotokos, the Mother of God, we must always maintain a relationship with Mary because she is the one through whom Christ received His human nature, and so every time we affirm the reality of His Incarnation (upon which our salvation depends) we affirm her special place in God’s plans, and the fiat upon which the Incarnation depended.
However, although these are important things to note about the central role Our Blessed Mother plays in salvation history, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is defined more by an entering into her inner life: her joys and sorrows, and her virtues, particularly her Charity – her immaculate love for God, untainted by concupiscence. By virtue of her Immaculate Conception, by which the merits of Christ’s redemption were applied to her ahead of time, so that she might be a perfect vessel for the Incarnation of the Son, her will was untainted, her faith in and love of God pure, and so she was able to both love Him and apprehend His love for her in such a way that she could thus enter into His will (and so also His sufferings) more perfectly.
It is in this respect that this devotion is complementary to the devotion to the Sacred Heart. In the latter devotion, we meditate on God’s love for us; in devotion to the Immaculate Heart, we meditate on Mary’s love for God, and by recognising her as the perfect disciple, we thus try to better apprehend and imitate her virtues, so that we may love God more, and become better disciples ourselves. Devotion to the Immaculate Heart could be seen then as the perfect human response to the wealth of divine love shown for us in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The two are allied not just because of who Mary is to Jesus in human and salvific terms, but also because her response to His love is the perfect example for us to follow in this regard.
In this sense, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary can be seen as simply an especial form of devotion to Mary in general, for all devotion to Our Blessed Mother exists to draw us closer to Our Lord – ad Jesu per Mariam, as the saying goes. All the reverence and honour shown to her, the exalted position she has amongst the saints and angels, is because of who her Son is – because of her relationship with Jesus, both humanly and spiritually – and all genuine devotion to Our Lady is meant to lead us closer to Him. She would not want it any other way.
So, as we celebrate this feast today, and in our devotions to Our Blessed Mother more generally, let us always remember this beautiful paradox – that Jesus wants us to honour His Mother, because she points us right back to Him, and the Love that He has for us. All the great icons of Virgin and Child show this truth, as do the traditional devotions of the Church, and it is borne out in the lives of all those saints who, in their devotion to and love for Mary, developed a deeper and more fervent love for Jesus. This is why she is truly blessed amongst women, and all generations have called her so.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.