And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. (Luke 2:35)
When I was a young girl, the Christmas story was the only opportunity I had to read about the Blessed Virgin Mary. During Christmas time, the Protestant church I attended would read the first two Chapters of St. Luke, from the Nativity to the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. And each year, I was always drawn to one particular verse—the next to last verse in that Scripture reading—“And his mother kept all these words in her heart.” As a child, I am not really certain that I understood what this meant. As I grew, I don’t believe it was ever really explained to me in any real terms except that “Mary loved Jesus as a mother loves her son.” There wasn’t any emphasis on it or anything truly remarkable about the Blessed Virgin. What I didn’t know then was that Protestants have a fear that devotion to Mary takes the focus off Jesus. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Devotion to the Heart of Mary dates back to Biblical times. Early Christians were drawn to Mary because of her immense love and virtues. Out of compassion, these Christians were most especially drawn to Mary standing at the foot of the Cross while she contemplated and watched Jesus die. When they coupled this with St. Simeon’s prophecy that Mary’s heart would be “pierced by a sword,” and St. Luke’s words that Mary held “all these things in her heart,” a true devotion to the Blessed Mother’s Heart began to blossom. As the Church grew, so did Devotion to Mary. The Fathers of the Early Church wrote about her virtues, her virginity, her tenderness, her compassion, her wisdom, her obedience, and her love for Our Lord Jesus. By the 5th Century, it was generally understood that before Mary conceive the Christ in Her womb, She bore Him in Her Heart and Her Heart became the model of Christian love.
For the next 600 or 700 years, devotion and love of Our Lady grew among private individuals and communities. At the height of the Church, in the Middle Ages, many Bishops, priests, and Saints began to include formal devotions and liturgical practices. Much was written about Her Heart and many petitions were brought to Rome to make devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary a public prayer. Each time a petition was brought to Rome in hopes of instituting a feast to celebrate Mary’s Pure Heart, however, it was dismissed. In spite of these disappointments, though, private devotions continued and, in some places, intensified. In 1648, due to the dedication and efforts of St. John Eudes in France, the Feast of the Holy Heart of Mary was allowed to be added into the liturgy in the orders and seminaries he founded. When Pope Pius VI was held captive during the French Revolution in 1799, he also allowed the same Feast to added to the calendar in a few more Churches. By the 1850s, France had quickly and quietly become the center of devotion to the Holy Heart of Mary.
Perhaps devotion to Mary would have remained in France even until these days, but, as I have discovered in my own life, God often has other plans. In this case, God’s plan involved 3 peasant children about 800 miles from France in Fatima, Portugal. On May 13, 1917, the little children Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco were tending their flocks in the fields. Our Lady came down from Heaven to appear to them in a series of visions. She came to them on the 13th day of 6 consecutive months and revealed to them many things. On her last visit, October 13, she declared that “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.” In 1930, the Catholic Church recognized the apparitions at Fatima to be worthy of belief. (I will definitely write more about Our Lady of Fatima.) In 1944, Pope Pius XII, who had a particular devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, instituted the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary into the liturgy of the Universal Church. From that time until Vatican II, the entire Church celebrated this Feast on August 22, 8 days after the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1969, the Feast was moved to coincide with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
What exactly is so special about Mary’s Heart anyway? This is a question I have pondered since my childhood days as a Protestant and precisely was led me to Traditional Catholicism. The heart has long been a symbol in religion, art, and literature. It is used to exemplify the spiritual, emotional, moral, and intellectual condition of people. We talk about people, sometimes, by referring to their hearts. Cold-hearted people, we understand, are incapable of compassion. Hard-hearted people have closed themselves off to wisdom. Soft-hearted people can’t bear to see suffering. Kind-hearted people always think of other’s needs. We all have our sweet hearts and we’ve all probably been lonely hearts, too. Our hearts, then, are a reflection of who we are and what we are capable of.
Our Blessed Mother, as Her Heart symbolizes, is Immaculate—pure love, pure charity, pure wisdom, pure gentleness, and pure mercy. By her Immaculate Conception, she is not capable of impure thoughts, empty deeds, self-centered kindess, pride, or vanity. She seeks only the will of Her Divine Son. Through the graces given Her by Our Lord, She is the perfect model of compassion, tenderness, and wisdom. Since Our Lord left Her for us as our own Mother, He has also given us to Her. Just as She held Our Lord in Her Heart, so She hold us. She only wants to give us the graces that Our Lord gave to her—charity, kindness, compassion, love, humility, and obedience. It is through Her Heart that we can come to understand Our Lord. Why would we not want to know Her Heart? How can we not want our hearts to be like Hers?
May the Immaculate Heart of Mary lead us all to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.
Immaculate Mary, thy praises we sing; Who reignest in splendor with Jesus our King.
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria; Ave, Ave Maria