It is said that Christ the Lord was conceived in the Heart of Mary before He was conceived in Her womb. By uttering Her fiat as the Archangel Gabriel delivered his lovesong from Almighty God to the humble Virgin of Nazareth, that most pure Heart was the place where Christ first dwelled amongst us, where He first became a reality.
“The fiat of Mary, the word of Her Heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world—because, thanks to Her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.”
– Cardinal Josef Ratzinger
Theological Commentary on the Third Part of the Secrtet Of Fatima, 2000.
“Today, God is still searching for hearts like Mary’s, hearts that are ready to trust Him completely.”
– Pope Francis, April 2018
As the months passed, that Heart was filled with an intense love of the Child growing in the womb – and as the ‘Theotokos’, the ‘God-bearer’, She took Him to Saint Elizabeth and the as-yet unborn John the Baptist; and “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.. and said ‘blessed is the Fruit of Your womb’.” (Luke 1:41-43). And so in this moment, Mary became the first Monstrance of the Lord, this Lord being praised and adored even whilst still within Her. She was also the first Missionary, taking the Lord to others.
This love of the Heart of Mary for Her Son would continue to grow following His birth. Saint Luke also tells us that Mary ‘treasured all these things and pondered them in Her Heart’ (Luke 2:51) – and in this way, She became the first Christian contemplative. In a sense, She also became a ‘living Rosary’, treasuring and pondering in Her Heart the great events of the life of the Lord; is this not, after all, exactly what we do in our own hearts, as we pray our beads?
We call the Heart of Mary ‘Immaculate’ because She Herself is immaculate – in other words, She has never been touched by the stain of sin, neither the Original Sin nor any actual sin. As the Church teaches us, this singular privilege of grace was granted to Her by Almighty God in anticipation of the merits of Her Son, so that She might be worthy to bear Him and to give birth to Him. The roots of this dogma of the Catholic Church are found in the ‘Proto-Evangelium’, that mysterious passage in the Book of Genesis where God speaks to the Devil just after the sin of Adam and Eve, the Original Sin –
“I will put enmity between you and the Woman, your seed and Her seed; She will crush your head while you strike at Her heel”. (Gen.3:15)
This line foretells of the great battle that will follow, a battle which every one of us lives out to one degree or another, every day of our lives. But it also makes clear that the Woman – Mary – and the Serpent will never for an instant share any comon ground – that is, sin.
As well as being preserved from the very first moment of Her Conception from Original Sin, She remained entirely without any personal (or actual) sin all the days of Her life on earth. And so this Heart was truly immaculate – constantly turned toward the Lord God, seeking nothing except His will at every moment, perfectly submissive to and compliant with that Divine Will. And as Cardinal Ratzinger – later Pope Benedict XVI – notes in the quotation given on the left of this page, this Immaculate Heart would change human history, and the destiny of all mankind, forever.
There has been a growing sense of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary over the last four centuries, helped along the way by the writings and spirituality of a number of great Saints, particularly those of the ‘French School’ – and great amongst these, Saint John Eudes. Images of the Immaculate Heart began to become popular as the devotion spread, and it was often represented surmounted by roses or flowers, and generally pierced by the sword which is a reference to the words of Simeon when Mary and Joseph presented the Christ Child in the Temple, recounted in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2:33-35).
But it was during Her appearances at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, that the Blessed Virgin revealed the devotion to Her Immaculate Heart in an explicit way, this time encircled by thorns in it’s visual representation, those thorns representing the sins of mankind which so pierce Her Heart – She knows only too well the price Her Son paid for our ransom from those same sins.
At Fatima, She told us the value of this Immaculate Heart and what it can obtain for us – and She noted, too, that devotion to Her Immaculate Heart is the express will of God.
During the second appearance at Fatima, on 13th June 1917, She said –
“My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”
Then, one month later, on 13th July 1917, during the third appearance, She told the children –
“You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart.. In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
What sublime promises! This Immaculate Heart will be our refuge in life and our salvation at death – but She can only do so if we comply with what She asks of us. Like God, the Blessed Virgin will always respect our free will and She will never force Herself (nor the graces She offers) upon us. We are free to choose – free to do as She asks, or not. But we must be clear what the alternative is.
In December 1925 She would return to visit Lucia, one of the children to whom She apeared at Fatima, and by then a religious Sister in a convent in Pontevedra, Spain. There, She would give more detail on this devotion to Her Immaculate Heart, revealing the form of a devotion of reparation known as the ‘Five First Saturdays’ or the ‘Communions of Reparation’. At the same time, the Christ Child appeared to Sister Lucia, pleading –
‘Have compassion on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother, covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no-one to make an act of reparation to remove them’.
The Blessed Virgin told Sister Lucia on the same occasion –
“Look, My daughter, at My Heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce Me 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 the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite five decade of the Rosary, and keep Me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to Me.”
Along with this personal devotion, the Blessed Virgin had spoken of an act of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be undertaken on behalf of the Church by the person of the Holy Father in conjunction with the Bishops of the Church – and warning that this would be late in coming but that, nevertheless, it would be efficacious. True to Her word, this Act of Consecration was made by Pope John Paul II on the feast of the Annunciation, 25th March 1984.
And so these two strands – the public act of the Church in the form of the collegial Act of Consecration, and the personal devotion requested of every single one of us, in the form of the Five First Saturdays – forms the full devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Church has completed her part – now, each and every one of us must complete our part so that the great Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, will come about.
In these days, then, we can perhaps see more clearly that authentic devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is designed and intended very much for our time, for these days in which we presently live. And if we love the Blessed Virgin, how could we not respond to so tender an appeal, and from such a motherly Heart? What human heart could fail to be moved by Her words at Fatima, echoing as they do the very same person we read of in the Gospel of Saint Luke? This Heart which so loved Jesus Christ at His Conception, throughout His infancy and childhood and then in His adult life, remaining so close to Him even at the foot of the Cross, is the same Heart which beats now in Heaven with intense love for every single one of us, Her children upon the earth. She desires our salvation and She offers us the means to attain it – devotion to Her Immaculate Heart.
We live in an age where Faith is constantly attacked, where it’s light is growing dim in so many hearts and nations across the world – but not for the first time; it was the same when Christ suffered His Passion. In the darkness of that first Holy Week, following the Cruifixion of Jesus, the light of Faith burned brightly in only one place – in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. There, it was never extinguished even while the Apostles scattered and hid in fear for their lives; there, it never succumbed to despair despite the sorrow which transfixed it; there, it remained intently focussed on the Word of the Lord, Who keeps His promises and is ever faithful; and there, it glowed with a fierce intensity on the morning of the Resurrection – for then, the beating of that Immaculate Heart was quickened once more by the nearness of another, now glorious, Heart – the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary cannot be seperated – they are indivisible. These two Hearts burn with the same heavenly Fire – the One, it’s Source, and the other, It’s perfect Mirror for all eternity. If you have any doubt on this, take a look at the reverse of that other great gift from Heaven, the Miraculous Medal – there, you will see these two Hearts united beneath the Cross. The symbolism is unmistakeable and speaks with great clarity. Let our hearts, too, reflect something of this heavenly Fire; may they be little mirrors of the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
May Her Immaculate Heart truly be our refuge and the way that will lead us to God.