For 12 years of Catholic school, I began every day the same way.
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day.
In union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart:
for the salvation of souls, in reparation for my sins,
and in particular for the intentions of our Holy Father the Pope.
That about covers it, really. And looking back, I see that there is no better way to aim a day, or a life, than “to Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a feast long twinned with – though lesser known than – the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which we observed yesterday. What does it mean to honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary – and why do we talk about Mary’s heart as though it were a doorway or a gate to go through?
When we speak of the Immaculate (meaning “unstained, sinless”) Heart of Mary, we refer both to her human heart, the organ of the body symbolizing love and devotion, and her spiritual heart, the unmatched love and devotion for her Son that we are called to emulate.
In the Gospel of Luke, Mary’s heart is three times the focus of significance. At the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the prophet Simeon tells Mary that her own heart will be pierced by her Son’s redemptive suffering (Luke 2:35). After the visit of the shepherds (Luke 2:19), and later after losing and finding the young Jesus in the Temple, Mary returns home to “ponder all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
Mary’s heart, then, is a storehouse of the graces of salvation (“all these things”) her Son came to bestow. For nine months the Lord of the Universe nestled beneath Mary’s heart, his life sustained by her heartbeat. As Jesus gave that life for us, Mary’s heart absorbed each wound and insult of an ungrateful world, and her love turned the crown of thorns to roses.
Flames, a Sword, Roses
The iconography of the Immaculate Heart, like that of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, reflects the signature qualities of this devotion. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is shown as a human heart crowned with flame, symbolizing both the intensity of Mary’s love for God and for each of us and the presence in her of the Holy Spirit, conferred in tongues of flame at Pentecost. The heart is pierced by a sword, in reference to Simeon’s words but also as a reminder that Mary suffers with her Son and with us. In many representations, Mary’s Immaculate Heart is wreathed with roses, in reference to the Rosary and to the sweetness of her maternal care.
You are probably already familiar with the image of Mary’s Immaculate Heart. Representations of Our Lady of Fatima as she was described by the three children show her pointing to her heart. On the reverse of the Miraculous Medal designed by St Catherine Labouré, Mary’s Immaculate Heart is shown next to the Sacred Heart, under the cross-topped M that is Mary’s initial.
The apparitions at Fatima, where Mary asked that the world be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, have made this devotion familiar in our day, but it goes back almost to the beginnings of the Church. I owe my own devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart to 19th-century Spanish Jesuits, who inspired the foundation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, among the first religious communities to open schools in California’s mission territory.