The Immaculate Heart of Mary represents one element of her holiness: her total purity.
The Pope will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and has invited all bishops and priests around the world to join in this consecration. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a specific Catholic devotion to one aspect of the holiness of the Mother of God: her total purity, spelled out by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, solemnly defined in 1854.
The Immaculate Heart is often depicted with flowers, and usually with a sword, in reference to Simeon’s prophecy in the temple: “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Considering the 2000-year history of the Church, we can call it a recent devotion, but one built on the Mariological principles of medieval theologians such as Saint Anselm of Canterbury and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and rooted in the faith of the early Church.
While Saint Anselm, at the end of the 11th century, did not yet profess Mary’s Immaculate Conception, his doctrine had a great influence. In his work De conceptu virginali, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “It was fitting that the Virgin by beautified with a purity than which a greater cannot be conceived, except for God’s.”
Beyond her purity, it is also her faith and total trust in God that characterizes the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “The Heart of Mary is immaculate because it is free of sin, but also because it is intelligent, constantly listening to God,” said our columnist Jean-Michel Castaing. “Our Lady’s heart is free from error, negligence and misguidance because of her attention to God and to divine affairs. Our Lady’s love of obedience reflects on her intelligence, increasing it tenfold.”
In this, Mary’s heart, as the seat of intelligence and will, is a model for Christians: “This is what God asks of His creatures: to trust Him by allowing ourselves to be instructed by Him in the ways He has chosen and which are not always our own. An immaculate heart is first of all a heart that does not murmur, a heart that is free of mistrust but that keeps hope because it knows that God is a wise, attentive and loving Father,” says Jean-Michel Castaing.
The Heart of Mary, a heart that listens to God
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary experienced an important development in France from 1830, with the Marian apparition of the Rue du Bac, during which the immaculate nature of the Virgin’s soul was revealed to Saint Catherine Labouré.
On November 27, 1830, the Virgin asked the nun to have a medal struck with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary side by side, with this prayer: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”
“Mary conceived without sin,” a formula that heralded the dogma of the Immaculate Conception proclaimed 24 years later by Pope Pius IX.
The first to consecrate his parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was Father Desgenettes, parish priest of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, in Paris. He consecrated his church on December 11, 1836, in response to a dream he had had a few days earlier, telling him: “Consecrate your parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It was especially with the Marian apparitions of Fatima, in Portugal, from 1917 onwards that devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary took on an important dimension. During the second apparition on June 13, 1917, the Virgin declared: “Jesus wants to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. To those who adopt this devotion, I promise salvation, and these souls will be loved by God, like flowers placed by me to adorn his throne.”
A month later, on July 13, 1917, when Our Lady appeared to the children for the third time, Our Lady asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart as well as special devotions on the first Saturday of the month.
This devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is thus intimately linked to the apparitions of Fatima. This is why the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary will be accomplished in Rome, but also at the shrine of Fatima by the Pope’s representative, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.
“Fatima, at least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned, has a special link with Russia and also with every conflict that occurs in the world,” said Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Moscow diocese and president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Russian Federation.