Devotion To The Immaculate Heart Of Mary

What is devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and why it is needed?

Some may consider that the devotion to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart that was requested at Fatima is excessive, that it appears to raise Mary above her divine Son, and does not have any place in the Church in today’s world. Let us hear what the Church tells us about devotion to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart in answer to these and similar objections.

In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI

In his Theological Commentary on the third part of the secret of Fatima, which was published on 26th June 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger explained that:

“in biblical language, the heart indicates the centre of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge; … to be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart which makes the fiat — ‘be it done unto me according to your word’ — the defining centre of one’s whole life. The heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind.

The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because …thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time”.

Later, as Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily at the Angelus on Sunday 5th June 2005 he explained that the Church now celebrates the liturgical feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the Saturday immediately after the feast of the Sacred Heart on the Friday because:

“the heart that resembles that of Christ more than any other is without doubt the heart of Mary, his Immaculate Mother, and for this very reason the liturgy holds them up together for our veneration.”

In the words establishing the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

“With this devotion the Church renders the honour due to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, states the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites in establishing the feast, on 4th May 1944, “since under the symbol of this heart she venerates with reverence the eminent and singular holiness of the Mother of God and especially her most ardent love for God and Jesus her Son, and moreover her maternal compassion for all those redeemed by the divine Blood”.

In the words of Pope St John Paul II in his homily at Fatima on 13th May 1982

Shortly before He died on the cross, Jesus said, “Woman behold your son” (Jn 19: 26). Commenting on these words, Pope St John Paul II taught that thereby “He opened in a new way His Mother’s heart. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is spiritually united with the heart of her Son, opened by the soldier’s spear by the same love for man and for the world with which Christ loved man and the world … The solicitude of the Mother of the Saviour is solicitude for the work of salvation, the work of her Son: the eternal salvation of all.”

Towards the end of his homily, referring to the words in The Apocalypse 21: 2-3, “the dwelling of God is with men”, the Pope commented:  “In that dwelling is the heart of the Bride and Mother, Mary, a heart adorned with the jewel of her Immaculate Conception; the heart of the Bride and Mother which was opened beneath the Cross to a great new love for man and the world [and] which is aware of all the sufferings of individuals and societies on earth”.

In the words of the Second Vatican Council

The final chapter 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which opens with the words Lumen Gentium, is entirely devoted to “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and the Church”, as this chapter is entitled. In promulgating this constitution, on 21st November 1964, Pope Paul VI highlighted the importance of this chapter and said that it was “the first time in fact — and saying it fills our souls with profound emotion — that an Ecumenical Council has presented such a vast synthesis of the Catholic doctrine regarding the place which the Blessed Mary occupies in the mystery of Christ and of the Church”.

While this chapter does not refer directly to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it makes several declarations which demonstrate the absolutely unique relationship of Mary with God the Holy Trinity and with the Church founded by her divine Son, and calls upon “all the Church’s children to value highly the practices and exercises of piety in her regard” (n. 67) which have been recommended by the magisterium:

“She is endowed with the supreme office and dignity of being the Mother of God the Son; she is therefore the daughter to whom the Father has shown surpassing love, she is the shrine of the Holy Spirit … [She is] the type of the Church in her faith and charity and its most honoured model. The Catholic Church, under the instruction of the Holy Spirit, honours her as its most loving Mother with all the affection of a son’s love for his mother” (n. 53).

In her apparitions at Fatima, Mary calls for devotion to her Immaculate Heart, in obedience to the will of God and of her divine Son, in order to save the souls of poor sinners, and to make reparation for the blasphemies and ingratitude that were shown to the shepherd children in the form of thorns which encircled and pierced her heart. In these manifestations of the Mother of God’s concern for souls we find an example of how in the words of Lumen Gentium chapter 8, the holy Virgin of Fatima has “entered the service of the mystery of the Redemption … as one who co-operated with unconstrained faith and obedience in the salvation of man” (n. 56).

One can also say that all her requests at Fatima constitute a clear manifestation of “her motherly love [which] — as St John Paul II likewise said in his homily at Fatima — makes her care for her Son’s brethren still on their pilgrimage, still involved in dangers and difficulties until they shall be brought to the happiness of their fatherland” (n. 62).

Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium ends with a strong exhortation that: “all Christ’s faithful must issue urgent pleas to the Mother of God and Mother of men … to make intercession before her Son in the communion of all the saints” (n.69).


The manifestations of Mary’s Immaculate Heart at Fatima as recorded by Lucia

Now let us hear how the apparitions at Fatima as recorded by Lucia demonstrate that the manifestations of Mary’s Immaculate Heart at Fatima were in accordance with the will of God and the desire of her divine Son, Jesus.

The apparitions of the Angel in 1916

From the first apparition of the Angel in the Spring of 1916, through to the final apparition on 13th June 1929, it is evident that the manifestation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary flows from the will of God and is associated with Jesus’ redemptive plan for souls that is revealed under several aspects.

The final words of the Angel in his first two apparitions clearly set the scene for what is to follow throughout the course of the apparitions of Our Lady: “The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications”, and in his second apparition, the Angel told the children, “The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you”.

This association of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary is definitively expressed in the sublime prayer to the Most Holy Trinity, which the Angel taught the children in his third and final apparition, when Mary’s Immaculate Heart is linked with the infinite merits of Jesus’ most Sacred Heart in the offering of his “most precious Body, Blood, soul and divinity, present in all the tabernacles throughout the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended”, and for the conversion of poor sinners.

The apparitions of Our Lady from 13th May to 13th October 1917

In the first apparition of Our Lady on 13th May 1917, the light from Our Lady’s hands penetrated the children’s hearts “and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God Who was that light, more clearly than we see ourselves in the best of mirrors.” Then an interior impulse was communicated which caused them to fall on their knees and repeat in their hearts, “Most Holy Trinity, I adore you. My, my God, I love you in the most Blessed Sacrament”.

Afterwards, Francisco said, “What I loved most of all was to see Our Lord in that light from Our Lady which penetrated our hearts”.

This extraordinary supernatural vision experienced by the children clearly shows what the Church has always taught, that Mary is the immaculate vessel chosen by God and who exists only to bring God to souls, and to bring souls to God. Everything in the vision is God, the God Who is light (cf. 1 Tim 6: 16, “who dwells in unapproachable light”), the Holy Trinity and Jesus, the God who is really present in the Blessed Sacrament. Mary is simply the instrument in effecting this divine communication from God to the hearts of the shepherd children.

In Our Lady’s second apparition in June, she tells Lucia, “Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart”, and then, in the same immense light that came from her hands, Our Lady showed them for the first time her Immaculate Heart encircled by thorns which pierced it, and seeking reparation.

In the next apparition in July, first of all she taught them to “sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: “O Jesus, it is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. The children were then showed the vision of hell, after which Our Lady revealed God’s plan to prevent poor sinners from going there: “To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart”. Devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart is the instrument that God wishes us to adopt in order to save sinners from being lost.

There then follows the extensive prophetic warning about how the future will evolve, dependent on the response to Our Lady’s requests for the consecration of Russia and the Five First Saturdays Communion of Reparation. When at the end of this prophecy Our Lady says, “in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph”, this means once again that her Immaculate Heart will serve as God’s instrument in bringing about the conversion of Russia and a period of peace for the world. One possible meaning of “the conversion of Russia” could be conversion back to believing in God from the atheism that was enforced on the people by the Soviet Union, and it could also be understood to mean bringing to an end the “errors” which Our Lady warned that Russia would spread throughout the world, and which, said Pope St John Paul II in his homily at Fatima on 13th May 1982, signified the spirit of the denial and rejection of God that is present in so many evils with which the world is currently afflicted.

In the prayer at the end of this apparition, which Our Lady asked to be included at the end of each decade of the Rosary, Jesus is invoked to forgive us, to save us, and to lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need. Mary’s decade prayer is entirely Christ-centred and concerned with His work for the salvation of souls.

In her final apparition on 13th October, Mary worked a prodigious solar miracle that was witnessed by a crowd of around 70,000 people in the Cova da Iria, so that people would believe she had been appearing to the shepherd children. While this was taking place, the children saw a multiple vision of the Holy Family. First St Joseph appeared with the Child Jesus and Our Lady, and St Joseph and the Child Jesus made the sign of the cross with their hands. Then they saw Our Lord with Our Lady of Sorrows. Finally they saw Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

In this tableau, Mary is seen in the first instance as the Mother of the Holy Family, and this points to the fact that the message of Fatima in all its various aspects is especially directed to the family, since it was the three youngest children of their respective families who were chosen to receive the message and convey it to the Church: Francisco and Jacinta, by the example of their heroic lives of holiness, which led to their beatification on 13 May 2000, and Lucia, through her Memoirs, writings and communications with the Pope and bishops and priests.

In Our Lady’s apparition of 10th December 1925

We have already seen how it was the Child Jesus who appeared with his Mother and requested Lucia “to have compassion on the Heart of your most holy Mother” — note that He did not say ‘my holy Mother’ — and “make an act of reparation to remove them”. Jesus says that Mary is our Mother too, because of her close association with Him in the work of salvation.

In Our Lady’s presence in the vision of the Most Holy Trinity on 13th June 1929

In concluding her account of this vision, Sr Lucia wrote: “I understood that it was the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity which was shown to me, and I received lights about this mystery which I am not permitted to reveal”. One wonders how many saints in the history of the Church have been granted such a vision.

From her record of this sublime supernatural experience, it would seem that in a certain sense it sums up the whole range of the apparitions that took place at Fatima, and places upon them the seal of the divine authority and approval of the Most Holy Trinity.

The central image in the vision is the “cross of light reaching to the ceiling”, on the upper part of which “could be seen the face of a man and his body as far as the waist [and] upon his breast was a dove of light” — namely, God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Nailed to the cross was the body of Jesus from which drops of blood flowed from His face and the wound in His side, and dripped onto a host and thence into a chalice which were suspended in the air. This is in essence the same scene of a host miraculously suspended in the air which the children had experienced in the third apparition of the Angel, except that in that instance the drops of Blood did not issue from the actual body of the crucified Lord, but from the “most precious Body, Blood, soul and divinity” of Jesus that was truly present in the consecrated host, in the words of the sublime prayer of Eucharistic reparation to the Most Holy Trinity.

Lucia’s description continues: “Beneath the right arm of the cross was Our Lady” (cf. Jn 19: 25, where John records Mary standing by the cross of Jesus) “and in her left hand was her Immaculate Heart … with a crown of thorns and flames” (cf. the vision of 13th June 1917, when the children saw Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart encircled by thorns, in front of the palm of her right hand).

Finally, “under the left arm of the cross, large letters as if of crystal clear water, ran down onto the altar, forming the words Grace and Mercy” — grace which is freely offered to all who respond to Our Lady’s requests to pray, to offer sacrifices and do penance in reparation for sin, in a word, to turn back to God, and mercy that will be shown to those who do so.

It was in this awesome, transcendent setting, in the presence of the Godhead, that Our Lady then told Sr Lucia the moment had come “in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means”.

In this act of consecration by the Pope, that was destined to be of critical importance for the future of the Church and the world, Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart is the instrument chosen by God the Father as the means to save Russia from the errors of atheism to which it had succumbed through the Communist Revolution unleashed by Lenin in October 1917 — the month of Our Lady’s final apparition at Fatima.

In the testimony of Sister Lucia

In her book, ‘Calls’ from the Message of Fatima, written in response to the many questions that were sent to her, Sister Lucia has written a short chapter of three pages on “The Call to Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary” (pp. 135-137). Here is a selection of Sister Lucia’s profound reflections on this devotion.

“It was in this Heart that the Father placed his Son, as if in the first tabernacle. Mary was the first pyx that held Him, and it was the blood of her Immaculate Heart which communicated to the Son of God his life and his human nature, from which we all in turn receive “grace upon grace” (Jn 1: 16).

This is that new generation born from this wonderful mother: Christ in Himself and in his Mystical Body. And Mary is the mother of this progeny chosen by God to crush the head of the infernal serpent. Thus we see that devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary must be established in the world by means of a true consecration, through conversion and self-giving. In the same way, through the consecration, the bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, which were drawn with His very life from the Heart of Mary …

Drawing our supernatural life from the same life-giving source, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who is the Mother of Christ and of his Mystical Body, thus we are truly brothers and sisters of Christ, as He himself said: ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it’ (Lk 8: 21). This word of God is the bond which links all the children in the Heart of the Mother; there we hear the echo of the word of the Father, because God enclosed his eternal Word in the Heart of Mary, and it is from this Word that life comes to us …

We read in the book of Isaiah: ‘I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring’ (Is 44: 3). This blessed and watered land is the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and God wants our devotion to take root there, because it was for this very purpose that God placed so much love in the heart of the Mother of all human beings, who consecrates and converts her progeny into the Body and Blood of Christ, her First-born, Son of God, the Word of the Father (Jn 1: 4, 14).

God began the work of our redemption in the Heart of Mary, given that it was through her fiat that the Redemption began to come about (Lk 1: 38; Jn 1: 14). Thus, in the closest possible union between two human beings, Christ began, with Mary, the work of our salvation … And Mary remained on earth in order to help her other children to complete the redeeming work of Christ, preserving it in her heart as a wellspring of grace — ‘Hail, full of grace’ — in order to pass on to us the fruits of the life, passion and death of Jesus Christ, her Son.

Ave Maria !”

In the witness of Blessed Jacinta’s devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Jacinta, the youngest of the seers, who was aged 7 at the time of the apparitions, and not quite 10 years old when she died on 20th February 1920, was given the grace of a special devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In her Memoirs, Lucia records that this grace was given to them during the second apparition on 13th June, when they were shown Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart surrounded by thorns which pierced it, “We understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, and seeking reparation”.

Afterwards, Jacinta said to Lucia: “The Lady said that her Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God. [This was Our Lady’s response to Lucia’s fear that she would be left all alone, after Our Lady had taken Francisco and Jacinta to heaven]. Don’t you love that ? Her Heart is so good ! How I love it !”

As word got round about the apparitions to the children that were taking place, they were visited by the saintly Father Cruz, who suggested to them some short prayers. The one chosen by Jacinta was “sweet Heart of Mary, be my salvation”. Lucia records that after saying it, sometimes she used to add: “I so love the Immaculate Heart of Mary ! It is the heart of our dear Mother in heaven ! Don’t you love saying many times over, ‘Sweet Heart of Mary, Immaculate Heart of Mary’ ? I love it so much, so very much”.

Not long before she was taken to the hospital in Lisbon, where she was to die all alone and unable to receive holy Communion, little Jacinta, not yet ten years old, said to Lucia:

“It will not be long now before I go to heaven. You will remain here to make known that God wishes to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When you are to say this, don’t go and hide. Tell everybody that God grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that people are to ask her for them, and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side. Tell them also to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace, since God has entrusted it to her.

If only I could put into the hearts of all the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much”.

We conclude this section with some extracts from the teaching of St John Paul II on the relevance and value of cultivating devotion to Mary.

Devotion to Mary is based on Jesus’ Will, in the teaching of St John Paul II

St John Paul II, the pope whose motto “Totus Tuus” was taken from the work of the great Marian saint and theologian, Louis de Montfort, is arguably the most Marian pope the Church has ever seen. From September 1995 to November 1997, he devoted 70 General Audiences to a catechesis on Mary, Mother of God. The following passage is taken from his catechesis on 7th May 1997, entitled “Devotion to Mary is based on Jesus’ Will”:

“The authentic meaning of Marian devotion in the ecclesial community places Christians in Jesus’ filial relationship to his mother, putting them in a condition to grow in intimacy with both of them. The Church’s devotion to the Virgin is not only the fruit of a spontaneous response to the exceptional value of her person and the importance of her role in the work of salvation, but is based on Christ’s will.

The words, “Behold your mother” (Jn 19: 27) express Jesus’ intention to inspire in his disciples an attitude of love for and trust in Mary, leading them to recognise her as their mother, the mother of every believer. At the school of the Virgin, the disciples learn to know the Lord deeply, as John did, and to have an intimate and lasting relationship of love with him. They also discover the joy of entrusting themselves to the Mother’s maternal love, living like affectionate and docile children.

The history of Christian piety teaches that Mary is the way which leads to Christ and that filial devotion to her takes nothing from intimacy with Jesus. Indeed, it increases it and leads to the highest levels of perfection. The countless Marian shrines throughout the world testify to the marvels wrought by grace through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Lord and our Mother.” (Theotokos, Pauline Books, 2000, p. 192)

In a further catechesis on Devotion to Mary, Pope St John Paul II taught that:

“The gifts conferred upon Mary by divine love, such as her immaculate holiness, her divine motherhood, her association with the work of redemption and above all the sacrifice of the cross, are absolutely exceptional.  Devotion to Mary expresses the Church’s praise and recognition of these extraordinary gifts”. (Catechesis of 22nd October 1997, op. cit, p. 250).

For all these reasons, it is clear that the Five First Saturdays devotion is an exceptional grace for the Church that responds to its needs at the present time, and can only do good, by bringing people to live their faith more fully through regular reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.