Heaven in Her Heart:
The Way to God through the Blessed Virgin Mary
[This is a booklet that I recently wrote, which is being serialized on this blog, beginning on February 11, 2013. An abridged version will be published in print form, hopefully soon, which I intend to distribute for free. (WordPress seems to have goofed up some of the formatting as far as spacing and indentation, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it, so please tolerate it.) It’s a long document—about 31,000 words, probably 50 or so pages if you print it—so take your time. You might wish to just read a section each week as I post them, but I put the whole thing here just in case anyone is interested. May Our Lady show you Heaven in her Heart!]
Introduction: Rebuilding the House of the Lord
On Pentecost Sunday 2012, I sought a word from the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, as is my custom. When I opened the Bible to the first two chapters of Ezra, I wondered what the Lord could possibly say to me there, since these chapters consist mostly of long lists of names. But there was an important word there for me, in the very first verses. Because those verses mention the accomplishment of “the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah,” I then turned to the Prophet Jeremiah for additional insight and direction.
Let’s begin with the word from Ezra: “The Lord, the God of Heaven…has charged me to…rebuild the house of the Lord” (1:1-3). This sounds quite solemn and dramatic, and it is well beyond my capacity even to begin to do anything like this, but there it was. Saint Francis once received a similar message, hearing the voice of the Lord Himself, but I don’t mean to suggest I’ve attained anything like his spiritual stature. Yet even that great saint had to take some time to reflect upon the word of the Lord, to interpret and understand it correctly.
The “house of the Lord” can be considered the Church. This could certainly apply to the clarifying words I received in Jeremiah (chapters 18-20), as they contain the Lord’s lamentation over his beloved ones: “My people have forgotten Me…they have stiffened their necks, refusing to hear my words.” Everyone knows of the various crises that afflict the Catholic Church today, and that she is in urgent need of renewal on several levels. But what she needs is not the “renewal” that many people promote, which is little more than the adoption of the mentality and agenda of the largely degenerate societies that should instead be her mission field. Rather, true renewal is a revitalization of the Church’s living Tradition, a re-opening of the sources of grace that have sustained her through her 2000-year history, a recovery of that which once created saints and ignited their hearts with divine love.
Still, this interpretation indicates a task of such magnitude—bringing about the cleansing, illumination, and inner transfiguration of the mystical Body of Christ—that even the great saints of our own times have enjoyed only modest success in it, despite their extraordinary efforts. So I had to find my special place in this vast undertaking, which must be carried out in various ways by many people all over the world.
Then the thought came to me: Mary! Could my task in rebuilding the house of the Lord have something to do with helping restore devotion to Our Lady, or perhaps with offering reparation to her Immaculate Heart? Is Mary, is her Heart, the “house of the Lord” to which my energies are to be directed?
I wondered if I was stretching the interpretation a bit. But immediately after this I opened a book of Our Lady’s messages from Heaven, and there before me were the words: “My Heart is the house where the Word was formed.…”! This made sense. Mary is traditionally known as the Lord’s house, temple, city, or any image that refers to a dwelling place, for she was the “place” in which Our Lord chose to dwell, in a unique and unrepeatable manner.
The chapters of Jeremiah where I found the first words also contain these: “The word of the Lord has become…in my heart as it were a burning fire” (20:8-9). The Divine Word breathed by the Holy Spirit is the Flame of Love in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Therefore it is her mission to work in union with the Holy Spirit to communicate this Fire to the hearts of all her children. But if, as the Lord lamented through Jeremiah, many people have forgotten Him, how many more ignore or reject his beloved Mother?
In her apparitions at Fatima and subsequent ones, Mary makes it clear that God is not pleased with the sins committed against her Immaculate Heart, and that He requires reparation to be made, if the souls of these sinners are to be saved. But who thinks about these things anymore? How many people take seriously and practice devoutly what Heaven has communicated to us through the Blessed Virgin?
The level of the vitality and fervor of Marian devotion has always been a major indicator of the spiritual health and fruitfulness of the Catholic Church. When the faithful begin to ignore the Mother of God or devalue the importance of Marian devotion, they also tend to fall away from the sacraments and all the means of salvation offered by the Church, and even from Catholic moral teachings as well. Once that happens, they begin to look to the secular trends of the present age for direction on making the Church into what they think she should be, if they don’t forsake the Church altogether in favor of the ways of this world.
I believe, then, that in asking me to share in the work of “rebuilding the house of the Lord,” God is directing me to the Heart of Mary. He wants me to help restore devotion to her, and to encourage more loving reparation to this motherly Heart, pierced, as she has said, by the thorns of the blasphemies and ingratitude of men. When Mary’s children are all united to her in love and devotion, she can form in their souls the capacity and desire to offer a complete “yes” to God’s will as she herself did. Thus the Church shall be renewed.
Therefore I offer these reflections on the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a way to invite you to help revive Marian devotion in the Church—starting with the consecration of your own heart to hers—and thus to share in the great renewal willed by the Holy Spirit, who wants the Catholic Church to be, like the holy Mother of God, the immaculate dwelling place of the Lord.
December 8, 2012
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Chapter One: The Immaculate Heart and Our Hearts
“God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Thus spoke the Queen of Heaven to three Portuguese children in 1917, creating the opportunity for countless souls to embrace a profoundly rich spiritual life and a uniquely sweet and fruitful way to the Kingdom of Heaven. Even though some form of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary had existed for centuries before Our Lady appeared at Fatima, this particular heavenly manifestation of the Mother of God was unprecedented in its influence upon the Catholic faithful. This devotion has lit a fire in the hearts of millions of Mary’s children and is destined to remain a rich source of grace and heavenly blessing until Our Lord returns in his glory.
Various types of devotions and spiritual practices are introduced at different times in history by certain holy men and women, often in order to meet a particular need of the faithful or to encourage them to greater fervor and love. What is striking in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is that it was directly willed and initiated by God Himself, who made his holy will known by sending the Mother of Jesus from Heaven to announce it.
The reason for the establishment of this devotion, in addition to deepening our own spiritual lives, is nothing less than the eternal salvation of immortal souls! God’s desire that his children be devoted to the Heart of the heavenly Mother was made known immediately after Our Lady had shown the children of Fatima a vision of Hell. They were overcome by the horror of it. The thought that some, perhaps many, people would have to spend all eternity there due to their sins and failure to repent moved them to a deep anguish of spirit, especially little Jacinta. She subsequently made it her life’s mission to pray and sacrifice for the salvation of souls.
Immediately after this vision, Our Lady spoke to the children: “You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. In order to save them [that is, in order to prevent souls from going there], God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If people do what I ask, many souls will be saved…”
Devotion (and, as we’ll see, consecration) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is therefore not merely another more or less helpful spiritual practice. It was chosen and blessed by God Himself as a particularly effective means of obtaining the grace of repentance for souls, so they can be spared the eternal torments of Hell and enjoy endless happiness in Heaven.
Even though the precious fruits of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary reach all the way into eternity, this little book is written primarily to focus on what we can do here and now. It is written simply to invite you to love the Heart of Mary. Yes, just to love her Heart! Once this sweet fire of love is enkindled within you, your heavenly Mother will take care of the rest, enriching your spiritual life and bringing to the most needy souls the grace of repentance unto salvation. She is willing and able to do more for you than you can imagine, but first you have to be hers!
Your love for Mary, your devotion and consecration to her Immaculate Heart—and the graces she will bring to you from Our Lord because of it—can transform your whole life, as it has transformed mine. I now love her so much that I cannot express adequately in words how profound and beautiful this heavenly mystery is to me. This complete surrender to Our Lady, with all its marvelously rich fruits, is not something I am capable of producing on my own. It is God’s gift, and I will be eternally grateful. If you pray for this gift and give yourself to your heavenly Mother, you will discover that the Heart of Mary is the path to Heaven and is a foretaste of Heaven along the way. She said the following at Fatima, and we would do well never to forget it: “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and your way to God.”
Our way to God. Our whole life is about going back to God, who created us, who sent his only-begotten Son to redeem us, who sent his Holy Spirit to sanctify us and thus prepare us to enter his Kingdom. God also has sent Our Lady to help us return to Him. Mary is Daughter of the Father, favored as no other creature ever was or will be. She is Mother of the Son, uniquely privileged to impart humanity to God, who became man inside her own body. She is also Spouse of the Holy Spirit, completely and inseparably united to Him since the moment of her conception.
Mary was created solely to become the Mother of the Son of God. But because He loved her (and us) so much, Jesus gave her to us to be our Mother as well, so we too could love her and feel her love as He did. He did this from the Cross when He said to John and thus to all his beloved disciples, “Behold, your mother” (Jn. 19:25-27).
Mary, Heaven, Church
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, we all have been in exile from Paradise. This life is meant to be a pilgrimage of return, a pilgrimage of the heart and soul. In a poetic expression of yearning to return to the temple in Jerusalem, the Old Testament psalmist exclaims: “They are happy, whose strength is in You, in whose hearts are the roads to Zion” (Ps. 84:6). In Mary’s precious Heart we find the “road to Zion,” the path to the Heavenly Jerusalem, of which she herself is the icon and the mystical embodiment, since the fullness and the destiny of the Church are expressed in her divinely-radiant body and soul. She is the Queen of Heaven glorified by the King, her Redeemer, her Lord, and her Son!
We can begin to experience something of Heaven in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Mother of God not only dwells in Heaven, and she is not only the Queen of Heaven—in certain sense she is Heaven! Not in the most literal sense, of course, but the Church in her liturgical poetry sees her that way. Heaven is simply where God dwells. Because God dwelled uniquely and bodily in the Virgin Mary, and has filled her whole being with his grace and life at every moment of her existence, she herself has become in her heavenly glory a kind of sweet paradise for all who would enter into the light and love of God through her Immaculate Heart.
In the prayers of the Byzantine Christian tradition, Mary is called the “Gate of Heaven,” “heavenly tabernacle of the Divinity,” “spiritual paradise,” etc. In one of the prayers, she is called “a heaven…a chamber full of light.” This reminds me of one of the Fatima apparitions, during which she opened her hands to the children, and then from within her came the Light of God which penetrated their hearts and souls and took them into his presence. She is the tabernacle, as it were, of that Divine Light, and entering therein we find Heaven!
The Heart of Mary is the way to God, the way to Christ, in a similar manner as is the Church. Christ Himself is the Way to the Father, but we enter into communion with Christ through the Church, especially through the sacraments and the whole life of faith, worship, righteous deeds and charity that characterizes the Catholic Church as the way to God. The Church is like a mother, giving birth to children of God through baptism, nourishing them through the Holy Eucharist, teaching and correcting and guiding them in many ways. That is why our Mother Mary is both a symbol and a real, living expression of the mystery of Mother Church.
So it is that in our spiritual lives we have recourse to the Heart of the Mother, who nourishes and “brings us up” in the faith through her guidance, intercession and protection. We are safe in the sheltering presence of her arms, and she presses us lovingly to her Heart as a mother would do with her dearest little child. She brings us thus to the Lord, presenting us to Him as her own. This is more pleasing to Him than if we thought we were worthy to approach Him by ourselves.
You can become aware of all this in prayer, in the depths of your soul, if you take the time to seek the Heart of the Mother, to allow her to be your way to the Lord, to reflect upon her mission in this world, and to enter into a dialogue of love with her. Allow Mary to bring you to the Lord, and you will find Heaven in her Heart. Let her show you what you mean to her, and you will feel something of her tenderness and gentle love. You may also experience a mother’s correction if you start to stray from the path to Heaven, but even her reproaches are offered with such love that you will be happy to mend your ways, knowing how much this pleases her. And what pleases the Mother pleases the Son, so you will experience the blessing of the Lord.
A Word About Hearts
Some people ask why Catholics are devoted to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as if we were focusing our attention and prayer merely upon a bodily part or organ. But the heart means so much more. The whole tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and the Fathers of the Church is filled with references to the heart as the spiritual center of the person, the seat of love and even of thought. One’s heart is most specially one’s very self, one’s deepest identity and inner life. When we speak of someone as having a “good heart,” we are saying that he or she is a loving, generous, compassionate person. The heart is synonymous with the person.
So to be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to be devoted to Mary herself, her essential self, which is her love, her inner truth and goodness, her pure and holy interior in which God dwells more completely and profoundly than anywhere else in the universe. The pictorial image of the physical human heart, especially if it is beautifully adorned, is an appropriate symbol of the inner reality and is a helpful way to focus our attention on the essence of the person.
In Mary’s case, since she already experiences with her Son the full glorification of both body and soul in Heaven, her actual bodily heart does in fact share in this glory. If only we could see the awe-inspiring heavenly beauty of her Immaculate Heart, we would have no more questions about the fittingness of being devoted to her Heart! Besides, we don’t need to reason whether or not this is a good and holy thing to do. If we will only listen to the voice of the Queen of Heaven—“God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart”— we will know that this is pleasing to both the Lord and his dear Mother.
This little book is primarily about the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but it should be understood that Mary’s Heart is inseparable from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The love of the Heart of Mary derives from that of the Heart of Jesus and depends upon it, for the Lord is the Source of all love, goodness, grace, truth, and blessing. The Lord has made it clear to us through several saints that He desires devotion to the Heart of Mary to be practiced along with devotion to his own Heart. We will meet some of these saints later in this book.
Our Lady has offered us her Heart as our “refuge and way to God,” so it is within Mary’s Heart that we most sweetly encounter the Heart of Jesus. It is also through her that we most worthily approach Him. We give ourselves to Mary so that she will give us to Jesus, thus giving Him the greatest glory possible. Keep this in mind as you read about devotion and consecration to her Immaculate Heart.
I would like to emphasize from the beginning the teaching of the Catholic Church that the whole of our life is oriented to God and to everlasting communion with Him in Heaven. As our Mother, Mary nourishes our life in Christ and provides heavenly assistance surpassing that of all the angels and saints. We experience what a priceless gift Our Lord gave us when He made Mary our Mother. Our consecration to her secures this loving relationship and enables us consistently to benefit from her maternal care. Therefore the immediate goal of Marian consecration is union with Our Lady, but this is always in service of the ultimate goal, which is union with Christ in God. Marian devotion is thus not a sort of parallel spirituality or an interesting option for those who like that sort of thing, nor is it a minor or dispensable element of Christian life.
As Blessed John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Mother of the Redeemer, Mary “is in the mystery of Christ,” and therefore she is not merely alongside it or, worse yet, irrelevant to it. If Mary is in the mystery of Christ, then this mystery is incomplete without her. The Blessed Virgin Mary has an essential and integral place in the whole plan of salvation, and therefore she has her rightful place in our spiritual lives and in our hearts.
In taking us to herself, Mary ensures that we will stay on the narrow path to the Kingdom of Heaven. For in taking us to herself, she takes us to her Son. Our spiritual life ought to be Christ-centered, for He is the Lord and Savior. Yet it should also be Mary-surrounded, for she is the Mother, the Protectress, in whose arms we find shelter and warmth. Our Lady helps open our eyes to see the majesty of the divine mysteries, for she has shared more deeply in them than anyone else.
Mary guides us lovingly in the ways of God, as the Flemish mystic Venerable Marie Petyt wrote: “She has taken me under her maternal guidance and direction, much as the school mistress guides the hand of the child when she teaches him to write.” So to give ourselves to Mary is ultimately to give ourselves to God. Or, perhaps more precisely, it is to allow ourselves to be given to God by the loving hands to which Our Lord entrusted us when, at the climax of his Sacrifice, He said: “Behold, your mother.”
Bearing Fruit through Union with the Heart of Mary
There are several reasons for wishing to unite our hearts to the Immaculate Heart of Mary through a personal consecration to her. You will discover these as you continue to read. To help understand one of the most fundamental reasons, we can reflect upon Jesus’ parable of the sower, especially as recorded by St Luke (Lk. 8:5-15).
The Lord wants to find hearts full of the “good soil” that receives the word of God and bears abundant fruit. But there are three major reasons why this might not happen. Jesus tells us that the devil can take away the word of God from our hearts—causing us to doubt, forget, or ignore the message of the Gospel. For others—who did not allow the word to send forth deep roots—times of trial, testing, or temptation make them falter and they fall away from faithfulness to Our Lord. Still others are choked (as a sprouting plant would be among weeds and thorns) by “the cares and riches and pleasures of life.” In such people, “their fruit does not mature,” that is, it remains sour, bitter, and good for nothing.
It is only when the seed falls into good soil, which the Lord describes as “an honest and good heart,” that it will bear fruit—but even then the Lord says this takes patience and perseverance. The term “honest” does not adequately express the meaning of the Greek word kalos in the ancient manuscripts of the Bible. This term is better translated “beautiful,” “noble,” or “admirable.” An extended definition of some of its uses in the Bible, which fits best here, is “beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life.” This is what Our Lord is looking for when He casts the seed of his word upon souls.
Now we have to ask two questions. First, who among us can honestly claim that his or her heart is consistently beautiful, pure, noble, and praiseworthy? Even a brief examination of conscience should easily answer that question for us. Second, whose heart has always been completely pure and hence the most worthy to receive the Gospel of Jesus and bear rich and abundant fruit? This is easily answered as well: Mary’s Immaculate Heart. In her the Lord found the most beautiful and noble heart in which his word could mature, in which there would not be the slightest impediment to his grace and his will.
Therefore, when we bind our own hearts to the Heart of Mary through our consecration to her, the word of God will find fertile “soil” in us and be able to send deep roots into our hearts and bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Gal. 5:22-23) in great abundance. Our own experience teaches us that we are all too vulnerable to the attacks of the devil, all too likely to falter under trials and hardships, and all too likely to be attracted by the deceitfulness of riches and pleasures, or simply distracted by worldly cares. We could spend our whole life bearing little or no fruit if we remain in one or more of the unfavorable conditions Jesus described in the parable.
So we look to that “beautiful and good heart,” in which the word of the Lord has found the richest fruitfulness of all his creatures. By consecrating ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we are granted the gift of sharing in her own purity and goodness, and thus in her immeasurable fruitfulness. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, she will make this happen in us, in the measure that we give ourselves over to her for this purpose.
This is the ultimate goal of our consecration to Our Lady: to bear spiritual fruit for the glory of God. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (Jn. 15:8). This goal is intimately linked to our individual ultimate goal: the eternal salvation of our souls. Several great saints have said that no true child of Mary is ever lost, that if we persevere in our devotion to Our Lady, she will see to it that we are protected from all that could take us away from God forever. To bind our hearts to Mary’s through consecration—and to persevere in living this consecration—is to make it much easier to bear fruit for God’s glory, as our hearts, in union with the Immaculate Heart, are enabled to receive and respond to the word of God.
When Our Lady comes from Heaven, as she did at Fatima, she does not give us long sermons. It is enough for her to say, “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Much of this mystery is then left for our own hearts and minds to penetrate more deeply (though we do know that Mary also said this devotion would help prevent souls from going to Hell). Since devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is what God and the Blessed Mother have asked of us, we must seek to understand this gift, this call. So we turn to the Scriptures to discover their hidden treasures, and we listen to the Saints and the Popes who have faithfully interpreted the divine mysteries for us over the centuries. Then we live our lives virtuously according to the wisdom of the Church, in her sacraments, devotions, and good works. Thus we are assured that “there will be richly provided for [us] an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11).
The word of Christ—which He wishes to implant within our hearts—is the message of the Gospel, the “word of the Cross” and the power of God, as St Paul says (1 Cor. 1:17-18). Our consecration to the Heart of Mary enables us to unite with the Heart that is by far the most fertile for bearing spiritual fruit from the implanted word. Understanding this truth is simply one more way of seeing the connection of the Gospel with the revelation of the heavenly Mother—and the place God wants her to have in our lives.
Another image for the graces to be gained by uniting our hearts to Mary’s Heart comes from a little reflection I once found on the internet (http://vultus.stblogs.org/2012/07/the-maternal-and-merciful-hear.html). I’ve reproduced an excerpt here. It was written by a Benedictine priest-monk, and in his reflection, Our Lady says this:
I am your Mother,
the Mother given you by my Son Jesus, from the Cross,
in the solemn hour of His Sacrifice…
Speak to me simply
and with complete trust in the compassion of my maternal Heart
and in the power given to my maternal intercession.
There is nothing
that you cannot bring to me,
nothing that you cannot present to me,
nothing that you cannot offer me,
even to your very sins.
Anything given to me by my [children], I press to my Heart;
all that is impure, every vestige of sin
is consumed in the flame of love
that burns in my Immaculate Heart,
in the fire of love that is the Holy Spirit in me,
the very Fire of the Divinity.
Give to me, then, all that you would offer to my Son and to His Father.
It will be purified as gold in the furnace
because I will press it to my Heart.
Nothing impure can endure the flame of love
that burns in my Heart. Only love remains.
Give me your weaknesses,
your past sins, your daily faults,
and I will present to my Son only the love with which,
in spite of all your weaknesses,
you desire to love Him, and with Him, love the Father.
I am your Mother…
So the Immaculate Heart of Mary not only provides for us the fertile ground for bearing spiritual fruit by means of the word of the Lord. Her Heart also burns away in its Flame of Love all that is impure and unworthy of the absolute holiness of Christ. Therefore, after binding our hearts to Mary’s, “only love remains.”
The power of evil is limited—it cannot endure the Flame of Love in the Heart of Mary. This spiritual purification is what Our Lady does for us when we give ourselves to her, when we make union with her the means in this life to eternal union with God in the next. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, she burns off the dross, purifies the heart, soul, and mind of evil as she holds us close to her Heart. Thus she removes obstacles to loving God, be they spiritual, psychological, or emotional.
Whatever we offer to Mary she presses to her Heart; the evil is undone, made ineffectual. Even layers of the effects of years of habitual sin are burned off until our true hearts are revealed. When the evil is removed, we become aware that we are in fact branches of the Vine, drawing life from the Lord, from the secret wellsprings of his love and grace, which cannot be touched by the devil, no matter how much he rages, no matter what he throws at us or tries to dredge up from the past. Nothing evil can withstand the Fire in Mary’s Heart. Only love remains. That is what she brings to the Lord on our behalf. And that is the sweetest fruit of the Holy Spirit, by which we will live forever in the glory of the God who is Love.
Chapter Two: The Creation of the Immaculate Heart
Since we’re already discussing devotion and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we might now wish to ask why Mary’s Heart is called the “Immaculate” Heart? For the answer, we have to go all the way back to the creation of Mary herself. Or better yet, let’s go back to the creation of the universe, and even to the eternity before anything was created at all.
God, of course, has no beginning and has existed from all eternity as three Divine Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in one Divine Nature. When God decided to create the material universe—and its crowning glory, man, made in God’s own image—He already had in mind the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son. The Father’s eternal divine Son would become a man.
Therefore we have go back to the beginning of creation to understand the mystery of Christ. We learn this from St Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians: “For in [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through him and for him” (1:16). All things were created for Him: that’s the important thing here. God created everything for his Son! We, of course, fit in there somewhere, but the main reason the material universe exists is that it is a gift of the Father to his Son.
Note the mystery here, though. St Paul is talking about the incarnate Son, not only the eternal, pre-existing divine Son. In this whole passage from Colossians (1:9-23), the “he” and “his” that refer to the Son of God often refer to things pertaining specifically to the incarnate Son: He is Head of the body, the Church; He is the first-born from the dead; his Cross was the means of making peace and reconciliation. To say that everything was created for Christ means that the Incarnation of the Son was in view from the very beginning. It was not a “Plan B” executed only when the first humans, Adam and Eve, ruined “Plan A” by their sin.
Because the whole of creation is focused on the Incarnate Son of God, we naturally come to the conclusion that Mary would also have been in God’s mind from the very beginning, for there could be no truly human Son without a human Mother. So when God was contemplating the incarnation of his Son from a virginal Mother, Mary’s Immaculate Conception was undoubtedly part of his plan. This the basic reason why Mary’s Heart is Immaculate, but there is more.
If the incarnation of the Son was part of God’s eternal plan, and not merely a response to the fall of Adam and Eve, then of course the Mother of the Son would be created sinless. This is the only fitting condition for one who would bring God into this world as man. The introduction of sin into the world did nothing to change God’s plan for Mary’s sinless and immaculate conception. She would have been immaculate whether or not there was a fall. It is only because of the fall that Mary’s conception is looked upon as exceptional.
Mary’s Heart is immaculate because her soul and her whole being are immaculate. She was intimately and completely united to the Holy Spirit from the first instant of her existence. But to say, as I did above, that Mary was “created sinless,” does not mean that her Immaculate Conception was somehow independent from the merits of Christ the Savior. God is not bound by time. Foreseeing the redemption wrought by his Son for the salvation of the world, He applied the merits of Jesus’ Sacrifice to Mary’s soul at the moment of her conception. Thus she was redeemed and sanctified in a unique manner—for the sake of her unique mission—but still by the grace and mercy of the one Redeemer.
Mary, the New Eve
Both Adam and Eve were at fault in the original sin. This is important for understanding God’s plan of redemption. The sin and hence the death that the first Adam and Eve introduced into the world would be undone, according to God’s inscrutable wisdom, by a New Adam and a New Eve, Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is clear, however, that the role of the New Adam is primary and indispensable. The Scriptures present Christ as the New Adam, and a number of the Fathers of the Church unveil the mystery of Mary as the New Eve. Mary’s role as the New Eve is important for our understanding of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Our Lady is called the New Eve, in the Christian traditions of both East and West, because her Yes to God cancelled Eve’s primordial No. But since the first Eve was originally created without sin, it would be absurd to conclude that the New Eve bore the legacy of the fallen Eve. Since God wanted to “re-create” humanity in Christ, Mary was created to be the “place” of God’s unprecedented intervention in human history—the Incarnation of the Son. She was therefore a new creature, the first-fruit of the Redemption, wherein the Son of the Most High was wholly pleased to dwell. The Fathers of the Church have affirmed that Mary gave birth without pain, which means that she alone was free from the curse laid upon Eve and her descendants. If she was free from the curse, it means she was free from the reason for the curse, that is, sin.
The Immaculate Conception marked the beginning of the new creation in Christ. Just as God created everything at the beginning, so now with Mary He began his wondrous act of re-creating everything, renewing the entire heaven and earth through the redemption that her Son would accomplish.
Another reason for the Immaculate Conception is that God willed Mary to have absolute power over the devil and all evil. This would not be possible if she had been conceived in sin. Mary’s unique union with God, both in her Immaculate Conception and in the Incarnation of the Son, prepared her to share in his mission. Henceforth eternally united to God, Mary continues in this mission of conquering evil in her role as Queen and Mistress of Heaven and Earth. As heavenly Mother, she also protects her children from spiritual harm, insofar as they have recourse to her.
Early in the Book of Genesis we have what is sometimes called the “proto-gospel,” the first indication of the redemption of mankind from sin. It follows immediately upon the primordial wrongdoing of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:15, God addresses the serpent who tempted them: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” This quote is from the Douay-Rheims Bible, a translation of the Latin Vulgate which has been normative for Roman Catholicism for many centuries. Blessed Pius IX relied on the Vulgate in 1854 when he promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in his apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus: “The most holy Virgin, united with him [Christ] by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.”
There has been some dispute as to whether the correct reading for the one who will crush the serpent is “he” or “she.” Traditional piety and art—and even approved apparitions like that granted to St Catherine Labouré—clearly understand it as the Woman who crushes the serpent, probably because in the text of the Bible it is clearly stated that the enmity is between the woman and the serpent. But to say that Mary crushes the serpent is not to imply that she does so independently of the power of Christ. Blessed Pius IX makes it clear that it is because of her indissoluble and intimate union with Christ that she can crush the enemy of our salvation.
Immaculate Mary and the Holy Spirit
Our Lady is traditionally referred to as the “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” The usual reason is this: Scripture says that in order for the Son of God to become man in Mary’s virginal womb, the Holy Spirit would come upon her (see Lk. 1:35). Thus through the overshadowing power of the Most High (here meaning the Father) working through the Holy Spirit, Mary would become the Mother of God Incarnate. Yet there is another way to understand this mystery of Mary’s “spousal” relationship to the Holy Spirit. She was entirely united to the Holy Spirit in her whole being as she was created, and this union was never diminished in the least, but rather became more profound throughout Mary’s life. It is this ineffably intimate and indissoluble union with God the Holy Spirit that merits Mary’s title of “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.”
St Maximilian Kolbe, who died in Auschwitz in 1941, reflected deeply upon the mystery of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, the name she gave to herself at Lourdes in 1858. In order to learn more about who Mary is, he reasoned, we ought to begin with the way she spoke of herself. The words, “Immaculate Conception,” writes the saint, “must tell us in the most precise and essential manner who she really is.”
It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that sanctified Mary from the first moment of her existence. St Maximilian wrote in notes for a book he did not live to complete:
“United to the Holy Spirit as his spouse, she is one with God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be predicated of any other creature. What sort of union is this? It is above all an interior union, a union of her essence with the ‘essence’ of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in her, lives in her. This was true from the first instant of her existence. It was always true; it will always be true…
“Among creatures made in God’s image, the union brought about by married love is the most intimate of all (cf. Mt. 19:6). In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being… the virginal womb of Mary’s body is kept sacred for him; there he conceives…the human life of the Man-God… In the Holy Spirit’s union with Mary we observe more than the love of two beings; in one there is all the love of the Blessed Trinity; in the other, all of creation’s love. So it is that in this union heaven and earth are joined; all of heaven with all of the earth, the totality of eternal love with the totality of created love. It is truly the summit of love.”
I will have more to say about the union of Mary and the Holy Spirit later, when we discuss Our Lady’s mediation of grace. For now we have seen the beginning of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was created and sanctified by the Holy Spirit at her conception. Mary’s Heart was created to be in eternal union with God through the Holy Spirit. Her Heart was created solely to love, in a manner and depth far surpassing any other human person (remember that Jesus is a Divine Person who assumed our human nature), and even to represent us by gathering all created love within her Heart and offering it to the Lord. This was manifested in an especially beautiful and profound way when she said “yes” to God on our behalf, welcoming the Son of God, our Savior, into this world.
Chapter Three: The Earthly Mission of the Immaculate Heart
When the fullness of time had nearly come for God to send his Son into the world, He created Mary. She was created as the Immaculate Conception, the first fruit of the divinely-foreknown Redemption. So even the first beats of her Immaculate Heart in the womb of St Anne were well-pleasing to God.
We know practically nothing of the childhood of Mary. Sacred art and popular piety, and especially the visions of saints and mystics, have given us a general picture of her holy life, of her being taught the Scriptures by her mother, of being protected by angels and enlightened by the Holy Spirit from her infancy.
The accounts of Mary’s birth and her entrance or presentation in the Temple are found in ancient Christian writings, which, to some extent, satisfy the longings of the hearts of the faithful to know more about the origins of their Lady and Queen. These writings do not form part of the canon of Holy Scripture. But the same Church that discerned and decided which holy books were infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit, also discerned and decided that certain portions of other ancient writings were worthy to be included in the life, piety, and liturgical celebration of those who held the true and Catholic faith.
We need not go into great detail about these accounts of Our Lady’s nativity and early childhood, but there are a few points that bear upon our understanding of who she is and hence her mission as Mother of the Savior.
According to the Proto-Gospel of James, written in the second century, Mary’s parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, were elderly and childless, which was a great grief to them. So they prayed fervently to the Lord and in response they were visited by angels. Here is a portion of the account:
“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: ‘Anne, Anne, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.’ And Anne said: ‘As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and the child shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.’ And behold, two angels came, saying to her: ‘Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks.’ For an angel of the Lord had gone down to him, saying: ‘Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down hence; for behold, your wife Anne shall conceive’…
“And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anne brought forth. And she said to the midwife: ‘What have I brought forth?’ And she said: ‘A girl.’ And said Anne: ‘My soul has been magnified this day.’ And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anne was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary…
“And when she was a year old, Joachim made a great feast, and invited the priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and all the people of Israel. And Joachim brought the child to the priests; and they blessed her, saying: ‘O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations.’ And all the people said: ‘So be it, so be it, amen.’ And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her, saying: ‘O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be forever.’”
We see, then, that the early Christians held Mary in great reverence. Further theological reflection, and light from the Holy Spirit over the ensuing years, would be needed to understand the mystery of her Immaculate Conception. Yet it is clear from her miraculous beginnings that Mary was set apart by God for a unique and universally-recognized mission, for which God’s most precious graces and blessings would be bestowed. God would indeed “give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations,” and He would “bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be forever.”
A further indication of Mary’s unique holiness and mission is found in the mystery of her presentation in the Temple. At the age of three, she was brought to the Temple in order to live in the holy presence of God (although, as the Byzantine liturgy declares, she herself was already more holy than the Temple, being filled as she was with the Holy Spirit). The account is somewhat embellished, at least from a historical perspective. For example, it says that Mary was raised in the Holy of Holies. While it was evidently possible for a woman to remain indefinitely in the Temple precincts (like the prophetess Anna in Lk. 2:36-37), only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies.
The point of all this is to highlight her person and mission. Mary was set apart solely for God; she was consecrated to Him from the moment of her Immaculate Conception. The liturgy even says she was consecrated to God before her conception, in his eternal will. Because God would dwell within her in an incomparably more profound and tangible manner than He ever did in the Temple, Mary is understood to be the new and definitive Temple of God.
Therefore we read in the Byzantine liturgical prayers for the Feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God: “Today the living Temple of the holy glory of Christ our God, Mary, the pure and blessed one, is being brought into the temple according to the law, to live in its holy precincts… since she is to be the sublime Temple, the palace, the throne, and the wondrous abode of our God… Let us praise the only-Immaculate One, who was foretold by the prophets and is being led into the temple. She was chosen from eternity to be the Mother, and in time she was revealed as the God-bearer…”
So Mary’s little Heart belonged to God from the very beginning. He loved it, because it would eventually produce the very life-blood of the humanity of the Eternal Word. The Precious Blood that Jesus shed to take away our sins was originally given to Him by Mary in her virginal womb. The Blood that flowed from the Pierced Heart of Jesus on the Cross first flowed through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In giving life to Him in the flesh, Mary made it possible for the Son of God to give his life for us, and thus to give us eternal life in Heaven.
The Heart of the Handmaid
Having been set apart for God, Mary lived her youth in profound contemplation and devotion to God, while at the same time attending diligently to whatever work or studies her parents required of her. She set her Heart on things of Heaven, as the Apostle Paul would later urge us all, because even though the fullness of the mysteries of her own life were not clearly revealed to her, she knew her deepest identity: the Handmaid of the Lord. Mary did not realize, in placing herself wholly at his service, that she would therefore eventually be glorified as the Queen of Heaven—her profound humility would never have permitted her to have such a thought! But her life is the most dramatic example of what her Son would later say: “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Mary’s life of prayer and loving service to God helped prepare her for her life’s mission, which hadn’t yet been revealed to her. But she still couldn’t help being taken aback by the appearance of the glorious Archangel Gabriel from Heaven. The first word out of his mouth was: “Rejoice!” (Lk. 1:28). This greeting is usually translated “hail.” But that is not only an inadequate translation from the Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written), it also fails to capture the spirit and power of the moment. I believe that St Luke wanted his original readers to share the joy of that astonishing encounter. Our hearts, too, ought to be filled with joy as we hear the annunciation of our salvation.
I wonder if even this great Angelic Announcer didn’t need a few moments to compose himself before he could speak at all! Even though Mary is the Handmaid of the Lord, all the angels are still her servants, because the holiness of the Blessed Virgin far surpasses even theirs. This is given dramatic expression in another liturgical text from the Byzantine Christian tradition: “Before the incomparable grace of your virginity, before the beauty of divine brightness radiating from your holiness, Gabriel was struck with fear, O Mother of God, and cried out: ‘What praise worthy of your holiness can I offer you? What sublime name can I call you? But in accordance with the command given me, I sing: Rejoice, O Full of Grace!’”
Full of Grace. This brief expression speaks volumes on the mystery of the Mother of God. The translation “full of grace” best expresses the term in the Christian context of the Gospel, while the other possible translation, “highly favored,” reflects only the secular usage. This would not be of interest to the evangelist St Luke, who was only interested in the things of God.
What is still more important is the form of the word, which implies something done in the past that still stands today, as when we say, “it is written,” which means it once was written and remains so now. So by calling Mary “full of grace” using that form of the word, St Luke is telling us that the Archangel from Heaven was beginning the revelation of the mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and personal sinlessness. She had been filled with grace from the moment of her conception, she remained so at the Annunciation, and she remains so forever.
The Archangel Gabriel went on to say, “The Lord is with you!” This is a biblical way of expressing God’s choice of someone for a special mission or honor. Humbly unaware of her great privileges, and the great things the Almighty intended to do in her, Mary was troubled that the angel would say these marvelous things to her, full of such high praise. But the holy angel assured her that all of this was straight from God, who had claimed her as his own, choosing her to be the Mother of his eternal Son. The power of the Holy Spirit would make her pregnant with God, thus allowing her to remain a virgin for the rest of her life. This is crucially important: what God solemnly consecrates for his own use can never be returned to ordinary usage again.
As Mary pondered these astounding, unprecedented words from Heaven, her Immaculate Heart beat with love for God, and perhaps also with a little fear. God Himself was seeking Mary’s permission to become man inside her own body! Nothing even remotely like this had ever happened or will ever happen again in the history of the universe. The angel waited for the response that would determine the course of human history and the salvation of countless immortal souls. “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word’” (Lk. 1:38). Now the Word would become flesh in Mary and dwell among us, and henceforth Mary would be in truth the Mother of God.
There are some who do not accept this beautiful title of Mary, “Mother of God,” at least in part because they do not understand it. But the theological basis is clear. Jesus is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Son incarnate, having assumed our human nature in Mary’s womb. Mary is therefore the Mother of God the Son, precisely insofar as He is incarnate. A woman can only be the mother of a person, not a nature. So as Mother of the Divine Person who is the Son of God made flesh, Mary is rightly called the Mother of God.
One can also simply appeal to the Bible for evidence that Mary is the Mother of God. It is explicitly stated in the Gospel of Matthew that Mary is the mother of Him who is called Emmanuel (1:22-23), which means “God with us.” Jesus is therefore God with us. If, then, the Bible says that Mary is the Mother of “God with us,” how could any true Christian dare object to her being called the Mother of God?
Before Emmanuel made his appearance, another aspect of Mary’s mission had to be carried out. When she heard from the angel that her aged kinswoman Elizabeth was six months pregnant, Mary went to visit her. Aside from demonstrating Mary’s selflessness and charity, this visitation also introduces us to Mary as Mediatrix of Grace.
Bearing Christ within her, Mary could bring Him to others. Having been filled with the Holy Spirit since her conception, Mary could communicate his grace to others. Scripture tells us that two things happened when Mary merely greeted Elizabeth: the child leapt in Elizabeth’s womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Being thus filled with the Spirit, Elizabeth immediately began to praise Mary and her unborn Son with these immortal words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk. 1:39-45).
At the sound of Mary’s voice, the Holy Spirit was communicated to both the unborn John and the soul of Elizabeth. The Archangel Gabriel had said to John’s father, Zachariah, that his son would “be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb” (Lk. 1:15). This prophecy was fulfilled when Mary greeted Elizabeth. So the Blessed Mother, because she both carried Christ in her womb and was filled all her life with the Holy Spirit, became the Mediatrix of Grace to Elizabeth and to John.
These, then, are the two bases for our understanding of Mary’s ongoing mission in Heaven as Mediatrix: she is the Mother of God and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Hence the Holy Spirit works through Mary to bring grace to us today, just as it happened when the Holy Spirit came to Elizabeth and John through the God-bearing Mother.
Mary responded to these wonderful manifestations of divine activity with her immortal Magnificat (Lk. 1:46-55). For she was not only aware that the Almighty Holy One had done great things in and for her. She also saw how God was already working through her for the sake of Elizabeth and John. Mary, the young and humble handmaid, was praised by Elizabeth as the Mother of her Lord. Mary also witnessed the power that God had given her when the Holy Spirit filled both Elizabeth and John merely at the sweet sound of her voice. So the Mother of the Lord had to say—in all truth and in the power of the same Spirit of God—that henceforth all ages would call her blessed. And so we do.
The Heart of the Mother
Mary was created to be the Mother of God. This is her reason of being and her mission in this world. St Maximilian Kolbe says that her mission was not something in addition to her being, for she was created, destined from the very beginning, to fulfill God’s will by giving birth to the Son for our salvation. This is why Mary was immaculately conceived. She was uniquely chosen, and hence uniquely graced, for this most sublime mission, one that has no equal in the lives of the holiest of saints.
So the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a motherly Heart. A mother’s love is the strongest, most loyal and tender love there is, and Mary’s Heart held within it the fullness of maternal love, for her Heart was created to love God as her own Son. Thus the Immaculate Heart of Mary has a limitless capacity for love—and also for suffering, for whoever loves much will inevitably suffer much.
The Bible tells us the story of the birth of Jesus: the census, the difficult journey to Bethlehem, the rejection of the innkeepers, the birth-giving in poor and harsh surroundings, the apparition of angels, and the testimony of the shepherds who came to worship the newborn Lord and Savior. St Luke ends this account with a very precious detail: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19). This is the first mention of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, which, as we see, is not only a loving, motherly Heart, but also a contemplative Heart, one that reflects upon the mysteries of God.
Mary silently, prayerfully meditated upon all that God had done in and through her. She was probably amazed to find herself at the very center of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. But as Handmaid of the Lord, she willingly consented to be his Mother as well, exercising a maternal care and even authority over the One who humbled Himself to become an infant, dependent in all things upon his Mother.
We can’t possibly imagine the joy and wonder Mary must have experienced as she held her newborn Son and nursed Him at her breast. This was not Joseph’s son; this was God’s Son! He was Mary’s Son, too. This Son is the Word through whom all things were made. That means that He who created Mary humbled Himself so much—and loved Mary so much—that He accepted to become so helpless as to need the milk of Mary’s breast just to live! This is the beginning of the boundless, sacrificial love for us that the Son of God manifested. Throughout his life, and for all eternity, He would love Mary most of all.
It shouldn’t be difficult to understand why God would always love Our Lady far more than any other creature. She alone was chosen to give humanity to his Only-begotten Son. Therefore every gift of which the eternal, infinite Divine Mind could conceive was lavished upon Mary. Because she was created precisely to be the Mother of the Son of God, nothing would be spared in making Mary the absolute summit of created beauty, perfection, and holiness. How could it be otherwise? If God withheld any perfection whatever from the Blessed Virgin, for what nobler creature could it be reserved? There is none, of course, so God chose to give everything to Mary.
Like Little Children
Perhaps here we can reflect a bit on what the relationship of Mother and Son says about our relationship to the Blessed Mother. I’ll have more to say about this later, for it is through our relationship with Mary that we find Heaven in her Heart. For now, let us reflect on the fact that we are like little children before her, and it is only as little children that we become fit for the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus often said.
A nursing child lives in complete and constant dependence upon his mother. She is the source of life, love, warmth, security, and simply everything for the child. So the child rests in her, opens completely to her, finds full contentment in her, needs her at every moment and cannot endure being separated from her.
Our relation to our heavenly Mother is similar, even if it cannot be precisely the same. Mary provides us with spiritual warmth, nourishment, and the security that only a profound and constant maternal love can offer. In return we offer her our trust, surrender, and dependence upon her love and her mediation of divine grace to us.
St Louis de Montfort (1673 – 1716) develops this in his writings. He reminds us that if the Son of God Himself chose to be dependent upon Mary and obedient to her as his Mother—and if we must become like children to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven—then we have every reason in the world to submit ourselves with love and trust to the motherly care and protection of Our Lady, who will nurture us as her own dear children. “Like newborn infants,” St Peter urges us, “long for the pure spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2). This is what our Mother provides for us as Mediatrix of Grace. Through her constant nurturing presence, we will, as the Apostle continues, “grow up to salvation.” Of course, we are adults, not infants, yet there is still something precious we can derive from this sort of biblical imagery and the intimate relationship with our heavenly Mother that it suggests.
The most intimate adult relationship is that of marriage. Even though this type of union or bonding is profound and precious, by the very fact that we are adults it is always possible for us to be independent, calculating, even dishonest and unfaithful, or to withhold affection or respect. A little child can do none of that. A child can only love, give, receive, draw life from her who gives it, and embrace her with his whole being in return. This is what we ought to learn in our relationship with Mary, our heavenly Mother. There should be no place for calculation, the sense of self-sufficiency that comes from pride, or anything that humans tend to do to create distance from each other. Spiritually seen, we ought to be like innocent, trusting children, secure in our Mother’s arms, allowing her to press us lovingly to her Heart.
Since we are considering Mary’s motherhood and the mystery of Jesus’ birth, I would like to present a little Christmas scenario, something that speaks of our intimacy with both Mother and Child, something that speaks of hearts. This came to my mind’s eye in prayer, and since it moved my heart I thought I would share it with you.
I approached the little cave where Christ was born. Only He and his Mother were there at the time. He was still lying in the manger. I entered on my knees, and approached them that way. The Divine Infant was lying quietly, and Mary was close by, looking at Him lovingly. She also looked at me, her eyes seeming to question me as to what I was seeking. I told her I wanted to bring a gift to the Child, but I was grieved that I had nothing to offer. Mary said to me, “You still have a heart.” I asked, “Will He accept that?” She looked toward Him and then to me, nodding slightly.
So in spirit I removed my heart from within me and placed it in his little hands. He took it and placed it against his Heart, and it disappeared inside. Then Mary took the Child Jesus into her arms, and pressed his Divine Heart lovingly to her Immaculate Heart, with mine somewhere in between. She then looked at me, smiled beautifully, and said, with sweetness and satisfaction: “There. Now your heart is ours, forever.” And I knew that this is what Heaven would be like.
This precious intimacy will be our Paradise. It will begin now, if we so desire, if we do whatever it takes to render our hearts pure and open to grace. To belong to God, to belong to Mary: this will be our joy in time and in eternity.
Chapter Four: The Piercing of the Immaculate Heart
The mystery of the piercing of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart to some extent coincides with her mission on earth, the subject of the previous chapter. The climax of the piercing comes, of course, on Calvary, but Mary’s Heart was not free from sorrow and pain during the years that preceded the saving sacrifice of her Son.
Only forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary learned something of her Child’s destiny and her personal participation in it. As she and St Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, she heard from the aged Simeon that her precious Son would be set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, a “sign of contradiction” that would meet with opposition. Mary also learned something of her own share in Jesus’ Passion: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk. 2:34-35).
Mary’s Immaculate Heart is often depicted with a sword piercing it, precisely because of this prophecy. It is a wound she has shared in a mystical way with the Pierced Heart of Jesus. But since she learned of their intimately-united destinies while Jesus was merely an infant, Mary had to carry this “cross” for three decades before the decisive moment of the consummation of our redemption. As the Child grew and lived in his innocent joys, the Mother would feel something of that sword and walk under its shadow, offering in advance her participation in her Son’s future sufferings.
As I wrote in my book A Place Prepared by God:
“We gain here an enhanced awareness of the way the Mother suffered even before her Son’s Passion. For He was just an infant at the time, but already his redemptive sufferings were known by Mary through prophecy, and so her own suffering began in Jesus’ infancy and continued in secret as the Child grew into manhood. Through her contemplation and her ceaseless ‘yes’ to all God asked of her, Mary would guard his mission in advance in her heart. It is worth noting that the word in the original Greek New Testament translated ‘soul’ (which was to be pierced by a sword) is psyche, which can also be translated ‘life,’ as it is in other places in the Bible. This supports the interpretation that it is not only at one moment that a sword would pierce the Mother’s Heart and soul (even if the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion is the climax point of Simeon’s prophecy). Rather, her whole life would be thus mystically pierced, marked as a sharer in her Son’s sufferings. Mary’s ‘passion’ began when she became aware of the destiny of her Son, and it remained integral to her existence, though perhaps muted at times, during the whole life of Jesus.”
Mary had more things to ponder (and suffer) in her motherly Heart as Jesus grew. When the boy Jesus did not tell Mary and Joseph that He would remain in Jerusalem after the Passover, they searched anxiously for Him. Having found Jesus after three days, they were surprised to hear Him say: “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” This was the first indication that Jesus was already interiorly preparing for his public mission, even though it was nearly two decades away. Again, as at the birth of Jesus, St Luke directs us to the Heart of Mary: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).
I have at times begged my heavenly Mother to allow me to be one of those “things” she keeps in her Immaculate Heart, and to be as solicitous for my welfare as she was for that of her only Son. I pray that she would also lovingly attend to the mysteries of God to which my life is directed, seeking me out if I stray and making sure that I return home with her and remain obedient to her, as Jesus did. To be kept in the Heart of Mary is to be assured of remaining on the path to Heaven. If you ever look for me and can’t find me, you now have no excuse. Did you not know I would be in my Mother’s Heart?
Three Moments of the Heart
There are three “moments” in the Gospel, before we arrive at the Passion, which would have affected the Heart of Mary. Each contained both blessing and suffering, and each served to take the Mother deeper into the mystery of her divine Son.
The first moment is the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). The suffering here is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when Mary would have to give up spending most of her time with Him. She surely was glad for others to have the opportunity to know and love Him. Yet she knew that He would also be exposed to the bitter opposition that St Simeon had foretold, which would result in his condemnation and execution. The blessing is, of course, the working of Jesus’ first miracle at Mary’s request.
When Mary pointed out to Jesus the need of the wedding guests, He at first seemed to distance Himself from this problem, evidently not wishing at that hour to set in motion the chain of events that would play out once his divine powers were manifest. But Jesus had been obedient to his beloved Mother all his life, and perhaps this act of filial obedience and deference to her wishes would be the point at which He would assume his role as Master of the disciples who had very recently come to follow Him. It was as if He were saying to Mary: “I will do this for you, dearest Mother, but know that this manifestation of my glory and power will mark the end of our quiet life together, for I will now have to give all my time and energy to preaching the Kingdom of God throughout Israel, gathering souls for the harvest.”
After the miracle, the evangelist adds a rather tender detail: Jesus decided to spend a few days with his Mother and relatives and friends, before launching out on his public ministry. We can be sure that Mary kept all these things in her Heart as well.
We should learn a lesson from what happened at Cana: Jesus still works miracles at Mary’s request. Therefore we should always seek her intercession with her Son and Lord when we discover that we “have no wine,” that is, whenever we are in some particular or urgent need.
The second moment occurred when Mary and some relatives came to see Jesus in a place where He was preaching. He used the opportunity as a “teaching moment,” because his audience needed to learn something. If they thought that Jesus placed family ties above seeking the Kingdom of God—by leaving off preaching to meet with his Mother and relatives—then how could they take Him seriously when He said things like, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37)? So when He was told his Mother and “brethren” were there to see Him, He said: “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8:21).
Did Mary understand right away why Jesus said what He did? We can’t be sure. We do know that from the beginning Mary was the one par excellence who heard the word of God and did it, so it was actually a sort of veiled blessing for Mary. Her whole life, and everything we see in the Gospels—ever since she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word”—testifies to her faithfulness. Yet in the eyes of the people, it would have seemed like Jesus was putting distance between Himself and the one He loved most in this world. So this initial apparent refusal of Jesus to meet with her could have been another wound in her Heart. Yet the Gospel doesn’t say that He didn’t meet with her after He finished preaching!
The third moment is not unlike the second. A woman in the crowd blessed Mary by saying to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus’ response was similar to that which He gave previously: “Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:27-28). It is incontestable that there is no womb more blessed than the one that held the Lord, and there are no breasts more blessed than those that fed the Divine Infant and kept Him alive. Yet Mary is blessed on both counts, for she also was called blessed for her faith in God (Lk. 1:45), which is a blessing open to all, unlike the other blessing which no one but Mary could receive.
Since Jesus came to this world to bring divine blessing to all (and not only to his Mother!), He had to show how all could share in his blessing. The word “rather” in Jesus response seems to discount the blessing of Mary’s motherhood (which Jesus, of course, would never do), but this isn’t the best or only possible translation of the word. The Greek word menoun, usually translated “rather” in this passage, can also mean, “yes indeed,” for the term is meant either to add something to or subtract something from what immediately precedes it. So Jesus, instead of apparently contradicting the woman, could have been agreeing with her and simply adding something important to what she said. So the best way to understand Jesus’ words is this: “Indeed, and those are also blessed who hear the word of God and keep it.”
Again, we don’t know quite how Mary felt about all the things being said, both the blessings and what may have seemed a redirection of them, but we can be sure that she pondered them all within her Heart.
Two Pierced Hearts
Mary’s Heart was definitively pierced in the mystery of the piercing of another Heart, that of her divine Son on the Cross. The sorrows of her life and the anxious anticipation of this inescapable moment all came to their climax and full realization as Jesus offered his life in sacrifice for us. The Lamb of God was taking away the sins of the world as his human life was being taken away from Him. Yet we know that this could happen only by his own will and choice, for He said, “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn. 10:17-18).
The Mother shared in the sufferings of the Son in a unique and incomparable manner, not only feeling his pain but also sharing in the sacrifice, the offering of his life to the Father. A prayer to Mary, which is part of a devotion to the Five Sacred Wounds of Jesus, speaks of “the offering you made to the Eternal Father of His and your Only-Begotten, for a holocaust and victim to appease His wrath for my sins. I compassionate you for the bitter pain which you suffered. I thank You for that immeasurable love through which you bereaved yourself of the fruit of your womb, true God and true Man, to save me, a sinner…”
As the Mother was about to be bereaved of her only Son, He gave her countless children through his precious words, proclaiming to the whole world, to you and to me, through the holy Gospels: “Behold your mother” (Jn. 19:26-27). Having offered his sufferings for our sins, and then entrusting us to Mary—as an assurance that we would be cared for in this land of exile—Jesus was ready to return to the Father.
I believe that the piercing of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was consummated at the moment Jesus’ own Heart was pierced by the soldier’s lance. Jesus had already died by this time, so He could not feel the lance piercing his Heart. But Mary felt it in her own Heart, and this was her way (we each have our own) of “completing in [her] flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col. 1:24). Thus the Two Hearts, which were inseparably united in love, were now even more profoundly united in the suffering that is the highest expression of love. And this suffering, this love, were at the heart of the mystery of the redemption of the world.
In an article entitled “The Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary,” Mother Adela, foundress of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, writes this, beginning with a quote from Blessed John Paul II:
“‘At the foot of the Cross, a sword pierces Mary’s soul, fulfilling the words of Simeon… united to the redemptive Sacrifice of her Son is the maternal sacrifice of her heart’ (Homily, September 15, 1988). John Paul II spoke of this singular participation of the Virgin Mary in the redemptive suffering as a ‘spiritual crucifixion.’ It is a ‘spiritual piercing’ whose purpose is to actively cooperate in giving birth, communicating life through the openness of Her maternal Heart. The spiritual maternity of Mary over mankind reaches its full realization on Calvary when, in an explicit way, Jesus exclaims from the cross, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’
“John Paul II, in his visit to the Sanctuary of Fatima in 1982, explained to us that these words of Jesus opened the Heart of Mary for Her spiritual maternity over the Church: ‘Woman Behold Your Son’ opened in a new way Mary’s Immaculate Heart. Then the Roman soldier opened the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a lance shortly after He expired. Thus, ‘Mary’s Heart was opened by the same love for man and for the world with which Christ loved man and the world.’ Just as the Heart of Jesus in the moment it was pierced gave birth to the Church and remained eternally opened to pour graces of salvation over humanity, the Heart of Mary, united spiritually to the piercing of Her Son, remained opened to always embrace with maternal love all those who accept the redemption of Her Son and to exercise Her maternal mediation over all men and in every historical moment…
“The love of the Heart of Jesus was capable of transforming death into life, pain into redemption, and the wound from His side into an open door and fountain of salvation. The love of the Heart of Mary was capable, through Her perfect and unconditional communion with the redemptive work, of bearing the same destiny of Her Son, unto the foot of the Cross. From the pierced Heart of Christ we have received salvation, liberation, and redemption. How many graces flow through the wound of His Heart! From the pierced Heart of Mary is born Her spiritual maternity which she exercises with generous diligence, powerful intercession and maternal mediation over the Church and the world.”
This passage suggests that as the earthly mission of the Heart of Mary would come to a close, her heavenly mission would begin. To this we now turn.
Chapter Five: The Heavenly Mission of the Immaculate Heart
There’s actually one more element to Our Lady’s earthly mission, but it serves as a bridge to her heavenly mission, so let’s begin with that. It is her consecration as Queen and Mother of the Church by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Her manifestly glorious, heavenly coronation would have to wait until she was bodily assumed into the Eternal Kingdom, but even while on earth she undoubtedly held a place of special honor among those who formed the first communities of the newly-born Church.
Mary was the closest link to Jesus once He ascended to Heaven. She knew Him more intimately than anyone else, and she enjoyed a more profound mystical communion with Him after He had ascended to his Father. Mary had been filled with the Holy Spirit, intimately united to Him and wholly possessed by Him from the moment of her conception. But at Pentecost the Holy Spirit placed a new and special anointing upon the Immaculate Heart of his beloved Spouse. Jesus told St John at the foot of the Cross to behold in Mary his own Mother, and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost opened the eyes of all the disciples to behold the same.
So the Heart of the Blessed Virgin was opened to receive everyone as her own children. Thus she became the universal Mother, who would eventually be recognized as the heavenly Queen, when she would be exalted at the right hand of her divine Son. While she was still in this world, it was not Mary’s mission to evangelize the nations like the Apostles, but rather to be the contemplative Heart of the Church, the Seat of Wisdom, the honored Lady to whom all could have recourse when they needed counsel or prayer.
Mary’s mission as Mother and Queen continues in Heaven. God has made the Immaculate Heart of Mary the Mediatrix of all Grace so as to fulfill this heavenly mission. Mediatrix of all Grace is the highest honor God could possibly bestow upon a creature, for it gives Mary an authority and an exalted mission held by no other save God Himself. The element of power and authority that is Mary’s as Mediatrix belongs to her role as Queen; the actual distribution of graces that is Mary’s mission as Mediatrix belongs to her role as Mother.
An article by Dwight P. Campbell entitled “The Holy Spirit and Mary,” gives us a concise expression of the mystery of Mary’s maternal mediation, according to the insights of St Maximilian Kolbe: “All grace, says the Polish saint [i.e., St Maximilian], ultimately comes to us from God the Father, through the merits of Jesus Christ, his Son, and is distributed by the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, in distributing all grace, works in and through Mary—not because he has to do so, but precisely because in his plan of salvation, God wills to do so. And God wills to do so for a reason: Jesus, the Source of all grace, came through Mary via the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore it is fitting that all grace continue to come through Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.”
St Maximilian himself says: “Just as the Son, to show us how great his love is, became a man, so too the third Person, God-who-is-Love, willed to show his mediation as regards the Father and the Son by means of a concrete sign. This sign is the Heart of the Immaculate Virgin, according to what the saints tell us, especially those who love to consider Mary as the spouse of the Holy Spirit. This was the conclusion drawn by St Louis de Montfort, in accordance with the teaching of the Fathers… Since the death of Christ, the Holy Spirit acts within us too, by means of Mary.”
Let us remember the divine logic and beauty of this mystery: “Jesus, the Source of all grace, came through Mary via the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore it is fitting that all grace continue to come through Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.” Why should any grace not come to us through Mary once the divine Source of grace came to us through her? If the Blessed Mother of God really is to be the Mother of God’s children, then God must give to her everything she needs to take care of us. What we need most, because nothing is more important than eternal salvation, is divine grace, so God has seen fit, in his infinite wisdom and everlasting love, to entrust Mary with all his graces.
Thus, in union with the Holy Spirit—a union which characterized her entire life—the Immaculate Heart and heavenly hands of Mary are the means by which all graces are granted to us. While it is not necessary to explicitly invoke Mary for every grace we seek, if we choose to do so we will discover such a wealth of love, beauty, sweetness and goodness that we will always desire to be as personally and consciously united to our heavenly Mother as possible.
Our Lady’s mission is accomplished in us through the events and experiences of our daily lives. As Mother, she is also teacher, and our union with her Heart is the means by which she communicates divine truths to us and helps us live according to the Gospel of Christ and the Tradition of his Church. If we make Mary’s Heart our home and refuge, as she has asked us, we will be able to see the events of our lives and of our world through the “lens” of her Heart. She will help us see things as she does and will help us understand and interpret them in the light of the Holy Spirit.
Mary will also help us understand the Scriptures if we consciously unite ourselves to her Heart and seek her assistance whenever we read the Bible. A good mother will take her child on her lap, and from the earliest years of the child will teach him or her about God and the Faith. Our heavenly Mother does the same for us. She has witnessed the events through which our salvation was won for us, and she herself was an integral part of them. She has been filled with the Holy Spirit from the first moment of her conception, so she is rightly called the Seat of Wisdom.
If we ask our Mother, we will be able to interpret the Scriptures from the perspective of her own Heart, and she will show us things we’ve never recognized or understood before, and at times she herself will speak to us through the inspired words. We can hear her voice, for example, in passages like this: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you making my prayer with joy… And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel thus about you, because I hold you in my heart… For God is my witness, how I yearn for you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:3-8). All this is just a part of what it means to live in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Heaven in Her Hands
We can find Heaven in the hands of Mary as well as in her Heart. If her Heart is the image by which we understand her inner life, purity, and motherly love, then her hands express her maternal activity in praying for us, protecting us, and bringing God’s grace to us. In sacred images and in our own spiritual life, we see Mary’s hands holding Jesus and presenting Him to us as our Savior. We also see them folded in prayerful intercession for us, and we see them streaming with the light of the heavenly graces she brings to us as Mediatrix. Most tenderly, we also recognize those motherly hands pressing us lovingly to her Immaculate Heart, thus offering us a foretaste of Paradise.
A particularly striking experience of the heavenly hands of Mary was recounted by Lucia of Fatima, when Our Lady appeared to them: “Mary opened Her hands, and we were bathed in a heavenly light that appeared to come directly from her hands. The light’s reality cut into our hearts and our souls, and we knew somehow that this light was God, and we could see ourselves embraced in it… She opened Her hands and for the second time, She communicated to us the rays of that same immense light. We saw ourselves in this light, as it were, immersed in God. Jacinta and Francisco seemed to be in that part of the light which rose towards Heaven, and I in that which was poured out on the earth. In front of the palm of Our Lady’s right hand was a Heart encircled by thorns which pierced it. We understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary outraged by the sins of humanity, and seeking reparation…”
What I find so fascinating and attractive is that Our Lady, who lives in Heaven with God and the angels and saints, is so full of Heaven, full of grace, full of God, that she can communicate his divine Light through her own hands. She opens them and the whole light of Heaven that permeates her is spread out over the children, and they are thus able to enter into an extraordinary communion with God that draws them immediately to worship Him, as if they had just entered Heaven itself. Mary holds Heaven in her hands, as it were, and she can communicate its light and grace to whomever God sends her.
So it is through Mary’s hands that the light and grace of God are given to us. This is expressed in the Church’s teaching on Mary as Mediatrix of All Grace:
“St. Bernard comments thus: ‘Just as every rescript of grace or of pardon that is sent by a king passes through the palace gates, in the same way every grace that comes from Heaven to the world passes through the hands of Mary’” (The Glories of Mary, ch. 5).
“…we are profoundly convinced that the destiny of God’s people is in the power of his grace, which in turn is abundantly dispensed through the hands of his Blessed Mother Mary…” (address of Blessed John Paul II, Oct. 1980).
“…since Divine Providence willed that the God-Man should come to us through Mary, who conceived Him by the Holy Spirit and bore Him in her womb, we can now receive Christ only from the hands of Mary…” (Ad Diem Illum, Pope St Pius X).
“God has made Mary the dispensatrix of all His graces and favors to men, so that absolutely nothing comes down from Heaven to man save through the hands of this holy Mother… This explains why our heart burns so ardently with love for Mary… This influx of grace which gives life to the soul seems to proceed so directly from the loving Heart and hands of Mary… that She appears to us as the absolute Mistress of the divine treasures, from which She takes what She pleases in order to adorn our souls and render them beautiful in the sight of God…” (Venerable Marie Petyt).
“No heavenly gift is given to men which does not pass through her virginal hands. Such indeed is the will of God, who has decreed that we should have all things through Mary…” (St Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, #25).
A few passages from Mary’s messages from Heaven direct us to her motherly hands as well: “With the act of consecration you have put your life in my hands. Now it belongs to me; it is mine… With my own hands, I root out from you whatever might, in any way, be displeasing to the Lord… Let yourself be led always by the hand of your heavenly Mother… I have taken your heart into my hands; I have placed it into my motherly Heart… My Son gives to me all those souls who come to me with confidence, calling upon my aid. Their salvation is in my hands…”
Finally (though all the above is just a sample of what we can meditate upon while contemplating the hands of our heavenly Mother), there is the extraordinary vision of Our Lady granted to the unbelieving Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne, who immediately afterward converted to Catholicism and shortly became a priest. The following is part of the account of his vision and conversion:
“Ratisbonne drew out his medal [a Miraculous Medal he had been given, and put on only as a lark], kissed it, and showed it me, saying, ‘I saw her! I saw her!’ and again emotion choked his words, but soon he grew calmer and spoke. I shall give his own words: ‘I had only been in the church a moment when I was suddenly seized with an indescribable agitation of mind. I looked up and found that the rest of the building had disappeared. One single chapel seemed to have gathered all the light and concentrated it in itself. In the midst of this radiance I saw someone standing on the altar, a lofty shining figure, all majesty and sweetness, the Virgin Mary just as she looks on this medal. Some irresistible force drew me towards her. She motioned to me to kneel down and when I did so, she seemed to approve. Unable to look up because of the blinding light, I fixed my glance on her hands, and in them I could read the expression of mercy and pardon. In the presence of the Most Blessed Virgin, even though she did not speak a word to me, I understood the frightful situation I was in, my sins and the beauty of the Catholic Faith. Though she never said a word, I understood her perfectly’ … At first he had been able to see the Queen of Heaven clearly, appearing in all the splendor of her immaculate beauty; but he had not been able to bear the radiance of that divine light for long. Three times he had tried to look up to her, and three times he had found himself unable to raise his eyes higher than her hands, from which blessings and graces seemed to be falling like so many shining rays.”
It is a delicate detail that Mary “spoke” to Ratisbonne through her hands. In seeing their beauty and the divine light shining through them, he learned all he needed to know.
We ought, then, to place ourselves in the loving hands of Mary, allow her to press us to her Immaculate Heart, and to carry us in this way to Our Lord. All graces come to us from God through Mary’s hands, so we ought to turn to her in all our needs, and also honor her fittingly for this extraordinary and unique privilege granted her by the infinite love of the Lord. Let us not hesitate to kiss the hand through which God’s gifts are granted to us, and do so even when his gifts take the form of a cross. This will be a profound expression of our love and trust, and it will be rewarded by God.
If we are faithful to the end, we will live with God in Heaven forever. When it comes time for us to leave this world, the heavenly Queen and Mother, to whom we have prayed countless times to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death,” will come joyfully to us—with Heaven in her hands.
We Live in the Marian Era
The year 1830 marks the beginning of what many have called the “Marian Era,” a period of time extending from that date until the Second Coming of Christ. In 1830 Our Lady appeared to St Catherine Labouré, revealing to her the image that she wanted to have made into a medal. This later became known as the Miraculous Medal, because of the countless miracles worked through the invocation of Mary by those who devoutly wore it. It seems that God Himself was calling our attention to the beginning of this Marian Era, because in the vision granted to St Catherine, the year 1830 was inscribed in the globe upon which Our Lady was standing.
The Blessed Mother appeared with brilliant rays streaming from her hands, signifying her mediation of divine grace to her children. It is also significant that Mary appeared crushing the ancient serpent beneath her, as the words appeared around her: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.” Mary’s Immaculate Conception was the beginning, and the basis, for her complete victory over the devil, which will be consummated at the end of time. So Mary not only brings God’s grace to us, she also protects us from the snares and attacks of the evil spirits.
The truth of both Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her absolute power over the devil were confirmed just two decades later. In 1854, Blessed Pius IX, formally and infallibly defined the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the Church. In the course of the declaration he wrote: “The most holy Virgin, united with [Christ] by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.”
Four years later, Our Lady herself came from Heaven to Lourdes, France, to reveal and confirm the truth of this divine mystery. When the holy child Bernadette asked the Beautiful Lady her name, Mary brought her hands together in prayer, lifted up her eyes to Heaven, and spoke these words, which will resound in Christian hearts forever: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Having the infallible word of the Church and its extraordinary confirmation by the Mother of God herself, we can happily rest in the truth of this beautiful mystery.
Fatima: The Definitive Revelation of the Immaculate Heart
The course for the Marian Era was clearly and definitively set when the Mother of God came from Heaven to three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. There she called all people to convert their hearts, to do penance and to pray the holy Rosary daily, and she gave urgent warnings concerning what would happen if we did not listen to her. In addition, Our Lady revealed to us a crucial aspect of the will of God concerning this final era of human history: “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”
While the veneration of Mary as the holy Mother of Jesus is practically as ancient as the Church herself, specific devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in one form or another begins to appear in the Church around the 13th century. In the 17th century, St John Eudes widely and successfully promoted devotion to Mary’s Heart, and by the end of the 18th century Pope Pius VI granted, for certain dioceses, the celebration of the feast of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. A special Mass and Divine Office of the Most Pure Heart of Mary were formally established a few decades later.
It seems that the specific expression “Immaculate Heart” became universally used only after the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes. Today, of course, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the day after that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
When Our Lady spoke of her Immaculate Heart at Fatima, her message came from Heaven and from the eternal wisdom and will of God. This means that Mary’s Heart has always been the Immaculate Heart, even if the revelation of this mystery was not made fully explicit in the early centuries of the Church. Now the fullness of time has come, and God has clearly made known that He wants us to be devoted and consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, as she revealed it at Fatima in 1917, and also during subsequent apparitions to Lucia after she entered the convent, consists mainly of various prayers and practices designed to offer reparation to the Heart of Mary. This reparation, which we’ll discuss more later, is for all the ways her pure and tender Heart has been wounded and grieved by the sins and blasphemies of men.
This wounding of Mary’s Heart is not a small thing in the eyes of the Lord, who is deeply offended by anyone who would dare to say or do anything against the one He loves most. Mary once appeared to Sister Lucia saying: “There are so many souls whom the Justice of God condemns for sins committed against me, that I have come to ask for reparation: sacrifice yourself for this intention and pray…” To sin grievously against the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to incur eternal damnation, but our heavenly Mother thinks not of the injury she receives from callous evildoers, but only of their repentance and salvation. So she asks us, her children, knowing that we love her, to offer reparation to her Heart so as to win the mercy of God and the grace of repentance for these sinners.
Blessed Jacinta, one of the Fatima visionaries, loved Our Lady’s Heart very much, and so she offered many and extraordinary sacrifices for the conversion of sinners and for reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Sister Lucia wrote in her memoirs:
“Our Lady opened Her hands, and from them streamed a light that penetrated to our inmost hearts. I think that on that day, the main purpose of this light was to infuse within us a special knowledge and love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, just as on the other two occasions it was intended to do, as it seems to me, with regard to God and the mystery of the most Holy Trinity. From that day onwards, our hearts were filled with a more ardent love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. From time to time, Jacinta said to me: ‘The Lady said that Her Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God. Don’t you love that? Her Heart is so good! How I love it!’”
Sister Lucia continues:
“Jacinta chose from the litany of short prayers which Father Cruz suggested to us, this one: ‘Sweet Heart of Mary, be my salvation!’ [This is understood, of course, in light of her role as Mediatrix of the grace of Christ in union with the Holy Spirit.] After saying it, she used to add sometimes, with the simplicity that was natural to her: ‘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: Sweet Heart of Mary, Immaculate Heart of Mary? I love it so much, so very much.’ At other times, as she gathered wild flowers, she sang a little tune that she made up herself as she went along: ‘Sweet Heart of Mary, be my salvation! Immaculate Heart of Mary, convert sinners, save souls from hell!’”
Would that we could always have such innocent, childlike love and devotion and confidence!
Mary Continues Her Heavenly Mission
The Marian Era is characterized by an unprecedented number of heavenly apparitions, always with an emphasis on prayer and penance, return to God and to the sacraments, and to the whole life of the Church, often with the mention of Mary’s Immaculate Heart. In the United States, Mary appeared to a nun named Sister Mary Ephrem, saying she wanted to be known by us as Our Lady of America, and that she had come to call us back to purity of life. The United States has been formally placed under the patronage of Our Lady as the Immaculate Conception since 1846. Our Lady appeared to Sister Mary Ephrem beginning in the mid-1950s, well aware of what was awaiting this country in the 1960s and beyond, if we didn’t heed her messages. We didn’t, and the results are obvious and disastrous.
Here are a few words of Mary, concerning her message and her Heart:
“I am the Immaculate One, Patroness of your land. Be my faithful children as I have been your faithful Mother… I desire to make the whole of America my shrine by making every heart accessible to the love of my Son… Will my children in America listen to my pleadings and console my Immaculate Heart? …
“Reform of life is what I ask as the sign and proof of my children’s love for me. God looks at the heart, and if it resembles the Heart of His Divine Son, it is with the greatest pleasure that He regards it. But to make your hearts grow more and more like the Heart of the Son, you must go to the Mother, whose Heart is most like His. From this Pure and Immaculate Heart you will learn all that will make you more pleasing to the Divine Heart of the Son of God… Come to me, my children, come to me and learn… Do not disregard the voice of your Mother. It is the voice of love trying to save you from eternal ruin… Come to me, poor suffering and frightened ones. I am your Mother. Never will I forsake you. Only come to me with a wholehearted and loving trust. Place your souls into my keeping. I am that faithful Mother who never forsakes her children. Honor me by your confidence and love…
“My Heart, my Immaculate Heart, is the channel through which the graces of the Sacred Heart are given to men… time passes, and with it wasted graces and constant refusals on the part of man to cooperate with me in the accomplishment of the Divine Will for his own sanctification and salvation. What am I to do, child of my Heart, when my children turn from me? The false peace of this world lures them and in the end will destroy them… Souls who cling to sin cannot have their hands free to receive the treasures of grace that I hold out to them… Behold, then, my Heart pierced by a cruel sword! Oh, what grief my children have caused me! … we must have more souls who love, love unselfishly and without reserve.”
Another rich source of light concerning the heavenly mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the book of locutions received by the Italian priest, Fr Stefano Gobbi (1930-2011), through whom Our Lady established the worldwide Marian Movement of Priests. The book of messages, given over a period of about 25 years, carries the imprimatur, which means there is nothing in it contrary to Catholic faith or morals, and the Movement has received the Apostolic Blessing of Pope (Blessed) John Paul II. There has been, however, some controversy over the content of some of the later messages, which contained apocalyptic predictions that evidently have not come to pass. It is not known whether Fr Gobbi misinterpreted certain things that were communicated to him, or perhaps unwittingly allowed some of his own personal convictions to influence and hence somewhat alter Our Lady’s messages.
There is a simple solution to this: don’t bother with the apocalyptic messages. The majority of the locutions—especially the early ones, in the 1970s and 1980s, which are likely to be the most authentic—are mainly focused on our consecration to the Immaculate Heart and how to live it. What is important is to develop our personal relationship with our heavenly Mother. Thus we will be prepared for whatever is to come, without having to spend time speculating about it. Our Lady’s messages here are very beautiful, and they draw us to her Heart in a very tender and loving way—though she is clear that she takes seriously our consecration and does not hesitate to tell us what it means to belong completely to her!
Here are just a few messages from the Blessed Mother:
“Hasten to my Immaculate Heart. Come to me… I have prepared a secure refuge for you where you must gather together to be comforted and saved. This refuge is my Immaculate Heart! … You who are totally entrusted to me, listen to me and follow me… I myself, as Mother, am committed to make you just what my Son Jesus desires you to be… Allow yourself to be formed by me… in a very particular and personal way…
“If you remain in the garden of my Immaculate Heart, you become my property… In my arms and in my Immaculate Heart you will be consoled… I will defend you from the evil one, who can do nothing to harm those who are part of my property… Walk in trust… I am your heavenly Mother and I am at your side. I am protecting and leading you. I am sheltering and defending you. Do not be worried about what is going to happen to you, because everything has already been arranged in my Motherly Heart… I have drawn close to you; I have taken your heart in my hands… Do not be afraid anymore… You always have with you the Mother who leads you by the hand, who presses you to her Immaculate Heart…”
With these and many other messages from Heaven, Mary continues her mission to call us to repentance and a deeper life of prayer and faithfulness to Our Lord by consecrating ourselves to her Immaculate Heart. Her mission is to see to it that God’s will is done in us and to keep us on the difficult but life-giving path to the Kingdom of Heaven. Mary’s heavenly mission will continue until the end of time, until the full number of the elect has been secured for the life of everlasting happiness. As Mediatrix of Grace, she is in a perfect position to help us, so we ought to have frequent recourse to her and not only cooperate with her in the work of our own sanctification and salvation, but also help her to win souls for God by our prayer and sacrifice.
Our Lady said at Fatima: “Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” It may very well be that some of our own family or friends might be lost forever if we do not pray and offer sacrifices for them, to obtain the grace they need to repent and be saved. We have received much from the Lord, which others have not received. Therefore much will be required of us in return (see Lk. 12:48), for we have a responsibility toward our fellow members of the Body of Christ. So let us help our heavenly Mother to succeed in her ongoing mission to gather souls for the Lord!
Chapter Six: Loving the Immaculate Heart
For our own spiritual life, this is perhaps the most important chapter of all, because in loving the Immaculate Heart of Mary—with all this implies for Marian devotion and consecration and living accordingly—we will in fact experience something of Heaven in her Heart. We will embrace and cherish her precious Heart as our refuge and our way to God. Mary offered her Heart to us for this very purpose, so our consecration to her bears Heaven’s approval. She urges us to consecrate ourselves for our own good and that of others.
If we are serious about faithfulness to our devotion to Our Lady, this devotion will bear fruit in a personal consecration to her. To be “consecrated” simply means to be set apart for a sacred purpose. A person can be consecrated to God in an official, ecclesiastical way by the profession of religious vows. One can also offer oneself to God and Our Lady in a private, personal way by means of various prayers of consecration, along with applying the meaning of that consecration in daily life. In the case of consecration to Mary, the “setting apart” is for the purpose of honoring the Mother of God and living in union with her as an integral part of one’s way of life in Christ. If you love Mary, you will not be satisfied with offering a few prayers or practicing certain devotions every now and then—you will want to enter into a profound union with her Immaculate Heart.
This union with the Heart is Mary is meant not only as the best way to love her and to receive her love, but ultimately as the best way to love God. As we are increasingly attracted by the beauty, sweetness, and exquisite love of Mary’s Heart, we will beg her to enclose us spiritually in her Immaculate Heart, desiring to experience this Heart as both a maternal refuge and our way to God. Something profound then happens, as the mystic Venerable Marie Petyt of St Teresa describes from her own experience: “At times it also seems that I am… enclosed within Her most pure Heart. I become mad with love for Mary and for God at once, and I abandon myself entirely to this union. Thus is realized a divine life, at once twofold and simple, which brings about a pure, lofty, and perfect manner of loving our holy Mother… This life for Mary and in Mary and, at the same time, for and in God, is properly reserved for Her true lovers, for Her darling children whom she has chosen.”
So once we are enclosed within the Heart of Mary, not only does the Holy Spirit lead us to love Mary beyond anything we have before experienced, we begin simultaneously to love God with Mary’s own love, her own Heart. This is far beyond anything we could produce of ourselves, even aided by grace, for in Mary is the fullness of grace and the summit of love. Thus by seeking union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we “become mad with love for Mary and for God at once”! The more we love Mary, the more we will love God with her own Heart; and the more we love God, the more He will be pleased to increase our love for the Woman He loves most!
We set limits to our love if we do not consecrate ourselves to Our Lady. In an article in the Marian Helpers Bulletin, Fr Joseph Pelletier wrote this, concerning Marian consecration:
“Consecration to Mary is certainly an important step forward in a devotion to her, particularly if this consecration is repeated often enough with a fullness of heart. The consecration, by its nature, implies a desire to draw closer to Mary, to assure her influence over one’s entire life. If repeated often enough—for example on rising or during morning prayers, at Mass, or Holy Communion—the consecration will create an intimate relationship between Mary and the soul. It will invariably have a powerful effect on one’s spiritual life.”
So the real goal of consecration to Mary is to “establish a life of close union with her. This step could be considered a sort of extension of the consecration of the soul to Mary, that is, a means of strengthening that consecration and bringing it to fruition. Union with Mary is the immediate goal of true devotion to Our Lady, union with God being the ultimate objective… any person can legitimately aspire to it and dispose oneself for it.”
Notice that Fr Pelletier says that frequent repetition of our consecration to Mary helps “create an intimate relationship between Mary and the soul.” You cannot merely wish to be united to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. If this is what you really want, you have to take concrete steps to attain it. Praying often to her and renewing your consecration will help keep you mindful of her presence and her love, and you will also thus be more inclined to live in a manner that pleases her. All of this contributes to disposing your soul for a deeper and more personal union with our heavenly Mother.
More on the Meaning of Consecration and Union
I’d like to share a few excerpts from a book entitled One More Gift, by Fr Luigi Faccenda, about the Marian spirituality of St Maximilian Kolbe, the final paragraph of the excerpts consisting of quotes by the saint himself. These will help us understand the kind of personal gift we make to Our Lady with our consecration—a gift that is all-encompassing, and which only thus can bear the most spiritual fruit for the glory of God and for Mary’s honor as well. This is very beautiful, and the more you know and love Our Lady, the more you will love to give yourself to her! Fr Faccenda writes:
“Through our consecration we offer to Mary our soul with all its powers and faculties: affections, memory, intellect, will, and freedom. We offer to her our material goods, both present and future. We give her our spiritual goods, which means our merits, virtues, and past, present, and future good works. This offering involves not only the goodness in us, but also our sinfulness and weaknesses. The Heart of Mary is like an altar on which all that we are becomes like incense, because she purifies and enriches it with her fullness of grace and her merits. Mary takes possession of our whole being, offering it to God as her own…
“Those who consecrate themselves to Mary and experience her strength in temptations and her consolation in difficulties feel their desire to share their joy with others, so that they too may be drawn to Mary. In this way, Mary will enlighten their hearts, warm them with her maternal love, and enkindle them with the fire of charity which burns in the divine Heart of Jesus…
“‘Let us not limit our love; let us love Jesus with her Heart, for she loved Him with that very Heart. Let our love for God be the very love of the Immaculata. For this to be a reality we must be hers—entirely, completely, and in every way—hers… All that is good flows through the hands of the Immaculate Mediatrix of Grace from God… Trust without limit in her and all your weaknesses will be turned about to your own good… We must radiate Mary in the midst of our surroundings, winning souls for her, so that souls might open to her, that she might rule within them all… and that her life would be deepened in us day to day, hour upon hour, moment by moment, and without limit… souls consecrated to her live by her and frequently think about her. They love her wholeheartedly and endeavor to know her desires, whether from her own lips or those entrusted by her in the form of interior aspirations. They strive to make her will known and loved, drawing more and more souls to a perfect knowledge of her and a more heartfelt love of Jesus’ divine Heart in and through her.’”
A couple of points can be made here. We give everything to Mary so she can give it to God, for she can do so more perfectly than we can. Since she alone is all-pleasing to the Lord, He will immediately accept whatever is offered to Him at her hands. There is a very striking passage on this point in the writings of Venerable Marie Petyt. In describing one of her mystical visions, she wrote: “When I was about to receive Holy Communion, I saw my dear Mother near me, to my right, and also Her dear Son, Jesus; He was directly in front of me. I gave my heart to this lovable Mother, so that She might deign to give it to Jesus…” Even when Jesus was standing right before her, in her humility and her trust that whatever we wish to give to God is most purely and fruitfully done through Mary, she gave her heart to Mary so that the Blessed Virgin would give it to her Son!
Mary cannot offer our prayers and sacrifices and our very selves to God as her own if they, and we, are not in fact her own. Our consecration is not mere pious language. We really have to belong to Mary. We have to hand ourselves over to her and make ourselves her personal property. Only thus can she can freely give us to Jesus as something she has a right to give, something belonging personally to her—and hence as something completely pleasing to Him, for no one pleases Him more than Mary. St Louis de Montfort makes clear in his writings that Jesus will accept with pleasure anything we offer—on condition that it is offered by the hands of Our Lady. If our goal really is to give the greatest possible pleasure and glory to the Lord, giving all to Mary first is the best way to achieve it.
Mother of Our Divine Life
When preaching the word of God to his people, Jesus solemnly declared this holy and saving truth: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world… He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day… He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him… As I live because of the Father, so he who eats of me will live because of me…” (Jn. 6:51, 54, 56-57).
We see from Jesus’ words that whoever receives his Body and Blood in Holy Communion (worthily, that is; see 1 Cor. 11:27-30) will live forever. Yet such a person already has eternal life, says the Lord. This life is “in you” (6:53). What we usually think of as “eternal life” is the “live forever” part, which is, of course, true. But this doesn’t express the whole truth. To say that eternal life is in us when we eat and drink the Flesh and Blood of Christ, is to say that eternal life is divine life, the life of God, of Christ, in us. God is eternal and therefore the life He gives is eternal—beginning now and lasting forever in Heaven.
Our divine (eternal) life begins at baptism and is strengthened by faith and prayer, but primarily by the Holy Eucharist. Jesus’ Flesh and Blood were given to us as food, “for the life of the world.” We have this life of Christ in us; it is given as a gift. It is for us to do our utmost to help maintain and preserve it so that we may be “raised up on the last day.” But because of our weakness and inborn inclination to sin this is extremely difficult, and we risk losing our eternal life and happiness.
This is where Our Lady comes in. Mary is Mother of God the Son incarnate; she carried Him in her womb, gave birth to Him, nursed Him, raised Him, and took care of him. What she does in our souls is analogous to what she did for Jesus on earth. She nurtures his presence within us, from the moment of baptism to the hour of our death. Mary is the universal Mother, given to us as such on Calvary. She is now glorified in Heaven and exercises all the power God grants to her as Mother and Mediatrix of Grace. It is her task to preserve and bring to full maturity the divine and eternal life in us, to keep it safe for the Kingdom of Heaven.
We ought to be more consciously aware, then, of the presence of the Mother in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist at every offering of the Holy Mass or Divine Liturgy. We may not always reflect on the fact that, as the mystery of Our Lord’s death and resurrection is sacramentally re-presented on every Catholic altar, the whole redemptive event—including the presence of Mary at the foot of the Cross—is likewise made present. Blessed John Paul writes of this in his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (Church of the Eucharist):
“In the memorial of Calvary [which is the Eucharistic Sacrifice], all that Christ accomplished by his passion and his death is present. Consequently all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present. To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us… To each of us he also says: ‘Behold your mother!’ (cf. Jn. 19: 26-27). Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting—like John—the one who is given to us anew as our Mother. It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us. Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist. If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist” (#57).
Therefore we continually receive the gift of Mary as Mother every time we participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. This makes it all the more clear that she is the Mother of our Divine Life, which is in our souls as Christ’s abiding presence given to us in Holy Communion.
Concerning Mary as Mother of Christ’s life in us, Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP, writes: “Mary is eternally the Mother of the members of Christ: Mother of their divine life, a mother who never ceases to beget them to this divine life; a mother who never ceases to watch over them, carry them, feed them, sustain them, educate them and direct them toward the Heart of Jesus and toward the Father while teaching them to be completely docile to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit…
“In His wisdom, God willed to fully establish Mary as Mother of His Son so that she might fully be Mother of [Christ’s] members, in order that she might eternally play this role as Mother of our divine life. That is why the gift of this divine life which she gives to her children is realized in this particular modality of maternity. She is the vital milieu where their divine life can blossom. She is the one who carries and envelops their Christian life, who disposes their souls to the action of the Holy Spirit… Mary’s maternal rule over us primarily concerns the blossoming of our Christian life, the perfection of our life of faith, hope, and love…” (from The Mystery of Mary; see his fuller treatment of this insight in Appendix C).
The whole of our life is held in her motherly arms, wrapped in her mantle of holy protection, watched over carefully to preserve the Divine Life within us. This is her main concern and is also the concern of our guardian angels and patron saints and whoever we call upon in Heaven for help. Nothing is more important to them (and nothing should be more important to us) than allowing this Divine Life—Christ abiding in us and we in Him—to flourish in us.
It is almost as if our souls are like Mary’s womb, for we carry the life of Christ delicately within us, waiting for the full revelation of his Mystery when all is finally manifest. The Divine Life in us seems as fragile and vulnerable as an unborn child, because with the terrible gift of our free will we are able to cast it from us by turning away from the Lord in a deliberate or even definitive manner. So all of Heaven is praying for us, that the Divine Life in us will “come to term,” will grow and become ever stronger, sanctifying us and preparing us for an eternity of irrepressible life and joy in the Kingdom of Heaven.
So in a spiritual sense Our Lady brings to birth countless children of God, nourishes and cares for their Divine Life as the heavenly Mother. She sees and loves Jesus in us and takes care of us with the love with which God enabled her to love Jesus in such a surpassing manner, like no other. The Infant or Child Jesus in Mary’s arms can be for us a symbol of our Divine Life that she holds and draws to her Heart and loves and cares for. We are reflections of Him for her: the brothers and sisters of her Only-begotten.
In the measure we give ourselves to her, she can embrace and protect our lives and insure that the Divine Life will grow in us in ways we could not accomplish on our own, even with the ordinary help of grace. For if Mary, the all-holy, all-pure one, is leading and guiding us, and if we have placed everything in her hands, the life of Christ will come to perfection in us. She can do this by the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, with whom she constantly and intimately works. This is the main reason we consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Heaven weeps if we disregard or reject the gift of divine and eternal life, offered through baptism and Holy Communion. The saints and angels do all in their power to help us restore it if we have foolishly lost it or thrown it away. The meaning of our life is simply to cherish this inner Divine Life and make it bear fruit through whatever mission the Lord gives us. For once we have the Divine Life in us, we are called to help others to open themselves to receive it, according to our particular vocations.
Make sure, then, that you receive and live from the Divine, Eternal Life that is in you, especially through the Sacraments, through worthy and devout reception of Holy Communion. Then allow the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the Mother of your Divine Life, to see to it that this Life grows and matures and is kept safe for the Kingdom of Heaven. The Divine Life is everything. There is no other reason we are in this world—except to share the knowledge of this precious gift with others, so that all the children of God can come Home to eternal happiness.
Mother and Mistress
In describing certain dimensions of our consecration, there are two terms we ought to try to recover for spiritual use. The meanings of these terms have been altered over the centuries or have acquired undesirable connotations. One beautiful title for Mary, which many saints of old have used, is “Mistress.” This is simply the feminine form of the word “Master,” as “Queen” is of “King” or as “Lady” is of “Lord.” The word “Lady” also needs to be rehabilitated, for its common usage makes it apply to almost any woman and not specifically to a noble woman who holds great authority and power.
Nowadays, the English word “mistress” is mostly used to describe a woman with whom a married man is having an affair. Thus many would perhaps not wish to use the term for the all-pure Virgin Mother and Queen! Personally, however, I have gotten used to calling Mary my heavenly Mistress, for it is another way to call her my Queen or my Lady, but perhaps it is even a stronger term than those, for it implies a kind of “ownership.” This sort of relationship is developed at length by St Louis de Montfort in his classic book, True Devotion to Mary.
If Mary is my Mistress, then I am necessarily her slave, though in a special and beautiful sense. This word, “slave,” is another term with which many people are uncomfortable. But let’s at least try to understand its meaning in the writings of the saints. We may adopt or reject any such term for use in our spiritual lives—though we are not free to dismiss dogmatic titles like Mother of God, Ever-virgin, Immaculate Conception, etc—but we ought at least to have some understanding before we make any decisions.
First of all, “slave” is a biblical term that often is not translated accurately. In English bibles, it is usually translated “servant,” perhaps because the translators think we cannot tolerate the word of God in full strength. When you read “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1), you should know that it really says “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” Likewise, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”(James 1:1), is really “James, a slave of God…” St Paul also goes on at length in Romans (6:15-23) about how we are no longer slaves of sin but “slaves of God” (6:22). He sums it up clearly when he writes: “You are not your own; you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). So when St Louis de Montfort invites us to become slaves of Christ by giving ourselves as such to Mary, he is affirming with St Paul that we are not our own, and thus his background is biblical.
St Paul also said to St Timothy: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor” (1 Tim. 6:1). If the Bible says that earthly masters are to be considered “worthy of all honor,” we ought all the more to honor Mary, who is our heavenly Mistress! Of course, St Louis’ idea of slavery also has nothing to do with a cruel and inhuman institution. St Louis is thinking more of the European monarchies of his day, and according to his cultural background he would have us be devoted slaves of a benevolent King and Queen.
There’s another point that we should consider. “Slave” is, in a practical sense, closer in meaning to “son” or “daughter” than it is to “servant.” We all know Mary as our Mother, and that is the primary way to approach her. But if we wish to consecrate our lives to her, she acquires an additional sort of authority over us, which merits the title “Mistress” (or Queen or Lady, if you prefer). A servant is basically a hireling who works for pay and has little relation to those who hire him apart from his work. A servant still belongs to himself. A slave, however, belongs to his master (or his mistress), but so does a young child belong to his mother and father! The child is not independent of them, he needs and depends on them for everything, and obedience is expected from him. He does not merely perform a series of tasks and then do whatever he wishes when his service is done. So both a little child and a slave are under the absolute authority of the one(s) to whom they belong, unlike a servant.
The point is this: we ought to consider it an honor to be slaves of our heavenly Mistress, because we should desire to belong to her. Sift out the negative connotations and think of it as total belonging. By our consecration to Mary, we belong to her, and in belonging to her, we belong to the Lord, for, as you recall, whatever we offer to Mary, she offers to God as her own, for his good pleasure and greater glory.
A few more texts from St Louis de Montfort will help us understand this:
“It is the most decided wish of the Son that we should come to Him through His Blessed Mother. We honor and please Him by doing so, just as a subject would please and honor his King by making himself a slave of the Queen… A king will glory in the fact that the queen, his companion, has slaves… since the honor paid to her and the power she exercises is honor done to him and is his power; and can it be credited that Our Lord—Who, as the best of all sons, has shared His entire power with His Blessed Mother—should take it amiss that she has her slaves?” (True Devotion, #76).
“Since we lower ourselves willingly to a state of slavery out of love for Mary, our dear Mother, she out of gratitude opens wide our hearts enabling us to walk with giant strides in the way of God’s commandments. She delivers our souls from weariness, sadness and scruples. It was this devotion that our Lord taught to Mother Agnes de Langeac, a religious who died in the odor of sanctity, as a sure way of being freed from the severe suffering and confusion of mind which afflicted her. ‘Make yourself,’ He said, ‘my Mother’s slave, and wear her little chain.’ She did so, and from that time onwards her troubles ceased” (The Secret of Mary #41).
“One day, the Blessed Virgin appeared to [Mother Agnes], and placed a golden chain about her neck to show her how pleased this good Mother had been when she made herself the slave of Jesus and of Mary; and Saint Cecilia, who accompanied the Blessed Virgin in this vision, said to Mother Agnes: ‘Blessed are the faithful slaves of the Queen of Heaven, because they shall enjoy true liberty…’” (True Devotion, #170).
If you still have some difficulty with the word “slave,” yet you understand and accept the concept of total belonging and perpetual service, there is another term that can be used: “bond-servant.” I have seen this in at least one biblical translation. It is a synonym for “slave,” meaning literally one who is bound to serve another without any wages. Yet this term is also open to the spiritual understanding of a personal “bonding” with the Heart of Mary. As such it has nothing to do with the “bondage” of one who is a slave against his will.
So as bond-servants of the Queen, we bind ourselves to Mary’s service, without expecting any “wage” in return, yet still full of confidence that this service will incline the loving Heart of Jesus to freely grant us his overflowing grace and mercy. The very word “religion” is derived from a Latin term meaning “to bind,” so the Christian faith is essentially a binding of ourselves to Christ in loving service for the fulfillment of his will, in the hope of receiving the gift of eternal life. To bind ourselves to Christ by becoming bond-servants of his holy Mother is a particularly blessed and fruitful way of living our life in Him.
Finally, let us remember these words of St Louis de Montfort, to encourage us in our faithful service of the Queen, which is ultimately service of the King: “Whenever you turn your thoughts to Mary, Mary refers your thoughts to God in her own personal worship, so that you cannot praise or honor Mary without Mary immediately praising and honoring God in your name… When she is praised, when she is loved, when she is honored or when any gift is made to her, it is God Who is praised, loved and glorified, and it is God Who receives the gift through Mary and in Mary” (True Devotion, #225). Everything finds its goal and fulfillment in God, and therefore all we do must be ultimately intended to glorify Him. By giving ourselves over to our beloved Mistress, we know that the best possible worship, prayer, sacrifice, and service will be offered to the Lord, for she will make it as perfect as her own. Blessed are the faithful slaves of the Queen of Heaven!
Reparation: An Important Practice of Our Consecration
When we belong completely to Mary, she can offer us to Jesus as her own: this is why she draws us to herself. Mary does not seek her own glory. She already has endless glory in Heaven. She is loved by God more than any other creature, and she enjoys the love and honor of countless angels and saints, whom she can command at will. If she requires our homage, it is only because this consoles and delights the Heart of her Son, for whom she will do anything.
Mary loves God so much that she does whatever it takes to bring souls to Him. If that means first attracting us by her goodness, tender compassion, and motherly love, all well and good. Once we are drawn irresistibly to her and surrender ourselves to her beautiful, loving Heart, and are thus willing to do anything to remain in her love, she is free to do with us as she pleases. So what she does is offer us to God as living sacrifices for the salvation of souls! For next to her love for God, the most important thing to our heavenly Mother is the salvation of her children. Offering sacrifices and reparation are ways to win grace for souls and to help keep them out of Hell, so if we have lovingly placed ourselves at Mary’s service, she will ask us to share in the difficult work of helping to save souls.
The offering of reparation is the fruit of our love. Jesus loved us so much that He gave his life for us, suffering unspeakable pain in order to atone for our sins. He said: “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13). To offer reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the conversion of sinners is a way of “laying down our lives” for them, and for love of Jesus and Mary. The following are some messages concerning reparation to the Heart of Mary, received by Lucia (later Sister Lucia) at Fatima and elsewhere, after she became a nun.
Our Lady said at Fatima: “I shall come to the world to ask that Russia be consecrated to my Immaculate Heart, and I shall ask that on the First Saturday of every month Communions of reparation be made in atonement for the sins of the world.”
On December 10, 1925, Mary and the Child Jesus appeared to Lucia at a convent in Pontevedra, Spain. Our Lady rested her hand on Lucia’s shoulder, revealing her Heart encircled by thorns. The Child Jesus said: “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…”
Our Lady spoke next, saying: “Look, my daughter, at my Heart, surrounded with thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me and tell them 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 decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.”
Mary also told Sister Lucia: “There are so many souls whom the Justice of God condemns for sins committed against me, that I have come to ask for reparation: sacrifice yourself for this intention and pray…”
Why were five first Saturdays of reparation requested? It was in order to help atone for the five ways in which people offend the Immaculate Heart of Mary: Attacks upon Mary’s Immaculate Conception, attacks against her Perpetual Virginity, attacks upon her Divine Maternity and the refusal to accept her as the Mother of all mankind, publicly implanting in children’s hearts indifference, contempt, and even hatred of this Immaculate Mother, and, finally, insulting her directly in her sacred images.
Our Lady said that her Immaculate Heart was pierced as it were by thorns because of those who sin against her, especially through blasphemy and ingratitude, and that she wants us to console her for this pain in her Heart and thus to win grace for the sinners.
We might ask at this point how anyone in Heaven can suffer and at the same time abide in eternal happiness. This is a mystery, but it must be true, since Heaven has confirmed it, though it is still something we cannot easily comprehend. Blaise Pascal famously wrote: “Christ is in agony until the end of the world,” because He is one with the members of his Body who suffer on earth. Because He still relates to us in time, He experiences grief and pain over our sins, even though He once and for all nailed them to the Cross. Raissa Maritain wrote that there is “an unnamed perfection” in God that is analogous to human suffering. So this mysterious suffering out of love, even in Heaven, enhances the divine perfection rather than diminishing it.
Since Our Lady suffered so intensely and lovingly in union with Jesus on Golgotha, we can be sure that He has united her to Himself in Heaven in a similar way. Mary shares in all the divine perfections in the fullest way possible for one who remains a creature. She is, of course, supremely happy in Heaven in relation to God and all the angels and saints, but in relation to her sinful and suffering children, she will endure a mysterious kind of suffering until the last judgment and general resurrection. So even if the thorns piercing her Heart are symbolic representations, the reality to which they refer is not at all symbolic, but one that draws tears from the heavenly Mother, which are sometimes even manifested in her sacred images in this world.
Mother of our Peace
Even if we are called to suffer in order to join our heavenly Mother in sharing Jesus’ work of saving souls, we can remain in peace if we are united to her Heart. This mystery is beautifully explained in the following reflection by Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, OSB:
“There was never moment when the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not established in peace. Her Immaculate Heart is a haven of peace for poor sinners, a refuge from the attacks of the enemy who seeks to destroy all peace in our souls and on the face of the earth… The closer we are to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the closer we are to peace, that is, the absence of sin. Sin is what disturbs true peace; sin is what destroys peace. If you would have peace, avoid sin, and should you fall into sin, confess it without delay, so that peace may be restored to your soul. Mary, being sinless from the first instant of her conception, is, of all creatures, the most peaceful. She is utterly tranquil and perfectly serene.
“God created the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be the single most peaceful place in the universe. Mary is the living temple prepared by God for God; her Heart is a sanctuary untouched by the violence and wickedness of a world seduced by Satan. Even when, as a mother full of pity for her wayward children, Mary presses sinners to her Heart, nothing of sin’s contagion taints her. The Immaculate is not soiled by the filth of her fallen children, even as she stoops to lift us out of the mire of our miseries.
“If you would be apt for the advent of the Lord, seek peace where it is to be found: in the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God. The closer you are to Mary, the more will you experience a peace that the world cannot give. Mary will teach you to discern the things that make for peace and avoid those that threaten to destroy it.
“The peace of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not diminished by suffering; it flourishes in the midst of thorns. The old Benedictine motif depicting the word PAX surrounded by a crown of thorns—pax inter spinas—is a kind of monogram of the Heart of the Mother of God. Did she not appear at Fatima with her Immaculate Heart surrounded by thorns?
“The inviolable peace of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was purchased at a great price, that is, with the Precious Blood of her Son, the immolated Lamb. If, in making our way to the sanctuary of the maternal Heart of Mary, we must pass through the thorns that encircle it, it is so that we might be associated with the redeeming Passion of her Son, and so that a few drops of our blood might be mingled with the torrent of that flood so copiously from His head, His hands, His feet, and His side.
“Those of you who have come to love the rosary know that it produces peace in the soul of one who perseveres in praying it. The rosary leads one directly into the refuge of Mary’s sinless heart, into a sanctuary of peace that cannot be threatened, troubled, or assailed by powers visible or invisible. Peace, being the absence of sin, is rightly in the giving of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. If you pray her rosary, she will give you her peace.” (http://vultus.stblogs.org/2013/01/mary-is-the-mother-of-our-peac.html)
Mystical Union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary
I need not go into great detail about it here, but it is true that some favored souls receive the grace of mystical union with Mary. This is a most precious fruit of our total consecration, but it is sheer gift from God and cannot be obtained solely by our labors and prayers, although if we are to receive it our souls must be properly disposed. Fr Chaminade, the founder of the Marianists, wrote: “There is a gift of the habitual presence of the Blessed Virgin even as there is a gift of the habitual presence of God—very rare, it is true, but obtainable through great fidelity.” The great fidelity is what predisposes our soul, but he also makes it clear that it is a gift, and hence freely given as God and Our Lady choose.
Such blessed souls who receive this gift of mystical union with Mary, writes Fr Garrigou-Lagrange in The Mother of the Saviour, “are conscious of the influence which Mary exercises on us continually by transmitting actual graces to our souls.” Graces always come to us through Mary as the motherly Mediatrix, but those who are in personal union with her are consciously and sweetly aware of her gentle presence, and thus their hearts are habitually enkindled with an irrepressible love for her.
I have quoted Venerable Marie Petyt of St Teresa several times already, but I’d like to conclude with a few more passages from her writings, which come directly from her personal experience. I hope that her beautiful writings will encourage you to seek a deeper life in God through Our Lady. Venerable Marie Petyt is one of those relatively rare souls who experienced a profound mystical union with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“It happens that my soul, turned completely towards God and adhering to Him in contemplation and fruition of his absolutely simple Being, experiences at the same time a like adherence to Mary, a like contemplation and enjoyment of Mary in so far as She is one with God and united to Him… God in His goodness has granted me also the grace of breathing gently, as it were, in Mary, of living in Her and experiencing a wonderful sweetness when I hear or pronounce Her dear name, and even when I merely think of it… She produces and nourishes the life of the soul in God by a perceptible influx of graces which go before the soul, arouse it to action, strengthen and accompany it in action, and allow it to persevere in this life in God with greater constancy and purity. This influx of grace which gives life to the soul seems to proceed directly from the loving Heart and hands of Mary… in order to adorn our souls and render them beautiful in the sight of God…
“She remains constantly before me, leading and instructing me in the path of the spirit and in the perfect practice of the virtues, urging me on by Her sweet, motherly smile. And thus not for a moment do I lose the feeling of Her presence and of the presence of God… I completely relinquished ownership of myself and gave that self entirely to Mary, so that it might be as property no longer belonging to me but to Her… Since I made that offering, I can feel Her direction much more sensibly, much more clearly and certainly; She guides me in all that I must do or omit, as if She were leading me by the hand… She shows me how to correct myself… how to purify my soul in God… It seems that a ray comes forth from Her maternal Heart, giving me the light by which to perceive these things and the will to carry them out in practice…
“My desire is so intense to please my dearest Mother in all things, to do always what She likes best. Within my soul there is the most devoted attention, in order that I might perceive the very slightest interior indication of Her preferences… How deeply do I feel enamored of Her when I think of Her great kindness and Her motherly love for us! … I am always conscious of the action of Mary’s spirit, inciting me, commanding me, directing me, in almost everything I do…
“I receive the powerful influence of Her spirit within my soul… Sometimes God acts in different manners on the powers of my soul. Then I remain passive, resolved to submit to the measureless grandeur of God. Suddenly He fills me with a tender and childlike love for my dearest Mother, and He teaches me words of loving admiration… I felt that I received the supernatural life in my soul from God, through Mary, so that I seemed to live, to act, and to love through God and through Mary… The flames of love are springing forth again with great violence… Would that it might be given to me, and to all, to depart from life in this manner, out of love for God and for Mary…”
Yes, would that we could all die with flames of love springing from our hearts for God and for Mary! This is the precious fruit of our faith, our devotion, our consecration. This is Heaven in her Heart: finding therein the Uncreated Light and Love which she bears with her as Tabernacle of the Divinity, which she gives us as Mediatrix of Grace. As Mother, she ardently longs to enclose us within her Immaculate Heart and thus to bring us to Our Lord, exclaiming to the whole heavenly court: “Behold: I and the children God has given me!” (Heb. 2:13).
Epilogue: The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart
There has been some controversy over precisely what Our Lady meant when she said, “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” But I’m not interested in controversy, only in uniting myself to that loving Heart so as to be with her when her triumph is definitively manifested. We have to understand her triumph in a personal way as well as in a way that affects the whole world. I’d like reproduce here a few paragraphs from in my book, A Place Prepared by God. This passage begins with reflections by Mother Adela, SCTJM, whom I quoted earlier. She emphasizes the spiritual nature of the great struggles of our times. In the last paragraph I conclude in my own words with what it means that Our Lady’s Heart triumphs in our own hearts.
“How much indifference and rejection there is towards Our Mother and Her interventions! How much rejection of Her mission, Her intercession, and the doctrinal truths about Her. How much resistance there is in giving Her that place the Trinity gave to Her and in recognizing it publicly… Behind every rejection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whether it is strong or subtle, we can find the instigation and the attack of satan. ‘I will place enmity between you and the Woman.’ And all of this resistance is so grave that Jesus considers it necessary that acts of reparation be made for them…
“Because sin is the root of the battle, our Mother calls us with urgency to authentic conversion and to renunciation of the sin, indifference, doubt, and rebellion found in man today. As a good Mother, She battles in this decisive hour for humanity—an hour in which eternal salvation is at stake in so many souls, including our own…
“The Holy Father [John Paul II] has called this battle the ‘culture of death’ that includes the general loss of faith, the loss of many souls, wars, destruction, abortion, rebellion, euthanasia, violence, etc. However… the worst death is that of the soul that loses its faith, falls away from God, His love, and His commandments, and is lost in a life of sin, running the risk of eternal condemnation and eternal death.
“In Fatima, the Blessed Virgin Mary left us a promise: ‘In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.’ If She speaks of triumph, this implies that there is a battle that needs to be fought. The instrument of this victory will be the Immaculate Heart.
“The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is something that will ultimately be realized on a global level, but it begins in individual hearts. At a certain stage or moment in your relationship with Our Lady, if you have consecrated yourself to her and are earnestly striving to live accordingly, you will become aware that the triumph of her Heart has in fact occurred in yours. You will have the sense of belonging to her, of having entered a new level of devotion, of having made a clean break with (at least the worst of) your former sins. You will wish to please her in all things and will feel secure in her care and her love. You will know that you have taken a step from which there is no turning back, and you know how right and good this is. You have come to her and given yourself to her, and she has received you; now it is easy for her to bring you to Jesus, for your resistance to grace has been overcome. This is the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in your heart.”
I might also add that to allow Mary to triumph in your own heart is to desire and to invite her sovereignty over your life. A sign that her triumph is happening within you is that you want her to be your Mistress and Queen, you want to submit to her guidance and direction in all things, you want her to take your life in her hands and make of it what is pleasing to her and to Our Lord. There is a certain sweetness and grace to this surrender to Mary. When she is finally and permanently Queen in your heart and soul, she is free to work wonders in and through you, and your life will bear much fruit for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Staying on the Path
All the above should make it clear that being consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not merely a matter of making and repeating a certain formula of prayer. It requires a change of life, striving for sanctity, trying to be aware of the presence of Our Lady and what she may be asking of us at any given time. We have to live by the Gospel of Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and attend to the words from Heaven that Mary has spoken—in apparitions approved by the Church as worthy of belief.
But how do we stay on this path to salvation, without getting sidetracked or waylaid or otherwise detained in our pursuit of holiness, our full and fruitful living of our consecration? Something I experienced while writing this little book will perhaps give a certain general approach to making sure our behavior is always in keeping with the demands of our faith and our consecration.
In the community where I live, there is a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, about two feet tall, on the refectory (dining room) table. One day the carpet was being replaced, so the table had to be temporarily removed. Since so many things were being moved around, I took Our Lady’s statue to my room to keep it safe. I decided to spend some of my prayer time holding the statue while I prayed, and carrying it around with me to remind myself of her constant presence in my life.
As I prayed, it occurred to me that I should always conduct myself as if I were holding Mary’s sacred image in my arms. It’s the beginning of an examination of conscience: Would I act differently if I knew the Mother of God was right next to me all the time, as close as this statue I’m carrying? It’s a sort of a variation on “What would Jesus do?” Well, what would we do if we knew our heavenly Mother was very near to us in every situation, watching and embracing us? It helps remind us of our consecration and what it means that we belong to her.
Similarly, I venerated (that is, kissed) the praying hands of Our Lady’s image, grateful that God’s grace comes to us through these hands and that they are always joined in prayer for us. Then another thing occurred to me: I ought to speak only the things that are compatible with this veneration. If I was always aware that my lips were touching the all-pure hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, could I ever say anything that she would find offensive or displeasing?
I’ve sometimes heard people say, when another was speaking inappropriately: “Did you receive Holy Communion with that mouth?” (See also James 3:8-12.) Likewise, we ought to remind ourselves, if we speak (or are tempted to speak) crudely or uncharitably: “Did you kiss the hands of the Blessed Virgin with those lips?” Such reminders can help us stay on the path, live a life worthy of our calling, and not give the devil a chance to diminish our spiritual fruitfulness or wreck it altogether. We should not take our consecration lightly, for the Mother of God doesn’t, either.
Therefore we should not only pray for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the world and in our hearts; we should also take concrete measures to advance it in whatever way we can. Her triumph hinges upon our living according to the word of God (see, for example, Gal. 5:19-26, Eph. 4:25-32, and Col. 3:5-17). The children of our heavenly Mother are “those who keep the commandments of God and bear witness to Jesus” (Rev. 12:17; read the whole chapter). Mary’s triumph is established one heart at a time, and the more hearts that are hers, the more grace is poured out over the world so that still more hearts will be enlightened and opened.
Love the Heart of Mary, then. It will be a source of endless, joy, sweetness, and blessing for you. Your love for Mary’s Heart will inevitably lead you to offer prayer and sacrifice and reparation, for you will find it intolerable that her Heart is pierced by the thorns of the blasphemies and ingratitude of sinners. You will experience the truth that genuine love is most profoundly expressed in sacrifice, and you will not hesitate to share in the Passion of Jesus and the sorrows of Mary, if only you can console their Hearts and help win grace for the salvation of souls. Mary’s motherly love and presence in your life will more than make up for whatever she may ask you to offer. Let her take you to herself, so that she can then take you to Our Lord, for this is what she does with all hearts that are given to her. You will never regret that you made your heart Mary’s own possession, for you will thus find Heaven in her Heart. And you’ll have all eternity to thank the Lord for this precious gift!
Appendix A: Papal Testimonies to St Louis de Montfort’s Marian Teachings
Some people think that the teachings concerning total consecration to Mary and the whole “Marian life” as recommended by St Louis de Montfort are somewhat exaggerated, especially those who seem to have lost their understanding and appreciation of the Catholic Church’s Tradition. The six Vicars of Christ listed below, however, would disagree. The following information is quoted from 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Fr Michael E. Gaitley, MIC.
Blessed Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) stated that St. Louis’s devotion to Mary is the best and most acceptable form.
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) not only beatified de Montfort in 1888 but granted a Church indulgence to Catholics who consecrate themselves to Mary using de Montfort’s formula. Moreover, this Pope was reportedly so influenced by St. Louis’s efforts to spread the Rosary that he wrote 11 encyclicals on this preeminent Marian devotion.
Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914), like Leo XIII, also recommended de Montfort’s teaching on Mary to the faithful. In fact, he granted a plenary indulgence in perpetuum (in perpetuity) to anyone who would pray de Montfort’s formula for Marian consecration, and he offered his own apostolic blessing to anyone who would simply read True Devotion. This Pope so strongly encouraged the faithful to follow de Montfort’s path of Marian devotion because he himself had experienced its power. In fact, in his Marian encyclical Ad Diem Illum, the saintly Pope expressed his own dependence on de Montfort in writing it, which becomes obvious when one compares it with True Devotion. The Pope’s encyclical continually reflects the tone and spirit of de Montfort’s classic work as evidenced by sentences like this: “There is no surer or easier way than Mary in uniting all men with Christ.”
Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) simply stated, “I have practiced this devotion ever since my youth.”
Venerable Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) canonized St Louis in 1947 and, in his homily for the Mass of canonization, referred to de Montfort’s Marian teaching as “solid and right.” Then, when the Pope addressed the pilgrims who had come for the canonization, he said that de Montfort leads us to Mary and from Mary, to Jesus, thus summarizing the meaning of Marian consecration.
Blessed Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) promoted de Montfort’s teaching more than any other Pope… It’s enough here to recall two amazing facts: First, that John Paul’s papal motto was Totus Tuus (“totally yours”), which he took directly from de Montfort’s shorter prayer of consecration; second, that John Paul described his reading of True Devotion to Mary as a “decisive turning point” in his life.
Appendix B: Consecration Prayers
The following are several prayers that are often used to consecrate oneself to Our Lady. Use whatever form speaks to your heart. Let the consecration prayer be whatever you can say with reasonable guarantee of fidelity to what you are offering to Mary, and to Our Lord through her.
From St Louis de Montfort:
O Eternal and incarnate Wisdom! O sweetest and most adorable Jesus! True God and true man, only Son of the Eternal Father, and of Mary, always virgin! I adore You profoundly in the bosom and splendors of Your Father during eternity; and I adore You also in the virginal bosom of Mary, Your most worthy Mother, in the time of Your incarnation.
I give You thanks that You have emptied Yourself, taking the form of a slave in order to rescue me from the cruel slavery of the devil. I praise and glorify You that You have been pleased to submit Yourself to Mary, Your holy Mother, in all things, in order to make me Your faithful slave through her. But, alas! Ungrateful and faithless as I have been, I have not kept the promises which I made so solemnly to You in my Baptism; I have not fulfilled my obligations; I do not deserve to be called Your child, nor yet Your slave; and as there is nothing in me which does not merit Your anger and Your repulse, I dare not come by myself before Your most holy and august Majesty. It is on this account that I have recourse to the intercession of Your most holy Mother, whom You have given me for a mediatrix with You. It is through her that I hope to obtain of You contrition, the pardon of my sins, and the acquisition and preservation of wisdom.
Hail, then, O immaculate Mary, living tabernacle of the Divinity, where the Eternal Wisdom willed to be hidden and to be adored by angels and by men! Hail, O Queen of heaven and earth, to whose empire everything is subject which is under God! Hail, O sure refuge of sinners, whose mercy fails no one! Hear the desires which I have of the Divine Wisdom; and for that end receive the vows and offerings which in my lowliness I present to you.
I, _____, a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in your hands the vows of my Baptism; I renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works; and I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life, and to be more faithful to Him than I have ever been before. In the presence of all the heavenly court I choose you this day for my Mother and Mistress. I deliver and consecrate to you, as your slave, my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions, past, present and future; leaving to you the entire and full right of disposing of me, and all that belongs to me, without exception, according to your good pleasure, for the greater glory of God in time and in eternity.
Receive, O most kind Virgin, this little offering of my slavery, in honor of, and in union with, that subjection which the Eternal Wisdom deigned to have to your maternity; in homage to the power which both of you have over this poor sinner, and in thanksgiving for the privileges with which the Holy Trinity has favored you. I declare that I wish henceforth, as your true slave, to seek your honor and to obey you in all things.
O admirable Mother, present me to your dear Son as His eternal slave, so that as He has redeemed me by you, by you He may receive me! O Mother of mercy, grant me the grace to obtain the true Wisdom of God; and for that end receive me among those whom you love and teach, whom you lead, nourish and protect as your children and your slaves.
O faithful Virgin, make me in all things so perfect a disciple, imitator and slave of the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ your Son, that I may attain, by your intercession and by your example, to the fullness of His age on earth and of His glory in Heaven. Amen.
From St Maximilian Kolbe:
O Immaculata, Queen of Heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and our most loving Mother, God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to you. I, ________, a repentant sinner, cast myself at your feet humbly imploring you to take me with all that I am and have, wholly to yourself as your possession and property. Please make of me, of all my powers of soul and body, of my whole life, death and eternity, whatever most pleases you.
If it pleases you, use all that I am and have without reserve, wholly to accomplish what was said of you: “She will crush your head,” and, “You alone have destroyed all heresies in the whole world.” Let me be a fit instrument in your immaculate and merciful hands for introducing and increasing your glory to the maximum in all the many strayed and indifferent souls, and thus help extend as far as possible the blessed kingdom of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. For wherever you enter you obtain the grace of conversion and growth in holiness, since it is through your hands that all graces come to us from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
V. Allow me to praise you, O Holy Virgin.
R. Give me strength against your enemies.
Daily Renewal of St Maximilian’s Consecration:
Immaculata, Queen and Mother of the Church, I renew my consecration to you for this day and for always, so that you might use me for the coming of the Kingdom of Jesus in the whole world. To this end I offer you all my prayers, actions and sacrifices for this day.
Another consecration prayer:
O Mary, Virgin most powerful and Mother of mercy,
Queen of Heaven and Refuge of sinners,
we consecrate ourselves to thine Immaculate Heart.
We consecrate to thee our very being and our whole life;
all that we have, all that we love, all that we are.
To thee we give our bodies, our hearts and our souls;
to thee we give our homes, our families, our country.
We desire that all that is in us and around us may belong to thee,
and may share in the benefits of thy motherly benediction.
And that this act of consecration may be truly efficacious and lasting,
we renew this day at thy feet the promises of our Baptism and our first Holy Communion.
We pledge ourselves to profess courageously and at all times the truths of our holy Faith, and to live as befits Catholics who are duly submissive to all the directions
of the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him.
We pledge ourselves to keep the commandments of God and His Church,
in particular to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
We likewise pledge ourselves to make the consoling practices of the Christian religion,
and above all, Holy Communion, an integral part of our lives, in so far as we shall be able so to do.
Finally, we promise thee, O glorious Mother of God and loving Mother of men,
to devote ourselves whole-heartedly to the service of thy blessed veneration,
in order to hasten and assure, through the sovereignty of thine Immaculate Heart,
the coming of the kingdom of the Sacred Heart of thine adorable Son,
in our own hearts and in those of all men, in our country and in all the world,
as in heaven, so on earth. Amen.
O Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, and tender Mother of men, in accordance with Thy ardent wish made known at Fatima, I consecrate to Thy Immaculate Heart myself, my brethren, my country and the whole human race.
Reign over us, Most Holy Mother of God, and teach us how to make the Heart of Thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, reign and triumph in us even as It has reigned and triumphed in Thee.
Reign over us, Most Blessed Virgin, that we may be Thine in prosperity and in adversity, in joy and in sorrow, in health and in sickness, in life and in death.
O most compassionate Heart of Mary, Queen of Heaven, watch over our minds and hearts and preserve them from the impurity which Thou didst lament so sorrowfully at Fatima. Assist us in imitating You in all things, especially purity. Help us to call down upon our country and upon the whole world the peace of God in justice and charity.
Therefore, Most Gracious Virgin and Mother, I hereby promise to imitate Thy virtues
by the practice of a true Christian life without regard to human respect. I resolve to receive Holy Communion regularly and to offer to Thee five decades of the Rosary each day, together with my sacrifices, in the spirit of reparation and penance. Amen.
This one can be done very easily every day:
O Mary, my Queen! my Mother! I give thee all myself, and, to show my devotion to thee, I consecrate to thee my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my entire self. Wherefore, O loving Mother, as I am thine own, keep me, defend me, as thy property and possession. Amen.
Appendix C: A Theological Reflection
The following rather lengthy excerpt is from a book by Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP, entitled: The Mysteries of Mary: Growing in Faith, Hope, and Love with the Mother of God. I include it here because it touches on some points I mentioned in this little book, though from a more strictly theological perspective. Personally, I find it quite beautiful, and it has helped me a lot in understanding and deepening my own relationship with Our Lady. So if that appeals to you, I think you will benefit from this. (In this excerpt, I have capitalized “Heart,” for both Jesus and Mary, in order to bring it in keeping with my usage throughout this book. It is only fitting!)
“[Mary] is eternally the Mother of the members of Christ: Mother of their divine life, a mother who never ceases to beget them to this divine life; a mother who never ceases to watch over them, carry them, feed them, sustain them, educate them and direct them toward the Heart of Jesus and toward the Father while teaching them to be completely docile to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
“With a perfect knowledge of our souls—a knowledge she has received from Christ, since all the secrets of our hearts are revealed to her—she gives and communicates to us this divine life as adopted sons of the Father (adopted yet real) and as members of Jesus. She knows us and calls us by our name; she has received this knowledge from the Good Shepherd Himself.
“This knowledge is a practical, loving, and efficacious knowledge. It is a mother’s knowledge concerning her children, one which binds the mother’s heart and intelligence to her children’s heart and intelligence. We have here as it were a very intimate communication of life, within a loving knowledge. Mary, as mother, is completely given to our souls, through Christ and the Father. And it is in this very gift that she is Mother and that she begets us. This gift has a maternal modality that cannot be separated from the gift we are given by Christ and the entire Holy Trinity. She can give herself as Mother to our souls, giving birth to divine life in us, only through the will of the Son and of the Father, under the shadow of the Holy Spirit.
“In His wisdom, God willed to fully establish Mary as Mother of His Son so that she might fully be Mother of His members, in order that she might eternally play this role as Mother of our divine life. That is why the gift of this divine life which she gives to her children is realized in this particular modality of maternity. She is the vital milieu where their divine life can blossom. She is the one who carries and envelops their Christian life, who disposes their souls to the action of the Holy Spirit and who, in a very intimate and delicate way, completes in them this action of the Holy Spirit so that God’s graces may be completely efficacious.
“This helps us to understand the manner in which she is present to each of her children in the intimacy of their divine life, their Christian life. It helps us to understand how there is a kind of special mode to our grace that connaturalizes us with Mary’s grace and spontaneously inclines us toward her and enables us to live in unison with her divine life. It is in this sense that we must clearly understand that her motherhood for those still on earth is on another level, beyond, as it were, the instrumental action of the sacraments.
“We should point out that for those who are still living on earth, Mary’s presence in the intimacy of their divine life is a supernatural presence that remains hidden and veiled and is the source of our highest aspirations and our most ardent desires. Although hidden, this presence is efficacious and real; it is the presence of someone who maternally acts in us, who gives us God’s life and who never ceases to prepare us and make us docile to the motion of the Holy Spirit.
“Of course, the Holy Spirit can give us the divine experience of Mary’s motherhood of choice and preference with respect to our souls. He can make us consciously live from this invisible and maternal presence of Mary in the intimacy of our divine life. He can teach us to say “Mother” while looking at Mary, just as He teaches us to say “Father” while looking at our Creator. He can unveil for us and help us experience the unfathomable depths of this motherhood; He can lead us to understand the divine quality of her love. At the Cross, Mary accepted separation from Jesus in order to become the Mother of John’s divine life. Jesus asked her for this sacrifice so that she might become our Mother, and Mary accepted it with love. Thus she preferred the divine life of her son John to the joy of her Son’s physical presence, to her Son’s earthly life. This choice is eternal. It is with this ‘quality’ of love that we are loved.
“The Holy Spirit can bury us and experimentally hide us in the depths of the maternal mercy of Mary’s Heart and ask that we remain there, as though in seclusion, like a little child in sinu Mariae [in the bosom of Mary]. The Holy Spirit can ask us to choose her as a Mother in a very special way, with a choice that seeks to match the divine quality of her own choice. He can require from us an attitude similar to John’s: to choose her as a Mother in order to obey an imperative order from Christ, in order to obey his last will and take her ‘into our home,’ intimately into our life, as he did, to live exclusively with and by her. It is a divine dwelling that is very hidden, very solitary, and very silent in which the Holy Spirit can establish us. We have here a very special covenant of love between our hearts and Mary’s Heart. Each one of us lives in this covenant, but we are not all divinely aware of it.
“Moreover, Mary cooperates in Christ’s governance upon us, a governance that consists in directing us toward the Father, in leading us through love toward the paternal home. This governance, which comes from God’s wisdom, is both forceful and gentle, fortiter et suaviter. Mary’s maternal rule over us primarily concerns the blossoming of our Christian life, the perfection of our life of faith, hope, and love. Mary always hastens the Hour of Christ, as at Cana… She acts ‘forcefully,’ demanding a great deal from us, like a loving mother who has great ambitions for her sons whom she loves so much. But she acts gently, with infinite delicacy, from within, so to speak, as though we were acting on our own. She steps aside to leave room for our own initiatives. She is present in our life of silent prayer to help us live more divinely in Him…
“This governance especially intervenes in the realm of our human imagination, our memories, our ‘psychological selves.’ This is in fact where most of the battles and struggles are fought, where the majority of temptations occur. Mary pacifies, calms, simplifies, gets rid of our psychological complexes; she unties them with her maternal and delicate love. She also acts in our sensibilities and in our physical strength, enveloping everything in her maternal grace.
“Thanks to this action of maternal mercy, her presence, which is realized first of all in the depths of our divine life at its very source, can take hold of our entire human, imaginative, intellectual, affective and sensitive life, according to God’s gracious will. This maternal action can take hold of everything. Since Mary possesses her glorious body in heaven, her maternal action can even include more extraordinary modalities: with more sensible or imaginative forms; as also happens for the presence of Christ’s glorious body with respect to His members who are still here on earth. Mary can visibly appear to her children exiled on earth to comfort them, encourage them and to remind them of the demands of their Christian life…
“In heaven, for the elect, Mary’s presence is lived in full light, and all its potentials are made perfectly explicit. Mary still performs this merciful yet forceful maternal role with respect to the elect. She illuminates each of the elect and gives herself to each one in particular.
“With respect to the angels, she exercises a queenship and not an intimate motherhood. She enlightens and illuminates them, but does not give herself to them as a mother. Thus her children enjoy an intimacy with her that the angels cannot enjoy.”
Finally, a passage quoted in the same book, from The Mystery of Mary, by Fr. Rogatien Bernard, OP: “[Mary’s] noblest activity is evidently to see God and to love Him. Now the Blessed Virgin is so essentially a Mother that she cannot help seeing all her children in God and loving them in Him. This is her spiritual maternity in its highest aspect, for here we see a creature who has the privilege of seeing those whom she brings forth the way God sees them, and of carrying them constantly in her eternal Heart the way God Himself carries them. It would be impossible to conceive anything greater in her activity or more profitable for us than this tender gaze in which she enfolds us and with which she penetrates us.”