What does the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary teach us?

Q. I enjoy taking part in the novena of Masses on Thursday evenings at the Grasshopper Chapel in Cold Spring, which is one of the designated pilgrimage sites in our diocese for the Holy Year of Mercy. Some years ago you celebrated the Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary there. Can you please write something about the feast of her Immaculate Heart?

A. I, too, enjoy participating in these Masses at Assumption Chapel in Cold Spring. Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is as old as the 17th century, when St. John Eudes preached it along with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the 19th century, devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart was very popular, and popes Pius VII and Pius IX allowed several churches to celebrate a feast of the Pure Heart of Mary.

Our Lady of Fatima is said to have asked for the consecration of the world to her Immaculate Heart in order to obtain world peace and the conversion of Russia. In 1942, Pope Pius XII partially consecrated the world to Our Lady, for he lacked union with all the bishops of the world in this action.

In 1944 the pope decreed that in the future the whole church should celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Aug. 22 (one week after the Assumption of Mary into heaven) so as to obtain by her intercession “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity and the practice of virtue” (Decree of May 4, 1944).

On March 25, 1984, Pope John Paul II, in union with the bishops of the world, consecrated Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, as requested by Our Lady of Fatima. Pope Francis again consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Oct. 13, 2013.

United in love

The post-Vatican II liturgical calendar moved the celebration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to the Saturday following the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (which is celebrated on the Friday following the second Sunday after Pentecost), and Aug. 22 became the obligatory memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This year we observe the obligatory memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on June 4.

The juxtaposition of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary highlights the surpassing love that filled the heart of Jesus and his Blessed Mother, the love that united them in accomplishing God’s plan for our salvation.

Perhaps this is why Catholics have followed their good instinct of placing images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary side by side for veneration and have observed the five First Saturdays devotion — confession, holy Communion, praying the rosary, and an additional 15 minutes of meditation on its mysteries — as a kind of parallel to the nine First Fridays devotion.

The “Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary” includes a Mass in honor of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary for use during Ordinary Time. The prefatory note to this Mass explains that its texts celebrate “the loving kindness of God, who, after giving to the Church the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ as proof of his love, gave it also the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be contemplated as the model of the ‘new heart’ of one who lives by the ‘New Covenant.’”

Heart of the matter

We moderns, like our ancient ancestors, know that the heart represents the center of our being and emotions. Just consider the following expressions:

“Let’s get to the heart of the matter.”

“I love you from the bottom of my heart.”

“Let’s have a heart-to-heart talk.”

“He spoke from the heart.”

“Her heart is in the right place.”

“Home is where you hang your heart.”

“My heart isn’t in it.”

“It broke my heart.”

“You gotta have heart!”

And, last, the words on a poster of a shaggy dog with lots of hair over the eyes: “I always see better with my heart.”

Jesus knew, as we do, that the heart is the center of the human person, psychologically and spiritually speaking. That is why he could say: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Was this ever more true of any person than the Blessed Virgin Mary? Truly hers was a pure heart, an immaculate heart. That is why she saw God at work in her life and in this world. She saw with her heart, not only with her eyes. Her heart was truly in the right place, because it was with God in good times and bad.

St. Bridget of Sweden said of Mary: “This blessed rose. … bore so stout a heart that however sharply the thorns of tribulation might have pierced her they could not change her will in any way, for she remained always most ready to suffer and to do the will of God.”

The liturgy is God’s premier cardio workout for our spiritual heart. It is a powerful way that our love for God and for others is expressed and thus strengthened, just as our muscles are through exercise. The liturgy is the way that such love for God and others becomes the love of our whole heart, as Mary’s was.

Thus, we ask God in the collect for the Mass in honor of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Give us a heart that is free from sin and attentive to your will, that, faithful to your commandments, we may love you above all things and seek to help others in their need.”

The liturgy is the way that our hearts can know the great joy and bear the sometimes great pain that come with discipleship, as Mary’s did. Immaculate Mary, pray for us!

Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at mkwatera@csbsju.edu or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.