28th June. The Immaculate Heart of Mary
Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr.
Irenaeus (c. 130-202) from Asia Minor was bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyons, France). He was an apologist whose major work, “Against Heresies” was influential in the development of western theology. In his boyhood he had heard Polycarp of Smyrna, who in turn was a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist.
1) Isaiah 61:9-11
(I will greatly rejoice, my whole being shall exult in my God.)
Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Gospel: Luke 2:41-51.
(The finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple, about his Father’s business.)
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
The Immaculate Heart
How well the Church chose these inspired words of Isaiah to describe Mary, the mother of Jesus and the favoured handmaid of the Lord: “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation and covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” This feast celebrates her wonderful purity of heart, or what we might today call her personal integrity.
Historically, devotion to the Heart of Mary grew up in parallel, but at a lesser pitch than that of devotion to the Heart of Jesus, only starting to become more prominent during the time of St John Eudes. Only after the 1830 Apparitions at Rue du Bac in Paris to Catherine Labouré, and the establishment in 1836 of a society dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, at the Parisian Church of Our Lady of Victories, did this particular devotion take root. It got added impetus through the apparitions of our Lady at Fatima, central Portugal, in May 1917, to three devout young Portuguese children, Lucia Santos and her two cousins: Francisco and Jacinta Marto . Since then devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary has gradually spread through the whole Church, greatly helped by its warm espousal by Pope John Paul II.
The main difference between it and the devotion to the Heart of Jesus is that the latter emphasises the Sacred Heart as being full of love for mankind, while devotion to Mary’s heart is focussed on the love that her heart has for Jesus, her Son, and through him, for the Eternal Father. The Marian devotion is not an end in itself, since the love of her heart is meant as a paradigm for the way we should love God. So as in all of Mariology, she leads us closer to God, rather than becoming an alternative object of devotion, still less an obstacle to our worship of God. The focus on her heart as immaculate or sinless means that she is uniquely able to really love God the way God should be adored. Honouring Mary’s Immaculate Heart is another way of honouring her as the one chosen to be the Mother of Christ, recognising her extraordinary holiness and the immense love she had for Jesus as his mother, drawing her to share and co-operate in his redemptive sufferings.
The focus of this devotion is to unite mankind to God through Mary’s heart, through a process of consecration and reparation. We may consecrate ourselves to Mary’s Immaculate Heart as a way of being completely devoted to God, with Mary as our intermediary in this process of consecration. Because of the analogy between Jesus and Mary, consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart is linked to consecration to Jesus’ Sacred Heart, to which it remains subordinate and dependent.
The theme of repentance from sin, prominent in the Fatima apparitions, has been central to the preaching of Christianity from the time of the Apostles: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). The idea of reparation for our own sins and, because of a common membership of the mystical body of Christ, for those of others, is an extension of early Christian mysticism. As St Paul said: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the church …” (Col 1:24).