Today the Church celebrates the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which usually occurs on the Saturday of the second week after Pentecost. The celebration, which is marked as a memorial, centers on the maternal heart of Mary, Mother of Christ, and her compassionate love for the world which is portrayed in its suffering nature. Mary is depicted as being consumed with the suffering of her Son Jesus and the innumerable travails of humanity in every age. Consequently, the Immaculate Heart is usually depicted with a heart pierced with a sword and sometimes with seven swords, representing what is traditionally called the seven sorrows or dolors of Mary. Characteristically, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart is linked to Mary’s intervention in the face of tribulation and suffering in the world.
Origin of the Devotion
The devotion to the spotless heart of Mary started as a popular devotion in some quarters in the Middle Ages. Gradually, the consciousness started to spread through Spiritual writers. It came to its height with the Apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in 1917 during which Mary called for consecration of the world to her Immaculate Heart. This was accomplished in 1942 by Pope Pius XII during the Second World War. Then, in 1944, the same Pope Pius XII instituted the feast for the whole Catholic world for the sake of obtaining Mary’s intercession for “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity, and the practice of virtue.” It was a time of great suffering and hopelessness in the world.
Mary’s Intercession in Times of Trouble
The Heart of Mary is believed to be extraordinarily touched by the plight of her children in the world. This explains the popularity of the consecrations to the Immaculate Heart in times of danger and peril. The readings of today are particularly chosen to reflect the types of dangers and tribulations that call for Mary’s motherly intercession. The first reading from Lamentations 2 weeps over the devastation of Jerusalem and her inhabitants caused by the catastrophic Babylonian invasion. The city of Jerusalem is pictured as a widowed mother mourning inconsolably for her children. The reading ends on this note of mournful lamentation and grief. The interesting thing is that Jerusalem, imaged as Daughter and Mother, is encouraged to keep crying for help. The cry of this Mother-Jerusalem foreshadows the cry and intercession of Mary for humanity, her suffering children. The Responsorial Psalm from Psalm 74 follows suit with a plaintive cry to God to intervene to rescue His oppressed and hapless people. The Gospel text from Matthew 8:5-17 presents God’s answer to the suffering humanity in the person of Jesus as he goes about healing the sick and setting free all who are bound by demons and evil spirits. The Gospel writer sees him as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” In a similar way, the recourse to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in periods of crisis is aimed at soliciting her maternal intercession with Jesus her son, who is the only saviour of humanity.
Need for the Heart of a Mother
As the contemporary world passes through similar dangers and unspeakable sufferings, with indiscriminate killings of innocent people in many places and denial of freedom to God’s people, the role of the Immaculate Heart of Mary becomes ever desired. There is always need for the heart of a mother in a troubled world. Pope St. John Paul II says in his Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 30: “The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way – precisely by reason of their femininity – and this in a particular way determines their vocation.” According to the Pope, this special vocation of the woman is best exemplified in the Maternal role of the Virgin Mary. Thus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary remains the Comfort of the afflicted in every age.