Who loves a celebration? Catholics do! We celebrate saints and baptisms, weddings and holy days. We have devotions and special prayers, blessings for food and houses and cars. And in that spirit, the Church sets aside a special devotion for each month. In August, we celebrate the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
For a non-Catholic, seeing a depiction of the Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Heart can be a little … overwhelming. Her heart is on fire with love for God, yet pierced by a sword in sorrow for the suffering Her Son endures for our sins.
Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
In 1830, the nation of France had been torn asunder by the Revolution. A young woman who’d joined the Daughters of Charity, Catherine Laboure, prayed fervently for her beautiful country. France had once been a Catholic nation, but the Revolution had destroyed not only churches, but faith for so many. Despite the fact that Catherine was a novice (a sister who has not yet taken permanent vows), Christ had plans for her.
Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré standing on a globe, rays of light streaming from her fingers, enframed in an oval frame inscribed with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The whole vision “turned” showing the back of the oval inscribed with the letter “M” entwined with a Cross, and the hearts of Jesus and Mary, the former surrounded with thorns, the latter pierced with a sword. 12 stars circled this oval frame. Mary told her to strike a medal in this form — a medal now known as the “Miraculous Medal” — and that all who wore it properly after having it blessed would receive graces. The wearing of the Miraculous Medal has become one of the most common devotions to the Immaculate Heart.
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart became even more popularized after Mary’s appearing to the three young shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal in 1917 (before the Russian Revolution), when she asked that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart to prevent the spread of “the errors of Russia.” Eight years later, in 1925, Mary appeared to one of the visionaries — Lucia, who’d since become a nun — and requested reparations for the various ways in which her Immaculate Heart was offended — such as attacks against her Immaculate Conception, virginity and divine maternity, and for those who teach their children contempt of Mary or who insult her by desecrating her images.
Such devotions may seem quaint and old-fashioned in a world of social media, celebrity “worship,” consumerism and materialism. But faith never goes out of style. The message that Mary has had for the world has always been the same: “Do whatever He [Jesus] tells you.” The heart of a mother is always full of love for her child. Her heart aches when her child is hurting. Her heart is a tender garden of love for her child. And since we are – by virtue of our baptisms – daughters and sons of God, then the Mother of God is our dear mother as well. Despite our busy lives, we need Mary’s direction towards Her Son now more than ever.
August can be filled with hazy, hot days, squeezing in the last bits of summer before we must think of schedules and school clothes, backpacks and bus stops. It can also give us a few more long evenings during which we can turn to Mary and her Immaculate Heart and draw nearer to her Son through her great love for Him, and for us.