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Reparation to the Immaculate Heart: Theological Considerations

Devotion to the Heart of Mary is a topic that has received much focus in Catholic devotion and pious practice following the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. The Fatima apparitions greatly emphasized the need to offer reparation to the Heart of Mary, saddened by the sins of mankind. This reparation generally takes the form of the “First Saturdays” devotion along with communions of reparation, praying the Rosary, and accepting the daily sacrifices we are given. While this practice of offering reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is growing among devout Catholics, the theology that underlies this devotion remains highly uncharted. This article seeks to explore and clarify the theological basis for offering reparation to the Heart of Mary.

This task must begin by analyzing what the word “Heart” means in theology along with how devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary has developed in the Church’s history. Throughout the article, devotion and reparation to the Heart of Jesus will be considered as a means to elucidate devotion and reparation to the Mother’s Heart.

This will be done, practically speaking, because there are far more resources available on the topic of reparation to the Heart of Jesus. However, theologically speaking, this focus on Christ’s Heart is essential because of the deep and inseparable union between the two Hearts. The concept of reparation offered by Christ and to Christ will be considered first, followed by reparation offered by Our Lady and to Our Lady. The emphasis of this article is on the call to make reparation to the Heart Our Lady; however, a study of reparation to the Heart of Jesus helps to illuminate this analysis.

The theology of reparation to the Heart of Mary is also inextricably linked to Marian apparitions, in which Our Lady has spoken of her sorrow, as well as to her miraculous images which have shed tears and even blood. Although there seems to be a hidden mystery to the notion of Our Lady’s suffering Heart co-existing with her heavenly glory, those pursuing the study of theology must not ignore the many messages about her sorrows that she has come to earth to share with her children. Only with hearts like little children can we expect to understand the mysteries of Our Lady’s Heart.

In order to comprehend reparation to the Heart of Mary, we must first explore what the word “heart” refers to in theology. St. John Eudes, in his work The Admirable Heart of Mary, explains various meanings of the word “heart” in Scripture. The heart signifies the physical organ which beats within man giving him life. The heart also is used to signify the memory and the intellect in Scripture. Free will is also thought to be located in the heart: “A good man out the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good: and evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil” (Lk 4:45). The heart can also refer to the highest part of the soul or to the whole interior life of man. (1) In the twentieth century, many Catholic theologians have come to see the heart as an integrated component of the human person. Rather than thinking of the heart separately as a physical object or a symbol of love, the heart is understood to be “the fundamental center of the whole human being, body, soul, and spirit.” (2) It is this last meaning of the word heart that will be drawn upon when referring to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Although this article focuses on the Heart of Mary, an understanding of the Church’s tradition concerning the Heart of Jesus will prove helpful. Devotion to the Heart of Jesus has been present in the Church from her inception. Many Fathers of the Church, including St. Justin Martyr, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and St. Andrew of Crete, speak of the countless sorrows that Christ’s Heart endured. (3) Explicit reference to consoling the Heart of Jesus is present in the writings of many saints and mystics from the thirteenth century onward, especially in the work of St. Gertrude the Great. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus spread widely following the seventeenth century apparitions of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in Paray-le-Monial, France. In these famous apparitions, Jesus showed St. Margaret Mary his thorn-pierced heart and implored her to console Him.

Another milestone in the development of devotion to the Heart of Jesus came in the twentieth century with the revelation of Divine Mercy to St. Faustina, which developed upon Sacred Heart spirituality with a particular emphasis on complete trust in the mercy of God. (4) Devotion to the Heart of Jesus is an enduring aspect of Catholic Tradition which has undergone development over the Church’s history in order that the faithful might draw closer to Christ’ Heart.

Likewise, devotion to the Heart of Mary is a traditional aspect of Catholic piety. Reference to the Heart of Mary can be traced back to biblical times. In St. Luke’s Gospel, there are two references to Our Lady’s heart: “But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19) and “his mother kept all these words in her heart” (Lk 2:51). These references show that Our Lady’s heart is a center for contemplation and understanding. Some of the many saints who had a devotion to the Heart of Mary include St. Gertrude, St. Bernardino of Siena, St. Francis de Sales, and St. John Eudes. Devotion to the Heart of Mary also grew following apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St Margaret Mary because of the union between the two Hearts. Great impetus was given to this devotion following the 1917 apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal. The main message of these apparitions to the three young children was to spread devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary throughout the world.

While the Church’s history of devotion to both the Hearts of Jesus and Mary is evident, what must be clear is that there is a unique and intimate relationship between these Hearts. Their Hearts, though two, may be seen as one because of the inseparable union between them. This union is spoken of in Scripture as well as in the Tradition of the Church. In the prophesy of Simeon this unity of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary is foretold when Simeon tells the Blessed 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 your own soul a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:35).

While Christ will experience great sorrow as He is rejected by the children of Israel, Our Lady also will suffer greatly alongside her Son. The Tradition of the Church also espouses the notion of the unity of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a union based on their shared love. Pope John Paul II writes to the President of the International Symposium on the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary about this union of Hearts:

We can say that just as the mystery of Redemption began in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth, so did that splendid union of hearts of Christ and his Mother. From the very moment when the Word was made flesh beneath the heart of Mary, there has existed, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, an enduring relationship of love between them. (5)

The alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary is based on their relationship of love. Their love for the Father and the Spirit, for each other and for all of humanity is so great and so unified that their hearts are truly one. This unity of love leads to a unity of mutual suffering. The Church teaches that Our Lady endured great suffering with Jesus during His Passion and Death. Pope Leo XIII speaks of this joint suffering in his Encyclical on the Rosary, Iucunda Semper:

When she professed herself the handmaid of the Lord for the mother’s office, and when, at the foot of the altar, she offered up her whole self with her child Jesus—then and thereafter she took her part in the painful expiation offered by her son for the sins of the world. (6)

More recently, Pope John Paul II reiterated this teaching in his Apostolic Letter on suffering, Salvifici Doloris:

It was on Calvary that Mary’s suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysteriously and supernaturally fruitful for the Redemption of the world. (7)

Because their Hearts are one, Our Lady suffered with her Son to the fullest extent possible of her. Many saints also spoke about the intimate union between the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. St. John Eudes, the master of the Two Hearts, speaks clearly about this:

Although the Heart of Jesus is distinct from that of Mary, and infinitely surpasses it in excellence and holiness, nevertheless, God has so closely united these two Hearts that we may say with truth that they are but one, because they have always been animated with the same spirit and filled with the same sentiments and affections… (8)

The Hearts of Jesus and Our Lady are not only full of the Holy Spirit, they also share each other’s joys, sorrows, laughter, and tears. St. John Eudes goes on to say “that in honoring and glorifying her Heart, we honor and glorify Jesus Christ Himself.” (9)

Thus, the notion of consecration to the Heart of Our Lady is an authentic means of drawing closer to the Heart of Christ because whatever is offered to Mary is purified, perfected and given to Christ. In a Theological Symposium, the current Holy Father expressed this by saying: “by dedicating ourselves to the heart of Mary we discover a sure way to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, symbol of the merciful love of our Savior.” (10)

Pope John Paul II goes so far as to say that consecration to the Heart of Mary is the most perfect devotion because it most perfectly brings the faithful into communion with Christ:

Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that, among all devotions, that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and the more a soul is consecrated to her the more it will be consecrated to Jesus. (11)

Thus, the unique and inseparable union between the Hearts of Jesus and Mary is undeniable in the writings of many Popes and saints. Not only are their Hearts as one, it is the Son’s will that the members of His Mystical Body show special devotion to the Heart of Mary, His Mother. St. John Eudes, in his work The Admirable Heart of Mary, tells of apparitions of Jesus to St. Mechtilde, to whom He taught the first principles of devotion to the Heart of Mary. (12) St. John Eudes goes on to say Christ Himself willed to be the teacher of this devotion, since Mary is His Heart’s primary love, after the Eternal Father, and likewise should be the first object of the faithful’s love, after God.

Thus, the Son has willed that the faithful exhibit an unparalleled devotion to and love for His Mother’s Heart. This devotion brings all glory and honor to God. (13)

Now that the history of devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the concept of the unity of their Hearts have been briefly investigated, we must proceed to the topic of reparation. There are four ways of understanding reparation. The first and most essential form of reparation is the reparation made by Jesus to the Father. Reparation to the Father made by Christ on the Cross atoned for the sins of mankind, making up for what man could not do for himself. The reality of Christ’s atonement for our sin is widely accepted. However, attributing this reparatory act to His Sacred Heart is not as universally acknowledged. As mentioned above, the heart can be seen as the whole interior life of man, thus attributing Christ’s reparation to His Sacred Heart is not difficult to justify. Pope John Paul II comments on this relationship in a 1986 Angelus address:

The Passion and Death of Christ involved his whole body. They were effected through all the wounds which he received during the Passion. However, they were above all accomplished in His Heart, because it agonized in the dying of his entire body. His Heart was consumed in the throbbing pain of all his wounds. In this despoliation the Heart burned with love; a fire of love consumed the Heart of Jesus on the Cross…

This love of the Heart was the propitiating power for sins. It overcame and overcomes for all time all the evil contained in sin, all estrangement from God, all rebellion of the human free will, all improper use of created freedom which opposes God and His holiness. (14)

The reparation that Christ offers to the Father for the sins of the world is experienced most deeply in His Heart, thus making Christ’s Heart the instrument of atonement and salvation.

The second form of reparation also involves Christ; however, it does not involve reparation by Him, but rather reparation to Him. Reparation is made to Him for the sins committed by humanity. Thus, humanity can, through acts of reparation, assuage the sufferings of Christ caused by their sins and the sins of their brothers and sisters.

The question that naturally arises here is: how can Jesus suffer while at the same time experience beatitude in heaven? This is a difficult question to answer as we have extremely limited knowledge of heaven. Many theologians believe that the reparation made to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by humanity is only applied to Christ’s suffering while on earth, not to His suffering in heaven. This theory is referred to as Retroactive consolation or reparation and is based on the belief that suffering is incompatible with Christ’s heavenly glory. In the late nineteenth century, a promoter of this theory, Xavier de Franciosi, S.J., taught that “…(Christ) is reigning in glory now and is incapable of suffering. Yet it may be helpful to the simple and ignorant people to conceive of Jesus as still laden with sorrow, and asking for consolation.” (15) This theory of reparation is questionable, though, because it suggests that Christ deceives the “simple and ignorant” in order to receive consolation for His earthly suffering. Of course, deceit is not possible for the Savior of mankind.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., rejected Franciosi’s theory in favor of one more in line with the Thomistic tradition, which suggested that reparation adds to Christ’s accidental joy in heaven and is not merely applied to His earthly passion and death.

This theory of reparation supports the notion that Christ experiences no sorrow in heaven, but can acquire additional joy, delight, or consolation through the loving acts of the faithful which help to bring souls to Him, thus completing His Mystical Body.

This theory is analogous to the position of St. Thomas Aquinas that the souls in heaven, although fully immersed in Beatitude, will experience an even greater joy at the resurrection of their bodies. (16) Throughout the twentieth century, theologians have generally supported this theory of reparation. While this concept of reparation requires due thought and consideration, it also seems to lack a depth which would do proper justice to the sorrow which Christ has manifested to various saints and mystics over the centuries.

One theologian who believed that reparation to the Heart of Jesus did more than increase His accidental joy was Francisco Segarra, S.J. Segarra speculated that the glorified Christ could experience sadness and that mankind was capable of offering Him consolation. (17) This theory is more in line with the writings of numerous saints and mystics, who speak of Christ’s suffering as though He experiences it in the present. However, no other thinkers have furthered Segarra’s thoughts on this topic. (18)

While it would be bold to challenge the work of theologians over the centuries, one must further probe the assumed contradiction between heavenly glory and suffering. If heavenly glory consists in a full experience of the Beatific Vision, and Christ experienced both Beatitude and suffering while on earth, is it necessary that these two realities must be mutually exclusive? It is the general belief of the Church that Christ experienced the Beatific Vision while on earth. Pope Pius XII alludes to this reality in his encyclical Mystici Corporis: “for hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him.” (19) In fact, the theory of Retroactive reparation requires that Christ had experienced the Beatific Vision while on earth. In the words of Msgr. Calkins: “as Jesus saw the sins of the world in his agony in Gethsemane by virtue of the beatific vision, so He also saw in advance every act of consolation offered to him until the end of time.” (20) Thus, is it inconceivable that Jesus could experience suffering, based on the sins of humanity, while enjoying Beatitude in heaven?

The theology of the Mystical Body can be used to support this theory. We know from Scripture that Christ’s followers are His Mystical Body: “For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body” (1Cor 12:12-13). St. Paul also tells us: “if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with it” (1Cor 12:26). Thus, as Head of the Body, it is fitting that Jesus suffers when the members of the Body suffer because of His love for the members. While Jesus made the ultimate act of reparation to God for our sins by dying on the Cross, we are still called to “complete what is missing in Christ’s suffering” (Col 1:24).

Of course this raises the question: was not Christ’s suffering, and thus His reparation, complete and perfect? Yes indeed, Christ perfectly and superabundantly made reparation for the sins of humanity to the Father, but this does not preclude that the Father has willed that we also should offer up ourselves to add to this already perfect reparation of Christ.

Another principle which supports the possibility that Christ experiences suffering in His glorified body is the continuation of the hypostatic union in heaven; in other words, Christ still experiences everything that humans experience. In the words of Joseph K. Hogan of the Madonna House Apostolate in Combermere, Ontario: “Christ has a human Heart which knows and feels the lack of love even in a glorified state. We cannot deny Christ anything which a human heart now feels, otherwise He would not be man. Except for sin, Christ is everything we as human beings are now.” (21) Thus, Christ’s experience of suffering may not be as incompatible with His heavenly glory as was once thought.

Now that reparation to the Heart of Jesus, a subject which has received moderate attention from theologians, has been investigated in some depth, we will proceed to the topic of reparation to the Heart of Mary, a subject which has not been well studied by theologians but which closely relates to the previously discussed topic. It is the author’s opinion that it is fitting that Our Lady, as Mother of the Mystical Body, also experiences suffering in heaven. Before further exploring the heavenly sorrows of the Mother, we must investigate, in general, the two types of reparation which can be attributed to Our Lady’s Heart. These reparatory actions parallel those of Christ. Our Lady offers reparation to the Father for the sins of humanity by offering up her Son and sharing in His suffering and death. It is through this role as Coredemptrix that Our Lady makes atonement for the offenses of her children. Like Christ, this reparation can be ascribed to Our Lady’s Heart because the heart represents the whole person:

Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this victim which was born of her. (22)

Along with the reparation made by Our Lady’s heart to the Father, reparation is also made to Our Lady’s heart for the sins and offenses committed against God and against her. Because of the intimate and inseparable union between the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the Mother suffers whenever her Son is offended. Again, this raises the question regarding suffering in heaven, this time the suffering of Our Lady. Some theologians assume that there is no way Our Lady could still be suffering while experiencing heavenly glory, believing that if Mary is in glory, she can suffer no more.

If Our Lady does not suffer presently, and yet we are presently called to offer reparation to her heart, in what regard does she experience the consolation of these reparatory acts? Unlike Christ, who shared the Beatific Vision while on earth and thus could experience our acts of consolation retroactively during His earthly suffering, it is unlikely that Our Lady had this same knowledge. Without the ability to see humanity’s acts of reparation outside of time, Our Lady could not be consoled by them while on earth. Thus, the call for reparation to the Heart of Mary would be empty. One theory to explain the call to offer reparation to the Mother is parallel to the Christological theory of accidental joy. Rev. Luigi Ciappi, O.P, who spoke at the Fatima Congress in 1971, referred to the Sorrowful Heart of Mary as a symbol of compassion and aversion, but not true sorrow:

(The sorrowful heart is) a symbol of the true compassion, spiritual and sensitive, experienced by the Virgin Mother when she stood near the Cross of Jesus on Calvary. It is also the symbol of the most perfect aversion, the Immaculate Heart of Mary—though glorious in heaven—stills feels, even if there be no sensitive or spiritual sadness. (23)