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).