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)
Fr. Ciappi goes on to say that acts of reparation “bring to her physical glorious heart a true sensitive joy, and an increase of the accidental glory to her soul immersed now in the beatifying vision of God.” (24) This theology of reparation to the Heart of Mary espouses the idea that reparation only adds to her joy and glory in heaven, rather than consoling her sorrows. In my opinion this theory takes away much of the actual necessity and power of reparation.
However, we have even greater reason to believe that Our Lady currently suffers for the sins of her children. We know she suffers because Our Lady has made this very clear in her recent apparitions. In the 1830 apparitions of Our Lady to St. Catherine Labouré, Our Lady gives St. Catherine a vision of the Miraculous Medal. In this vision Our Lady’s heart appears pierced by a sword. It is certainly no light suffering to have a pierced heart, and this is how Our Lady chose to depict her heart on what was to become one of the most widely recognized images of the Blessed Mother. Sixteen years later, Our Lady appeared to two little shepherds in La Salette, France. In these apparitions, the Blessed Mother sat and held her head while she wept. (25) In 1871 at Pontmain, Our Lady appeared very sorrowful as she held a bloody crucifix. (26) When
Our Lady appeared at Lourdes in 1858 she also wept, causing Bernadette to turn to the crowd and say “Penance! Penance! Penance!” (27) Thus, in at least four major apparitions in the last three centuries Our Lady has appeared sorrowful.
In the mother of all apparitions, Our Lady appeared seven times in Fatima, Portugal, to three children to promote devotion to her Immaculate Heart. In these apparitions, Our Lady appears sorrowful and speaks on the need for humanity to make reparation to her Heart. Ultimately, the message of Fatima is a message of reparation. After the angelic apparitions, Our Lady appeared to the children and continued the message of reparation to God for sins. She also made clear that her Immaculate Heart was also offended by the sins of man and that she too needed reparation made to her Heart. In the second apparition, on June 13, 1917, Our Lady showed the children her heart encircled by thorns. In the sixth apparition, on October 13, 1917, Our Lady looked very sad and told the children “do not offend the Lord Our God anymore; He is already so offended.” The apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima clearly indicate that she is suffering currently for the sins of her children.
Not only does Our Lady suffer presently, it is clear that God has willed that humanity make reparation to the Mother’s Heart as He attached the promise of salvation to those who carry out this wish. This promise was made known following the Fatima apparitions of 1917, when Our Lady appeared again to Sr. Lucia in 1925 and asked for reparation to be made to her Immaculate Heart through the first “Five Saturdays” devotion.
On December 10, 1925, the Blessed Mother appeared to Lucia with the Child Jesus. She showed Lucia her Heart surrounded by thorns. The Child Jesus said to Lucia: “have compassion on the Heart of thy most holy Mother covered with thorns which ungrateful men are thrusting into it at every moment without anyone making an effort to withdraw them by acts of reparation.” The Mother added:
“At least you, see that I be consoled and tell all those who for five months on the first Saturday go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say a Rosary and keep me company for fifteen minutes meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the rosary in a spirit of reparation, that I promise to assist them at the hour of dearth with all the graces necessary for the salvation of their soul.”
The devotion of first Saturdays is required for five Saturdays because there are five ways in which Our Lady is offended:
1. Blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception
2. Blasphemies against her virginity
3. Blasphemies against her divine Maternity and at the same time refusal to recognize her as Mother of men
4. Blasphemies of those who seek openly to foster in the hearts of children indifference, contempt and even hatred for their Immaculate Mother
5. The offenses of those who directly outrage her in her holy images
In addition to the first Saturdays devotion revealed to Sr. Lucia, they are many means
to make reparation to God and Our Lady. One key to reparation is the Eucharistic devotion. The Eucharistic emphasis of the Fatima message is indisputable. Reparation can be made by participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which Christ’s offering up of Himself is perpetuated, along with time spent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. All prayers, especially the Rosary, are excellent forms of reparation along with accepting the sacrifices of each day and performing acts of spiritual and corporal mortification. The final apparition of Our Lady to Sr. Lucia revealed not only that Our Lady’s Heart was sorrowful and in need of reparation, but that it is the Lord’s will that this reparation to His Mother be carried out.
Some confusion may arise at this point as it can be seen that the children of Fatima were asked to make reparation to God as well as to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Did Our Lady want reparation to her Heart rather than to God? The answer to this question is a definite “NO!” The key to understanding reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to note that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are inseparable. Reparation made to the Immaculate Heart is ultimately reparation to God. Thus, there is no competition between reparation to Our Lady and to God. Reparation to the Blessed Mother is one and the same as reparation to God. Reparation is made to the Mother because it pleases God to see the suffering Heart of His Mother assuaged by the prayers and sacrifices of men. We can imagine this on human terms. If a mother and son are both offended by the insults and misdeeds of those they love, it is very likely that a gracious and loving son would prefer the offenders to make amends to his mother first for the pain caused to her. The son, who is always in close union with his mother, would not require the offenders to come to him specifically after they have come to his mother, for in making amends with his mother, they also made amends with him. It is possible that Christ willed the emphasis of the Fatima apparitions to be reparation to the Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart because she did not experience any of the consolation that He experienced retroactively, through acts of reparation made by Christians, during His Passion and Death. While this is pure speculation, what is certain is that reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is one with reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus because of the union of their Hearts.
Not only has Our Lady appeared sorrowful many times over the last two centuries in her apparitions, but recently her images have also miraculously wept and bled. While there have been many miraculous images of Our Lady which have been reported over the centuries, very few of these have been weeping or bleeding. However, beginning in the twentieth century, there have been dozens of reported sorrowful images of Our Lady. This is good evidence that Our Lady has a special message for the modern world concerning her suffering caused by recent atrocities.
A major occurrence in which Our Lady wept took place in Syracuse, Sicily in 1953. Here, a young woman, Antonietta Januso, was very sick in bed with a rare illness she contracted after giving birth. When she opened her eyes on August 29, she saw the little Madonna on the wall with tears streaming from her eyes. These tears continued for four days and attracted tens-of-thousands wishing to see it. After scientific investigations were carried out, the bishops of Sicily unanimously agreed about the authenticity of the tears. The L’Osservatore Romano, on December 18, 1953, stated:
“(The bishops) have expressed the sincere desire that this manifestation of our heavenly Mother may inspire the whole world with a true spirit of penance, and more fervent devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” (28)
Another more recent, but equally as prominent incident of miraculous happenings concerning a statue of Mary occurred in Akita, Japan. These events began on July 6, 1973, when Sr. Agnes Sasagawa saw drops of blood flowing from the right hand of the statue of Mary in the chapel. This flow of blood happened four more times. After the blood flow stopped the statue began to sweat. During this time Sr. Agnes received three messages from Our Lady. The Blessed Mother spoke emphatically about the need for reparation to God and to her: “I wish, with my Son, for souls who will repair by their suffering and their poverty for the sinners and ingrates.” Two years after this, the statue began to weep. It wept at intervals for the next six years and eight months. In total it wept one hundred and one times. While there are many more reported incidents of statues of Mary which shed either blood or tears, it is sufficiently obvious from the above reports that Our Lady has manifested her suffering in the last century.
The question that arises at this point is: “why are these things happening?” Pope John Paul II gives a very simple but profound answer to this question: “If the Madonna is weeping, this means that she has reasons to do so.” (29) In other words, Our Lady is not appearing sorrowful, speaking of her sorrow and shedding tears for no reason. It is clear, in these Church approved apparitions, that the Blessed Mother is sad. Is this sadness merely a representation of the pain and suffering Our Lady endured while on earth? Or is this a form of deception to encourage humanity to repent and pray?
Surely not! I do not believe Our Lady would appear sad, speak of this sadness, and shed tears if she were not presently sad. To believe otherwise would be to accept a type of deceit on the part of Our Lady. As this is not possible, we can conclude that Our Lady does in fact still experience suffering, although she is in heavenly glory. Besides the theology of the Mystical Body of Christ, which supports that the Head and the Mother of the Body suffer with the members, a hypothesis for the unique suffering of Jesus and Mary is that they are the only two in heaven who possess their glorified bodies. As the body is the instrument of suffering, both Our Lord and Our Lady are able to suffer. While this is a mere hypothesis, what is clear is that God has willed that Jesus and Our Lady mysteriously be permitted to suffer in heaven although they share the Beatific Vision.
Although the mysterious element of the suffering of Jesus and Mary in heaven may be difficult to comprehend in theological terms, we must remember that very often, as in the case at Fatima, Our Lord and Our Lady appear to children or simple people not because it is easy to deceive them, but because they have hearts which are open and ready to embrace their messages. During the 1971 International Seminar at Fatima, the chairman spoke to this issue: “We must translate what happened here at Fatima from the language of children to the language of science. But there is also merit in the second suggestion: We must remain as children to understand this language ourselves.” (30) Thus, the desire to theologize the essence of the message of Fatima, along with the entire notion of reparation to the Heart of Mary must be embarked upon with much care; theological explanations should never lead hearts to grow cold to the truth about Our Lady’s sorrows which she herself has revealed to mankind.
While it is challenging to theologically reconcile the notion of heavenly glory coexisting with suffering, the call to offer reparation to the Heart of Mary asks us to go beyond pure reason and to trust in the messages that Our Lady herself has given to us, especially in the last century.
Our Lady’s apparitions in Fatima, along with her weeping and bleeding statues in Syracuse and Akita, indicate that she is unquestionably in pain now and desirous of our reparation. Some theologians may say that the Blessed Mother merely appears sad in her apparitions and miraculous images, although she is actually fully rejoicing in heaven and only capable of rejoicing further. This theory suggests deceit on the part of Our Lady, which is wholly incompatible with her person. Others may say that Our Lady desires reparation for the suffering she endured on earth. However, since she did not experience the Beatific Vision while on earth, she could not share in the consolation offered to her retroactively by men and women today. Thus, these theories, which attempt to explain away the Blessed Mother’s sadness, have serious difficulties which cannot be easily overcome. Although the theory that Our Lady actually experiences sorrow while in her glorified body is also challenging to reconcile with our present understanding of heaven, we must concede that our earthly knowledge of heaven is extremely limited and obscure.
The theory that Our Lady currently suffers while also experiencing Beatitude is the most plausible simply because she has continually and increasingly reaffirmed this fact. Like a child who sees his mother crying, we must run quickly to our Blessed Mother and do all we can to console her sorrowful Heart, while accepting the innate mystery that lies beneath those tears.
Elizabeth Stidham, a freelance writer, received her Masters in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Newly married, she and her husband are presently residing in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
(1) Eudes, J., The Admirable Heart of Mary, P.J. Kenedy & Sons: New York, 1948. pp. 8-10.
(2) Stackpole, R., Consoling the Heart of Jesus, Pontifical University of St. Thomas: Rome, 2000, p. 31.
(3) Ibid., p. 182.
(4) Ibid., p. 166.
(5) Calkins, A., Totus Tuus, Academy of the Immaculate, 1992, pp. 281-282.
(6) Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Iucunda Semper, September 8, 1894, 3.
(7) Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, February 11, 1984, 25.
(8) Eudes, J., Oeuvres Complètes Vol. VII:129-130 (St. John Eudes, Meditations on Various Subjects (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1947) 240-241).
(10) Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, IX/2 (1986), 700, Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice; L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 959:13.
(11) John Paul II, On the Most Holy Rosary, Pauline Books & Media: Boston, 2002, p. 15.
(12) Eudes, Admirable Heart of Mary, p. 105.
(13) Eudes, Admirable Heart of Mary, p. 109.
(14) Inseg IX/2 (1986), 392, L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 951:2.
(15) Stackpole, Consoling the Heart of Jesus, p. 213.
(16) Ibid., p. 362.
(17) Ibid., p. 226.
(18) Ibid., p. 227.
(19) Ven. Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Mysticic Corporis, June 29, 1943, 75.
(20) Calkins, A., The Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the Theology and Practice of Reparation, p. 5.
(21) Hogan, J. Reparation—Love—Atonement, p. 2.
(22) Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964, 58.
(23) Venancio, J., A Heart for All, AMI Press, Washington, NJ, 1972, p. 90.
(24) Ibid., p. 91.
(25) Hebert, A., The Tears of Mary—and Fatima, Why?, Pauline, LA, 1983, p. 29.
(28) Ibid., p. 49.
(29) Ibid., p. 19.
(30) Venancio, A Heart for All, p. 17.