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Why Mary’s Heart?

Shortly before the visit of Pope John Paul II to France in October of 1986 a very perceptive article by the distinguished Jesuit Sacred Heart scholar, Édouard Glotin, appeared in Nouvelle Revue Théologique, entitled “John Paul II at Paray-le-Monial or Why the ‘Heart’?” (1) It is a provocative question which many of the faithful may rightly ask today with regard to devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: Why Mary’s Heart? Why should we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary the day after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? What we will see in attempting even a brief response to this query is that we can never speak of the Heart of Mary without reference to the Heart of Jesus.

There are many legitimate ways of responding to the query “Why the Hearts of Jesus and Mary?”. One could do so, for instance, from the viewpoint of the history of spirituality, the theology of the saints and of private revelations. I wish to do so from the perspective of the papal magisterium, and particularly from that of Pope John Paul II, who shows himself to be especially sensitive to the preoccupations and questions of our day and who has spoken more frequently of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary than all of his predecessors combined.

I. Heart of Jesus—Symbol of His Divine-Human Love

On 5 October, 1986, John Paul II personally presented a letter to the Superior General of the Jesuits at Paray-le-Monial, site of the apparitions of the Lord to Saint Margaret Mary, encouraging the Jesuits to continue promoting this devotion whose “essential elements” he said:

Belong in a permanent fashion to the spirituality of the Church throughout her history; for since the beginning, the Church has looked to the Heart of Christ pierced on the Cross, from which blood and water flowed forth as symbols of the sacraments that constitute the Church; and, in the Heart of the Incarnate Word, the Fathers of the Christian East and West saw the beginning of all the work of our salvation, fruit of the love of the divine Redeemer. This pierced Heart is a particularly expressive symbol of that love. (2)

In other words, even if the devotion to the Heart of Jesus only developed slowly in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and emerged explicitly in the seventeenth century, its roots are in Scripture and Tradition and it belongs “in a permanent fashion to the spirituality of the Church throughout her history.”

In what is perhaps the single most important passage in his monumental Sacred Heart encyclical Haurietis Aquas, the Servant of God Pope Pius XII taught authoritatively about the aptness of the Heart of Jesus as a symbol and the various levels of its symbolism:

The Heart of the Incarnate Word is deservedly and rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that threefold love with which the divine Redeemer unceasingly loves His eternal Father and all mankind.

It is a symbol of that divine love which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit but which He, the Word made flesh, alone manifests through a weak and perishable body, since “in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).

It is, besides, the symbol of that burning love which, infused into His soul, enriches the human will of Christ and enlightens and governs its acts by the most perfect knowledge derived both from the beatific vision and that which is directly infused.

And finally—and this in a more natural and direct way—it is the symbol also of sensible love, since the body of Jesus Christ, formed by the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, possesses full powers of feelings and perception, in fact, more so than any other human body. (3)

The Heart of Jesus, then, is “a particularly expressive symbol” of the divine-human love of the God-man.

Building on the teaching of his predecessor, in a remarkable homily given on 28 June, 1984, at the Gemelli Polyclinic (4) and Faculty of Medicine in Rome, John Paul II presented the Heart of Jesus in a way that is at once poetic, theological and very striking:

From our faith we know that at a determined time in history, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:14). From that moment God began to love with a human heart, a true heart capable of beating in an intense, tender and impassioned way. The Heart of Jesus has truly experienced feelings of joy before the splendor of nature, the candor of children, the glance of a pure young man; feelings of friendship toward the Apostles, Lazarus, the disciples; feelings of compassion for the sick, the poor, the many persons tried by struggle, by loneliness, by sin, feelings of anguish before the prospect of suffering and the mystery of death. There is no authentically human feeling that the Heart of Jesus did not experience…

Of the infinite power that is proper to God, the Heart of Christ kept only the defenseless power of the love that forgives. And in the radical loneliness of the Cross, he accepted being pierced by the centurion’s lance so that from the open wound there might pour out upon the world’s ugly deeds the inexhaustible torrent of a mercy that washes, purifies and renews.

In the Heart of Christ, therefore, there meet divine richness and human poverty, the power of grace and the frailty of nature, an appeal from God and a response from man. In the Heart of Christ the history of mankind has its definitive place of arrival, because “the Father has assigned all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). Therefore, willing or not, every human heart must refer to the Heart of Christ. (5)

II. Heart of Mary—Symbol of Creaturely Love of God and Man

In his address to the participants in the International Theological Symposium on the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary on 22 September, 1986, Pope John Paul II offered some very important reflections on the Heart of Mary:

It is worthy of note that the Decree by which Pope Pius XII instituted for the universal Church the celebration in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary states: “With this devotion the Church renders the honor due to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, since under the symbol of this heart she venerates with reverence the eminent and singular holiness of the Mother of God and especially her most ardent love for God and Jesus her Son and moreover her maternal compassion for all those redeemed by the divine Blood.” (6) Thus it can be said that our devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart expresses our reverence for her maternal compassion both for Jesus and for all of us her spiritual children, as she stood at the foot of the Cross.

I presented this same thought in my first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, in which I pointed out that from the first moment of the Redemptive Incarnation, “under the special influence of the Holy Spirit, Mary’s heart, the heart of both a virgin and a mother, has always followed the work of her Son and has gone out to all those whom Christ has embraced and continues to embrace with inexhaustible love” (No. 22).

We see symbolized in the heart of Mary her maternal love, her singular sanctity and her central role in the redemptive mission of her Son. It is with regard to her special role in her Son’s mission that devotion to Mary’s Heart has prime importance, for through love of her Son and of all of humanity she exercises a unique instrumentality in bringing us to him. (7)

The Heart of Mary, then, is the pre-eminent symbol of Mary’s love for her Son and all of the children born from his redemptive death. Further, the Heart of Mary pierced by the sword (cf. Lk. 2:35) graphically calls to mind “her central role in the redemptive mission of her Son.”

III. Union of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary on Golgotha

At the end of Haurietis Aquas Pius XII reveals something of the intimate union between the Hearts of Jesus and Mary united precisely for the sake of our salvation:

That graces for the Christian family and for the whole human race may flow more abundantly from devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let the faithful strive to join it closely with devotion to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God. By the will of God, the most Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably joined with Christ in accomplishing the work of man’s redemption, so that our salvation flows from the love of Jesus Christ and His sufferings intimately united with the love and sorrows of His Mother. (8)

In a truly marvelous way John Paul II further draws out the implications of this profound union of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary in the remarkable homily which he gave in Fatima on 13 May, 1982:

On the cross Christ said: “Woman, behold your son!” With these words He opened in a new way His Mother’s heart. A little later, the Roman soldier’s spear pierced the side of the Crucified One. That pierced heart became a sign of the redemption achieved through the death of the Lamb of God.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary opened with the words “Woman, behold, your son!” is spiritually united with the heart of her Son opened by the soldier’s spear. Mary’s heart was opened by the same love for man and for the world with which Christ loved man and the world, offering Himself for them on the cross, until the soldier’s spear struck that blow. (9)

IV. Consecration

Ultimately, in the company of great Marian saints like Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort and Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Pope John Paul II explains that the surest and most direct way to belong to Jesus and to identify with his sacrifice is to give oneself entirely to Mary and he does so precisely with reference to their Hearts. Here is how he continued that same homily in Fatima on 13 May, 1982:

Consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means drawing near, through the Mother’s intercession, to the very fountain of life that sprang from Golgotha. This fountain pours forth unceasingly redemption and grace. In it reparation is made continually for the sins of the world. It is a ceaseless source of new life and holiness.

Consecrating the world to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother means returning beneath the cross of the Son. It means consecrating this world to the pierced Heart of the Savior, bringing it back to the very source of its redemption….

Consecrating ourselves to Mary means accepting her help to offer ourselves and the whole of mankind to Him who is holy, infinitely holy: it means accepting her help—by having recourse to her motherly heart, which beneath the cross was opened to love for every human being, for the whole world—in order to offer the world, the individual human being, mankind as a whole, and all the nations to Him who is infinitely holy….

The Mother of the Redeemer calls us, invites us, and helps us to join in this consecration, this act of confiding the world. By joining in it we shall be as close as possible to the Heart of Jesus pierced on the cross. (10)

Here is a further commentary which he made on September 22, 1986:

Our act of consecration [to the Immaculate Heart of Mary] refers ultimately to the Heart of her Son, for as the Mother of Christ she is wholly united to his redemptive mission. As at the marriage feast of Cana, when she said “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary directs all things to her Son, who answers our prayers and forgives our sins. Thus 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. (11)

Each of the texts quoted above—as well as their more ample context in the documents from which they come—deserves to be contemplated at length. In that way we may come to appreciate ever more deeply why the Church celebrates the Feasts of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary on successive days and why, by a most happy circumstance, the Feast of Mary’s Immaculate Heart is the last liturgical commemoration linked to the Easter cycle. In a sense all is summed up, reflected and poured out upon the Church through the Heart of the Mother. And our response is to give ourselves to her without reserve.

Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins was an official of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” in Rome, a contributing member of the Pontifical International Marian Academy and the author of Totus Tuus . He is internationally known for his numerous articles on Our Lady and for his scholarly work in the fields of dogmatic and spiritual theology.


(1) Édouard Glotin, S.J., “Jean-Paul a Paray-le-Monial ou Pourquoi le ‘Cœur’?,” Nouvelle Revue Théologique108 (1986): 685-714. This is condensed from a larger study which appeared in Jésus-Christ Rédempteur de l’Homme (Venasque: Éditions du Carmel, 1986) under the title “Le centre de l’âme et l’Icône sacrée du Coeur. De Thérèse d’Avila à Marguerite-Marie” 103-154.

(2) Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, IX/2 (1986), (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1986), 843 (henceforth referred to as Inseg); L’Osservatore Romano (English edition) (henceforth referred to as ORE with the first number indicating the cumulative weekly edition number, and the one after the colon indicating the page number) 960:7.

(3) Acta Apostolicæ Sedis (henceforth referred to as AAS) 48 (1956), 327-28; Francis Larkin, SS.CC. (ed.), Haurietis Aquas: The Sacred Heart Encyclical of Pope Pius XII (Orlando, Florida: Sacred Heart Publications Center, 1974), 23-24 (emphasis my own).

(4) It was in this hospital that the Pope recuperated from the attempt made on his life and has been a patient on several other occasions.

(5) Inseg VII/1 (1984), 1975-76; ORE 843:9 (final emphasis my own).

(6) Sacred Congregation of Rites, 4 May, 1944 (AAS 37 (1945) 50).

(7) Inseg IX/2 (1986), 699-700 (ORE 959:12?13).

(8) AAS 48 (1956), 352 (Our Lady: Papal Teachings, trans. Daughters of St. Paul (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1961) #778) (emphasis my own).

(9) Inseg V/2 (1982), 1573-1574 (ORE 734:3); emphasis my own.

(10) Inseg V/2 (1982), 1573-1574 (ORE 734:3); emphasis my own.

(11) Inseg IX/2 (1986), 700 (ORE 959:13).

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