The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary focus our attention on the infinite love of God. The celebration of these feasts on two consecutive days (on June 8th and 9th in 2018) also reminds us that wherever Jesus is, Mary is always nearby. She was there at the moment of Jesus’ conception, and she was there when He took His last breath on the Cross. Even today, she is by His side in heaven, glorifying God and interceding for those of us who are still on our earthly journey.
The close connection of these two feast days also emphasizes the importance of Mary’s role in our Salvation. Although Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born into this world in a fully human way. Nevertheless, Mary and Jesus were no ordinary mother and Son. Jesus was truly man while remaining truly God. By saying “yes” to God – in giving God her humanity – Mary did not give birth to Jesus just for herself. She was the means through whom all humanity receives the possibility of eternal life. Jesus had to be born of a woman in order to die on the Cross, so that He could triumph over sin and death by rising from the dead. Because Mary cooperated with God in His great act of love, each one of us has been given the possibility to be reconciled to God.
Mary’s role in our Salvation did not end in the stable at Bethlehem. Her body was not just a ‘place’ where, once she had given birth to our Lord, we could say that her purpose in life had been fulfilled and that God had no further plans for her. Filled with the Holy Spirit at the moment of the Incarnation, all those who came into contact with Mary after that time were, in turn, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa writes, “It was certainly the presence of Jesus that radiated the Spirit but Jesus was in Mary and acted through her.”1
Just as their physical and spiritual lives were intimately connected, so too are our devotions to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is not possible to honour Mary without at the same time giving glory to her Son. In all things, she points the way to Him.
Image of the Heart
The first thing that comes to mind when we think of these two feast days is the ‘heart’, which is a symbol of love. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is an image of His Divine love for all of humanity, while the Immaculate Heart of Mary represents her overflowing love for God and her Divine Son. Devotion to the Heart of Jesus is an act of love by which we return His great love for us. Devotion to the Heart of Mary inspires us to reflect on her virtues and to strive to imitate them, especially her great love for God and Jesus.2 Mary was the only fully human person who was able to love God in the way that He should be loved. Her heart is meant as a model for how we should love Him.
History of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
From the beginnings of the Church, believers have had a desire to express their great love for God in return for His great love for us. However, it wasn’t until the 11th and 12th centuries that we see the beginnings of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Then, between 1673 and 1675, Jesus appeared in a series of revelations to a French nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690).
Jesus told St. Margaret Mary of His great love for us and of His burning desire to be loved by us in return. He asked to be honoured under the image of His Sacred Heart. He requested that the faithful should receive Holy Communion frequently (especially on the First Friday of the month) and set aside time to observe a “Holy Hour” on the Thursday before the First Friday. Finally, Jesus asked that a feast in honour of His Sacred Heart be established on the Friday after the octave of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.3
Gradually, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began to spread. On May 25, 1899, Pope Leo XII wrote an encyclical letter, Annum Sacrum (On Consecration to the Sacred Heart). In it, he decreed that the entire human race should be consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.4 He also encouraged the Church to promote the First Friday Devotions and established June as the Month of the Sacred Heart.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart and the 12 Promises
Today, there are four principal forms of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
- The First Friday Mass and Communion of Reparation.
- The Holy Hour on the Thursday before the First Friday to commemorate the Agony in the Garden.
- The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is celebrated annually on the Friday after the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (also known as Corpus Christi).
- The Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Enthronement of the image of the Sacred Heart.
To those who receive Holy Communion on nine consecutive Fridays in honour of His Sacred Heart, our Lord gave the following promises:
- I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
- I will establish peace in their families.
- I will console them in all their pains and trials.
- I will be their assured refuge in life and especially at the hour of death.
- I will shower abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
- Sinners shall find in My Heart a fountain and boundless ocean of mercy.
- Lukewarm souls will become fervent.
- Fervent souls shall rise to greater perfection.
- I will bless those homes where an image of My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and honored.
- I will give to priests the gift of moving the hardest of hearts.
- Those who spread this devotion shall have their names inscribed on My Heart, never to be blotted out.
- I promise you, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all who receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of the month for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance; they shall not die in My displeasure nor without the Sacraments: My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
History of the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have been attracted to Mary’s love for God and the virtues of her Immaculate Heart. We reflect on her interior life, her joys and sorrows, her virtues, and her hidden perfections. But above all, we meditate on her virginal love for God, her maternal love for her Divine Son, and her motherly and compassionate love for all of us, her children here on earth.5
St. John Eudes (d. 1681) was the first to spread the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to make it public, and to have a feast celebrated in her honour. But it was not until 1944 that Pope Pius XII made it an official feast day of the Church. It was first celebrated on August 22nd, the octave day of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, in 1969, Pope Paul VI moved the celebration of the Immaculate Heart to the day immediately following the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The First Five Saturdays
The First Five Saturdays Devotion was instituted at the request of Our Lady of Fatima to make reparation6 for sins committed against her Immaculate Heart. On the first Saturday of five consecutive months, those wishing to honour Mary in this way should do the following (all with the intention of making reparation for sins):
- Go to confession (within eight days before or after the first Saturday).
- Receive Holy Communion.
- Recite five decades of the rosary.
- Keep Mary company for 15 minutes while meditating on some (or all) of the mysteries of the rosary.
Why five Saturdays? The reason is that there are five kinds of offenses against the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
- Lack of faith and reverence for Mary’s Immaculate Conception;
- Lack of faith and reverence for her perpetual virginity;
- Lack of faith and reverence for Mary’s divine and spiritual maternity;
- The rejection and dishonouring of images of Mary;
- The failure to cultivate a knowledge and love of our Immaculate Mother in the hearts of children.
Mary promises that whoever is faithful to this devotion will be given the graces necessary for their salvation at the hour of their death.
Mary, Our Powerful Intercessor
Mary knew of Jesus’ Divine power7 and she was always ready to speak to Him on behalf of others. Her intercession was so powerful that she even persuaded Jesus to agree to perform His first miracle. He changed the water into wine at the Wedding in Cana only because Mary asked Him to do it. After all, His mission had not yet even begun!8
We see that on that day – and in fact on every day – “Mary is simply ‘the best way’ to go to Christ.”9 Why? The power of Mary’s intercession is not just a privilege granted to her as the Mother of Christ. Mary’s power is founded, above all, in her love for God; she only asks for what is according to God’s will. And we have God’s promise that “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 Jn 5:14). We can be certain that Mary not only understands the longings of our hearts, but that she is our Blessed Mother and loves us deeply. Her only desire is to bring about our greatest happiness – God’s will – in our lives. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa writes, “[Mary is] the best way because she is the most accessible, the closest to our state, as she, like us, walked in faith, hope, and charity. Mary is part of the great way that is the word of God. She is a word in action or, better, a word in flesh and bone.”10
– Sharon van der Sloot
Trusting in Mary’s great love and care for each one of us, many Catholics begin each day by praying the Morning Offering to our Lord through her intercession. The prayer is as follows:
Daily Offering to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in thanksgiving for your favours, in reparation for my sins, for the intentions of all my family and friends, and in particular for the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope Francis.
Prayer of Consecration
to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, I come to you to consecrate myself and my entire family to your Two Hearts.
I desire to renew the vows of my baptism and place each member of my family through an act of faith, hope and love into loving union with the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
I dedicate myself and each member of my family to the Guardian Angels God has given each one of us. O Holy Guardian Angels, enlighten, guide and protect each one so as to lead us safely home to heaven.
At Fatima, dear Mother of God, you appeared with St. Joseph and the Child Jesus blessing the world. O Holy Family, bestow blessings upon me and my entire family so that we may live the Christ-life.
I desire that each member of my family adore always the Most Blessed Trinity and love our God in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Grant peace to each member of my family. Keep each one in the grace of Jesus Christ. Never permit any of my family to stray from the true faith.
(For any family member who has strayed, I beseech you to bind up the wounds, lift up the fallen, restore and keep each of our loved ones in grace. Bid them come back to their Father’s true home). Amen11
1 Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M.Cap., Mary, Mirror of the Church (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), 172.
2 Cf. Jean Bainvel, “Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 7 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910); available from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07168a.htm; Internet; accessed 4 June 2013.
3 In Canada, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – also known as Corpus Christi – is celebrated on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday (instead of on the traditional Thursday). The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on the Friday after our celebration of Corpus Christi (which is the octave, or eighth, day of the date of the traditional observance of that feast.)
4 The consecration took place on June 11, 1899.
5 Cf. Bainvel, “Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
6 To ‘make reparation’ is to make amends for something that we have done wrong, especially for sin, which is an offense against God.
7 See Luke 1:31-35.
8 Cf. John 2:4.
9 Cantalamessa, 198.
11 Prayer of Consecration quoted from “Smart Martha: Heart of Mary, Hands of Martha,” available from http://www.smartmartha.com/Pages/June.aspx; Internet; accessed 4 June 2013.