Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, by an Oblate of Mary Immaculate

Some History

The seventeenth century may be fitly described as the golden age of the devotion to the Pure Heart of Mary. Until that time, it was practised exclusively by a few chosen souls, and spread only by degrees throughout the Church. Ascetical writers and learned theologians began to treat more frequently of this devotion. Great men, such as Louis de Granada, Cardinal de Berulle, Canisius, and Suarez, worked with energy and zeal to make this devotion better known.

It was reserved for Saint John Eudes to be the apostle and chief organiser of this special devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We must remark here, however, that in this holy man’s mind, the two Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary were ever inseparable. For almost thirty years before the revelations of Saint Margaret Mary took place, Saint John had been an apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By word and work, he had laboured to spread that devotion throughout the Church of France. Hence, in the decree of January 6th, 1903, on the heroicity of Saint John Eudes’ virtues, the Church herself styles him “the author of the liturgical cult of the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary.” As, in the divine plan, Mary prepares the way for Jesus, so also in the Church of God, devotion to the Heart of Mary prepared the way for devotion to the Sacred Heart. In Saint John’s view, the ultimate object of all devotion and love is the adorable Heart of our Saviour, but, the best means of attaining that object is the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. Wherefore, he first set to work to preach and organise devotion to the Heart of Mary. And of that devotion he is the apostle par excellence, for when he began in 1641 it was scarcely known, but when he died (1680), it existed in a flourishing condition in most of the dioceses of France. A few words, then, on Saint John Eudes and his work.

Born in 1601, at Ri, in the Department of Orne (France), John Eudes possessed from his tenderest years a profound love for, and a filial devotion to, the Immaculate Mother of God. After a brilliant course of studies in the Jesuit College at Caen, he decided to enter the Congregation of the Oratory, founded by Cardinal de Berulle, and did so on March 25th, 1623. Ordained priest in 1625, Father Eudes began his sacerdotal ministry in the town of Caen. From the very beginning of his priestly career, he zealously applied himself to the important work of preaching missions, and in this, he was very successful.

It was not until 1641, however, that he devoted his attention to the propagation of devotion to the Heart of Mary. In that year he made the acquaintance, of a holy soul, Marie Desvallees, whom he ever afterwards regarded as a saint, favoured with divine communications and extraordinary graces. Probably, this saintly woman made known to Father Eudes the will of God with regard to the part he was to play in spreading devotion to the Pure Heart of Mary. This holy man looked upon his mission as divine, and considered himself an instrument in God’s hands for the formation of a new and distinctive devotion, and from the year 1641 the apostle of Mary’s Immaculate Heart gave himself unreservedly to the furtherance of this great project. Saint John Eudes was a Founder of religious institutes, a zealous and eloquent missionary, and a great spiritual writer. In each of these capacities, he applied all his energy and talents to his great lifework – the establishment among the faithful of France of a special devotion to the Most Pure Heart of Mary.

Saint John Eudes was, first of all, a Founder of religious congregations. His first foundation on December 8th, 1641, was that of the Society of Our Lady of Charity – a Society much similar in end and constitutions to the Congregation of the Good Shepherd, of our day, to provide a refuge for prostitutes who wished to do penance. Everything in that Society breathed devotion to the Pure Heart of Mary. Its very existence, in the holy Founder’s view, was due to the virginal Heart of Mary, who loved, with one and the same love, both Mary Magdalen and the Apostle, Saint John. From its inception, this institute was dedicated to the chaste Heart of Our Lady. Its Founder always loved to call its members “the daughters of the Heart of Mary,” and continually invited them to seek in that Heart their rule of life, and especially their model of Christian charity. For them, moreover, he instituted the first liturgical feast of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, which was celebrated on February 8th of each year.

The Society of Jesus and Mary (the Eudists) was founded by Saint John Eudes at Caen in 1643. He first conceived the idea of this new Society in 1641, when he was yet a member of the Oratory. In fact, it appears that he quitted this latter Congregation in order to establish the Society which now bears his name. In his intention, the Eudists were to be apostles and promoters of devotion to the Heart of Mary. He never ceased to inculcate this devotion amongst his priests, reminding them that “the Congregation is dedicated in an especial manner to the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and that they must love and honour these Hearts as their principal Patrons.” In his numerous letters to them, he frequently alluded to the same subject, and earnestly besought them to spread his cherished devotion among the people.

The Saint’s third foundation is not a religious congregation, nor even a “Third Order” properly so called, but only an Association of holy women living in the world and practising perfect chastity. It bears the beautiful name, of the “Society of the Heart of the Mother Most Admirable.” His saintly friend, Marie Desvallees, was the first associate of this new Society. It is still in existence, and now numbers about 25,000 associates. Probably no Society established by Saint John Eudes did so much as this one for the propagation of devotion to the Heart of Mary.

But Saint John was not content with spreading this devotion among his own children. He preached it also in his missions everywhere he went. From diocese to diocese, from parish to parish, this saintly priest passed, sowing, as he went, the seeds of a lasting devotion in the souls of his hearers. In the confessional as in the pulpit, the apostle of the Heart of Mary spent himself in the work of establishing his beloved devotion. To souls willing to advance in the path of perfection, he proposed the Immaculate Heart of Mary as the Model of all the virtues. To the weak and to sinners, he held it up as the sure means of salvation and perseverance. Despite Jansenistic outcries, he continued to inculcate this devotion, and eventually preached no mission or retreat without making the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary known and loved. His sermons everywhere were crowned with success, for, as a result of his apostolic labours, confraternities in honour of the Most Pure Heart of Mary were established in many parishes.

At length, in 1648, he had the happiness of seeing the desire of his heart fulfilled, for the feast of the Heart of Mary was for the first time publicly celebrated at Autun. That town is remarkable not only as the place where the feast of the Most Pure Heart of Mary first appeared in the Church’s public liturgy, but also as the spot where, thirty years later, the devotion to the Sacred Heart flourished in all its perfection. Here, again, Mary prepared the way for her Son.

The hour of Providence came when Saint John preached a mission in Autun, and profited by the occasion to establish a public feast in honour of Mary’s Immaculate Heart. The Mass and Office composed by himself for the feast were first approved by the Bishop of Autun, Monsignor Claude de Ragny. On February 8th, the saint celebrated the solemn Mass of the feast in the cathedral. The crowds, which thronged the sacred edifice, seemed to be set on fire with love of the Immaculate Heart of their dear Mother. Everybody united in celebrating that beautiful feast in a befitting manner, and we are told that the day was marked by a religious enthusiasm scarcely ever surpassed in that diocese.

Having established the feast at Autun, he set out to establish it in other parishes and dioceses of France. The ardent missionary let no occasion pass without obtaining for the feast and its office the approval of Bishops and theologians. In July, 1648, he preached a magnificent mission in Fere-en-Tardenois. The Pastor of that diocese, Monsignor Simon Ledgers, came in person to witness the wonderful success of the apostolic preacher, and afterwards approved the Office and Mass of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. Other Bishops followed his example, and by their sanction gave a great impetus to the devotion. By these approbations, the feast gradually made its place secure in the liturgy, and served as a potent means of spreading the new devotion among the faithful.

Saint John Eudes’ missionary work was the mainspring of all this progress. If to these approbations and to the numerous feasts celebrated in many dioceses of France we add the confraternities established, the many altars, chapels, and churches erected, the offices, litanies and prayers composed in honour of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, we shall have a more complete idea of what the saint accomplished for this devotion.

In spite of his wonderful zeal, the apostle of the Heart of Mary was not destined to obtain complete success. The greatest desire of his heart was to obtain Papal approbation for the Feast and office that were already approved by the Bishops of France. By this means, he hoped to make his cherished devotion known not only in his own country, but also throughout the entire Church. In 1668, he obtained the approbation of the Papal Legate in France, Cardinal de Vondome. Encouraged by this success, he endeavoured to procure the Sanction of the Congregation of Rites for the devotion. Rome, however, was slow to act, and in 1669, the answer “non expedit” (“it is not expedient”) was given. Nevertheless, he succeeded in obtaining from the reigning Pontiff, Clement IX, many privileges and indulgences for the confraternities instituted by him in honour of Mary’s Immaculate Heart. It was only in later times that this devotion obtained the proud position it now enjoys in the Catholic Church.

The third means he adopted to spread devotion to the Heart of Mary was the apostolate of the Press. A missionary and man of work, he was also one of the most remarkable of ascetical writers of the 17th century. In his letters to his spiritual sons and daughters, in his publications concerning the Mass and Office of the Heart of Mary, in his published works on that same Heart, he is once again the great apostle of this devotion. His literary endeavours contributed in no small degree to the making of this new devotion public and universal. In 1648, he wrote that ‘beautiful book’, “Devotion to the Most Pure Heart and to the Holy Name of the Virgin Mary.” His principal work, begun in 1663, and completed only some weeks before his death, is entitled, “The Amiable Heart of the Mother of God.” Few works, indeed, have been written on this subject; but of those that are written, none surpasses, in sublimity of thought and beauty of sentiment, this last mentioned book. In it, the numerous perfections and virtues of Mary’s spotless Heart are explained and glorified. In it, also, the history, theory, and practice of devotion to that Heart are clearly and solidly expounded.

We see, then, that Saint John Eudes, by the societies he founded, the missions he preached, and the spiritual books he wrote, is truly “the author, doctor, and apostle of the devotion to the Pure Heart of Mary.” That title was bestowed on him by the Vicar of Christ himself, and his it shall remain for all time. After a life of merits and good works, this holy priest died in the odour of sanctity on August 19th, 1680. The fifty-five years of his sacred ministry were spent in the propagation of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of his Dear Mother. On January 6th, 1903, his virtues were declared heroic by the great Pope Leo XIII, and on April 11th, 1909, [Saint] Pius X decreed his beatification. On earth he loved and served the Heart of his immaculate Queen; now in heaven he loves, and will love for ever, that same spotless Heart. The day came when Blessed Father Eudes was raised to the altars of the Church. He was solemnly canonized on the 31st day of May, 1925, by Pius XI, and has been proclaimed Father, Doctor, and Apostle of the Devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

At Father Eudes’ death in 1680, devotion to the Heart of Mary flourished in many of the dioceses of France. Like the grain of mustard seed, it grew and spread throughout that country until it became an important part of the liturgy. France, the eldest daughter of the Church, is certainly a land favoured by Heaven. There, the Sacred Heart of Jesus appeared in radiance and glory, asking His faithful children to make amends by their love, for the ingratitude of mankind. There, also, the Immaculate Virgin Mary revealed herself, not at Lourdes alone, but in many places and at different times. The numerous sanctuaries of Our Lady, served by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, from the first days of the Congregation, give testimony to the many favours and blessings conferred on France by the Blessed Virgin herself. Jesus and Mary have been good to France. She was then one of the most Catholic of nations, her people loved and honoured the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of His own Divine Mother. This twofold devotion brought down on the faithful innumerable graces and blessings. Nowhere, perhaps, have these two devotions been practised with greater fervour and intensity than at Paray-le-Monial, a place rendered famous for all time by the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary.

Born near Autun in 1647, this Saint had from her early childhood a tender love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When she entered the Visitandine convent at Paray-le-Monial, this devotion formed a large part of the spiritual life of the community, and the feast of the Heart of Mary, established in Autun by the Blessed Saint, Father Eudes, was annually celebrated there. The members of that community emulated one another in paying homage to that Heart, but Saint Margaret Mary outshone them all in the intensity of her love and devotion.

In the year 1688, the Saint beheld a wonderful vision. One day, as she knelt before the tabernacle, she saw two Hearts – the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary – and between them a smaller one representing her own. While she gazed with wonder upon those objects, she heard Our Lord’s voice saying to her: “It is thus that My Divine love unites those three Hearts for ever.” From that day, the holy servant of God understood that her divine Master wished her to include in her love of His Sacred Heart the love of His Mother’s spotless Heart also; that these two Hearts must be ever inseparable in her homage and devotion. That this implied wish of our loving Saviour was always carried out during her lifetime we know with certainty from the writings of her biographers. Father Gallifet S.J., for instance, writes thus: – “Sister Margaret Mary always united devotion to the Heart of Mary to her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From her, no doubt, Father de la Colombière, [canonized in 1992] learned this former devotion, for he also ever united these two Hearts in his homage and love.” There were two practices, especially, by which the Saint honoured the Most Pure Heart of Mary – the frequent recitation of a litany composed by herself in honour of that Heart, and of an act of consecration which she often made at the foot of Mary’s altar. For her, as for Saint John Eudes, this devotion was an infallible and powerful means of winning the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Himself. To both, the motto “Ad Cor Jesu per Cor Mariae” (‘To the Heart of Jesus through the Heart of Mary,’) was dear and expressive, for they applied it to their devotion and made it the guiding principle of their lives.

After Saint Margaret Mary, we find a great number of devout clients of the Sacred Heart who practised and propagated devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Holy priests, such as the above mentioned [Saint] Father de la Colombière, Father Gallifet, Fathers Cróiset, Bouzonie and others, spent themselves, by word and work, in spreading this devotion. The Franciscans and the Jesuits of France vied with one another in making the Heart of Mary known and loved, and in endeavouring to obtain from Rome official sanction for a universal feast and office of that Most Pure Heart.

It is not astonishing, however, that during the revolutionary years of the 18th century, this devotion waned and languished in the hearts of the French people; but even in those troubled times, Divine Providence watched over it with tender care and solicitude, for pious congregations, destined to preserve and augment the devotion, were firmly established in the Church.

Father Picot de Cloriviere (1820) was the founder of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a society whose end was, as its holy founder put it, “to make reparation to the Most Pure Heart of Mary for the many homages of which she was deprived by the suppression of religious orders, whose glory it was to have Mary as their Patroness and Mother.” Father Coudrin also founded the congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, whose mission was to – awaken in the souls of the faithful the devotion so universally and so fervently practised in pre-revolutionary days. [This congregation is known as the Picpus Fathers and Sisters.] In many of the Societies founded in the 18th and 19th centuries, a “Guard of Honour” was formed to make reparation to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary for the many sins and crimes of ungrateful men. The number of such Societies is too great to mention them individually, – but suffice it to say that each and every one gave glory to, and increased the honour of, the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In 1830, a miraculous event, which gave a great impetus to the devotion of which we write, took place in Paris. In that year, Our Blessed Lady appeared in a vision to a French Sister of Charity, Saint Catherine Laboure, and showed her, as a token of grace and mercy to mankind, the model of the miraculous Medal. On one side of the tableau presented to her view, the Sister saw Our Lady standing on a globe and, with out-stretched hands, pouring down graces on all mankind. On the other side, she beheld a large letter M, surmounted by a cross, and beneath it two Hearts – one, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, crowned with a circle of thorns, the other, the Pure Heart Of Mary, pierced through and through with a sword of sorrow. The Heart of the Mother and that of the Son were bound together in the closest bonds of mutual, inexpressible sorrow; both bore the symbols of the awful suffering inflicted upon them by the sins of men. Surely, this vision was a clear manifestation of Our Lady’s will. She wished thereby to convey to her loving children a two-fold message. First, that their love and devotion should include the united Hearts of the Mother and the Son; secondly, that their love should be a love of reparation; their devotion, a devotion of atonement for the sins of the world.

Six years later, in 1836, God’s desire to glorify the Immaculate Heart of Mary was manifested in a yet more striking manner. In that year a complete religious transformation took place in the parish of Our Lady of Victories in Paris, and following this, the erection of a large confraternity in honour of the Heart of Mary for the conversion of poor sinners. For a long time preceding this wonderful event, the saintly parish priest, Monsignor Charles Desgenettes, deplored the pitiable condition of his parish. It counted no less than 25,000 souls yet of that vast number, very few indeed attended their religious duties. The sacraments were neglected, the church was practically abandoned and religion was at a very low ebb. Such a sad state of affairs must surely have caused many a pang to the heart of the saintly pastor. Yet he did not despair. Using every means in his power to bring back his erring children to God, he continued to pray to the Blessed Virgin for the conversion of his flock.

One day, in December, 1836, while he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, he distinctly heard these words pronounced, “Consecrate your church and your parish to the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary.” No sooner had the voice ceased, than he consecrated himself, his parish, and his people to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, promising at the same time, that if Mary heard his prayer, he would establish in his church a confraternity in her honour. He then set to work to draw the statutes of the proposed confraternity, and on the following Sunday announced at Mass that the first meeting would take place that very evening. How great was his surprise when, on entering the church that evening, he found it almost full! Having read and explained to the people the rules of the confraternity, he proposed to establish, he began to chant with them the Litany of Our Lady. When he came to the invocation, “Refuge of sinners, pray for us,” an extraordinary emotion took possession of the whole assembly. Instinctively, all those in the church fell on their knees, repeating with wonderful fervour that touching invocation.

On that day, the parish was saved, the confraternity of Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners, firmly established, and God’s grace reigned in the place of sin and wickedness. A complete transformation was produced in the hearts of all – a transformation which was due to the mighty power and the clement mercy of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Confraternity, established in such an extraordinary fashion, was instrumental in consolidating the good work begun by Our Blessed Lady herself, and in 1838, it was erected into an Archconfraternity by Pope Gregory XVI. Today it counts hundreds of thousands of associates; and hundreds of sodalities affiliated to it. Truly, as Monsignor Desgenettes himself said: “The common Father of the faithful wishes that the Heart of His immaculate Mother be everywhere invoked in favour of poor abandoned sinners.”

Gradually, but steadily, the devotion to Mary’s Heart began to spread throughout the Church of God. In 1885, the Roman Congregation of Rites approved, but not without some modifications, the Office and Mass of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, originally composed by Saint John Eudes.

Before the religious reform of 1911, many dioceses and congregations celebrated that feast but on different days. In April, 1914, the Congregation of Rites definitely fixed the feast on the Saturday following the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To our mind, this fact again clearly shows the inseparable union that ought to exist between these two devotions. Such is the expressed wish of the Sacred Heart Himself; such also is the desire of Our Blessed Lady and of the Church of Christ, our infallible guide upon earth.

In his encyclical letter of June, 1912, Pius X requested the faithful to dedicate in an especial manner the first Saturday of every month to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He wished that day to be a day of reparation to Mary’s Heart for the blasphemies and crimes committed against her Holy Name, and for those sins in particular against the glorious privilege of her Immaculate Conception. The first Saturday of every month is, in the Pope’s intention, an exact parallel to the first Friday, a day of reparation and atonement to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. To Mary’s Heart, as to that of Jesus, he asks us to return love for love; reparation for personal sins, and atonement for the sins of men. On that day, also, he has been gloriously pleased to grant a plenary indulgence to all those who recite special prayers in honour of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, and pray for the Pope’s intentions. From the 12th century onwards, devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart has certainly made wonderful progress. And in our day, two very desirable events have taken place – Papal sanction for a universal feast of the Heart of Mary and the consecration of the whole human race to that spotless Heart. The Sacred Heart of Jesus now reigns supreme in the Church, for to Him these two homages have been rendered.

In 1856, Pope Pius IX established a universal feast of the Sacred Heart in His honour, to be held each year on the Friday following the octave of Corpus Christi. In 1899, moreover, Pope Leo XIII solemnly consecrated mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary now also reigns, as Queen of God’s kingdom, in the Church militant on earth. “Oportet illam regnare.” (‘It is proper that she must reign’.) Various movements to establish the reign of the Heart of Mary in the Church, and repeated requests to the Holy See from her devout clients have not been wanting in the past. In 1906, in the Church of Notre Dame, the then Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Richard, consecrated repentant France to the Most Pure Heart of Mary, and put himself at the head of a movement to demand of the Pope the consecration of all the faithful to that same Heart. On the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress at Lourdes, held in July, 1914, a similar demand was submitted to His Holiness [Saint] Pius X. But the hour of Providence for the complete exaltation of Mary’s Immaculate Heart had not yet arrived. In answer to these fervent requests, the Holy Father judged it more suitable to reserve this final homage to Mary for some more favourable occasion. The Holy See has now procured for the Immaculate Heart of Mary this supreme glory. May that final triumph of the church, so long foretold, soon arrive!

Some Theology

“But Mary kept all these things pondering them in her Heart.” So little has been told us of the thoughts and words of our glorious Queen, that we prize every trace of her stay on earth, and dwell lovingly on what is preserved for us in the too brief record of the Gospels. Just as she had entered on her wonderful mission, just as she had shared the first joys and sorrows of the sacred human Heart of our God and Saviour, a revelation of her own most beautiful and holy heart allows us to penetrate into the secrets of that sanctuary during the long years to come.

The other worshippers at the manger, the other witnesses of those great mysteries (foretelling the greater mysteries to follow), went back into the busy world, where the supernatural impressions made on them might be more or less lost in the crowd of earthly cares and occupations. But the heart of the Mother treasured all “these things,” and her life henceforth was one unbroken contemplation of them, “pondering” them day by day, in deeper sympathy and deeper love.

And so, that pure, compassionate, devoted heart grew daily, holier, tenderer, more devoted still. Purer it could not be, for it was a stranger to the shadow of sin; but its holiness was heightened, its charity intensified, and its union with God perfected till all heaven gave praise to its Maker for the spiritual loveliness of the heart that was hidden in the humble cottage of Nazareth.

Not the least glorious of its gifts was the humility that saw nothing in itself that could attract the eyes of God, save the exceeding “lowliness of His Handmaid,” and not the least precious of its graces was the silence that guarded her constant meditation on the Life that was linked so closely to her own, – the Sacred Heart Whose earthly rest and consolation were so often found in the sinless heart of His Mother.

Would that she might impart to us her sweet power of comforting that divine Heart, saddened by the ingratitude of His creatures. Would that she might mould her children’s hearts into some faint resemblance to hers – in purity, charity, patience, and self-sacrifice. Would that she might teach us what strength and wisdom and happiness we would find if we, like her, “kept all these things, pondering them” in our hearts. Not merely acknowledging the beauty and truth of the mysteries that surrounded the Incarnate Word, not merely glancing over them, or making them the subject of occasional prayer, but steeping our souls as Mary did, in the contemplation of them, till we have learned to know our merciful Saviour so intimately that the thought is the dearest of our thoughts, the love of Him supreme in our hearts, as it was in the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

- from the booklet Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, by an anonymous Oblate of Mary Immaculate, published in 1930 by the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland>