This is the third in a six-part series exploring the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, 100 years ago. Future installments will run the first issue of every month through October.
An antiphon from the Liturgy of the Hours for the solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception refers to her as the “fairest honor of our race.” Or in the Second Vatican Council’s terms, Mary “far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth” (Lumen Gentium, No. 53). It’s fitting and appropriate, then, to echo St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s claim that when speaking about Christ’s mother: “De Maria numquam satis” (“About Mary, never enough”). This maxim has proven true for theologians over the 2,000-year history of Christianity. As the first believer, she is the model of Gospel living par excellence. As Pope St. John Paul II put it: “Among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his Mother” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, No. 14).
The Immaculate Heart
How do we know Mary best? As with anyone, her key is in her heart. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:21). We know from the Magnificat that Mary’s treasure is her Son.
Mary referred to her heart several times at Fatima, including once when she told the oldest shepherd child to whom she appeared, Lucia, something integral to her messages: “I will never leave you; my Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” It’s clear we need to pay attention to what defines her heart.
Scripture references Mary’s heart twice, both in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel (verses 19 and 51). We learn that Mary “reflects” and “keeps” in her heart the mysterious events surrounding the Incarnation. Intertwined with her core identity is the identity of her Son and that of his mission as redeemer and savior. Mary’s fiat (“yes”) was the portal through which God chose to allow himself to begin his saving work. Mary’s fiat remedied Adam and Eve’s “no,” showing us the way to her Son, who is the remedy for all sin. The Virgin Mother is the channel through which God brings healing balm to humanity’s sinfulness, through whom we experience the fullness of grace. She who is “full of grace” presents to us and leads us to her Son.
The contents of her heart
It is the condition of Mary’s heart, then, that serves as a model for Christians in our quest to follow her Son. It is within her heart that God chose to come and find his initial dwelling among us. This is integral to the message of Fatima, the message that ultimately brings the peace for which humanity yearns. When we live like Mary, when we commit our whole selves to Christ and invite his word to dwell within our hearts, we prepare ourselves to be agents of peace. With Mary as our guide, each of the baptized is to present and lead the world to her Son. As Pope Paul VI said in his 1974 Marian encyclical Marialis Cultus: “In the Virgin Mary everything is relative to Christ and dependent upon him” (No. 25).
This is what defines Mary’s holy, immaculate heart. The identity of her heart is what forms the themes of Fatima’s message: humble holiness, charity and undying obedience to and faith in God’s will. These qualities are what each of us must appropriate within our own hearts. This enables us to reflect upon and keep Christ in our hearts like Mary. These qualities are, indeed, the legend on the map directing us to God, as Mary identified her Immaculate Heart at Fatima. Each of us is called to make the defining characteristics of Mary’s heart the defining characteristics of our own hearts. The transformation to which each of us is called is made possible and accomplished in Mary.
‘Ad Jesum Per Mariam’
For this reason, devotion to Mary’s heart — her Immaculate Heart — has been proposed for emulation by saints and theologians for centuries. From the earliest Christian times, believers turned to Mary and sought “to imitate her in making their lives an act of worship of God and making their worship a commitment of their lives” (Marialis Cultus, No. 21). From the fourth century, as Paul VI calls to our attention in his Marian encyclical, St. Ambrose hoped that his flock would adopt Mary’s heart. “May the heart of Mary be in each Christian to proclaim the greatness of the Lord; may her spirit be in everyone to exult in God,” St. Ambrose preached.
Roots of the devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart are particularly ingrained among the French. St. John Eudes was well-known for propagating the devotion through his 17th-century preaching and teaching. Several parishes in France took up a feast day to honor the Immaculate Heart at his behest, and he is credited with sparking universal interest in the devotion.
At Fatima the Blessed Mother reiterated the work of many preachers and saints. Mary’s words to Lucia indicate that she is indeed the clearest model for Christians who desire to follow her Son. As the prayer composed by French Sulpician Father Jean Jacques Olier said, we are to find “Jesus living in Mary.” There also is great wisdom in the motto of the French mariologist St. Louis de Montfort, who teaches: “Ad Jesum Per Mariam” (“To Jesus through Mary”). We should make the famous Monfortian prayer, from which John Paul II took his episcopal motto, our own: “Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria” (“I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart”).
Apparitions and consecrations
Mary gives to us her heart. But moreover, she exposed at Fatima a path for us to adopt her heart and place ourselves in her motherly embrace. Through the First Saturday devotion, the Blessed Mother shows us how to make holy, loving, obedient hearts from which peace emanates. In the July apparition at Fatima, Mary explained that, on five consecutive First Saturdays, participants of this devotion “shall confess, receive holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for 15 minutes while meditating on the 15 mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.”
This devotion springs from a glimpse of hell that Mary showed the three Fatima visionaries, after which she said, “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.”
Devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart received universal support from Venerable Pope Pius XII 25 years after the apparitions at Fatima. It seemed providential since he was ordained a bishop on May 13, 1917 — the day Mary first appeared at Fatima.
Not only did Pope Pius XII establish the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1942, but he also composed a prayer of consecration to her Immaculate Heart. In compliance with the wishes made known by the Blessed Mother at Fatima, and in subsequent apparitions to Lucia, Pope Pius consecrated the world (in the midst of World War II, 1942) and Russia (toward the start of the Cold War, 1952) to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Russia’s consecration was explicitly desired by the Blessed Mother because of communism’s growth and anti-Christian agenda.
The consecratory prayer composed by Pope Pius XII beautifully reiterates the call to form our hearts after Mary’s. An excerpt of the prayer shows this devotion ties together so many of the themes of Fatima’s messages: “Oh, Mother of Mercy, obtain peace for us from God! Obtain especially those graces, which can convert human hearts quickly. Those graces, which can prepare, establish and insure peace. Queen of Peace, pray for us; Give the world at war the peace for which all are longing, Peace in truth, Justice and the Charity of Christ. Give them peace of the arms and peace of mind, that in tranquility and order the kingdom of God may expand.”
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer magazine. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.