On the day after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Catholic Church celebrates the Immaculate Heart of His Mother Mary, the one from whom He took his flesh – hence, their hearts are joined not only mystically, but physically, as mother and son. And what greater bond could there be? And what greater model to follow in imitating Christ, than the mother whom He himself imitated, from whom he learned, and to whom, as today’s Gospel tells us, He was obedient, as he grew in stature and in grace?
This devotion has its origins in the early Middle Ages, with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (+1153), and grew in popularity through the ages, with the writings and reflections of Gertrude the Great (+1302) and Bridget of Sweden (+1373), Bernardine of Siena (+1444), called the ‘doctor of the heart of Mary’, Frances de Sales (+1622) and, most of all John Eudes (+1681), who waxed eloquent on the perfections of Our Lady, the greatest of all God’s creations.
Pope Pius VII – who spent much of his pontificate suffering under the tyrannical rule of Napoleon, who took the Pontiff into exile – first formalized the feast locally in 1799, which was further cemented into the liturgical calendar by Gregory XVI and Pius XII, made this a universal feast, first on August 22 (now the Queenship of Mary). Paul VI, with the revisions after Vatican II, moved the memorial to its present location, the two hearts joined more closely in time.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary still beats within her human, and now glorified, body, and the Mother of God promises will triumph in the end. Devotion to Mary is, as the saints have always said, a sure and certain path to eternal life, for Christ refuses no request of His Mother. Our faith is at one level very human, the link between us and God, of course, being the Incarnation, which really does change everything. To paraphrase Saint Irenaeus, if God truly became Man, then Man can become God, and all things have indeed been made new.