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Part 20: Mary's Immaculate Heart
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 22, 2015)
The following is the twentieth part of our Mary 101 series.
Whenever we speak of the human "heart," we commonly say things like "What's on your heart?" or "That really touched my heart" or "I can tell that what you wrote came straight from the heart." In all of these ways we are speaking of the heart as a symbol of the deepest mystery of a person: what a person, deep down, really thinks, feels, and desires. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us in entry 2563:
The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully.
When we speak of the "Heart of Jesus," therefore, we are referring to the deepest mystery of His person: the unfathomable love of the divine Son of God Incarnate for His heavenly Father and for us. As I wrote in my book Jesus, Mercy Incarnate:
According to the Bible, some people are cold-hearted or hard-hearted; they have hearts of "stone" (e.g. Ezek 11:19). The mystery of the Heart of Jesus, however, has been revealed to us through the Gospels and beautifully expressed in His apparitions to St. Margaret Mary. Whatever we may say about other human hearts, this person, Jesus of Nazareth, has a heart that is aflame with love: love for His heavenly Father and love for us. That is why He showed His physical Heart to St. Margaret Mary as flaming with fire, surmounted by a cross, and pierced and surrounded by thorns. All of these were clear signs and symbols that this Heart — the person of Jesus Christ — is pure love: the Sacred Heart of Jesus as all love and all lovable. (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2000, pp. 110-111)
In a similar way, when we speak of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we are pointing to the deepest mystery of her person. We are pointing to the mystery of love that finds expression in all that she said, did, and suffered. That is why the Catholic Tradition symbolically depicts the heart of Mary as surrounded by flames, shining with light, and encircled by pure white flowers: because her deep, "hidden center" was completely pure, never stained by any sin at all (hence, we call her heart "Immaculate"). In fact, divine grace made heart was as transparent as a clean, clear-glass window, so that the fire and light of the Holy Spirit shone through her every thought, word, and deed at every moment.
Mary's Physical Heart and What it Signifies
The great troubadour of the heart of Mary was St. John Eudes (1601-1680). In beautiful French prose, he never tired of singing the wonders of her graces and virtues.
In his classic work, The Admirable Heart of Mary, St. John distinguished between the "corporeal" and "spiritual" hearts of Mary. With regard to her corporeal or physical heart, he listed a number of privileges that her heart enjoyed, even when considered as a mere organ of her body:
The first prerogative consists in the fact that the heart is the principle of the life of our holy Mother. It is the principle of all the functions of her bodily, maternal life, ever holy in itself and in its every function and employment. It is the source of the life of the Mother of God, the life of her who gave birth to the only Son of God, the life of the woman through whom God gave life to all the children of Adam, sunk as they were in the abyss of eternal death. Finally, her heart is the source of a life so holy, so noble, so sublime that it is more precious in the sight of God than the lives of all the angels and men.
The second prerogative of the corporeal heart of Mary is that it produces the virginal blood with which the sacred body of the God-Man was formed in the chaste womb of the Blessed Mother.
The third prerogative of Mary's heart of flesh is that it was the source of the human, material life of the Infant Jesus during the nine months that he dwelt in Mary's sacred womb. While the infant is in its mother's bosom, the mother's heart is to such an extent the source of the infant's life that both the mother and the infant can be said to depend on it for their existence. Mary's admirable heart was therefore the source of the holy life of the Mother of God, and of her only son, the humanly divine as well as the divinely human life of the God-Man.( Saint John Eudes, The Admirable Heart of Mary. Buffalo, NY: Immaculate Heart Publications, reprint of 1947 edition, p. 14)
Every mother can appreciate what St. John Eudes is saying here. A mother knows and feels that both she and her child totally depend upon the life-blood circulating within her at every moment. Indeed, the first sound that a child ever hears is the beating of his own mother's heart.
If such was the dignity of Mary's heart considered merely as an organ of her body, how much greater was the dignity of what her physical heart also signifies: the deepest mystery of her person, her immeasurable love for God and for us. St. John Eudes puts it this way:
If the virginal heart beating in the consecrated breast of the Virgin of virgins, the most excellent organ of her holy body, is so admirable, as we have already seen, what must be the marvels of her spiritual heart?... We have already considered the rare prerogatives of her heart of flesh, and we shall now endeavor to express the incomparable gifts and inestimable treasures with which her spiritual heart is filled....
First of all, divine bounty miraculously preserved the heart of the Mother of our Savior from the stain of sin, which never touched it because God filled it with grace from the moment of its creation, and clothed it with purity so radiant that, next to God's, it is impossible to conceive of greater purity. His divine majesty possessed her heart so completely from its first instant that it never ceased to belong entirely to Him and to love Him more ardently than all the holiest hearts of Heaven and earth united. (The Admirable Heart of Mary, p. 20).