The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life
"Chapter XX: Mary and Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus"
THERE is an excellent Latin saying: Corruptio optimi pessima, "The corruption of the best is the worst." This means not merely that it is a more terrible offense to distort an excellent thing than to distort something less good; it means primarily that the result obtained by distorting an excellent thing is all the worse in proportion to the excellence of the thing that we distort. Now devotion to Mary is indeed an excellent thing. But the very height of its excellence is the measure of the ruin that may result from distorting it. One who carefully observes all the principles explained thus far will be practicing a true and most beneficial devotion to Mary. But it is so easy to slip into a sugary, spineless sentimentality, a refined form of self-seeking (especially by attachment to sensory consolations, as described in chapter X).
One may test himself in various ways to discover if his devotion is genuine. One excellent test is this: Is devotion to Mary really leading us to a more solid devotion to Jesus? For we have shown that the purpose of Mary is to lead us to her Son. If this does not happen, we must suspect that even our devotion to Mary is not genuine. Above all, Mary will lead us, gradually but surely, to a greater attachment to the Blessed Sacrament. For all real love of Our Lord must center in that sacrament. There are only two places in which His Sacred Humanity is present: in Heaven, and on our altars. A devotion that pretends to a great love of Christ and yet does not seek Him where He is, is justly to be suspected.
The relation of Mary to devotion to Our Lord appears in a special way in the case of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. This devotion to the Sacred Heart, like the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, has developed only in relatively recent times. It is true that honor was paid to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary already in the Middle Ages, but then the devotion was the privilege of only a few chosen souls. The flowering and general spread of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was due especially to two saints of the seventeenth century, St. John Eudes and St. Margaret Mary. St. John is largely responsible for introducing devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary into the liturgy.1 We note that he joined the Hearts of both Jesus and Mary. We shall see more of the relation of these devotions later, when we examine the contribution made by St. Margaret Mary.
The principle, corruptio optimi pessima, applies even more to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus than it does to devotion to Mary: because of the very excellence of devotion to His Heart. The sad consequences of abuses are all too apparent: some persons make devotion to the Sacred Heart consist in little more than in singing sickly, sentimental hymns, or in burning vigil lights before feminine statues of what should be the thoroughly manly Christ. It is clear that we need to re-examine the true nature of devotion to the Sacred Heart. For this purpose we shall use two of the best authorities, the classic encyclical of Pope Pius XI,2 and the Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary.3
It is well known that the basic reason for adoring the Heart of Christ is that it is hypostatically united to the Divinity (see chapter VII). And the special reason His Heart is given this honor is that it is the organ of His immense love. But the question is: In what way should this love and honor be given? Early in his encyclical, Pope Pius XI showed us that true devotion to the Sacred Heart consists in two things, which can readily be reduced to one-consecration and reparation:
The words of Pope Pius XI are unmistakably clear: the primary element in devotion to the Sacred Heart is an act of consecration. We learn further that by it we "dedicate ourselves and all that we have to the Divine Heart." We see also that St. Margaret Mary is proposed as the model of those who make this consecration in the best way. We shall see the complete implications of these points later. Now let us note the second element included in this devotion:
Therefore, to consecration ... there is to be added expiation, by which sins may be completely blotted out, lest the sanctity of Supreme Justice reject our shameless unworthiness, and rebuff our gift as hateful instead of receiving it as pleasing.5 [Emphasis added.]
The second element, then, is reparation. But Pope Pius XI explicitly tells us that "the second thing" (reparation) "at once follows from it" (consecration). For, once a consecrated soul sees that it has failed in repayment of love to the Heart of Christ, it cannot do other than will to make reparation, for its own defections and those of others as well. The consecration itself demands it, for the self-oblation, which is the heart of consecration, will not be acceptable unless such reparation is made, at least for one's own sins. Left to ourselves, we should probably think that since our debts are so great, it would be presumptuous of us to offer reparation for the sins of others as well. Yet Pope Pius XI gave us a warrant for doing so. In the official prayer of reparation which he himself prescribed, he wrote:
Further, he made another stirring plea for reparation in the encyclical itself. After a vivid description of the evils of his own day,7 he added:
Pope Pius XI has shown us the true nature of devotion to the Sacred Heart. He makes clear that it consists essentially in a consecration, and that reparation is a duty enjoined by the consecration itself. He himself stresses the fact that our consecration and reparation are to be made through Mary:
O Loving Jesus, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our model in reparation, deign to receive the voluntary offering we make of this act of expiation....9
As we have seen, Pope Pius XI pointed to St. Margaret Mary as the one who first made the special consecration requested by Our Lord. We can learn of the precise nature of this consecration from a study of her Autobiography, and, in particular, from a careful comparison of two passages. In one of these, the Saint tells us of a written offering which Our Lord requested of her:
It is not at all difficult to recognize that the donation of which the saint speaks is identical with the consecration described in chapter XVIII. It is true that only spiritual goods are mentioned, but we may assume that all other goods, and the intention to live in the spirit of the consecration, are included. St. Margaret Mary gives all, and allows Our Lord to dispose of it, to spend it for whatever intention He wills. The only question one might raise is this: Was the gift made through Mary? We noticed in the above-mentioned quotation that the saint says she had already made the same donation verbally. Hence we ought to examine carefully the earlier portion of her Autobiography in the hope of finding a description of the earlier verbal donation (the written donation was made in the same sense, as the saint indicates). Now there is such a passage, dealing with the early part of her life:
St. Margaret Mary lived slightly earlier than St. Louis de Montfort; hence her expressions could not have come from him. Yet we notice that she uses his favorite word-"slave." She saw clearly that the concept of slavery is not at all inconsistent with treating Mary as our Mother; in the very next sentence, she continues: "I spoke to this good Mother quite simply as a child."12 She also quotes Our Lord Himself as confiding her to His Mother "that she might fashion thee"-which reminds us of St. Louis de Montfort's description of Mary as the "mould of God."
Is this early consecration through Mary the one St Margaret Mary referred to as the earlier verbal donation? Though we cannot be absolutely certain, it is at least highly probable. But even if the reference were to something else, it is clear that she who had once consecrated herself as a slave of Mary would not later refuse to continue to go to Jesus through Mary. A beautiful prayer written by St. Margaret Mary, which we shall quote presently, makes this entirely clear.
Therefore, genuine consecration to the Sacred Heart, as taught to St. Margaret Mary by Our Lord Himself, is a total one, one made through Mary, and precisely the same as that which we analyzed in chapter XVIII.
But perhaps someone might think that, since the function of Mary is to lead us to her Son, once that is done, we may take leave of Mary. Again we may learn a lesson from St. Margaret Mary. For in one of the late pages of her Autobiography after she had received many great revelations from the Sacred Heart, she wrote as follows:
Or again, on one of the last pages of the Autobiography, we read:
Finally we may cite part of the prayer which St. Margaret Mary composed, and which she recited frequently:
Thus it is clear that our need of Mary will never end; she is the Mediatrix of all graces; all descend to us through her. And the way for us to ascend to the Sacred Heart of Christ is through the Immaculate Heart of His Mother: ad Cor Jesu per Cor Mariae!
It is not surprising that these two Hearts, which were and are so closely united throughout all the Redemption, should also be closely united as objects of our devotion.16 Pope Pius XII has shown us clearly that, with due subordination, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not only intimately related to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but that these devotions are closely parallel. On that historic day of October 31, 1942, when he consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Pope solemnly pronounced these words:
And then, at the close of this act of consecration, the Pope dearly referred to the parallel character of the devotion to these two Hearts:
Let us try to unfold some of the implications contained in this papal teaching, in order to see what is meant by the statement that these devotions are both parallel and united.
As we have already seen, the fundamental reason for our adoration of the Sacred Heart of Christ is that it is a Heart hypostatically united to the Divinity itself; in particular, however, we honor His Heart as the organ of His immense love. We do not, of course, adore the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for it is not the Heart of a divine person, but we do honor her Heart because it is so closely united to His Heart in all things, and we honor it as the organ of her inexpressible love for her Son and us.19
The great means of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is consecration. Pope Pius XI urged all to make the consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and, in pointing to St. Margaret Mary as a model of this consecration, he invited us to make our consecration through Mary. Pope Pius XII, having himself consecrated the Church and the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, also encouraged each of us to ratify personally the act that he had made in the name of all, by consecrating ourselves individually to the Immaculate Heart.20
Pope Pius XI has shown us that reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a duty flowing from the very nature of consecration. Hence we may ask, Is reparation due also to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
It is obvious that it is not only permissible but highly proper that we offer reparation to Mary in the sense that we may place in her hands the reparation that we owe to the Sacred Heart of her Son. She will cleanse our offering of the stains thee normally cling even to our best actions, and will join it, thus purified, to her own priceless reparation and present it to Him. It is thus that He is most pleased to receive it.
But we may and should offer reparation also to Mary herself.21 Our very consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary calls upon us to make reparation for the offenses that we and others have committed against her. The Church, in inviting us to consecrate ourselves to her Immaculate Heart, implicitly calls upon us for this reparation. But more explicitly, and even before Fatima, Saint Pius X offered a plenary indulgence to all who on the first Saturday of the month would observe special devotions in honor of the Immaculate Virgin in a spirit of reparation for the blasphemies uttered against her.22
There is, however, an even more basic reason why each one of us owes reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: every sin of ours caused grief and suffering to her in union with her divine Son. For sin was the cause of that terrible day on Calvary when she, as the New Eve, shared in the torment of the great sacrifice, and, amidst indescribable pain, brought forth spiritually all the members of the Mystical Body of her divine Son. God willed that Mary should be intimately associated with His Son in bearing the burden of all sin; surely then, her Immaculate Heart, in union with His divine Heart, should receive reparation from us who have caused them such pain. If anyone causes hurt to even a very ordinary human being, he does not overlook the need to make amends. How much more do we owe to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary!23
Early in this chapter we warned against reducing devotion to these two Hearts to mere sentimentality. That is a real danger. Sentimentality is only a caricature of real warmth. But we do insist that this devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary should be marked by a genuine, a solid warmth, not necessarily emotional. In the Gospels Our Lord went to great lengths to prove His enormous love and mercy for us, but not all men have learned those lessons. Hence, through St. Margaret Mary,24 He has retaught and re-emphasized the lessons that men should have learned from the Gospels-the burning love and wonderful mercy of His Heart. He wants men to have great confidence in that love and mercy, for confidence is a special characteristic of the warmest love, and greatly promotes it.25 Devotion to the Sacred Heart is really a devotion to His Love. The association of the Heart of His Mother with His own Heart is intended to lead us more effectively to know and love Him. For her Heart is like His-He created it. And His Heart is like Hers-she formed it. In knowing the one, we come to know the other better. Here, then, is a great means to growth in confident love.
It is natural to keep these two Hearts together in our devotion. For how can anyone think he really loves the Son who neglects the Mother? They who wish to practice devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in its best form can do no better than imitate the method taught by Our Lord Himself to St. Margaret Mary, the method of a complete consecration offered to Him through the hands of His Mother, a consecration bringing with it a burning zeal for reparation to the Hearts of both Jesus and Mary.