Why the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:1-7)
The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a popular devotion in the Catholic Church, with its beginning stretching back to the Middle Ages. Its most recent re-engagement happened during the apparitions at Fatima in 1917 where Our Lady told the little shepherd children that God wished to save the world through the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
"Our Lady said, Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. I promise salvation to those who embrace it, and these souls will be loved by God, like flowers placed by me to adorn His throne.'" (Source).
But what really is the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary about and why is it so important? The Immaculate Heart of Mary is really about one thing: Mary's totally devoted love of Her Son. To be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to be devoted to the love of Jesus.
We can learn about the development of this devotion and we can learn about how important it is in the devotional life of the Church. All that is well and good. But what is the basis for it? Why the Immaculate Heart of Mary? Why does God seek to establish a devotion to this somewhat obscure and hidden devotion for the very salvation of souls? It sounds over-the-top. Isn't Christ all we need to be saved? Why must Mary be inserted as a near-necessity for salvation?
Well, if you don't understand the story, then you won't understand why Mary, and her Immaculate Heart, is so important.
The story in question is the story of Eden and what happened with the Fall of our first parents. Why is it important to understand the role of these actors? Because, like in any good story, we cannot understand the story itself unless we appreciate their roles, and the specific details surrounding them. These roles are not arbitrary, nor are they genderless. If we do not appreciate the details of our Fall, we won't understand the significance of the Redemption, and most critically, we will fail to grasp the scandal of God's generosity in winning and dispensing the graces of that Redemption through human actors. How many faithful Catholics truly understand this? Precious, precious few. To understand the end of the story, we need to understand its beginning.
Genesis describes the Fall with Eve being tempted by the Serpent. Her act was ultimately one of mistrust in God. Eve did not trust God's word and believed the Devil's lie. Still, when Eve ate of the apple, the effects of sin did not take effect. As the head of the family, it was Adam who was ultimately responsible for the Fall since he was, before Christ supplanted him, the head of the human race. As the Scripture says above, it was only after Adam partook of the apple, that their eyes "were opened". If Adam had withstood Eve's fall, there would have been an accounting for Eve (possibly her own death), but the whole human race might have been spared the consequences of her sin. Nevertheless, even before Eve had offered Adam the apple, Adam had already consented to her corruption by allowing the serpent to seduce his bride and then watching her take the apple and eat it. He could have stopped the conversation and he could have stopped Eve from eating the apple, but he chose to relinquish his role. Why? Partly because he was also seduced, but perhaps also because he was a coward. He thought he would die if he engaged in a fight with the Serpent. Since he did not fight, they both died, along with every successive generation since then. And this is why, by the way, only men can be priests, but that is a story for another day.
The man, as they say, is the head of the family as the Catholic Faith teaches. But if the man is the head of the family where is the heart of the family, if not with the woman? When Adam accepted Eve's "fiat", he would also accept - not a pure and immaculate heart - but a compromised and sinful one, now pierced with sin which would bring forth death. And why is the heart so important? Our Lord teaches us: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21)
Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain. The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place "to which I withdraw." 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. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2562-2563)
The heart is the spiritual center of the human soul whose corruption Jesus frequently warned about. It is the prize for which Jesus is contesting - to win our hearts and unite them to His. “Blessed are the pure in heart", Our Lord says, "for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
In this battle for the human heart, let us now turn our attention to precisely how God choose to save humanity. The central salvific event in history, the Incarnation, provides the ultimate witness to the fact that God did not save humanity apart from it, but from within it. That is, He came into the world, "became man" and was raised in a family. He called disciples to be sharers in his divine work - not merely as outsiders, but as friends: "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15)
The great liberality and generosity of God involves humanity in its own salvation as extensions of Christ Himself, so much so that He calls this his very body. In light of the theology that St. Paul taught about the mystical Body of Christ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12) and how Christ uses that Body in advancing salvation both here on earth and in heaven (for death does not separate the mystical body of Christ), we should expect Jesus would assign His most loyal disciples with heavenly tasks (as He has done with the angels), and put them “in charge of many things” (Cf. Luke 12:43-44). Principal among these disciples is the Woman who would supply Christ’s human nature, and the task assigned to her is nothing less than making the incarnation a reality in heaven as it was on earth. Her womb was the channel of God himself when He took on her human flesh (Cf. Genesis 2:23) and was born of her womb, and therefore assisted Christ in his One mediation with mankind.
What is the scriptural and theological basis of this mediation? Strictly speaking, there is only one Meditator between God and Man and that is Jesus Christ (Cf 1 Tim 2:5). But while this “one mediation” is only exclusive in relation to other religions’ claims, it is not (to answer Protestant objections) exclusive within the Body of Christ itself whose various parts (because they are one Body) participate in the Head’s mediation with the human race (Cf. 1 Cor 12). Therefore, those who die in Him are alive in Him and remain part of the ONE body of Jesus Christ, as St. Paul reminds the Ephesians: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:6, Cf. Eph. 4:4-6, Eph. 4:25, Eph. 5:29-32, Col 2:18-19, Col. 3:15).
We see in Genesis that man's downfall began with a woman, while in the Gospel of Matthew, we clearly see that the divine remedy for our spiritual sickness would also begin with a woman. Our Fall and Redemption began with the consent of the woman. St. John Chrysostom, one of the great Church Fathers of the East, observed that:
"Christ conquered the Devil using the same means and the and the same weapons that the Devil used to win. The symbols of our fall were a virgin, a tree, and death. The virgin was Eve (for she had not yet known man); then there was the tree; and death was Adam's penalty. And again these three tokens of our destruction, the virgin, the tree and death, became the tokens of our victory. Instead of Eve, there was Mary; instead of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the cross of the Lord; instead of Adam's death, the death of Christ." (St. John Chrysostom, "On the Cemetery and the Cross", in The Liturgy of the Hours, 4)
In other words, salvation history reaches its zenith at the Annunciation, when we can truly and really say that God's plan in sending His Messiah, born of a Woman, was nothing less than Eden in reverse. Through her original sin, Eve brought forth dissident, disobedient, and divided children. Through Eve's sin her maternal role as mediator which is central and intrinsic to a mother's role in a family was badly damaged, but through the New Eve, that maternal mediation was restored. Whereas, Eve mediated between the Serpent and Adam, and became a kind of “anti-Mediatrix”, introducing sin and, through Adam’s acceptance, death into the world. We may even venture to say that without God reversing this “anti-Mediatrix” role the Woman played, the Redemption Jesus won for all humanity on the Cross would have been incomplete and lacking in at least one dimension: a perfect rout of the devil requires the rout to be total. That total rout of the Serpent and redemption of “Woman” was prophesied in the story of the Fall and at the end of time (Cf. Genesis 3:15; Revelation 12).
We see the clear participation of Our Lady's role in her Son's victory when she presented him in the Temple to be circumcised:
“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:35)
Jesus's mother is an active and central player in Her Son's mission. She is a partaker in her Son's victory: not merely as a remote participant, but a proximate, active participant on the same level as Eve was to Adam (but not in equal importance, since Christ was God). Mary shares in her Son's triumph, precisely because her heart (i.e. the soul in the passage) was pierced and wounded. Our Lady's heart is "pierced" which means there is an open wound, symbolic of the division between her Divine Son and fallen humanity. Eve's heart was pierced by sin, whereas Mary's heart was pierced by the Cross such that in piercing her pure and immaculate heart, she would share in the sign prophesied by Simeon, so that "the thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed." Indeed, it is not a coincidence that the next "piercing" we read about happened at the Crucifixion when "one of the soldiers pierced [Jesus's] side with a spear" (John 19:34), a piercing which extended to His heart. And just as life came forth from Adam's side in Eve (Cf. Genesis 2:21), the blood and water which flowed from Jesus's side would also give birth to a New Eve, the new mother of all the living (Cf. Genesis 3:20; John 19:26-27) whose immaculate heart was pierced with her Son's at Calvary, as prophesied all those years ago.
The Old Eve dispensed the Devil’s deadly fruit and brought death to the human race, but oh what a blessed Redeemer we have in Our Lord Jesus Christ! — to reverse the effects of the Devil’s poison and give us life through the New Eve, the dispentrix of the new fruit of the Kingdom, the fruit of her womb, which is nothing else than Christ Himself and the graces which flow from Him! We lost our salvation, in part, because of a Woman, and God will see it put right because of a Woman as well. There is an indispensable feminine part to play in Christ’s victory over sin and death. Eve ate the poisonous fruit which corrupted her children until the blessed eucharistic fruit in which Elizabeth rejoiced in Luke 1:42 was born of Mary to be eaten by her children to everlasting life (Cf. John 6:56)!
In the economy of salvation, Eve's anti-mediation was reversed by Mary whose consent allowed her to become what God had originally planned for the Woman which is mediatrix of the family. And that is exactly the role that Jesus presented for His Mother - to be Mother of the Church and
the Mother of His physical and mystical Body of which there is no division. Christ solemnly taught this truth while hanging from the Cross:
When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27)
In the old Creation, whereas Eve presented Adam with a divided house, Our Mother in the Faith brings her children together and presents them to Her Son in the new Creation. For what really happened after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden? The children were born of a sinful woman with a compromised heart who could not unite them with Adam in one family, even though this was her principal role. Consequently, Adam could not take his united family and bring them to God, the Father, as the meditator between this human family and God.
But now, in the new covenant, and in the new creation? All that has been redeemed. The prodigal daughter has been replaced with the immaculate one who leads a fallen humanity back to the new Adam in the new Creation.
The new Eve's pure and immaculate heart gathers her spiritual children and presents them to the new Adam. It is this immaculate heart which is the source of her motherly mediation, and it is this pierced and pure heart which Jesus unites with His own pierced Sacred Heart to mediate a fallen humanity with the Father!
There can be no complete family without a mother. There can be no true mediation in a family without a mother's pure and undivided heart. Our Lady is the new Eve, the new Woman of a new Creation. She is the Mother of the Church which is the supernatural family of God if it is anything at all.
January 16, 2021