Before proceeding to any detailed discussion of the object of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart it will be well to clarify what is meant in our title by the term "devotion."
Saint Thomas in the Secunda Secundae of the Summa considers the particular means whereby man attains his ultimate end. This he does through a consideration especially of the theological and cardinal virtues. The second cardinal virtue which he treats is justice, and as its first potential part he assigns the virtue of religion. His Question on devotion is the first of several dealing with the acts of this latter virtue.
According to Saint Thomas, then, annexed to the cardinal virtue of justice as one of its potential parts is the virtue of religion that high moral virtue which inclines man to show due cult to God as the first principle of all things. The virtue of religion has as its material object, divine cult or worship; and as its chief interior act, that of devotion.
In our ordinary manner of speaking, to both "cult" and "devotion" we attribute several meanings, some synonymous, some quite different. Cult is defined as worship, or a system of worship; as great devotion, and homage. Devotion is defined as a state or quality or act of religiousness. In the theological field, although we find that both words have more specific meanings, especially by some modern authors, they are again at times used interchangeably.
In general, cult may be denned as the manifestation of submission and acknowledgment of dependence shown toward the excellence of another; or, according to Saint John Damascene's classical definition, "subiectionis argumentum . . . hoc est, demissionis et humiliationis, obsequii et reverentiae signum."
In the concept of cult there are to be considered two elements, the material and the formal. Considered materially, cult means any deferential act, external or internal, which we perform in recognition of another person's excellence to excite in ourselves or others the esteem we ought to have for this excellence; considered formally, it means the esteem itself due such excellence.
Ordinarily understood, cult implies three acts: intellectual recognition of another's excellence, voluntary submission, and an act expressing this recognition and submission. If this cult is offered to a person whose excellence is uncreated, it is called latria; if to a person whose excellence is created, dulia communiter sumpta. If, however, this created excellence is altogether and entirely singular, the cult offered is called hyperdulia.
Cult is absolute, if rendered to an object because of that object's own excellence; relative, if offered because of the excellence of another object morally connected with the former object. Cult may be internal or external, private or public. We speak also of cult being either civil or religious.
Devotion, on the other hand, is considered by Saint Thomas as a special act of volition: ". . . devotion seems to be nothing more than the will to dedicate oneself promptly to whatever pertains to the service of God." And again: "an act of the will of man offering himself to God to serve Him." Following Saint Thomas' clarifications, devotion, generally understood, is the first act of the virtue of religion, and ought to be considered in a wider sense than divine cult, for it includes something more than such cult, namely the will to recognize promptly, with alacrity and eagerness, the excellence of the Supreme Being. Devotion always implies a relationship to cult, for inasmuch as it adds something to cult it necessarily connotes cult. Cult, on the other hand, need not necessarily imply devotion; one can give even divine cult without possessing any interior promptitude or readiness to do so. Devotion perfects and gives a certain value to cult, for cult without devotion appears as a somewhat incomplete thing.
Devotion is indeed an act of the virtue of religion. Participating in the virtue of religion, however, is the virtue of supernatural dulia and consequently that of hyperdulia. Accordingly the devotion we manifest toward our Lady, though immediately elicited by hyperdulia, does not for that reason fail to participate in the nature of that devotion which is the act of the virtue of religion. Saint Thomas remarks in considering this very difficulty that the devotion one has to God's saints does not terminate in them, but reaches even to God, insofar as we honor God in the servants of God.
In reference to Mary's Immaculate Heart we will use both terms, "cult" and "devotion." By "cult" we especially mean the manifestation of our humble recognition of the excellence of the Immaculate Heart and ultimately, as we shall see, of our Lady herself. This phrase, "cult of the Immaculate Heart," is meant to focus attention on the right of our Lady's Immaculate Heart to a special veneration. By the term "devotion," on the other hand, we understand the proneness and promptitude we should exhibit in venerating Mary's Immaculate Heart. Thus, in the phrase "devotion to the Immaculate Heart" we emphasize not simply the proffering of acts of honor and reverence, but precisely our eagerness, promptitude, and even delight in rendering these actions. We include also the concept contained in the derived sense of the term "devotion" namely, the habitual intention of offering this cult.
The Cult of Hyperdulia
The ideas of cult and devotion, inasmuch as they are relative terms will be fully understood only after a study of the object involved; and this we shall undertake with some preliminary observations on the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in general.
As we have already implied, the veneration we show the angels and saints as specially endowed creatures is technically called supernatural dulia. This dulia is distinguished from latria, the worship we owe God, not etymologically, but according to universal theological usage. What concerns us presently is whether the cult we offer the Blessed Mother, the cult which we refer to as hyperdulia, is essentially (i.e., specifically) different, or only different in degree, from that which we offer the angels and saints.
Saint Thomas says that the virtue of dulia may be viewed widely (dulia communiter sumpta), as the reverence anyone shows another person because of the latter's excellence. Thus taken broadly, dulia contains within its scope "pietas," "observantia," and other such virtues. And these are specifically different virtues.
Saint Thomas concludes further that among the species of dulia "communiter sumpta" hyperdulia is the highest. Following the Angelic Doctor's reasoning, all but a few theologians today regard hyperdulia as differing from the dulia we offer the angels and saints not simply in degree, but in kind.
Since the formal object of every act of religious cult is the supernatural dignity, excellence, or perfection of the persons venerated or worshiped, we distinguish different kinds and degrees of cult according to the various species or degrees of perfection inherent in the persons themselves.
Now the privileges of the Blessed Mother upon which hyperdulia is founded differ in degree and nature from those of the saints which cause us to venerate them. Mary shares more than the ordinary grace of adoptive filiation. To her is attributed the plenitude of grace, and over and above this great gift is added the specifically distinct privilege of special affinity to God, the grace of divine Motherhood. Mary, as the Mother of God, enjoys an altogether unique excellence and a dignity by far transcending that of any other creature. In bringing forth Jesus, she brought forth God and enjoys therefore a special relationship not only with the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but mediately, through Him, with the other Persons of the Godhead. All other creatures, even Saint Joseph, no matter how closely associated with Christ, pertain to the Hypostatic Union only extrinsically; the Blessed Mother, however, intrinsically. The inherent dignity of this calling of Mary as the Mother of God required a corresponding worthiness on the part of the recipient and gave her a position entirely unique among all creatures. Abstracting from the divine Maternity, however, the cult due the Blessed Virgin would be simply that of dulia; but in that she is really and truly the Mother of God, this foundation and root of all other graces and privileges proper to her gives her the right to the specifically distinct and superior type of veneration of hyperdulia.
Veneration is due the Blessed Virgin, then, because of her sanctity, for the higher the dignity and holiness of a person the greater is his or her claim to veneration and respect. Our Blessed Mother possessed holiness in a far more eminent degree than any of the angels or saints. She possessed a singular excellence. Our Holy Father, Pius XII, says: ". . . her life is most closely linked with the mysteries of Jesus Christ, and there is no one who has followed in the footsteps of the Incarnate Word more closely and with more merit than she: and no one has more grace and power over the Sacred Heart of the Son of God and through Him with the Heavenly Father." Further, her office of Coredemptrix, whereby she co-operated with Christ in our Redemption, her role as Mediatrix of all graces, and her position as Spiritual Mother of all men and Queen of the Universe give her a title to cult due in no way to any other saint. But especially her divine Maternity is seen as the ultimate basis and measure of veneration due her, and the privilege which entitles her to the special cult of hyperdulia.
We have seen the specifically distinct value of hyperdulia in the schema of cult. Let us now investigate further the foundation and basis of this special kind of veneration, the divine Maternity.
Mary co-operated physically and morally in the Incarnation. She was the means and the instrument of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the Hypostatic Union of the Divine Word and human nature. The objective dignity of Mary's Motherhood places her in a position entirely unique among all created beings, constitutes her in a position next to her Incarnate Son in the hierarchy of rational creatures, and places her as an intermediary between God and the universe.
This sublime dignity and excellence of divine Motherhood is not a quality, but a relation, and as such may be considered to have a certain infinity. It is infinite not in an absolute sense, yet in a very real sense: the term of this relation is a divine Person. It is a reflection of the essentially infinite dignity of God. Apart from the Godhead, no higher dignity is conceivable. Thus the entirely unique dignity of Mother of God cannot be equaled, and is, in fact, beyond comparison with that of any other created person. Saint Albert the Great says: "The Son endows with infinity the goodness of His Mother. . . ."
This ineffable dignity proper to the Blessed Virgin is seen as the root and reason for all her extraordinary privileges and gifts. Mary's maternal relationship with her divine Son appears as the distinguishing mark of her person, and might well be defined, not simply as a physiological relation of mother to offspring, nor simply as an office given her by God endowed with special graces, but further, a supernatural spiritual union of the person of Mary with that of her divine Son, a union which implies a most intimate affinity and relationship with the Blessed Trinity. The dignity of the Blessed Mother, arising not simply from her physical maternity but also from her affinity to God consequent upon it, is seen as belonging to the hypostatic order, for the Blessed Virgin, in becoming the Mother of God, proximately and efficaciously co-operated with the Holy Spirit in bringing about the Hypostatic Union. Without question, there does not exist a more perfect association between a created personality and God.
The divine Maternity is then the basic motive for the cult of hyperdulia, which special veneration is due Mary not because of her fullness of grace alone; or her pre-eminence among men, but because she is really and truly the Mother of God. The divine Maternity is of course the basis also for the cult of the Heart of Mary, for her Heart as part of her person merits this same unique type of veneration. The ultimate object of worship is without doubt her person, but the special and immediate object is in this case her Immaculate Heart.
The legitimacy of the cult of her Heart will be made evident when we come to consider that this veneration is directed at more than simply a more noble part of the Blessed Mother's body. It includes besides the natural and conventional connotation of the heart, the notion of love, all else that the symbol of the heart implies.
As we have intimated, and as we shall see even more clearly upon investigation of the object of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart, when we honor this part of the Blessed Mother's august body, we honor her entire person. All special venerations, whether of a mystery of Mary's life, e.g., her Immaculate Conception, or of a special virtue, e.g., her purity, or something pertaining to her person, e.g., her heart, have in common the same "obiectum materiale adaequatum seu mediatum" her person. And thus every type of veneration of Mary is given the rank of hyperdulia.
The Cult of the Immaculate Heart in Particular
In our ensuing discussion we will naturally be concerned not so much with the general veneration due the Blessed Mother as unique among all creatures, as with the special and particular cult we offer her Immaculate Heart. To determine therefore the exact meaning of the devotion we will first investigate the phrase "Immaculate Heart of Mary," with special emphasis on the meaning and connotation of the word heart.
In all languages the word heart is one to which innumerable meanings are attached. It is one of the richest of words, wide in its connotations. In all tongues we find the word used in three ways: according to its real sense, in a symbolical sense, and in a metaphorical application, but always and in every case with at least some kind of logical connection.
In the real sense it refers of course to the physical organ of the body effecting the circulation of the blood and most important and indispensable in its function of preserving our natural life. In this sense we will refer to the Blessed Mother's Heart as her physical or corporeal Heart.
In the symbolical sense the heart is used as a sign for something apart from itself, but connected with the heart through some real association. Thus, the basis for the heart's symbolizing a thing in this sense is founded on more than mere convention; it is seen to have at least a remote foundation in reality. Thus we say the heart is the symbol of love, not simply because in all languages this connotation of the heart is accepted, but because there is at least remotely a real connection between our physical heart and the interior affections, especially that of love. The heart's activity is actually affected according as our senses are impressed, and especially according as our mind, our will, and our feelings react to various impressions or stimuli. Thus the heart is more than an arbitrary symbol of the interior dispositions of the soul, for it responds to them, it beats in sympathy with them, and is so affected by them that we say it participates in them.
In the metaphorical sense, which preserves a certain relation with the symbolical, it presupposes an analogy of improper proportionality including always at least a tacit comparison. In this sense the heart is employed in cases prescinding from any real relation which in actuality the object symbolized might be expected to have with the symbol, the physical heart. In this sense, then, the heart is the symbol of those activities and characteristics which we associate with it, even though arising from a merely conventional and metaphorically accepted connotation. Thus we say "we learn a thing by heart," or Mary kept all these things carefully in her heart, in which phrases we refer for the main part to the memory, although we realize that the connection between the heart and the memory is purely a conventional one.
We find the word heart in the above-mentioned three senses in profane, biblical, and liturgical usage. In ordinary language, as a heritage from past ages, the heart is regarded as the center of spiritual and conscious life. It has come to symbolize all the properties of the soul, the virtues, the affections, the will, the memory, and the intelligence in general. It is often identified with the soul or with the emotions, and most commonly with the concept of love. We often find it used synechdochically to mean the entire man or person.
In biblical usage, heart, besides representing the physical organ of the body, is used to symbolize or represent physical strength in general; or the center of intellectual life; or again the center of affective life; and also, though more rarely, to signify love. Many times, as in profane usage, the heart is seen in Sacred Scripture as representative of the whole man.
In ecclesiastical usage, determined especially through the theological considerations of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, we find again a similar amplitude of connotation. The word heart is taken beyond its literal meaning to signify especially the virtue of love or charity. Thus in ecclesiastical and liturgical terminology reference is made to the corporeal heart and the spiritual heart. The corporeal heart, representing the heart of the flesh, recalls the human nature of Christ hypostatically united to the Word, or in the case of the Blessed Mother, her august physical person. The spiritual heart symbolically and metaphorically represents the dispositions of the soul, sanctity in general, and especially charity and love, or the will itself as the first principle of love. Both the corporeal and spiritual hearts are taken as one object in the devotion to the Sacred Heart or the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The heart then in profane, biblical, and ecclesiastical usage is seen as a most common sign and symbol of love; but for a clear understanding of how the heart enters into the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary we shall have to investigate the concept of sign and symbol.
A sign is defined by John of Saint Thomas as "id quod potentiae cognoscitivae aliquid aliud a se repraesentat," and may be either natural if from its very nature, without any consideration of convention or custom, it represents equally to all something distinct from itself, or arbitrary if it represents the thing only by reason of the operation and will of men. A natural sign is either an image if it represents by reason of similarity or similitude, or not an image if it represents by reason of causality or some connection other than similitude or similarity. A natural sign that is an image is either a formal sign (in quo) if without any previous knowledge of itself it immediately represents something distinct from itself, or an instrumental sign (ex quo) if by reason of and through knowledge of itself it leads to the knowledge of something distinct from itself.
An arbitrary sign, according to John of Saint Thomas and philosophers generally, is either a sign "ad placitum" if it is imposed by some authority, or "ex consuetudine" if it is had because of common usage.
A natural sign that is not an image, as well as an arbitrary sign, is of course always an ex quo or instrumental sign.
A symbol, as we understand it today, is an instrumental sign taken for and standing for the thing which it represents. A sign, then, is referred to as a symbol when it is used in this particular way. Hence, in speaking of a symbol, we presuppose the nature and divisions of an instrumental sign.
Thus we see the primary end of symbolism is to impress upon our consciousness, by means of some object which can be perceived by our exterior senses, the recognition of a thing in the spiritual order for which the symbol stands.
In all symbolism we distinguish three elements: the sensible sign which represents to us some spiritual object, the spiritual object itself, and the formal reason for the symbolism or the relation existing between the sensible element and the spiritual.
Thus it belongs to the nature of symbolism that there be a connection between the thing symbolized and the symbol itself.
In reference to the heart as symbolizing love, we regard it as a natural symbol, not simply because the physical heart is in a sense a principle of life influencing all other organs, just as love similarly is the principle of the whole interior life, but because, as we have pointed out, the connection between the heart and love is not limited to this analogy alone, but is based on a real physical relationship.
Naturally, no one today considers the heart the organ which elicits love or other affections of the soul, ideas which persisted in the time of the early apostles of the cult of the Immaculate Heart, Saint John Eudes and Father Gallifet, and naturally influenced their writings. With the development of our physiological understanding of the nature of the heart, some authors took a new and quite opposite view of the heart as a symbol, wishing to regard it as a purely arbitrary sign. During these years of readjustment of terminology the Church refrained from confirming any particular interpretation of the problem. Even in more recent times some authors still boldly persist in referring to the heart as the seat of love or organ of love, but these phrases must today be rightly interpreted.
In the theological field, of course, we are not concerned with a scientific analysis of the functions of the heart, but rather with what the concept of the heart is understood to convey to the minds of men. However, in view of the foregoing facts, to maintain both a scientific and theological accuracy we will avoid .considering the heart merely an arbitrary symbol of love, or, on the other hand, the true and proper organ of love, but will regard it rightly as a natural symbol of love. The heart, inasmuch as it has a real relationship with the dispositions of the soul, is seen as a natural symbol especially of love and the other internal affections, and this according to most universal custom of word and gesture. Indeed, any- thing so vastly universal in character is hardly a purely conventional symbol.
We indicate, then, that the heart is seen in our devotion as the natural symbol of love. However, as we have already mentioned and will later explain in detail, the heart is understood in our devotion as symbolizing more than simply love and the internal affections; it includes also all those elements which make up the Blessed Mother's intimate life and sanctity.
Thus it symbolizes certain virtues, dispositions, and qualities which are by nature in no way connected with the heart as such. Of these elements in the devotion the heart cannot be a natural sign, but is seen as an arbitrary sign.
Our devotion looks also, and indeed in a principal manner, to our Blessed Lady's supernatural charity. The heart, a physical organ, cannot of course be a natural symbol of any supernatural quality, and hence is seen as again an arbitrary or conventional symbol of supernatural love and any other supernatural element included in the devotion.
Hence in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart fully understood, the heart is employed as both a natural and an arbitrary symbol, and can therefore be referred to as a mixed symbol. Thus, in accord with the profane, biblical, and ecclesiastical acceptations of the word, and in its literal meaning and symbolical implications, we use the term "heart" in Marian cult.
We are able to recognize these elements separately: the sensible object (res significans) is the physical heart of the Blessed Mother; the thing signified (res significata) is her extraordinary sanctity and love for God and man; the reason for the symbol (ratio sign!) is the relation existing between the heart and the notion of love.
In reference to her person, properly speaking, the term "heart" refers to the vital function of the physical organ. Symbolically, due to the reciprocal relationship between the heart and the affections, especially that of love, founded partly on physical reality and partly on universal acceptance in our manner of speaking, the heart conveys the idea of compassion, mercy, and of her entire affective life, above all else her love. Metaphorically, due to common and universal acceptance, her heart signifies her will, her soul, and whole person as loving, or her interior sanctity in general.
In view of these facts, even if not properly the principle of the affective life, and even if not by nature connected with much that it symbolizes, because of its many relationships with the life of the soul and the interior affections, the physical heart is certainly the best and most universally accepted symbol of all that love and sanctity imply.
With these facts in mind it is therefore permissible to refer to Mary's heart as we do to our own, as praying, meriting, etc., for these operations of the person can be attributed to the heart through the figure of metonymy.
It is incorrect of course to attribute to Mary's heart whatever belongs strictly and properly to her whole person, or again, what belongs to some other part of her physical body apart from any connection with love. One must avoid also attributing to the heart anything which, even though legitimate, would detract from rather than contribute to the dignity of the veneration of the Mother of God.
Relationship with the Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Before undertaking a detailed investigation of the material and formal objects of the devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart it might be well to consider briefly the devotion with which it is intimately connected dogmatically and historically, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
From the mysteries of our holy religion, wherein the Blessed Mother is seen as occupying an essential and exalted position in the divine economy, there is evidenced the intimate union of Mary with her divine Son. Not only in the Incarnation and throughout her human life, but dogmatically and in the history of religious cult, the Blessed Mother bears a most intimate relation with our blessed Lord. The tremendous influence of Christ on His Mother, the workings of grace, and especially Mary's role as Mother of God, bind her to Christ in a union far beyond any ordinary association.
Indeed, this union of Mother and Son is so close, and Mary pertains so directly to the Incarnation and Redemptive work of Christ, that she belongs as an actual part to that section of Sacred Dogma, and is treated as such by Saint Thomas.
The indissoluble union and close relationship between Mary and her divine Son is reflected also in the devotion to their most august Hearts. The devotion to the Immaculate Heart is linked with that of the Sacred Heart both dogmatically and historically, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary possesses both a physical and a spiritual relationship with the most sacred Heart of her divine Son.
The physical relation is obvious, stemming from the natural union between mother and son; and thus the Heart of Mary played an essential and direct role in the formation of the physical Heart of Christ.
The spiritual honds between the Sacred Heart and the Heart of Mary, though less obvious, are of much greater import. Saint Paul's inspired words tell us that Christ must so live in His servants that His life will be manifested in our bodies: ". . . that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:11). In view of this fact, how great must be the extent Christ communicated His divine life to her from whom He received His human life. It is with this concept in mind that Saint John Eudes says Mary's Heart mirrors Christ's Sacred Heart.
The basic spiritual bond between these Hearts is, of course, the bond of love. The love of Christ for men includes naturally, in the first place, His Blessed Mother; and Mary's love for God of necessity includes the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, her divine Son.
The profound dogmatic grounds defining the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary can very well present both in an intimate union, justifying their being represented side by side as objects of devotion.
In the history of the cult of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, both liturgical and nonliturgical, the Hearts have been frequently united, and seldom have authors written extensively on the Sacred Heart without referring also to the Heart of Christ's Mother. Both devotions have encountered similar opposition and obstacles in their development.
Though similar in symbolism and analogy and as devotions, with many like characteristics, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is however unique for several reasons, as we shall point out briefly.
The first and most evident reason for the devotions lacking perfect parallelism arises from the fact that the physical Heart of Christ is hypostatically united to His Divine Person and worthy therefore of latreutic worship.
Further, in the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the love which we regard as the proper object of our devotion includes, beyond created love, uncreated love; for the love of Christ, in virtue of the hypostatic union, is theandric, and includes the uncreated love of the Divine Word as well as the created love of the human Heart. Moreover, the love of the Sacred Heart includes, beyond the love of our Lord in His mortal life and life of glory, His love for men in the Holy Eucharist.
As a further mark of differentiation, in the case of Christ, His Heart represents formally only His human nature hypostatically united to this Divine Person; in Mary her Heart can be considered as representing her entire being inclusive of the prerogative of her Maternity, for her Heart is in a sense the instrument of her physical and spiritual Motherhood.
Despite the differences in the nature of the two devotions, the veneration of the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God is nonetheless a reflection of that shown the Heart of her divine Son and ought to be examined in the light of it.
The objects of the devotions, material and formal, connected under the psychophysical symbolism of the heart, are indeed similar, but for a precise understanding of the meaning of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary we will consider the object of this devotion in detail.
In summary and in conclusion we might observe that the two great devotions to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are from an historical standpoint similar, from a philosophical standpoint the same, but dogmatically quite different.
The Object of the Devotion, Material and Formal
We have mentioned Mary's unique position among mankind and referred to her grace of Motherhood as the principal reason for her pre-eminence among all creatures. In virtue of her singular excellence and sanctity and because of her many extraordinary privileges, there is due her a veneration entirely her own. Her dignity as the Mother of God and her office as spiritual Mother of all men implies a relation of dependence upon Mary on the part of all mankind. As her subjects and spiritual children we need her intercession and mediation, and we owe her gratitude, esteem, and love. She has a right to our veneration and filial love, and it is our privilege to render her cult, to be devoted to her, to honor her, and by so doing to glorify God.
In considering in particular the meaning of the devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart it will be necessary for us to investigate thoroughly the object of the devotion, for cult, being a relative thing, is determined by the object with which it has relationship; or as we previously pointed out, since the excellence of some person is the formal object of cult, as we find different kinds and varying degrees of excellence, we offer different kinds and varying degrees of cult. Therefore to have a clear and precise understanding of any particular cult and its legitimacy, it is necessary to consider in detail the object which determines it.
In regard to objects in the concept of cult in general we distinguish two things: the material object, or that which we venerate (id cui cultus exhibetur), and the formal object, or the precise reason why we offer this worship or veneration (ratio ob quam cultus tribuitur). Since there is great diversity in the terminology employed by theologians in reference to the object of cult or veneration, for clarity and consistency in our own case we shall adopt the division of material and formal objects, each being further subdivided into mediate and immediate. The mediate material object is always the entire person to whom worship or veneration is offered, and the immediate material object is that part of the person, or thing joined to the person (e.g., mystery or virtue), to which cult is offered. The formal object is likewise divided into mediate and immediate. The mediate formal object is always the excellence of the whole person to whom cult is offered. The immediate formal ohject is that excellence under some particular aspect as, for instance, in the cult offered Mary's Immaculate Heart, that particular notion which the Heart symbolizes, Mary's love.
The basic notions of material and formal objects are clearly and concisely put forth by John of Saint Thomas when, speaking of the objects of faculties, he says: ". . . ex quo colligitur, quid sit obiectum formale, quid materiale. . . . Obiectum formate dicitur ilia formalitas seu respectus, secundum quern fit proportio et coaptatio inter obiectum et potentiam. Materiale dicitur illud, quod tali habitudini seu formalitati substernitur et subiectum eius est.
The Material Object
In view of our foregoing schema, the mediate material object, we indicated, is the entire person to whom worship or veneration is offered; hence in the veneration of the saints, if we say we honor some virtue or some great work of a certain individual, in reality we honor his entire person, for all cult terminates in the person, and any object or quality of an individual looks in its final analysis toward the entire person.
Likewise in the case of the Blessed Mother, all cult rendered to Mary, all types of devotion shown her, are directed ultimately to her person as such. Thus in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart we recognize as the mediate material object, the person of Mary in her physical and moral integrity, to which of course her Heart pertains.
The immediate or proximate material object of cult, as we said, is that part of a person or that thing connected with or joined to a person which we venerate or worship. To better understand the immediate object is to see more clearly the meaning and the legitimacy of any particular devotion. In the devotion to the Immaculate Heart, as is evident in the title, we venerate in a special way the Heart of the Mother of God.
The first question which naturally presents itself is, in what sense is the Heart of Mary the object of our devotion? Do we abstract from the physical or corporeal nature of her Heart and retain it only as some type of symbol?
In the case of the Sacred Heart, the first years this devotion was propagated the physical heart was certainly understood as being included in the object of worship. The second phase, initiated at the time of further scientific discoveries in the understanding of the true nature of the heart, accentuated the opposite tendency which strongly favored regarding the heart as merely a symbol arbitrarily chosen to convey the idea of love. The third and present phase is a reconciliation of the two ideas, including both, as the liturgy of the feast clearly indicates.
Supported unwittingly by certain overcautious Catholics who feared criticism of Protestant sects, it was the Jansenists who first vehemently held that the devotion to the Heart of Jesus did not include an actual veneration or worship of the heart of the flesh, but was directed solely to the love of Christ which only through a metaphor was expressed by the word heart. Certainly, the Church did not adopt and approve the devotion merely because of the intrinsic dignity of the physical heart, but she nonetheless soon made it clear that the true object of the devotion actually included the heart of the flesh as joined to the Person of Christ.
In the Apostolic Constitution "Auctorem Fidei" of Pope Pius VI we have a clear statement of the error of those who attempted to exclude the physical heart of Christ from the latreutic worship due it in the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Thus the concise surety of Father Terrier's words, ‘that it is certain and solidly established that the physical heart of Christ is worthy of latreutic adoration, and as such is the proper object of the feast and devotion to the Sacred Heart.
This correct notion is confirmed by the revelations to Saint Margaret Mary and by early ecclesiastical authors, especially Saint John Eudes.
The simple analogy of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus with that of the Immaculate Heart would not be sufficient in itself to make it certain that in the latter devotion the physical heart is also to be included in the material object of veneration. Thus, although we ought always to refer to what the Church and sacred authors say of the Sacred Heart and apply these notions prudently to the Immaculate Heart, the question remains, can the physical heart of Mary be established as included in the material object of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart? In other words, we ask, does the physical heart of Mary possess, besides its excellence as a symbol, any special excellency which merits in itself that it be specially venerated, and venerated within what the Church calls the devotion to the Immaculate Heart?
We answer by citing, besides the analogy with the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the following arguments and explanations.
From ecclesiastical documents and from liturgical and nonliturgical sources we find no indication that the physical heart is meant to be excluded.
When the question of the fitness and utility of including the physical heart was proposed to consultors, varying opinions were given. One opinion, affirmative, regarded the physical heart as the "tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, and the seat of all her affections and symbol of her most ardent love." Another, negative, stated that no feast of the Blessed Mother had any part of her physical person as its object, and hence the present case was to be no exception.
Today, in the Mass and Office approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the physical heart is not explicitly pointed to, nor is it so in the papal letter of instruction Urbis et Orbis; yet, to interpret these prayers and statements apart from the inclusion of the physical heart in the devotion is to render them fairly incomprehensible.
We do have some direct mention of the corporeal heart in earlier liturgies, as in the hymn for Vespers in the Office of Saint John Eudes:
Miranda Matris viscera, Miranda sunt et ubera, Regale sed Cor omnibus Miraculis praestantius.
The argument from authority is clearly to uphold the inclusion of the physical heart in the object of veneration. Saint John Eudes devoted a whole chapter to the merits and dignity of the physical heart of Mary. The same idea was carried on and defended by the early apostles, Fathers Gallifet and Pinamonti, and is today defended by practically all authors.
From reason we can propose several arguments in defense of the inclusion of the physical heart of Mary in the devotion to her Immaculate Heart. We find the saints, as privileged members of the Church Triumphant, worthy objects of cult in regard to their person, relics, and body. In the case of Mary, then, whose immaculate body is in every way more worthy of veneration than that of any saint, and whose sanctity transcends that of even the angels, it is natural and spontaneous for us to venerate the "pars nobilior" of her physical body, her Immaculate Heart.
Mary's pre-eminence, and even that of her heart, is of course not denied by any Catholic; yet the further question remains by what right is her physical heart chosen over all else as the object of special veneration, and does it belong as such to the particular devotion of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as understood by the Church?
The reasons why the heart is singled out as the object of devotion are seen to be multiple. As we mentioned and explained earlier, the heart is the "manifestive" organ of love. Its physiological properties and its psychological relevancy make it a fit object of veneration. As the organ which supplies the body with blood, it was, in the case of the Blessed Mother, a part of her person closely related to the human nature of Christ. Beyond playing an important role in the physical maternity, it is even more important in connection with our devotion inasmuch as it is intimately connected with the affections of Mary's maternal soul. The splendor of Mary's sanctity and the mysteries of her life, especially her Maternity, are concentrated in the love reflected in her Heart. "The synthesis of the human-divine life of Christ is love, which finds its concrete expression in the devotion to the Sacred Heart; and the synthesis of the life of the Mother of God is also love, which makes her Heart, after the Heart of Christ to which it is subordinated, the most worthy object of religious devotion."
Further, the heart is reasonably an object of worship inasmuch as the Church ordinarily approves for veneration only objects in some way concretized and possessing a material element. Such objects fulfill more adequately man's spiritual needs and correspond to man's own make-up of both body and soul. In her wisdom the Church wishes to impress men sensibly as well as spiritually, hence the appropriateness of a physical element in this devotion to Mary.
As early as 1857 the Sacred Congregation of Rites alleged two reasons why Mary's Heart is to be considered worthy of special veneration, both reasons arising from the dignity of Mary as the Mother of God. The first reason offered was the perfection of Mary's Heart, regarded either spiritually, indicative of the affections of her soul, especially her love; or sensibly, as truly a part of her body. In no nature except Christ's is seen such purity, sanctity, and perfection. Thus did God bring it about for all men, even the most hardened sinners, that the "Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary would be the Heart of a Mother, Queen, and Advocate offering help, refuge, consolation, and love," The second reason arises from the intimate relationship or "indissoluble bond" between Mother and Son which demands that Mary's Heart be associated with Christ's in cult.
Thus the Sacred Congregation indicated that the devotion to the Immaculate Heart includes not only the excellence of the love Mary's Heart represents, but also the very excellence of the Heart itself. Her Heart must pertain then to the devotion as more than simply a symbol; it belongs to the devotion as a heart ut stc.
Further, the reason for any worship is always the excellence of a person or thing; but the physical heart of Mary actually enters into the object of veneration in this case partly because it in itself possesses excellence. It has the natural nobility of being an important physical organ. Through its natural connection with the affections and the convergency of them in it, it is considered the affective center of man, and has come to be universally accepted as synonymous with and the symbol of love.
True enough, some would overlook any real or physical connection between the heart and love and still retain the physical heart as a true symbol and object of devotion, saying that the physical heart is venerated not because of itself, but by reason of love, the extrinsic perfection attributed to it. For them, the symbolical and metaphorical heart is considered to include the notion of the physical heart. They see no intrinsic relation between the physical heart and love as a reason for veneration of the heart in itself, and for its own excellence.
It is true, apart from its connection with the affections, the physical heart of Mary is not given any special veneration over and above that offered other parts of her body, for if it were not regarded also as a symbol, it would not exceed in importance or dignity certain other members of Mary's most holy person. Moreover, it would not have played, in its connection with the circulatory and nervous systems, a more fundamental role than other parts of her body in the conception and gestation of Christ.
However, in our devotion we maintain that the natural connection between the physical heart and love is not to be disregarded. Because of this bond the intrinsic dignity of the heart is enhanced by the extrinsic dignity of love attributed to it, and the physical heart itself has more than an ordinary claim to veneration.
We emphasize, then, the fact that the heart enters into the devotion to the Immaculate Heart primarily because of its connection and relationship with love and the affective life of Mary, but also, even though very secondarily, because of its own intrinsic dignity.
Therefore, besides being universally understood as the symbol of love, because of the natural bond between the physical heart and the affections, the corporeal heart is seen as part of the object of our devotion, forming with the symbolical and metaphorical heart one object of veneration. In this way there is clearly evidenced the unity of object of the devotion with which we are concerned.
Truly, in our devotion the heart and the love it represents are distinct, but in a sense identified, inasmuch as love extends to the heart and the heart is in turn affected by and reflects love. The heart is not formally love, nor does it cause love directly, nor does it possess in itself the equal excellence of love. Its own excellence is really that of love itself, in which, on account of its proper nature, it shares by reflecting and participating in the passions and affections.
Thus the heart and love, though absolutely distinct, are in a sense identified, for love extends itself to the heart and the heart shares in and reflects love. We see then the excellency of love and of the heart through love, as numerically one and the same excellence, for inasmuch as the heart participates in the excellency of love, the two notions are therefore inseparable.
In view of these facts, there exists an analogy between the concept of the heart and that of love. This analogy, as we said earlier, is not one of proper proportionality, for the heart is not formally or intrinsically love. We have rather an analogy of improper proportionality (metaphor) , as well as one of attribution in that it is connatural for the heart to reflect the movements of love.
In the case of the Blessed Mother, the excellency of her Heart in regard to love and the excellency of her love itself are numerically one and the same excellence. The love which surrounds the heart forms with it an "indivisible whole," and the physical heart is in itself reverenced along with the love it symbolizes in one and the same act of veneration. Mary's Heart and love are inseparable in this devotion the Heart as influenced by and reflecting love, and love as reflected in and influencing the Heart. It is in this sense that Mary's Heart becomes the receptacle of her immense love.
In summation, we observe again that the relation between the heart and love is founded on natural physiology, and the heart, because of this bond, can share in and reflect in its proper function the affections of the soul. The heart is not first associated with love because it is its symbol; on the contrary, it is its symbol because it has a real relationship with this same affection or passion. It is a natural symbol of love, a symbol by proper right.
The physical heart of Mary, then, is not connected with her love merely as a symbol. Through its natural properties and functions it is the instrument of her love before it is its symbol. It remains naturally apt to be its symbol because it is in a real sense a living expression of her love.
The Heart of Mary in itself participates in the excellency of her love, and therefore shares the reverence which is due the excellency of the love of the Mother of God. In this way the physical heart becomes the object of veneration, and Mary is venerable in and through her physical heart, which is reverenced fully and jointly with the excellence of love in which its shares and for which it stands. Thus in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart we see as a fundamental basis of cult, the perfection of the Heart of Mary considered both physically and morally.
We note here, in view of the above, that to honor the love of Mary without reference to her physical heart; or the Heart of Mary entirely divorced from the idea of love, would be a practice of salutary piety, but not the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God as approved by the Church.
Thus the material object of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart is adequately expressed through the physical heart of Mary, and therefore the phrase "the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary" is perfectly acceptable and scientific. The devotion can be rightly defined as "the veneration of the Heart of Mary or of Mary in her Heart." Or, "the veneration of Mary for the excellency of her love as reflected and symbolized in her Heart." Or also, "the veneration of Mary in her physical heart reflecting and symbolizing her love." Thus we say Mary's physical heart, together with her love, enters always as one object into the particular devotion to the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God.
Adopting, as we are, the person of the Blessed Mother as the mediate material object of our devotion, we see her physical heart? inasmuch as it is the symbol of her sanctity and love, as the immediate material object in which proximately our veneration is terminated.
Because of the unity of object in our devotion, that is, because of the close connection between the heart and what it symbolizes, we have already of necessity spoken considerably of love. It remains for us to investigate it further, however, in the formal object of our devotion.
The Formal Object
In continuing our considerations of the meaning of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart, we turn our attention now to that element in the devotion which is its form, and which is the reason why we venerate the material object.
As we have already mentioned, the formal object of cult or veneration is always the excellence found in the material object which merits our veneration. Thus in the case of the devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart, the mediate formal object is the excellence of Mary's entire person, body and soul. It is this exalted excellence we look to which includes all the prerogatives and privileges of the Blessed Mother. Her unique position among mankind is brought to mind by the Scriptures, especially by the words of the angel, the salutation of Elizabeth, the praise of the woman in the crowd, and in fact by every scriptural reference to our Blessed Lady. And these acknowledgments of her unique excellence have been reechoed down through the ages in the teachings of our holy Mother the Church. The writings of theologians and the saints and the words of the liturgy have been one grand chorus in the praise of the excellence of Mary.
The precise aspect of her excellence and the particular quality of Mary upon which we focus our attention in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart is the immediate formal object of our veneration, and in the present instance, following the words of the Holy Father, we posit as this object of the cult to the Immaculate Heart, Mary's extraordinary sanctity, and especially her love for God and man.
The excellency of her love is the primary reason for our devotion, but this notion of our Lady's love is to be understood, as we shall attempt to show, in its normal full extension; thus, in the letter of instruction Urbis et Orbis, along with love as the motive of our veneration of Mary in her Immaculate Heart, mention Is made also of Mary's extraordinary and singular sanctity.
The formal object is extensive in including the sanctity and the interior life of the Blessed Virgin which wider notions are, of course, not adequately distinct from love, for Mary's charity is intimately bound up with her sanctity, the mysteries of her life, and all her supernatural actions and qualities. Inasmuch as charity is the form of all the other virtues, and in that grace itself works through charity, we see maintained a unity in the formal object of the devotion, but an extension corresponding perfectly to the extension of the symbolism of the heart, which, symbolizing primarily love, is understood as inclusive also of the other affections of the soul and of all which corresponds to and is included in Mary's sanctity.
We shall investigate, first, the love of Mary as the formal object of our devotion, seeing what aspect of her love is stressed in the devotion to her Immaculate Heart, and then, what further this love implies.
We repeat here one preliminary observation which has been earlier explained; namely, that any devotion toward a particular virtue, perfection, or mystery, and thus even to the broad concept of Mary's love, must necessarily have a relation to the subsisting whole to which it belongs, and is ultimately terminated in God Himself.
Therefore the ultimate meaning of the devotion to the Heart of Mary is the devotion to Mary in her Heart, and to her as intimately related to the Godhead.
As the chosen daughter of God the Father, Mother of God the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Mary enjoys a special relationship with the Most Holy Trinity, and it is no wonder we see her possessing a most perfect charity, greatest among all creatures." Saint John Eudes explains how the eternal Father made Mary participate in His love for His incarnate Son, how Christ communicated to Mary His love for God the Father, and how the Holy Spirit, in choosing her as His Spouse, inflamed her Heart with a love worthy of so exalted a privilege. Nor is Mary's love for men a less extraordinary thing, "for she loves us with the very same love with which she loves her Divine Son, for she knows that He is our Head and we are His members, and we are therefore one with Him."
To better understand the nature and the grandeur of the love of Mary for God and man, however, we might well consider briefly some basic notions in regard to love and the virtue of charity.
True enough, in the human soul, it is the passion love which is the principle of all emotional activity; it is the virtue of charity which is the form and perfection of all our supernatural acts. Charity, says Saint Thomas, is the virtue of virtues, and is to the life of the soul as the soul is to the life of the body. Grace itself, from which merit proceeds, works more principally through charity or love than through the other virtues, and it is love therefore that is the moral and meritorious cause of greater perfection and excellence in the human soul.
Applying some of these basic notions to our Blessed Mother, we realize the entire divine life of her most holy soul was based on her love: her ineffable charity informed all her supernatural acts. Thus Saint John Eudes says "all her interior and exterior actions were stamped with the seal of divine love."
It is not our purpose to investigate in detail the nature of the virtue of charity or the function of love in the human soul, but rather to see two things: first, that the formal object which specifies this devotion is actually Mary's love, and secondly, how, in this devotion, the love of Mary is to be understood.
In regard to the first point, the very fact that in this devotion the Mother of God is venerated through her Immaculate Heart is indicative of the basic role played by her love. Historically, saints and ecclesiastical writers have always exalted her most ardent charity in connection with this devotion. Saint John Eudes' writings are filled with allusions to the love of Mary in connection with her Heart, and he dedicated sections of his writings specifically to exalting and explaining her Heart as the miracle of love and mirror of charity.
From the earliest years of public devotion to Mary's Heart, the Masses and Offices composed have always focused attention on this virtue. 8 In 1804 the feast in honor of the Heart of Mary was proposed as "the Feast of the most ardent charity of Mary." In 1855, when the Church approved a proper Office for the feast, the consultors spoke both of the ineffable chanty of the Blessed Virgin, surpassing by far the merits and virtues of the saints, and of her Heart, the seat of her most pure affections and symbol of her love.
The primacy of love in connection with the devotion has never been seriously challenged. Even when the title of the feast was changed to "The Most Pure Heart of Mary" with some stress given the purity of Mary's life and actions, the primacy of love in the devotion still remained.
With the institution of the universal feast there can be no doubt about the meaning of the devotion, for the Mass, Office, and liturgical documents (included in the Office) make it clear that, in this particular Marian veneration, we look especially to our Lady's love as symbolized by her most august Heart.
In regard to the second point how Mary's love is to be specified or understood in the devotion we had no early authoritative statement determining the matter. Hence, for many years, and indeed up until relatively recent times, the devotion was ordinarily considered to regard mainly Mary's love for God and her divine Son, her love for her spiritual children being included, but not emphasized in the devotion. This understanding naturally distinguished the devotion to Mary's Heart from that to the Sacred Heart as we know it since the revelations to Saint Margaret Mary, wherein our devotion is especially directed to the Divine Heart as overflowing with love for men. Allied to this difference was the fact that the first act of devotion in the cult of the Sacred Heart was an act of love in response to the love of Christ; in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart no such first act was clearly indicated, and perhaps imitation superseded the role of love."
Today, in the case of the Sacred Heart, theologians are practically unanimous in the opinion that the fundamental reason for our devotion is the redemptive love of Christ for all mankind. Christ's love for His eternal Father is given a secondary place in the devotion. The images of the Sacred Heart surrounded with thorns and pierced by a lance would seem to bear this out, as certainly the liturgy does, wherein the hymns, antiphons, and lessons, as well as the oration, Epistle, and Gospel of the Mass, emphasize Christ's love for us. The revelations to Saint Margaret Mary, "Behold this Heart which has so loved men," are fully in accord with this interpretation.
In the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the changing liturgies cannot be said to have always corresponded completely to the liturgy of the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Certainly Mary's sufferings, her compassion, and her love for us were indicated in the early liturgies, but the emphasis of the devotion was centered on her love for God, the importance of her virtues, and the great influence that her Heart had in her Maternity. Hence it was generally felt that if Mary's love for men was to be regarded to any great extent in the devotion, it was to be seen under the aspect of her role as Mediatrix rather than as Coredemptrix.
In recent decades, however, during which various factors have given great impetus to the spread of the devotion, there has been greatly emphasized Mary's concern for her spiritual children, and her solicitude for the conversion of sinners.
In 1942, the formula employed by Pope Pius XII for the Consecration of the World to the Immaculate Heart of Mary certainly emphasized our Lady's love for mankind. This is brought out by the opening words of the Consecration, "Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Help of Christians, Refuge of the Human Race . . ." and is indicated in the remainder of the formula.
We note especially with the extension of the feast to the universal Church, the changes in the liturgy are directed for the most part to emphasize Mary's maternal love for man, thus making the devotion more perfectly analogous with that of the Sacred Heart. Today, then, as on the Feast of the Sacred Heart we honor especially the redemptive love of Christ, on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart we honor the coredemptive love of Mary.
The decree of 1944 and the new Mass Adeamus include explicitly the maternal love of Mary for men. The Gospel (John 19:25-27) is evidently meant to stress Mary's spiritual maternity, which same idea is present in the lessons of the Third Nocturn. The liturgy would indicate that the feast looks primarily to Mary's coredemptive love, and is meant to be a celebration in a special way of her spiritual Maternity. Recent documents in the Acta of the Holy See continue to stress the Immaculate Heart as a symbol of this maternal love.
We do not, of course, lose sight of the fact that Mary's love for her divine Son and for her Creator is still a major element in the devotion, calling forth our imitation. We realize that ultimately her love for God and for man is one and the same charity. Certainly, the supernatural virtue of charity is indescribably more ardent in the Blessed Virgin's Heart where its object is God rather than man; yet, inasmuch as she loves God and us with substantially the same charity, though different in degree, Mary loves us with the same love wherewith she loves God Himself. Therefore, in loving God Mary loves us, and in loving us she loves God, seeing and loving Him in us. Her love for man is the fruit of her love for the Godhead.
The Church, in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart, does not exclude Mary's extraordinary love for God in celebrating in a special way her maternal love for men; thus we might summarize the spiritual element in our devotion as the charity of Mary toward God, her love for Christ, and especially her love for us as her spiritual children.
Being all-inclusive of Mary's charity, our devotion refers to this great virtue of the Mother of God both antecedent and consequent to her divine Maternity. Mary's love and perfect charity from the very beginning of her existence is fully contained in the object of the devotion to her Immaculate Heart. Prior to her Maternity there is particularly included the charity of her Heart present in her praying for the Messias: as the saints say, "Mariae amor Verbum e coelo in terram veluti traxit."
Mary's charity at the time of the Incarnation is definitely regarded in this devotion, and it is in this connection that we find the first associations of her love with her Immaculate Heart in the writings of the saints. Mary's love was not simply a preparation for her divine Maternity; it also intervened directly in the act itself by which she became the Mother of God. From the Gospel of the Annunciation (Luke l:26ff.), we know Mary's "Fiat" to have been a free act of the will upon which the Incarnation was contingent, and an act proceeding from her immense love and her will to conform her own will to that of God. Hence Saint Augustine says of Mary's answer to the angel, "non concupiscentia carnis urente factam, sed fidei charitate ferventi." In the Incarnation, love actually played a role prior to, and a role in the Maternity of Mary, being an essential part of the act whereby Mary became physically the Mother of God.
In the Incarnation Mary's consent was formally an act of the will, which, among the internal faculties of man, is often signified in speech by the word "heart." Thus we say the "Heart" of Mary influenced her consent, for her "Fiat" was an act of her will which proceeded from love; hence we see how naturally we associate Mary's Immaculate Heart with her love in the Incarnation.
But further, we point out that this love in the Incarnation included Mary's charity toward man as well as God, for in becoming the Mother of the Redeemer, Mary became more than the physical Mother of Christ, she became also the Mother of Men. She willingly and knowingly gave her consent, realizing the salvific mission of Christ, and realizing that in consenting to the divine Maternity she accepted Christ as our Redeemer and all the consequences this acceptance entailed, inclusive of the sufferings of her maternal Heart. She wished by her consent, not only the birth of Christ, but the birth of all men to the life of grace.
The motive of her consent could not have been her love for her divine Son alone, for if this were so she would have certainly prevented His immense sufferings and death. It was rather her love for the Eternal Word united with that she had for mankind which prompted her willing consent.
Mary's charity and love is the basis of her coredemptive acts, for because of her love she willed to accept her difficult role in God's pattern of salvation. Since her sufferings were internal and since she willed to accept them, we call them sufferings of the heart. "Stabat iuxta crucem Jem Mater eius, quae tacta in nos caritate immensa ut susciperet filios, Filium ipsa suum ultro obtulit iustitiae divinae, cum eo commoriens Corde, doloris gladio transfixa."
Thus love is seen as the motive of Mary's accepting her part in our redemption it is the motive of her oblation. Her love, in and with that of Christ, effects our salvation, and constitutes her our Mother. "Sed plane mater membrorum eius, quod nos sumus; quia cooperata est charitate ut fideles in Ecclesia nascerentur, quae illius capitis membra sunt: corpore vero ipsius capitis mater."
Because of the connection between the spiritual Maternity of Mary and her suffering and her charity, we see how the coredemptive love of Mary is rightfully stressed in the devotion to her Immaculate Heart. But the love of the Blessed Virgin which we regard in our devotion is not simply that of her Heart at the time of the Annunciation or Incarnation, or even only that of her Heart in her entire role in the coredemption, including her "Fiat" and her sufferings at the foot of the Cross; it includes also the charity of Mary's Heart in its full splendor and augmentation up until the end of her mortal life (charitas consummata), and the charity of her Heart as our Mediatrix and our Queen in heaven (charitas beatifica).
In heaven Mary's soul retains its spiritual potencies, relative habits acquired and infused, and some acts of these faculties and habits. True, in heaven, faith gives way to the Beatific Vision, and hope to the possession of God, but charity remains, and remains in a grade corresponding to the status of the soul at the end of one's mortal life.
In this regard we see Mary's love and even her Heart to possess a special connection with her Assumption into heaven; hence the Feast of the Immaculate Heart is today fittingly celebrated throughout the universal Church on the Octave day of this great Holy Day of Obligation.
Because of this connection the devotion to the Immaculate Heart can in fact be taken as an argument for Mary's Assumption, for, in the devotion, Mary's physical heart and her love form one numerically indivisible object of veneration. To separate one element from the other is to place oneself outside the devotion, for its very essence denies divisibility of the sign and the thing symbolized.
As Mary's love is imperishable and constitutes her greatest title for glory in heaven, it remains always to vivify and be associated with her Heart. If this were not true, and if Mary's Heart along with the rest of her august body were not already glorified in heaven, the devotion to her Immaculate Heart would be meaningless.
In heaven Mary reigns "with her Son, her body and soul refulgent with heavenly glory," and the love of her Heart which played an all-important role in her life, especially in the Incarnation and in the complete work of coredemption, continues its role in heavenly mediation, where Mary's intercession likewise depends on the charity of her Heart. Her immense charity is, in fact, not only the motive for her intercession, it is also the cause of its great efficacy.
We look in our devotion to the complete love or charity which marked Mary's entire mortal life, her love which grew and was augmented up to the very day of her Assumption into heaven, and which exists today and functions in her Heart in a marvelous manner in her mediation for us, as Queen of Heaven.
As we have earlier indicated, however, in this discussion of the formal object of our devotion, love, though primary, is not the sole element to which this object extends. There is included also the more general notion of Mary's sanctity, her virtues and gifts, and her entire interior life.
The early liturgies connected Mary's Heart with her plenitude of grace and with the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity, which latter idea is retained in the Oration of the Mass for the universal feast.
As the liturgies included grace which perfects the soul itself, mention was also made of the virtues which perfect the soul in its supernatural actions. The old liturgies often make allusions to both the theological and the moral virtues. The former feast certainly included Mary's purity as was indicated by the very title, Feast of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. The universal feast today, in employing the word "Immaculate," indicates also a broader extension than that of love alone.
Mary's sorrows and sufferings, with which are linked her compassion and mercy, have always been associated with the devotion, due no doubt largely to Simeon's prophetical words (Luke 2:35); and though we find no longer any direct references to her sorrows in the Mass and Office for the feast, these ideas are not now excluded, for they are connected with her interior life and her charity.
Hence, as has been indicated by the liturgy, there is universally considered as included in this devotion not only Mary's love, but all with which it is directly connected her sanctity, virtues, interior affections, and entire supernatural life.
This extension and scope of the formal object of the devotion is a most logical thing in that all Mary's supernatural activity is intimately connected with her charity; and in this devotion, we use her Heart as a symbol of her love and charity, and a symbol can be extended. Thus the heart symbolizes love first, but secondarily extends as a symbol to other activities related to love.
Certainly love is connected with all the virtues, and even though grace is not to be identified with chanty, yet chanty is its primary effect and the measure of its intensity. Love on the other hand is the cause of the increase of grace and the deepening of the interior life of the soul.
The heart as a symbol then refers to the love of Mary, her virtues, all the perfections which were a preparation for her to be the Mother of God, and the enhancement of all these perfections through her actually becoming God's Mother. It symbolizes also the perfections entitling her to be, and consequent upon her role as the spiritual Mother of men. All these perfections are part of her interior life and constitute her sanctity, and all are symbolized by her Heart. We can conclude therefore that the formal object of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart is not a particular virtue or perfection, act or mystery, but includes all that falls under the extension of the material object Mary's entire sanctity, with all the virtues, gifts, and perfections which constitute it, but all these as consummated in her love.
Mary's love, and its extension in the formal object of our devotion might well be synthesized in the following manner.
We venerate Mary for three reasons her eminent sanctity, her Maternity, and her share in the redemptive work of Christ. But all these resolve themselves to love.
In the case of her sanctity, it is seen as the fruit of sanctifying grace which culminates in charity. The quintessence of Mary's sanctity is her supernatural love, which Saint Thomas calls the form, root, and motive of all the other virtues and hence the source of all supernatural activity.
Mary's Maternity is also profoundly related to love, and therefore the heart. Love preceded it, entered the act, and marked the existing relationship thereafter.
In the role of Coredemptrix, Mary's participation in the redemption of men was the fruit of her love. It was only because of her love that she consented to share in this redemptive work, and only because of the strength of her love that she carried it out so perfectly.
Therefore, the splendor of Mary's sanctity, the entire grand mystery of her Maternity, and the fullness of her mission as Coredemptrix of mankind is concentrated in her love and, through it, reflected in her Heart.
Because of the connection between Mary's sanctity and her Maternity, and between her role as Coredemptrix and her Maternity, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart in its final analysis resolves itself to an exaltation of Mary's love in the function of her Maternity.
In conclusion, the object of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary can be summarized in this way. The material object is the physical heart of Mary inasmuch as it is a symbol of her love for God and man; the formal object is the excellency of this love which her Heart symbolizes.
We view the "physical heart as a symbol" as a unit, thus giving our devotion a twofold element, but not a double material object. In having a twofold element, one corporeal, one spiritual, the devotion corresponds to man's make-up of body and soul. But rather than speak of the corporeal heart as opposed to the spiritual heart, we regard the "physical heart as a symbol" as adequately including both ideas. In a final analysis, the spiritual heart about which authors sometimes speak cannot exist independently of the corporeal heart, and we rather view it, then, as what it actually is "the physical heart as a symbol" thus preserving unity in the material object of our devotion.
In the formal object we look practically exclusively to the excellencies of Mary's love; the excellencies of Mary's physical heart are not so much part of the formal object as the reason why the heart has become the material object.
By viewing the formal and material objects in this light we avoid having specifically different formal objects rooted in two material objects adequately distinct.
Only inasmuch as the excellency of Mary's love is considered the formal object of our devotion, and the physical heart as a symbol of her love the material object, can we preserve perfect unity in our veneration.
This division of objects we have adopted, though not universally followed, ought to be acceptable to all in the realization that any act of devotion or veneration to Mary's Heart includes of necessity both elements, thus viewing the object of our veneration as "aliquid unum."
It is from the material object, Mary's Heart, that we get the title for the devotion, and it is in the formal object, Mary's love, that we see the meaning of the devotion. Both the material and formal objects are distinguishing marks differentiating the devotion to the Immaculate Heart from all other Marian venerations.
In view of the foregoing discussion of the objects of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart we have seen more clearly what exactly the devotion represents, and therefore, in resolving the meaning of the devotion to the Immaculate Heart, we say it is the habitual practice of interior and exterior acts of hyperdulia rendered the physical heart of Mary, considered as the symbol of her eximious and unique holiness, and especially of her most ardent love for God and for Jesus her Son, as well as her motherly affection for men redeemed by the divine blood.
Objections to the Devotion
It seems fitting here to attempt to clarify several objections toward the devotion, some which have arisen opposing the devotion in a general way, and some which militate toward the exclusion of the physical heart as part of the object.
1) One of the first objections is a difficulty already brought forth by a Promotor of the Faith in connection with the Feast of the Sacred Heart; namely, that the devotion to the Heart of Mary offers occasion to have as many particular devotions as there are parts to the body of the Blessed Mother.
The solution to this difficulty is evident. True, each and every member of the most pure body of the Blessed Virgin, as part of her person, is worthy of veneration, but the heart, because of its specific and particular excellence merits in its own right a particular veneration in view of its role in Mary's mortal life and because today in heaven it remains the naturally apt symbol of all the affections of Mary's soul, especially her love. No other member of her body has a constant relationship with any one sentiment of the soul, and does not, therefore, form an "indivisible union" as that upon which the devotion we speak of rests. This particular type of association is verified only by the heart and love.
2) A further objection is offered in that the heart is not, strictly speaking, the organ which elicits the affection of love.
True, today we know the cerebral-spinal system to be the seat of, or eliciting organ of, sensory love. But though the former notions concerning the heart are seen to have been quite incorrect, ttfe heart remains, nonetheless, the manifestive organ of love in the sense that it is directly affected by all emotions strongly felt, especially by that of love, and is retained in our manner of speaking, for natural as well as conventional reasons, as representative of and connected with love, which, according to Saint Thomas, "precedes all other affections of the soul and is the cause of them."54 Thus, although the heart has lost much of its former prestige due to modern physiological discoveries, in a very real sense it still remains a basic principle of our physical life, analogous with love, principle of our moral life.
3) Another objection arises from the great extension and vastness of the object of the devotion. In 1904, one of the Promoters, examining the fitness and appropriateness of the devotion to the Heart of Mary observed that the object of the devotion was so wide as to allow it to be confused with the general devotion to the Blessed Mother.
As we have already indicated and will consider in greater detail later, all the prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin fall under the devotion to her Immaculate Heart in a marvelously harmonious pattern, and thus our devotion does include much pertinent to a general devotion to the Mother of God. However, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart has a peculiar and singular physiognomy which sets it off from any general veneration, for in the devotion to the Immaculate Heart we do not consider the mysteries of Mary's life and person in a collective manner, as we do in a general devotion to her, nor separately (simpliciter), as in various particular devotions, but we consider them in the light of their prime source and center, Mary's love.
4) The objection that the devotion as it regards the physical heart or what it symbolizes is a recent development and an attempt to invent a novel veneration for Mary is readily refuted by the words of the letter of instruction of our Holy Father Pius XII, who says that the vestiges of the devotion can be found in the commentaries of the Fathers on the Spouse of the Canticle of Canticles. We have mentioned earlier the sources and origins of the devotion in Sacred Scripture and in the writings of early centuries.
5) The objection that there have been exaggerations of the excellencies of the physical heart is not a direct criticism of the devotion, and therefore need not be answered here. We note, however, that these errors, if still prevalent, spring largely from the strong influence of early writers and apostles around the time of Saint John Eudes, and these theologians are to be excused for their exaggerations, for they were following simply the accepted physiological facts of their day.
The main objections to considering the heart of the flesh as the material object of the devotion seem to have arisen during the era when the physical heart was losing much of its prestige in connection with the body. We might observe that even today, however, the ordinary person is poorly acquainted with the anatomy of the heart in its physiological make-up, and in our normal lives the heart is still commonly presented and is primarily thought of as the symbol of love. Men attribute to the physical heart some associations which are definitely not connected with it, as, e.g., coldness of character, weakness, or physical strength. We also attribute to it physical sensations which are in reality connected with other organs. We make some associations with but remote foundation, e.g., vitality, sorrow, joy, and pain; in which cases, unless extreme; the function of the heart is not perceptibly affected.
The heart is retained, however, in all languages in all these metaphorical meanings, and therefore is not to be eliminated from being included in the object of our devotion as the symbol also of those affections of the soul with which it has no real physical relationship.
- from by Father John F Murphy; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Moses Elias Kiley, Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 22 November 1950