Many Catholics are familiar with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with its dramatic imagery stemming from the Passion and Cross, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with its dagger plunging into it, but many Catholics are not aware of the power of the combination of hearts. Although the hearts of Jesus and Mary are mentioned a few times in the Bible, the devotion to the two hearts arose in the early Church.
The holy Fathers, true witnesses of the divinely revealed doctrine, wonderfully understood what St. Paul the Apostle had quite clearly declared; namely; that the mystery of love was, as it were, both the foundation and the culmination of the Incarnation and Redemption. For frequently and clearly, we can read in their writings that Jesus Christ took a perfect human nature and our weak and perishable human body with the object of providing for our eternal salvation, and of revealing to us in the clearest possible manner that His infinite love for us could express itself in human terms. (Hauretis Aquas by Venerable Pope Pius XII, n. 44)
Likewise, these same Fathers of the Church often meditated and praised the singular love and faith of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who so generously offered Herself to God to fulfill His plans for our redemption, and who so steadfastly persevered with Her Son Jesus Christ in His ignominious crucifixion and death.
In both these approaches the Fathers of the Church laid the foundation for true devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary by clearly indicating the union of charity which bound Them both in the work of redemption.
The Sacred Heart
Writers as early as St. Justin (second century) and St. Pope Gregory the Great (seventh century) drew on John 19:34-35 as a metaphor for the divine graces that flow from the heart of the crucified Jesus: “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” Later spiritual writers, including St. Bernard of Clairvaux (twelfth century) and St. Gertrude the Great (thirteenth century), along with the preaching of Dominican and Franciscan friars, further developed and popularized devotion to the heart of Jesus.
But it was the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque over a period of eighteen months between 1673 and 1675 that eventually prompted formal, universal devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus throughout the Church. Jesus appeared to her in these visions, mourning the indifference of humanity to his great love for them. He asked her (and by extension all the faithful) to make up for this indifference by her own love, especially by the practice of lovingly receiving Holy Eucharist on the first Friday of every month, and devoting an hour to Eucharistic adoration every Thursday, during which she was to meditate on his agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Moreover, he asked for a feast to be instituted in honor of his Sacred Heart, a request that was fulfilled seventy-five years after St. Margaret Mary’s death.
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Grounded in several references to Mary’s heart in the Scriptures (Luke 2:19, 2:35, 2:51), devotion to the heart of Mary was initially developed by St. Anselm and St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century; later, St. Bernardine of Siena (fifteenth century) became known as the “Doctor of the Heart of Mary” thanks to his extensive writing on her heart. St. John Eudes (1601-1680) is considered the founder of the modern public devotion to the Two Hearts. He took on the task to organize the scriptural, theological, patristic, and liturgical sources relating to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He also undertook to popularize this devotion with the approbation of the Church.
The devotion got a boost from the visions of St. Catherine Laboure in 1830 when Mary revealed to her the image of the Miraculous Medal, as well as the visions of three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Our Lady of Fatima told the children that “to save poor sinners, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” In a later vision to one of the children (Lucia), Mary called for the faithful to devote the first Saturday of every month to confession, receiving Holy Communion, and reciting five decades of the Rosary. Forty-five years later, in the midst of World War II, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary so as to obtain by her intercession “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity and the practice of virtue”.
The images themselves demonstrate the many similarities between the hearts and the sufferings of our Lord and our Blessed Mother, but also differences quite specific to their particular sufferings. Both hearts are aflame, but the Sacred Heart's burning love is directed toward humanity, and the physical suffering portrayed in His image is for the sake of mankind: the lance wound in the heart, the crown of thorns, the drops of blood. Throughout His physical suffering, Christ remained committed to the Father's mission for Him. This draws our focus to the intense human suffering endured by our Lord on our behalf.
The Immaculate Heart's fire illustrates the burning love Mary has for God the Father and for her Son. Mary's heart, pierced with a sword to remind us of the sorrows she endured silently in her lifetime as Jesus's mother, is ringed with a wreath of roses. The flowers symbolize that, throughout her spiritual suffering, Our Lady remained committed to the humility, obedience, and purity for which we revere her.
The Feast Day has become a solemnity, celebrated on the 19th day after Pentecost.