On the weekend 12-13 October, as part of the celebrations for the Year of Faith, the Holy Father celebrated a special Marian Day in Rome.
Pope Francis asked that the statue of Our Lady of Fatima be brought to Rome from that shrine and on Sunday, at Mass, he consecrated the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This act mirrors similar consecrations undertaken by Pope Pius XII in 1952 in Rome, and by Blessed Pope John Paul II, firstly in Fatima in 1982, and then in Rome in March, 1984.
But why a consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
Such devotion is a reflection of the desire of the Pope, and of faithful Catholics, to see mirrored in every human heart the simple and pure love that Mary had for Jesus. We consecrate ourselves to Mary’s Heart as a sign of our desire to show her same openness to God and neighbour. To consecrate oneself – or others – to her Heart is effectively to set out on a pilgrimage to her heart and to seek there that we might love God more fully – more ‘wholeheartedly’ we might say – and to love our neighbour in concrete and real ways.
Devotion to Mary is not an optional ‘add-on’ to Catholic belief, but an expression of what is at the heart of our faith. To draw close to Mary is to draw close to Jesus. As the earliest Christian witnesses often taught, Mary was open to receiving Jesus in her mind and in her heart before she gave birth to him in her flesh. For this reason she is the first of all the disciples of the Lord as she is the most faithful of all the Lord’s followers. In her maternal love of us she continues to assist us in our following of Him; a consecration to her Immaculate Heart gives expression to this in a simple way.
Over the past two hundred years especially, devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart has become more explicit in the Catholic Church. This reached its pinnacle through various Marian apparitions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1830, in Rue du Bac in Paris, in the apparitions to St. Catherine Laboure, we were given the image of the Miraculous Medal. This is a very practical means of calling to mind Mary’s maternal protection of us and our desire to imitate her. In the apparitions to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858 we received a confirmation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. In Fatima, in 1917, the invitation of a Consecration to Mary’s Heart was made explicit in the apparitions to the three children. In these various Marian shrines the Church sees that devotion to Mary is a very real path of holiness and a way of drawing closer to Jesus.
From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has reminded us, again and again, that devotion to Mary is at the heart of our Catholic faith. He has expressed that devotion in practical ways – by praying before the image of her in St. Mary Major’s Church on the morning after his election, and visiting that Basilica several times since, as well as by making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil before he celebrated World Youth Day with three million young people in Rio. In his recent, oft-quoted interview, the Holy Father notes, “This is how it is with Mary: if you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people.”
There is no doubt that when Pope Francis made this new consecration of the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 13 October, he was praying most especially for those people most in need in our world – for those longing for peace, for the poor and the marginalised, for the sick and bereaved, for those who feel alienated from God. To her Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart he will commend these and all of us. As the Holy Father makes this consecration, let us each ask Mary to show us how we might more faithfully follow her son Jesus, and so love God and our neighbour more wholeheartedly.