I admit this brief meditation is a day late, but let us not forget that the whole month of August is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart.
This Feast, the patronal feast of our Order, falls on the Octave day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The mystery under consideration, namely, Our Lady’s most pure heart, is something that was brought to the fore in the life of the Church with the revelations of Our Lady of Fatima. What I would like to focus on in these comments is what we mean by “Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Perhaps it will be shocking to read — and this, from a “Slave of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” — that the name is not entirely adequate. But then, neither is it adequate to call God immortal, as this is a negative description of his essentially positive fullness of life. Because of our limited intellects, we need these negative concepts to help us understand something essentially incomprehensible. “Immaculate” means “without spot,” as in “without spot (or stain) of sin.” But Our Lady is not merely spotless. She is full of grace.
We all know that Original Sin did not touch Our Lady. By her unique privilege of the Immaculate Conception, she was, from the first moment of Her existence, free from that sad legacy we all receive from our father Adam, through his corrupt seed. At Mary’s conception, Original Sin was prevented from even touching the newly conceived little girl. But more than that happened — much more. Our Lady was given a superplenitude of grace. So, we can call Her Heart the “Superengraced Heart,” or the “Heart with a Superplenitude of Grace.” These terms are not as verbally graceful as “Immaculate Heart,” so I would never propose them as new titles for the Church to use. I offer them only to articulate more fully the deeper meaning of “Immaculate” as the Church uses it.
An analogy may help to put this in better perspective: Suppose you polish a mirror so that it is spotless. Your mirror is clear, without blemish, streak, stain, or any imperfection whatsoever on its surface. If you look at it with the lights off, you will see… nothing! It is “immaculate,” but dark, not lightsome. Now, supposing you shine a bright light on it. You get the picture, perhaps even literally.
The Heart of Mary is not merely without spot. It is transfused with light. So much so that in the Fatima Revelation, she appeared as “a lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun, radiating a light more clear and intense than a crystal cup filled with sparkling water, lit by burning sunlight.” Those are the words of Sister Lucy describing the first apparition in May of 1917. This revelation to the children agrees with the public revelation given to the whole Church. In the Apocalypse, the Blessed Virgin is called the “Woman clothed with the Sun.” The Church applies this passage to her in the liturgy in, among other places, the office of Matins for the Blessed Virgin: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Aopc. 12:1).
The radiant light described here is an image of God’s grace and the fulfillment of grace in Heaven, which we call “glory.” “Brightness” or “clarity” is a quality of a glorified body. This dogmatic truth is the origin of the nimbus, or halo, that we see on the saints in Christian art. Mary’s Son showed the glory due to His sacred humanity in the Transfiguration. Similarly, the Blessed Virgin revealed her own glory, first to St. John on Patmos, and much later, to the children of Fatima. She reflects the Glory of the Blessed Trinity as a spotless mirror reflects the light that is shined into it. It should come as no surprise to us, then, that in the Church’s official lexicon of prayer, Jesus id called the “Sun of Justice,” just as Mary is called the “Mirror of Justice.”
But the Blessed Virgin and her Immaculate Heart are not merely icons of lovely lightsomeness for us to admire. All the economy of the Incarnation is “for us men and for our salvation.” Mary is part of the Incarnational economy. Thus, she told Sister Lucy, “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”
Her heart will be the refuge to protect us from sin, like the “cities of refuge” in the Old Testament, where criminals could flee for sanctuary (Cf. Deut. 19:12).This corresponds to our Lady’s negative aspect of being without sin. However, she is also the “way that will lead [us] to God.” This corresponds to her fullness of Grace, her positive effulgence with divine light.
The Immaculate Heart, the “Superengraced Heart” — if you will — is not only a thing of peerless beauty in itself; it is a safe haven and a sure path for us, the poor banished children of Eve.