Throughout her lifetime, Mary embodied a profound love for Christ, submitting herself to God’s will in cheerful obedience despite difficulties. Dedicated to honoring the interior life of the Blessed Mother, the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary reflects upon her heart of love for God, celebrating her joys, sorrows, and virtues.
As we observe the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on June 17, we invite you to discover more about this devotion, the significance of the associated imagery, and where you can find it featured at the Basilica.
How the devotion originated
Saint John Eudes was instrumental in propagating the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, holding the first feast day at Autun in 1648, starting multiple religious societies in honor of the devotion, and authoring the book Coeur Admirable (Admirable Heart). Though his petition to Rome for an official feast day was unsuccessful, the devotion grew in popularity.
With the revelation of the Miraculous Medal in 1830, attention was drawn to the devotion, and the Congregation of Rites finally approved the Office and Mass of the Most Pure Heart of Mary on July 21, 1855.
What imagery is associated with the Immaculate Heart and why?
The devotion to the Immaculate Heart is traditionally associated with imagery representing Mary’s virtues and sorrows, which you can find honored in the Basilica in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel and the Chapel of Our Mother of Sorrows.
Most notable among these is the heart of Mary pierced by a sword, which is depicted in a hand-carved wooden medallion in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel. Surrounded by eight angels carved into the marble of the apse, Mary holds the Christ Child and touches her Immaculate Heart, inviting the visitor to contemplate her example of love amidst sorrow.
The symbolism of the sword-pierced heart originates from Simeon’s prophetic words to the Blessed Mother: “And you a sword will pierce,” in Luke 2:35. Evoking the tremendous sorrow of Mary, particularly during the Crucifixion, other portrayals of the image may also include not one, but seven swords piercing the heart, to reflect the seven sorrows of Mary.
How are the seven sorrows of Mary connected to her Immaculate Heart?
Over the course of her lifetime, Mary endured many trials – but throughout it all, her attitude was one of steadfast faith and unflinching obedience, reflecting her Immaculate Heart. Catholic tradition recognizes the seven sorrows of Mary:
- The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
- The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
- Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41-50)
- Mary meets Jesus on his way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17)
- Crucifixion and death of Jesus (John 19:25-30)
- The body of Jesus being taken from the Cross (Luke 23:50-54; John 19:31-37)
- The burial of Jesus (Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47)
In the Basilica, these are honored in the Chapel of Our Mother of Sorrows: the sixth sorrow, Mary holding Jesus as he is taken from the Cross, is portrayed in a life-size marble sculpture, while the rest of the sorrows are depicted in bronze on the walls flanking the chapel.
How the Immaculate Heart of Mary draws us closer to God
The Immaculate Heart of Mary demonstrates how steadfast faith and obedience to God can help lead us through trials and temptations. As Pope John Paul II stated in a homily given in Washington D.C. on October 6, 1979:
“This woman of faith, Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God, has been given to us as a model in our pilgrimage of faith. From Mary, we learn to surrender to God’s will. From Mary, we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary, we learn to love Christ, her Son and the Son of God. Mary is not only the Mother of God, but she is also the Mother of the Church as well.”
Prayer in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel
As we celebrate the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we invite you to reflect upon the following prayer featured in the chapel:
You prepared the heart of the Virgin Mary to be a fitting home for Your Holy Spirit. By her prayers, may we become more worthy of Your glory. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
“Immaculate Heart of Mary,” EWTN
“Holy Mass At The Cathedral of St. Matthew: Homily of His Holiness John Paul II,” Pope John Paul II, The Vatican
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.