August is the month dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and it is also a month which contains a number of Marian feast days, including the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, in Rome, on August 5, the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, a solemnity, on August 15, and the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary which falls on August 22.
In addition to this, a number of the feast days of saints with a particular Marian connection occur during this month, including St. Alphonsus Liguori on August 1, St. Dominic — who was so associated with the rosary — on August 8, St. Maximilian Kolbe, the martyr of Auschwitz, on August 14, and also St. Bernard, who is commemorated on August 20.
In addition, St. John Eudes and St. John Vianney, whose feast days fall on the 4th and the 19th of August respectively, were also noted for their Marian devotion. So, all in all, August is a very Marian month.
Naturally enough, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is very closely linked with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and this is a connection came to prominence at the time of St John Eudes in the seventeenth century, although it was not until the nineteenth century that the Immaculate Heart devotion itself became widespread.
This happened because of the immense popularity of the “Miraculous Medal” which was a result of the revelations made to St. Catherine Labouré at the Rue du Bac convent in Paris in 1830. This medal actually has the official title of the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception” because of its inscription, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
When Catherine saw the vision of this medal, she heard a voice saying, “Have a Medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for persons who wear it with confidence.”
A little later, in 1836, a society dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary was started at the Church of Notre-Dame des Victoires, or Our Lady of Victories, in Paris, and from this point on, the devotion became really well known. This church had suffered degradation during the French Revolution and ended up as a stock exchange before eventually reverting to its former use.
But there were very few parishioners, and a new parish priest, Charles Desgenettes, after arriving in 1832, found himself battling against general religious indifference. He persisted in prayer, though, and was saying Mass on December 3, 1836 when he heard a voice telling him to consecrate his parish to the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary. This happened again in the sacristy after Mass, and so he drew up the statutes for an association in honor of Mary’s Immaculate Heart for the conversion of sinners.
These statutes were accepted by the archbishop of Paris within a week, and so began the work of the famous Confraternity of Our Lady of Victories, an association that was to have a worldwide influence, eventually becoming a global archconfraternity.
Ten years after the events connected with the Miraculous Medal, another series of private apparitions took place at the Sisters of Charity house at the Rue du Bac.
On September 8, 1840, our Lady appeared to a novice called Justine Bisqueyburu; in her hands she held her Immaculate Heart pierced with a sword and surrounded with flames, and also a scapular of green cloth. On the reverse of this was “a heart all burning with rays more brilliant than the sun and as transparent as crystal; this heart, surmounted by a cross, was pierced with a sword, and around it were the words: ‘Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death’.”
This new Green Scapular received papal approval from Pope Pius IX in 1870, and has become popular because of its association with healings and conversions. Those carrying the scapular on their person, or wearing it around their neck, should get it blessed by a priest; no enrollment ceremony such as with the Brown Scapular is required.
It is good to say the prayer, “Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death,” when asking for spiritual favors or healings, and the Green Scapular has been regarded as being very efficacious for the conversion of the lapsed and unbelievers, attaining peace of mind, and for physical healings.
The importance of devotions such as the Miraculous Medal and the Green Scapular is that they formed the background to the various more public apparitions of Mary in France later on in the nineteenth century, such as those at La Salette, Lourdes, and Pontmain, which were part of a general revival of Catholicism, not just in France but in Europe as a whole, a revival which had a particular emphasis on devotion to our Lady.
Devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart is really concerned with the love that her heart has for Jesus, for God, and so it is not an end in itself, but rather meant to be a model for the way we should love God. The whole aim of this devotion, then, is to unite mankind to God through Mary’s heart, and this involves the ideas of consecration and reparation.
A person is consecrated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart as a way of being completely devoted to God. And because love and devotion shown to the Blessed Virgin are referred by her to God, it follows that acts of reparation for sin directed to her also apply to God.
The Triumph Of
The Immaculate Heart
Fatima is of course the place and series of apparitions most associated with the Immaculate Heart devotion.
During the second apparition, on June 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin told Lucia that God wished to establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart throughout the world, a point she repeated during the July apparition. She then promised salvation to whoever embraced this devotion, to the extent that such souls would be dear to God, like flowers put by her to adorn His throne.
So this is clearly a tremendously powerful devotion, a point which comes out very clearly if we consider the final promise made by our Lady in the third part of the Secret, that is that, in the end, her Immaculate Heart would triumph, and a period of peace would be granted to the world.
We can help to bring about this triumph through our rosaries and through the practice of the Five First Saturdays devotion, and these, too, along with reading Fatima literature, are excellent ways to fittingly honor the Blessed Virgin during the month of August.
(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related website at http://www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people, and the third in the series is due to be published next year — details can be seen at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk.)