Tag Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

June 7, 2018


Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a popular topic among spiritual artists, and this devotion has inspired countless paintings, stained glass windows, and sculptures. While art pieces vary, there are common elements found in most renditions.

The Heart. The heart symbolizes love, and the red color is a second symbol for love. The heart-love connection has a rich biblical heritage: Moses told the people, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Dt 6:5); Jeremiah explained that God writes his covenant on our hearts (Jer 31:33); and Ezekiel relayed God’s promise to take away our stony hearts and replace them with natural hearts (Ez 36:26). The heart is the center of human emotions and feelings, wisdom and insight, desire and motivation, joy and sorrow, courage and fear. Mary’s heart was pulsing with love for her son Jesus.

The Sword. Mary’s sword originates with Simeon’s ominous prediction: “And you yourself shall be pierced by a sword” (Lk 2:35). The sword is a symbol of Mary’s passion and suffering, pain and sorrow, while for Jesus and art pieces of his Sacred Heart, the crown of thorns is his symbol of suffering. Another distinguishing characteristic is the sword’s point of entry. For Mary, the sword enters the top, usually from the right, and exists the bottom, usually at the left, although this is not a hard and fast rule. For Jesus, whose heart was pierced by the soldier’s lance (Jn 19:34), the sword entered from the bottom, presumably from the left side, and exited from the top right. The sword often represents Mary’s first sorrow or dolor, Simeon’s prophecy, but more often than not, it represents all Seven Dolors, including the Flight to Egypt, the loss of the Christ-child in the Temple, Mary’s piteous encounter with Jesus on the road to Calvary, the crucifixion, the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross, and Jesus’ entombment.

The Rose(s). A rose is a sign of love. If there is only one rose, it represents the singular love that one is to reserve for God alone. If the heart is circled with white roses, they symbolize Mary’s purity, sinlessness, and holiness; but if the roses are red they signify Mary’s deep love for Jesus her Son. The Christmas rose reminds us of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, while a single rose can stand for Mary herself since she is known as the Mystical Rose. A blooming rose is occasionally used as a sign of Messianic expectation, the people’s deep desire for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah (Is 35:1). It may also represent beauty and paradise.

The Flame. There usually is a flame at the top of the heart with one or more tongues of fire. It symbolizes zeal and devotion, and it further underscores Mary’s fervor, loyalty, and affection for her Son. The radiating heat is a reminder of the intensity of Mary’s warm love.

The Flower. There may be a flower sprouting from the burning flames. If so, the white petals are another sign of Mary’s purity, sinlessness, and holiness; while the green stem and leaves are signs of the new life and growth that bud forth due to Jesus’ resurrection. If the flower stem is bent down, it is a sign of Mary’s deferential reverence for her Son, but if it is standing tall, it is a sign of her glorification that came when she was assumed to heaven, took her place at the right of God’s throne, and crowned Queen of Heaven above and the Church below.

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The Assumption: Our Earthly Bodies and Heaven

August 14, 2013


Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD.   Photo/Jim, the Photographer.  Licensed by Creative Commons.

Painting in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD. Photo/Jim, the Photographer. Licensed by Creative Commons.

I’ve sometimes wondered if the Blessed Mother experienced the wrinkles and pains of old age. She was human and by all accounts didn’t have an easy life. The Church tells us she had no pain when she gave birth to Our Lord, but during the rest of her life there must have been some hardship and suffering.

The dying who suffer terribly in their bodies are not always sad at the prospect of leaving them to meet God. Yet the Church teaches that the Lord did take His mother’s aged body to heaven at the Assumption.

As the angels bore her body there, maybe the aging process went in reverse so that by the time she got there she looked the way she has in her apparitions. That’s not to say she wasn’t equally beautiful in her later years on earth but she has mostly appeared to us as a younger-looking woman.

Why bring her earthly body to heaven?

God could have made a new body in heaven for the Blessed Virgin. Why did he choose to bring her earthly body which, if it’s like mine, came with runny nose, bad breath and hangnails? The most obvious answer is that her body was the tabernacle of the Most High, Christ’s first earthly home.  According to Father Canice Bourke, OFM Cap.:

The womb that bore Jesus Christ, the hands that caressed him, the arms that embraced him, the breasts that nourished him, the heart that so loved him — it is impossible to think that these crumbled into dust.

Another reason appears in what we profess in the Apostles Creed: “The resurrection of the body…” This essential Christian doctrine is explained in the Catechism:

We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess” (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a “spiritual body.” (CCC 1017)

Our Lady was the first to receive the fruits of our redemption in her Immaculate Conception. She did not sin and it is believed that her body was immune to corruption. Would she not also be the first after Christ to experience the resurrection which all the faithful will experience?

Cremation for the Blessed Virgin?

According to the Golden Legend, a 13th century collection of saint biographies, Our Lady’s body was placed in a tomb for three days after her death (though whether she did actually die has been disputed by scholars for centuries). During that time, some who thought Christ was a traitor sought to burn her body.

It’s hard to imagine someone actively destroying the body of the Mother of God. And it makes me question whether we should do this to our own bodies, which St. Paul calls temples of the Holy Spirit.

The Church does allow cremation, “provided it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” (CCC 2301)

Thankfully, it didn’t happen to the body of the Blessed Mother. According to the Golden Legend, Christ and a company of angels came to bring Our Lady’s body to heaven. St. Gregory, Bishop of Tours wrote in 594 AD:

“The Lord…commanded the body of Mary be taken in a cloud into paradise; where now, rejoined to the soul, Mary dwells with the chosen ones.”

I hope to be one of the chosen ones, up there in my body. Hopefully without the dry skin and wrinkles.

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September Spotlight: The Blessed Mother Mary

September 1, 2011

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Stained Glass Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary is honored by three special feast days during the month of September:  the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8, the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 12, and Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15.  These Marian feasts days punctuate the liturgical calendar with timely reminders of the key role that the Mary played in our salvation as the mother of the Savior, and provide multiple opportunities to honor her.  The words that Jesus spoke to the Beloved Disciple he speaks to us, “Behold, your mother” (Jn 19:27).  Devotion to Mary is right and proper because Jesus asked us to regard her as our spiritual mother, and when we focus on Mary, she leads us to her Son.

September 8 is the feast of the Birth or Nativity of Mary.  Mary’s birth was the dawn of hope and salvation to the world.  She was born without sin, full of grace, the favored one, blessed among women, so she might be the sacred vessel and worthy mother of the Son of God.  Mary’s birth is cause for great joy and brings us closer to lasting peace.

September 12 is the memorial of the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a new celebration recently added to the liturgical calendar.  Mary is holy because she loved God with her whole heart; was well schooled in her faith by her mother, St. Anne; worshipped regularly in the Temple and synagogue; placed her complete faith and trust in God; accepted her special calling; reached out with such generous love to her relative Elizabeth; prayed so eloquently as seen in her canticle (Lk 1:46-55); lived humbly; was full of the Holy Spirit; was such a loving mother, such a devoted companion to her Son on his missionary travels, and offered such good advice to believers:  “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).  Mary is our pattern of holiness.  Her exceptional holiness calls us to greater holiness in our own lives.

September 15 is the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Simeon told Mary that her heart would be pierced by a sword (Lk 2:35), and it was pierced on Good Friday when she stood heartbroken, overwhelmed with sorrow, at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25).  Mary shared in her Son’s suffering and death.  May we, like Mary, “be glad to share in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pt 4:13), so we might make up in our own lives whatever is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24).  Then we, like Jesus who ascended to heaven, and Mary who was assumed to heaven, might share in their glory.  Furthermore, when Mary suffered with Jesus, she demonstrated her compassionate love.  May we, inspired by her example, be more compassionate with one another.

Please, do not let the month of September pass by without doing something to honor our Blessed Mother Mary.

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