At Father Eude’s death in 1680, devotion to the Heart of Mary flourished in many of the dioceses of France. Like the grain of mustard seed, it grew and spread throughout that country until it became an important part of the liturgy. France, the eldest daughter of the Church, is certainly a land favoured by Heaven. There, the Sacred Heart of Jesus appeared in radiance and glory, asking His faithful children to make amends by their love for the ingratitude of mankind. There,. also, the Immaculate Virgin Mary revealed herself, not at Lourdes alone, but in many places and at different times. The numerous sanctuaries of Our Lady, served by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, from the first days of the Congregation, give testimony to the many favours and blessings conferred on France by the Blessed Virgin herself. Jesus and Mary have been good to France. She was then one of the most Catholic of nations, her people loved and honoured the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of His own Divine Mother. This twofold devotion brought down on the faithful innumerable graces and blessings. Nowhere, perhaps, have these two devotions been practised with greater fervour and intensity than at Paray-le-Monial, a place rendered famous for all time by the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary.
Born near Autun in 1647, this Saint had from her early childhood a tender love for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When she entered the Visitandine convent at Paray-le-Monial, this devotion formed a large part of the spiritual life of the community, and the feast of the Heart of Mary, established in Autun by the Blessed Father Eudes, was annually celebrated there. The members of that community emulated one another in paying homage to that Heart, but St. Margaret Mary outshone them all in the intensity of her love and devotion.
In the year 1688, the Saint beheld a wonderful vision. One day, as she knelt before the tabernacle, she saw two Hearts-the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary-and between them a smaller one representing. her own. While she gazed with wonder upon those objects, she heard Our Lord’s voice saying to her: “It is thus that My Divine love unites those three Hearts for ever.” From that day, the holy servant of God understood that her divine Master wished her to include in her love of His Sacred Heart the love of His Mother’s spotless Heart also; that these two Hearts must be ever inseparable in her homage and devotion. That this implied wish of our loving Saviour was always carried out during her lifetime we know with certainty from the writings of her biographers. Father Gallifet S.J., for instance, writes thus:- “Sister Margaret Mary always united devotion to the Heart of Mary to her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From her, no doubt, Father de la Colombière learned this former devotion, for he also ever united these two Hearts in his homage and love.” There were two practices, especially, by which the Saint honoured the Most Pure Heart of Mary-the frequent recitation of a litany composed by herself in honour of that Heart, and of an act of consecration which she often made at the foot of Mary’s altar; For her, as for Saint John Eudes, this devotion was an infallible and powerful means of winning the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Himself. To both, the motto “ Ad Cor Jesu per Cor Mariae” was dear and expressive, for they applied it to their devotion and made it the guiding principle of their lives.
After St. Margaret Mary, we find a great number of devout clients of the Sacred Heart who practised and propagated devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Holy priests, such as Fathers de la Colombière, Gallifet, Cróiset, Bouzonie and others, spent themselves, by word and work, in spreading this devotion. The Franciscans and the Jesuits of France vied with one another in making the Heart of Mary known and loved, and in endeavouring to obtain from Rome official sanction for a universal feast and office of that Most Pure Heart.
It is not astonishing, however, that during the revolutionary years of the 18th century, this devotion waned and languished in the hearts of the French people; but even in those troubled times, Divine Providence watched over it with tender care and solicitude, for pious congregations, destined to preserve and augment the devotion, were firmly established in the Church.
Father Picot de Clorivere (1820) was the founder of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a society whose end was, as its holy founder put it, “to make reparation to the Most Pure Heart of Mary for the many homages of which she was deprived by the suppression of religious orders, whose glory it was to have Mary as their Patroness and Mother.” Father Cordon also founded the congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, whose mission was to—awaken in the souls of the faithful the devotion so universally and so fervently practised in pre-revolutionary days. In many of the Societies founded in the 18th and 19th centuries a” Guard of Honour” was formed to make reparation to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary for the many sins and crimes of ungrateful men. The number of such Societies is too great to mention them individually,—but suffice it to say that each and every one gave glory to and increased the honour of, the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1830, a miraculous event, which gave a great impetus to the devotion of which we write, took place in Paris. In that year, Our Blessed Lady appeared in a vision to a French Sister of Charity, Saint Catherine Laboure, and showed her, as a token of grace and mercy to mankind, the model of the miraculous Medal. On one side of the tableau presented to her view, the Sister saw Our Lady standing on a globe and, with out-stretched hands, pouring down graces on all mankind. On the other side, she beheld a large letter M, surmounted by a cross, and beneath it two Hearts-one, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, crowned with a circle of thorns, the other, the. Pure Heart Of Mary, pierced through and through with a sword of sorrow. The Heart of the Mother and that of the Son were bound together in the closest bonds of mutual, inexpressible sorrow; both bore the symbols of the awful suffering inflicted upon them by the sins of men. Surely this vision was a clear manifestation of Our Lady’s will. She wished thereby to convey to her loving children a two-fold message. First, that their love and devotion should include the united Hearts of the Mother and the Son; secondly, that their love should be a love of reparation; their devotion, a devotion of atonement for the sins of the world.
Six years later, in 1836, God’s desire to glorify the Immaculate Heart of Mary was manifested in a yet more striking manner. In that year a complete religious transformation took place in the parish of Our Lady of Victories in Paris, and following this, the erection of a large confraternity in honour of the Heart of Mary for the conversion of poor sinners. For a long time preceding this wonderful event, the saintly parish priest, M. Desgenettes, deplored the pitiable condition of his parish. It counted no less than 25,000 souls yet of that vast number very few indeed attended their religious duties. The sacraments were neglected, the church was practically abandoned and religion was at a very low ebb. Such a sad state of affairs must surely have caused many a pang to the heart of the saintly pastor. Yet he did not despair. Using every means in his power to bring back his erring children to God, he continued to pray to the Blessed Virgin for the conversion of his flock.
One day, in December, 1836, while he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, he distinctly heard these words pronounced “Consecrate your church and your parish to the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary.” No sooner had the voice ceased, than he consecrated himself, his parish, and his people to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, promising at the same time, that if Mary heard his prayer, he would establish in his church a confraternity in her honour. He then set to work to draw the statutes of the proposed confraternity, and on the following Sunday announced at Mass that the first meeting would take place that very evening. How great was his surprise when, on entering the church that evening, he found it almost full! Having read and explained to the people the rules of the confraternity he proposed to establish, he began to chant with them the Litany of Our Lady. When he came to the invocation “Refuge of sinners, pray for us,” an extraordinary emotion took possession of the whole assembly. Instinctively, all those in the church fell on their knees, repeating with wonderful fervour that touching invocation. On that day, the parish was saved, the confraternity of Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners, firmly established, and God’s grace reigned in the place of sin and wickedness. A complete transformation was produced in the hearts of all-a transformation which was due to the mighty power and the clement mercy of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Confraternity, established in such an extraordinary fashion, was instrumental in consolidating the good work begun by Our Blessed Lady herself, and in 1838, it was erected into an Archconfraternity by Pope Gregory XVI. Today it counts hundreds of thousands of associates; and hundreds of sodalities affiliated to it. Truly, as M. Desgenetes himself said: “The common Father of the faithful wishes that the Heart of His immaculate Mother be everywhere invoked in favour of poor abandoned sinners.”