Symbolism Behind the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Many are familiar with the image of the heart of Mary, but what is the Symbolism behind it all?
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is an ancient custom from the 17th century, when the devotion and images of Mary with her Immaculate Heart widespread.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a devotional name used to refer to the interior life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her joys and sorrows, her virtues and perfections, her love for God, and her Divine Son and her compassionate love for mankind.
Mary’s heart is visible outside of her body. This points to her undying love for all people. Her love is such that she can not contain it within. Some artists choose to depict the Blessed Virgin carrying her heart in her hand, simply pointing with a finger to her heart, or with some blood dripping from it. The gesture suggests that Mary wants to give her heart to the contemplator.
Her heart is typically on fire, which emphasizes the intensity of her love.
Banded with White Roses
There are white roses that encircle her heart. These symbolize her purity, brought about by her Immaculate Conception, creating within her a most pure heart. In some cases her heart is also shown with a lily coming out of the top, emphasizing the same meaning.
Pierced with a Sword
A single sword is sometimes added going through her heart, referring to the passage of Luke (“a sword shall pierce…”) and brings to mind the sorrows she endured during her lifetime, especially during the crucifixion.
Traditionally, the heart is depicted pierced with seven wounds or swords, in homage to the seven dolors of Mary, which are:
- The Prophecy of Simeon. (Luke 2:34–35)
- The escape and Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13)
- The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:43–45)
- The Meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Via Dolorosa.
- The Crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary. (John 19:25)
- The Piercing of the Side of Jesus with a spear, and His Descent from the Cross. (Matthew 27:57–59)
- The Burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea. (John 19:40–42)
Rays of Light
The heart is typically surrounded by rays of light. This brings to mind Revelation 12:1, where it describes the Blessed Virgin Mary as “a woman clothed with the sun.”
Sacred Heart of Jesus
While the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the source of Christ’s burning love for humanity, and is largely spurned by the indifference of mankind towards Him, the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the source of Our Lady’s burning love for God and her desire to bring souls to her Son. The Feast of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary is commemorated on the Saturday following the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ (which is 19 days after Pentecost).
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Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is tied to a passage from the Gospel of Luke that speaks of Mary’s heart, “so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your soul as well.” (Luke 2:35).
- In Chapter 2 of St. Luke's gospel, the evangelist twice reports that Mary kept all things in her heart, that there she might ponder over them. Luke 2:35 recounts the prophecy of Simeon that her heart would be pierced with a sword. This image (the pierced heart) is the most popular representation of the Immaculate Heart.
- St. John's Gospel further invited attention to Mary's heart with its depiction of Mary at the foot of the cross at Jesus' crucifixion. St. Augustine said of this that Mary was not merely passive at the foot of the cross; "she cooperated through charity in the work of our redemption".
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