May was the month dedicated to Marian Devotion.
Pope Francis, like all of his predecessors, is a great supporter of the love for Virgin Mary; he invited all devotees in this occasion to pray the rosary every day of the month so that our prayers, through Mary, could easily reach God.
Pope Francis and his Marian devotion
Pope Francis’ Marian devotion has been clear in many occasion since the beginning of his Pontificate. Pope Francis took particular care in reminding how Mary had been some kind of safe haven for those relying on her, like an ark offering shelter during a heart storm, to stem winds of worry and rescue us. This very evocative image of Mary like a rescue ark was presented by Pope Francis during the mass in the Santa Maria Maggiore cathedral for the feast of the translation of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Salus Populi Romani. In that occasion the Pope spoke about the need to invite Mary in our homes (and in our lives), relying on her as we would do with an immensely good and patient Mother. This is Mary, according to the Pope, a Mother whose hands caress life, whose mantle shelters us.
“When we lack hope, when joy is scarce, when our strength is exhausted, when the star of life is obscured, the Mother intervenes. And if we invoke her, she intervenes more. She is attentive to our labors, sensitive to the turbulence – the turbulence of life -, close to the heart. And she never, never despises our prayers; she does not let even one fall. She is a Mother, she is never ashamed of us, she only waits to be able to help her children.”
Then adds:“Invite Mary to our home, in our heart, in our life […] But without a heart, there is no love and faith risks becoming a beautiful tale of other times. The Mother, on the other hand, guards and prepares children. She loves them and protects them, so that they love and protect the world.”
Pope Francis Marian devotion has deep roots, which the Pope tried to tell, with his direct words that speak straight to the heart, in his book “Mary Mother of all”.
It is indeed to Pope Francis and his love for Mary that we owe the diffusion of the image of the Virgin undoer of knots. As many other South Americans, Pope Francis grew up surrounded by the devotion for the South American images of the Virgin Mary, but it is during one of his study trips to Ingolstadt in 1986 that father Bergoglio found out the image that will become the symbol of his devotion to Mary. It is a votive German image dated back to the XVIII century made by the painter Johan Melchior Schmidtner, probably an ex voto for a troubled marriage. In the painting we see Mary, surrounded by two angels, crushing the Snake head, while she is undoing the knots on a long thread handed to her by one of the angels, knots that are causing the trouble between the spouses. The future Pope was so touched by this image that once he got back to Argentina he started spreading it, raising a big interest among people. When he became Archbishop, Francis strengthened the cult of the Virgin undoer of knots, spreading reproductions of the painting everywhere, and having chapels and sanctuaries built in honor of this particular image of Mary.
From this representation also prayers were born, and even a Novena, that is recited when the “knots” of life are so oppressive that one cannot go on peacefully. This knots can have different causes, such as familiar problems, tensions and conflicts between parents and children, husband and wife, the anxiety we feel when someone we love is sick and suffering, or when someone has a bad habit that poisons his life and pushes him away from God. But the Virgin undoer of knots can come to our rescue even to just help us fight our daily anxieties, fears, solitude and depression that block us and don’t let us live our lives. Mary, with her motherly goodness, is willing to help us undo these knots and live better, if we are ready to ask for her help and faithfully rely on her.
Here is an example of prayer addressed to the Virgin undoer of knots:
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need,
Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children,
because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exist in your heart,
cast your compassionate eyes upon me,
and see the snarl of knots that exists in my life.
You know very well how desperate I am, my pain,
and how I am bound by these knots. I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life.
No one, not even the evil one himself, can take it away from your precious care.
In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone.
Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus,
take into your hands today this knot (Mention your request if possible).
I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all.
You are my hope.
O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me.
You are the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution,
and, with Christ, the freedom from my chains.
Hear my plea.
Keep me, guide me, protect me.
Be my safe refuge.
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me.
Going back to Pope Francis, he showed his Marian devotion also towards the Madonna of Fatima. During his trip to Portugal, the Pope went to the small town that hosted some of the Marian apparitions officially recognized by the Catholic Church. These apparitions took place in 1917, when three local shepherds recalled seeing a woman dressed in white and holding a rosary in her hands, while descending from the sky enveloped in a cloud.
Pope Francis stood still for ten minutes in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary placed in the small chapel of the apparitions, and canonized the two shepherds, Giacinta and Francesco Marto, after he prayed on their tombs. Pope Francis had already shown his predilection towards Our Lady of Fatima when he consecrated his Pontificate to her during Marian day, on October 13th 2013. That day the Pope uttered a real act of entrustment, now included in the book “Mary. Mother of all”
Act of Entrustment to Mary, Virgin of Fatima
Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima, with renewed gratitude for your motherly presence
we join in the voice of all generations that call you blessed.
We celebrate in you the great works of God, who never tires of lowering himself
in mercy over humanity,
afflicted by evil and wounded by sin,
to heal and to save it.
Accept with the benevolence of a Mother
this act of entrustment that we make in faith today,
before this your image, beloved to us.
We are certain that each one of us is precious in your eyes
and that nothing in our hearts has estranged you.
May that we allow your sweet gaze
to reach us and the perpetual warmth of your smile.
Guard our life with your embrace:
bless and strengthen every desire for good;
give new life and nourishment to faith;
sustain and enlighten hope;
awaken and animate charity;
guide us all on the path to holiness.
Teach us your own special love for the little and the poor,
for the excluded and the suffering,
for sinners and the wounded of heart: gather all people under your protection
and give us all to your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus.
Immaculate heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The feast of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary is on the Saturday after the second Sunday after Pentecost. The memory instead, mandatory since 2000, is on the day after the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a moving feast then, just like the one for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Even though the devotion to the immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary has always existed, and whose main supporter was Giovanni Eudes (French devoted scholar who lived at the end of 1600 and was a great propagator of the devotion to the two Sacred Hearts), its liturgical memory was extended to the whole Church only in 1944 by Pope Pius XII. This recognition, preceded by the Consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1942, was established following the requests from Alexandrina Maria da Costa, Portuguese mystic declared blessed by Pope John Paul II, and Sister Lucía of Fátima, one of the three shepherds that saw the Virgin Mary in 1917 in the namesake city in Portugal. The woman became a nun with the name of Lúcia de Jesus Rosa dos Santos, or Sister Mary Lucia of Jesus and of Immaculate Heart, taking inspiration from the tradition of the mystical devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Saint Teresa of Avila. Sister Lúcia de Jesus Rosa dos Santos was the last survival to fully know the “Secrets of Fatima” revealed by the Virgin Mary during her famous apparitions. The Cult of the Immaculate Heart of Mary surely owes much to this religious and seer figure. The apparitions of Fatima in 1917 gave great impulse to this particular devotion, much opposed for many centuries.
The above mentioned Giovanni Eudes founded the Heart of Mary fraternity in 1640 in Naples, and since 1643 was promoter of the liturgical feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; however, Rome opposed this celebration for a long time, which began spreading in the rest of Italy and Europe anyway. Only after 1765, with the affirmation of the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the feast for the Heart of Mary was recognized as well.
Iconography of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Popular iconography depicts the Immaculate Heart of Mary stabbed by a sword and surrounded by a wreath of flowers. The sword would recall the prophecy uttered by Simeon during the presentation at Jesus temple, when he said to Mary, anticipating the pain she would suffer for her son’s death: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke, 2,35) Above the heart a shiny flame is burning, the Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a flame that is capable of blinding the Devil and clearing anyone that might have lost the way with its heat.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary becomes the main character of multiple images of the Virgin Mary: pictures, prayer cards and statues depicting Mary with one hand raised to point her chest, or also holding her heart radiating light.
Here is the Prayer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary dictated by the Virgin Mary herself to the seer Jelena Vasilj in Medjugorje on November 28th 1983:
O Immaculate Heart of Mary,
show Your Love toward us.
May the flame of Your Heart, O Mary,
descend on all mankind.
We love You so.
Impress true love in our hearts
so that we have a continuous desire for You.
O Mary, Humble and meek of heart,
remember us when we are in sin.
You know that all men sin.
Give us, by means of Your Immaculate Heart,
Let us always see
the goodness of Your Maternal heart
and may we be converted
by means of the flame of Your Heart.