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The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Our Constitutions refer to Mary 15 times, almost always under the title of the Virgin Mary, although she is also given other titles.

In addition to those references in the Constitutions, Mary has been preeminently seen in our tradition as mother, foundress, formatrix and protectress. Behind each of them is a specific characteristic of Mary and of our relationship to her.

All these characteristics are contained in her Heart. And thus it is that the name of the Heart of Mary is the symbol that best expresses our Marian spirituality.

Immaculate Heart Of Mary Scaled

Mary, Mother of the Missionary

In the Experience of the Fr. Founder

Anthony Mary Claret lived his relationship with Mary so intensely that, at his consecration as bishop, he incorporated the name of the Virgin into his own. He called Mary by many names, but of all the titles that taken together form a summary of Claretian Mariology, that of mother is the one that best summarizes Claret’s experience. From the time he was a boy he really saw Mary as his heavenly mother. He cultivated his relationship with her by praying the rosary, the Angelus and visits to the hermitage of Fusimaña. This relationship was characterized by intimacy, trust, filial love and devotion. His entire childhood was illuminated by the motherly smile of the Virgin of Fusimaña.

As a young man he forcefully experienced her motherly love as protection from dangers.

His response to Mary’s motherly love was always a son’s love. In the prayers he wrote as a Jesuit novice he expresses in passionate words this love by which he professes Mary to be his mother.


In Our Missionary Life

We, Claretian Missionaries, are and are called sons of the Immaculate Heart. In our spirituality, Mary acts as our mother and we are related to her as sons. This sonship is not merely a title. It is “an existential dimension of our missionary life. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit to be lived and experienced, that configures our interior being and dynamizes it for the apostolic mission.”

In our history our Cordi-Marian sonship has been very much emphasized.[10] Some of our brothers have intensely lived this dimension of our Marian spirituality. We recall the names of Fr. Antonio Naval, Br. Manuel Giol, Fr. Martín Alsina, Fr. Ezequiel Villaroya, Br. Francisco Vilajosana, the student Pedro Mardones, the martyrs of Barbastro and others.
Mary’s spiritual motherhood is a maternity that gives birth to us as missionaries. For this reason, the meaning of being a Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is essentially missionary. As Mother, the Heart of Mary is the setting in which the Father, through the Spirit, conforms us to Christ. This motherhood continues in our mission. In the Founder’s words, we are like “the arms of Mary.”


Mary, Foundress of the Congregation

In the experience of Fr. Founder

In the exercises that the Fr. Founder preached to the Congregation in 1865 he expressly alluded to Mary as foundress. We know this directly from some of his points and indirectly from Fr. Clotet. In the outline of his talk on zeal, Claret writes:
“The Most Holy Virgin founded this Congregation so that her Heart might be Noah’s Ark, David’s tower, a city of refuge and the holy mercy seat.”

On his part, Fr. Clotet refers to the following words of the Founder during one of his talks:
“Yours is the Congregation, You founded it: Don’t you remember, my Lady, don’t you remember? He said it in such a tone of voice and with such feeling that it was easy to see that, at that moment, he was once again experiencing the command, the words and the presence of the Mother of God.”


In Our Missionary Life

The General Plan of Formation, recalling our heritage, alludes to Mary as foundress of the Congregation. What is this expression trying to say? From a theological point of view, it is clear that the one who gives rise to different forms of life in the Church is the Holy Spirit. Mary, then, does not take the Spirit’s place. Also, to say that she is our Foundress does not mean that she started our Institute juridically. The expression must be understood in the context of Claret’s spiritual experience. He, as a missionary, felt he was Mary’s instrument within the mysterious spiritual communion that exists between the pilgrim Church and the Church in glory to which Mary belongs. It is not strange, then, that he might experience the founding of the Congregation as a particular manifestation of Mary’s spirituality motherhood, of her missionary impetus.

We can say that, as on Pentecost, Mary keeps reuniting us so that we that we may receive the Spirit who launches us on mission. In this sense, she founds our missionary community. As the mother to us that she is, she gathers us together and disposes us to welcome the Spirit.


Mary, Formatrix of Apostles in the Forge of Her Mercy and Love

In the Experience of the Fr. Founder

Claret also experiences Mary as formatrix of his apostle’s heart. It is a title closely linked to the previous one. If “the virtue that an apostolic missionary needs most is love” it is logical that Claret considers that Mary has been the one who has formed him in this essential virtue because she is a true forge of mercy and love. Our Founder specifically used the allegory of the forge to explain his process of formation as apostolic missionary.

This allegory is not merely one among many Claret used. In fact, in the prayer he used to pray at the beginning of missions, he recalled Mary, knowing well that he was her son and minister, formed by her in the forge of her mercy and love.
Within the allegory, Mary is represented by the fire of love. Claret considers that the experience of Mary’s love has been for him a true school in which his missionary’s heart has been formed. This fire of love has purified him, inspired him and set him on fire. Beginning with this experience of the forge, he understood himself as a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary “who is one fire with love and spreads that love wherever he goes.”


In our Missionary Life

The General Plan of Formation refers to Mary as formatrix on two occasions: in nos. 13 and 99. Number 13 states that Mary has an essential mission as formatrix. Number 99 develops the implications for formation that this reality involves. This formation task of the Virgin’s is also interpreted, in no. 23 of the Plan, more poetically, i.e., out of the allegory of the forge used by the Fr. Founder.

How does Mary carry out this role as forge? In the following way:

•shaping us in her heart and making the characteristics of the perfect disciple of Jesus grow in us;
•forming us to welcome into our hearts, like she did, the Word of God, of which we are ministers;
•forging in us that apostolic love that impels us to work tirelessly to the point of exhaustion for the Kingdom;
•and joining us in the apostolic mission with her motherly office in the Church.


Mary, Protectress on Mission

In the Experience of the Fr. Founder

The image of Mary as protectress is one that dominates Anthony Mary Claret’s young manhood, a period in which he intimately experiences the dangers that are present in life.

This protection extends to various aspects of his life: physical health, reputation, moral integrity, etc.
Mary’s protection is especially manifested in his missionary work, which Claret understands as the struggle between good and evil, or between the Woman and her offspring against the dragon.

This experience was heightened when he was a seminarian in his second year of philosophy in 1831. Claret was 23 years old. While he was in bed with a cold, he experienced a strong temptation against chastity. All his efforts to resist it were in vain. But help came to him from the Lord, through Mary’s mediation, who appeared him, most beautiful, freeing him from the temptation.

It is worth reading the passage referring to the vision in his Autobiography and to try to understand the meaning it had for our Founder. Claret, in fact, referred to it many times throughout his life.

What is the meaning of this vision that had such an impact? In his first years in the seminary in Vic, Claret powerfully felt his apostolic vocation. He found it reflected in the texts of the prophets (e.g., Is. 41:8-9), in which the prophet feels chosen by grace. He found particular illumination in the well-known text of Is. 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, thus the Lord has sent me to proclaim Good News to the poor and heal the broken-hearted.” In light of this experience, the temptation and the vision must be interpreted as a true sign of vocation. Claret is a witness to a manifestation of Mary, in which he himself, out of his situation as a sick man being tempted, pictures in his mind Mary’s protection. In the first place, he experiences the power of evil, represented by demons—a formidable power he cannot vanquish by his own resources. Secondly, Mary appears to him, the beautiful woman, the power of good, the new Eve. Claret lets himself be swept away by the irresistible power of her enchantment. Now, Mary does not appear alone, but in the company of a group of saints. Finally, Claret sees himself as a child who resemble the child he himself has been.

Starting with this vision, Claret considers himself an offspring of the Woman. As a result, he will understand his apostolic mission as a struggle against everything opposed to the Kingdom of God. Mary, whom he has seen as a mother since childhood, appears now as one who fights at his side and protects him from evil.


In Our Missionary Life

This vision of Mary as protectress is emphasized during the period of postulancy, but it has been a constant in our history, especially in the experience of our martyrs. This is closely linked to our missionary task and the dangers it entails. Mission, when it comes from Jesus, always is a risk that demands courage and preparation. This risk can only be assumed in union with Jesus and Mary, as done by our Founder and our martyrs.


Heart of Mary, an Official Title

This final name of Mary is the one that is part of the title of our Congregation and the one that summarizes all the others. It is the title in the Constitutions. Thus it requires a broader treatment.


In the Experience of the Fr. Founder

When Anthony Mary Claret went to Italy for the first time in 1839, he came in contact with a Marian devotion very widespread at that time: Mary as Mother of Beautiful Love or Mother of Divine Love. Mary was represented with a heart. The theology of the time said that the object of devotion to the Heart of Mary was her love for God and human beings. That explains why the Marian prayers he composed during his stay in Rome as a Jesuit novice highlight the theme of “apostolic love,” a gift he asks from Mary.

Back in Spain, in 1847, Claret founded in Vic the Archconfraternity of the Heart of Mary with a strongly apostolic character. Claret had heard of the conversions that had taken place in Paris through the prayers of the Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Victory.

In the same line, and based on his great devotion to the Virgin, it is not surprising that he calls our Congregation, founded two years later, in 1849, the Congregation of Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

How does Claret live and understand his Cordi-Marian experience? In his time the Mary’s physical heart was venerated because it was thought that the heart was the seat of love, the source of blood and of life. Claret shares this way of thinking and, consequently, uses it to explain the very special link between the Heart of Mary and her divine Son, Jesus Christ. According to this conception, Jesus’ body would have been formed, then, from the most pure blood of the Heart of Mary.
Now, in addition to that physical or material reality of the heart—and of the Heart of Mary—, Claret sees it as a spiritual reality, as a symbol of interiority and of love and charity:

“Mary is all love. Where Mary is, there is love… The world is like a huge family. Every family has to have a center of direction or head and a center of love or heart… In the Christian world, the head is Jesus Christ and the heart is the Virgin Mary. Mary is, then, the heart of the Church. This is where all works of charity come from.”

The first time Claret mentions the Heart of Mary in his Autobiography is in chapter 30 which talks “On Love of God and Neighbor.” It contains a beautiful prayer that reveals who Mary is for him:

“O Mary, my Mother, Mother of Divine Love, I can ask for nothing more pleasing to you, nor anything that you are more ready to grant, than the love of God. Grant me this, my Mother and my love. Mother, I am hungry and thirsty for love; help me, satisfy my need. O Heart of Mary, furnace and instrument of love, kindle in me the love of God and neighbor!”


In Our Missionary Life

In our history, the title of Heart of Mary applied to the Virgin has been strongly emphasized and, consequently, our Cordi-Marian sonship.

Before we were canonically recognized as a religious institute, the bond that linked together the first missionaries was an act of dedication to God and to the Heart of Mary: “I dedicate myself and consecrate myself to the special service of God, Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy.”

After Vatican II and the first General Chapters of renewal (1967, 1973), our understanding of our Cordi-Marian sonship was enriched through a better biblical and charismatic grounding. The circular letter of Fr. Antonio Leghisa on The Heart of Mary and the Congregation Today (1978) represented a point of arrival for this new understanding and a point of departure for later developments.

Our Constitutions do not talk about the Heart of Mary in physical terms. They adopt a spiritual and symbolic perspective. Besides the six numbers that expressly allude to the (Immaculate) Heart of Mary, the Constitutions use other linguistic devices to express various aspects contained in the title Heart of Mary. It is a new way of speaking about the Heart of Mary, emphasizing aspects contained the heart symbol: interiority, total self-giving, depth, cordiality, tenderness, etc.