“Ferragosto” is celebrated on August 15 in Italy, and it is the high point of the summer months, around which holidays and shop closures are centred. This period of mid-summer rest and festivity dates to 18 BC during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus (after whom the month is named), but it has come to be focused around the holy day marking Our Lady’s assumption into heavenly glory. The octave day of the Assumption, August 22, is currently the feast of Mary’s Queenship, but from 1944 until 1969 it had been the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pope Pius XII, who had consecrated the whole world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart in 1942, had instituted this feast in 1944 as a response to the Second World War, and he invoked Our Lady’s intercession for “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity and the practice of virtue”. Hence, the month of August is associated with Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart even though the feast has moved to the Saturday after the feast of the Sacred Heart (often in June).
Explicit devotions to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart can be traced back to the post-Reformation period, but the apparitions of Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima and her promise of the triumph of her Immaculate Heart have given new heart, so to speak, to this devotion. The photo above shows the unique statue of Our Lady of Fatima that surmounts the entrance to the Rosary Basilica in that holy site. The statue was carved in 1947 by an American Dominican priest and sculptor, Fr Thomas McGlynn OP, who worked under the direction of Sr Lucia dos Santos. It is the best representation of Our Lady that we have, a likeness of how Mary appeared to Sr Lucia in June 1917, with her Immaculate Heart clearly visible and surrounded by thorns, which represent the sins of humanity. Devotion to the Immaculate Heart, therefore, is focused on reparation for these sins particularly through penance and sacrifices.
However, when Fr McGlynn asked Sr Lucia to explain what Our Lady means by this, she explained that in 1940 (for Sr Lucia received further private revelations from Our Lady after 1917), Our Lady had said that she wants us to fulfill our religious duties, and the duties of our state of life. In other words, we’re called to live out our various vocations well, fulfilling our roles dutifully, conscientiously, lovingly.
This is simple but profound. For we often seek special acts and chase after great deeds, perhaps with pride. But Our Lady asks for a simplicity and humility of heart, modelled after her own heart, whereby we simply say “Yes” to the vocation given us by God. Then, as Jesus says, “You also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Lk 17:10).
This month, we honour Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart by being especially mindful of doing our duties: this will involve the practice of virtue, and lead to the gradual conversion of our hearts so that Our Lady’s heart, full of love, purity, and heavenly peace, will be triumphant within us. Or as Sr Lucia said pithily: “If they did their duty, Our Lord would be more content!”