A Catholic Monthly Magazine

My Name is Written in the Heart of Our Lady

Fr Merv Duffy sm

by Fr Merv Duffy sm

‘Devotion’ covers a much wider and freer area than ‘Liturgy’. When we engage in an act of devotion we can draw on symbols and prayers well beyond those found in the liturgical books of the Church. The interaction between liturgy and devotion in Church History is a fascinating field of study. Liturgy is universal throughout the Church, devotion is often localised, related to particular places or groups. Liturgy is slow to change, devotion can quickly transform its expressions. Devotion and devotions are largely lay-led; the clergy preside over liturgy. Each feeds into the other, the energy and warmth of devotion both supporting liturgy and springing off from it.

Marists have devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and it is an example of this which I would draw your attention to.

The Marist community at the Hermitage, under St Marcellin Champagnat, had the custom of writing the names of people they were praying for in a devotional heart. Our evidence for this is a letter from Fr Catherin Servant to Marcellin on 15 December 1836.

Sir and dear Superior,

The Hermitage recalls to me many precious memories, especially in the heart of Mary. How is that dear community going? Is its Superior still weighed down with financial worries? [...]It is with pleasure I recall my name is written in the heart of Our Lady of the Hermitage. 

Fr Catherine Servant was part of the first group of missionaries to Western Oceania under the leadership of Bishop Pompallier. They set sail together on 24 December 1836 from Le Havre, but before they set out for the port Fathers Chanel and Bataillon purchased a gilt-silver heart in Paris and had it engraved “Missionaries de la Polynésie” (Missionaries of Polynesia). The two priests were waiting for Brothers Marie-Nizier and Michel Colombon who were on Retreat at the Hermitage. They started a novena, and together with the two brothers concluded it with a last Mass in the Chapel of Fourvière on 15 October 1836, after which they performed an act of consecration. The names of all eight of the missionary group, written on a ribbon, were enclosed in the ‘ex voto’ heart that Peter Chanel then hung around the neck of the Infant of the Black Madonna – a famous statue of Mary and the child Jesus.

Fr Jean Claude Colin was told of this act of devotion and he encouraged subsequent groups of missionaries to do the same – to add their names to the list on the silk ribbon. The original heart, prayer of consecration and ribbon were lost but a replacement heart was acquired and the whole list of names lovingly copied onto the ribbon. The custom endured for many years, becoming a beautiful ceremony at later departures.





My second example is done in full, conscious imitation of this earlier one.

Bev McDonald

Bev McDonald

Bev McDonald is the current co-ordinator of the ‘devotional’ wing of the Marist Laity – the Third Order of Mary and the Marian Mothers. One of her responsibilities is maintaining membership and mailing lists of these groups. The task is done on computer. Bev, however, took this mundane exercise and made it into an act of devotion. These group members were “under the name of Mary” so Bev decided to put them under her loving gaze. She copied the names onto a memory stick, put it into a beautifully decorated flax kete and fixed it beneath the gaze of the icon of the Virgin of Tenderness in the chapel of Pa Maria in Hobson Street. I had the good fortune to be there when the icon, the work of Mary Barker, was blessed and installed.

What delighted me in this simple gesture is the mixture of traditional and modern, universal and local. The silk ribbon was very French and very much of its time. The memory stick is utterly modern. The heart is a universal symbol, the kete with its paua shell decoration belongs unmistakably to Aotearoa-New Zealand. The icon is a contemporary rendering in cloisonné enamel of a very familiar scene. The intention at Pa Maria in Wellington is entirely the same as it was at Fourvière in France – to hold a group of people “in the heart of Mary.”


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