The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the well known Catholic devotions. Many are familiar with the story of Jesus appearing to St. Margaret Mary Alacoqueto request a special devotion to his Sacred Heart, and how it was later instituted as a feast day for the universal Church. Though there is so much more to the Sacred Heart devotion than is commonly known.
The Divine Mercy, the feast of Corpus Christi and the Eucharist, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are all marvelously related. Providentially, they are also back to back feasts on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. The depths of these mysteries can only be plunged in heaven. Moreover, this article will try to skim the surface of these mysteries just a bit, so that you can cherish this special devotion in a deeper theological way.
The Very Interesting History of the Sacred Heart Devotion
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has its foundation all the way back to the time of the Apostles, and arguably even before this in the Song of Songs penned by Solomon. St. John the Evangelist is the Apostle related with the Sacred Heart devotion because, one, he was known as the disciple whom Jesus loved; two, he was called the “Apostle of Love” due to the theme of love repeated in his Gospel and epistles; and three, because he had the wonderful privilege of reclining on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper (the significance of which will be discussed beneath).
In the Middle Ages, the heart of Jesus became a particular object of adoration as the center and wellspring of Jesus’ passionate and infinite love for us. The Sacred Heart also showed Jesus’ woundedness, both the physical wound incurred to his physical heart on the cross (by the centurion’s spear), and the spiritual wound of a love so great that he gave up his life, even while this love is scorned by those for whom it was so generously given.
This dual yet united aspect of the Sacred Heart, both passionately loving and being painfully wounded by love, is obviously seen in a mystical text entitled “Vitis mystica” that is related to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. A quote from this text reads,
“They dug, therefore, and they dug through not only His hands, but also His feet, yea, and His side also; and the very recesses of His most Sacred Heart, they pierced with the spear of rage, though it had already been wounded with the spear of love. ‘Thou hast wounded,’ says the Spouse in the Canticles of love, “thou hast wounded my Heart, my sister, my spouse.’ O Lord Jesus, Thy spouse, Thy love, Thy sister has wounded Thy Heart. Why then was it essential that the Heart should be wounded further by Thine enemies?”
A devotion to the Sacred Heart was thus twofold; one, it appreciated the infinite and self-giving love of Jesus, and two, this adoration was given to Jesus’ heart in reparation for the disdain, rejection, and coldness his loving heart endured from others.
St. Margaret Mary Propagates the Devotion
Four centuries later in 1673, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, showing her a vision of the now famous image of his Sacred Heart surrounded by flames of love. He said to her, “My Heart is so full of love for men that It can no longer condole the flames of Its burning love. I must reveal to men the treasures of My Heart and save them from perdition.”
Although the Sacred Heart devotion was faithfully exercised by many saints and religious in the previous centuries, it was not yet widespread throughout the universal Church. This was the special mission given to St. Margaret Mary; to her, Jesus revealed his desire for a stronger, increased, and widespread devotion to his Sacred Heart.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, just like St. John and St. Gertrude, was enabled in a mystical vision to rest her head upon Jesus’ heart, again on the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. Thus Jesus showed that in addition to his love, it is devotion to his heart of flesh, his physical beating heart, that he desired to be propagated. In part two of this blog post, we will see that the Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion is closely connected with the Blessed Sacrament.
Pope Leo XIII Consecrates Mankind to the Sacred Heart
Lastly, on June 11, 1899, by order of Pope Leo XIII, at the request of Jesus, all human race was solemnly consecrated to His Sacred Heart. Pope Leo XIII called this event “the great act” of his pontificate.