|Devotion to Our Lady||
Devotion to the Sacred Heart can be seen as early as the second century with St. Justin Martyr and in the 7th century with Pope Gregory the Great. Writers throughout these centuries emphasized the pierced side of Christ as the inexhaustible source from which all graces flow upon mankind and the blood and water as symbols of the sacraments of the Church.
Devotion to the wounded Heart of Jesus can be traced back to the eleventh century, meditation on the Five Wounds of Christ was very popular (the lance-wound to His Sacred Heart, was one of the Five Wounds). At this time, many different prayers to the Sacred Heart were composed—private devotions which helped souls to focus on Our Lord’s Passion and Death—which proved His love for us in the most poignant manner.
With the coming of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Anselm in the 12th century, there was a sudden increase in direct reference to the love of the Sacred Heart for every person redeemed by His Passion and Death. The widespread influence of Franciscan and Dominican Friars enkindled this devotion in the hearts of the faithful who heard their preaching. The focus on the Sacred Heart moved from being a symbol of the sacraments, to the symbol of Divine Love.
One cannot pass over the Middle Ages without mentioning Saints Gertrude and Mechtilde. The editor of St. Gertrude’s writings, Revelations, (Dom Boutrais of Solesmes) stated: “Never before…has anything been written on the effect of the Divine Heart and its relation to men, to saints, to the souls in Purgatory, such as we find in the writings of St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde.”
The contemplation of the Humanity of Christ in His Passion, devotion to the Holy Eucharist (in particular the feast of Corpus Christi), and the surge of mysticism gave the devotion to the Sacred Heart a new vitality in the Middle Ages. Prior to the revelations to St. Margaret Mary religious communities, particularly in France, continued to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus throughout the world, notably through the work and devotion of St. John Eudes. The French spiritual leaders paved the way for the message given to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
The first feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated on August 31, 1670, in Rennes, France, through the efforts of St. John Eudes (1602-1680), who was a great promoter of devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, received permission from the Church to officially celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart. From Rennes, the devotion spread, but it took the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) for the devotion to become universal.
Around the same time, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was blessed by God with visions of the Sacred Heart. He often appeared to her, and in December of 1673, He allowed St. Margaret Mary—as He had once before allowed St. Gertrude—to rest her head upon His Sacred Heart. In all of these visions, in which Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus played a central role. The "great apparition," which took place on June 16, 1675, during the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi, is the source of the modern Feast of the Sacred Heart.
St. Margaret Mary entered the Daughters of the Visitation, founded by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal, in 1671. Although devotion to the Heart of Jesus was already important to the order prior to St. Margaret Mary’s entrance, it would be through her that public devotion to the Sacred Heart (reparation, consecration and a liturgical feast) would be practiced universally in the Catholic Church. St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Our little congregation is the work of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Our dying Savior gave birth to us by the wound in His Sacred Heart.” St. Jane told her daughters, “Pray that your heart may be made like to the Heart of Jesus.” It was to this Order that Jesus gave the deepest knowledge of His Sacred Heart and the express command to spread devotion to It.
During this time, the heresy of Jansenism was spreading like wild fire throughout Europe. The Jansenists instilled fear into the hearts of the faithful, turning the religion of faith and love into one of pessimism and scrupulosity, teaching that man is completely incapable of disposing himself to the grace offered by God. Frequent Communion was also frowned upon.
In contrast to this, between the years of 1673 and 1675 Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary revealing His Divine Heart to her. In one apparition He told her, “My Divine Heart is so passionately in love with humanity, and with you in particular, that it cannot keep back the pent-up flames of its burning charity any longer. They must burst out through you.”
Our Lord mourned the indifference and ingratitude of the greater part of humanity. Christ asked for the faithful to make a Holy Communion in reparation for the ingratitude of men for the sacrifice that Christ had made for them. Jesus told her of His great love for us and complained that His love was rewarded by the indifference, lukewarmness, coldness and sacrilegious sinfulness. He wanted Margaret Mary to make His love and His goodness known to all of mankind. The Sacred Heart of Jesus represents not simply His physical heart but His love for all mankind. Our Lord asked that the faithful receive Him in the Holy Eucharist frequently, especially on the First Friday of the month, and to observe a Holy Hour of devotion to Him.
He also requested that there be a special liturgical feast for His Sacred Heart in the Universal Church to be celebrated eight days after the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. On that day He asked for a solemn act of reparation for all the offenses heaped upon Him in the Blessed Sacrament.
However, St. Margaret Mary was a cloistered nun and so to help her carry out the mission entrusted to her, Our Lord brought St. Claude la Columbiere, a Jesuit priest, to her to be her Spiritual Director. He was the first to believe in the revelations of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary. Thanks to his support, her superior also believed, and wide spread propagation of the devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Universal Church began. From then on, the Jesuits became the chief propagators of the devotion to the Sacred Heart which flourished throughout the subsequent centuries.
The devotion became quite popular after St. Margaret Mary's death in 1690, but, because the Church, having to be cautious about supernatural phenomena, initially had doubts about the validity of St. Margaret Mary's visions, it wasn't until 1765 that the feast was celebrated officially in France. Almost 100 years later, in 1856, Pope Pius IX, at the request of the French bishops, extended the feast to the universal Church. It is celebrated on the day requested by our Lord-the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi, or 19 days after Pentecost Sunday. Today, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is a moveable feast, celebrated, throughout the world, on the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi.
From all this we see an inextricable link between the Sacred Heart and the Holy Eucharist—cemented in an even more striking manner by the scientific investigations of doctors and scientists into the miraculous Eucharistic Species from the Miracle of Lanziano, which took place in the 8th century. The remnant of the Host was shown to be human heart tissue, and the dried up pellets of what was once the wine in chalice at Mass, were shown to be real human blood!
The Holy See has given this devotion a high place of importance in the Church, due, not only to the requests of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary, but also to the soundness of the doctrine and its timeliness in rekindling love and trust in the Merciful Heart of Our Savior. Pope Pius XI, in the encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, writes about the meaning of the vision of the Sacred Heart. “He showed His Heart to us, bearing about it the symbols of the passion and displaying the flames of love, that from the one we might know the infinite malice of sin, and in the other we might admire the infinite charity of Our Redeemer, and so might have a more vehement hatred of sin, and make a more ardent return of love for His love.”
In this encyclical, Pope Pius XI stressed that reparation to the Sacred Heart is obligatory for all Christians. He ends his encyclical stating that the devotion of reparation to the Sacred Heart has the highest approval of Apostolic Authority and must be practiced universally by all Christians.
Following the visions and writings of St. Margaret Mary and St. Claude la Colombière, many Popes have written on the immense importance of devotion to the Sacred Heart.