Tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This has become a very important day of prayer in the Church, and I’d like to provide a little background information about it for three important reasons:
- It is a solemnity of the Church;
- VPCYG is attached to 3 church parishes in Ville Platte, including Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church; AND
- Pope Benedict XVI has announced that the Year of the Priest will begin tomorrow with the celebration of the solemnity
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not directed merely to His heart of flesh and muscle. Rather, the devotion is aimed at Christ as a Divine Person, to whom all adoration is owed. The Heart, then, serves as a focal point for reflection upon His tender mercy and and love, for which it is a symbol.
From the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
It is characterized by a reciprocation of love; its aim is to love Jesus who has so loved us, to return love for love. Since, moreover, the love of Jesus manifests itself to the devout soul as a love despised and outraged, especially in the Eucharist, the love expressed in the devotion naturally assumes a character of reparation, and hence the importance of acts of atonement, the Communion of reparation, and compassion for Jesus suffering.
During the early development of Christianity, we find a meditation upon and devotion to the wound in the side of Christ; but not upon His Sacred Heart.
However, beginning in the 11th and 12 centuries, we begin to find a growing devotion to and meditation upon the love revealed in the wounded Heart. At that time either St. Bernard or (more probably) St. Bonaventure composed a beautiful prayer to the Sacred Heart, which the Church still uses today.
During the 16th century, devotion to the Sacred Heart was spread through a number of ways, especially due to the Franciscans devotion to the Five Wounds, and to the success of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose “logo” consisted of an image of the Sacred Heart.
In the mid-17th century, Blessed Jean Eudes (founder of the Eudists) wrote an Office for the devotion to be celebrated at Mass in his order. Soon, many other religious orders adopted the Office.
Still, the devotion was confined to religious orders, or to some personal piety. That all changed, however, in the mid-1670s, when Our Lord appeared to the humble (now Saint) Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun in the Visitandine Monastery.
During the visions given to St. Margaret Mary, Jesus revealed His desire to increase the devotion to His Sacred Heart throughout the universal Church. During the “Great Apparition” of 1675, Jesus said, “Behold the Heart that has so loved men . . . instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of mankind) only ingratitude . . .”. And He asked for a feast of reparation on the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi.
Celebration of the devotion – and the pious acts that accompany it – slowly increased, especially throughout the religious orders and in France. Fr. Jean Croiset, a Jesuit priest, played a significant part is spreading the devotion through his book from St. Margaret Mary’s story. However, despite this imperative from Our Lord, the devotion did not receive the official authorization by the Pope until 1856.
In the visitations with St. Margaret Mary, Jesus told her of specific ways that He wanted the devotion to the Sacred Heart manifested through acts of consecration, reparation, and adoration. For example:
- frequent reception of Holy Communion, especially on the First Friday of the month
- the observance of a Holy Hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, especially on Thursdays (remembering the hour of agony He spent in the Garden, while His Apostles slept)
- consecration of oneself (and family) to the Sacred Heart; and enthronement of an image of the Sacred Heart in the home
In addition, Jesus made 12 Promises to those who would consecrate and devote themselves to His Sacred Heart. These include:
Peace in their families
Tepid souls shall become fervent; fervent souls shall find greater perfection
The grace of final repentance (provided that the person exercises the devotion with faith in Christ)
In 1956, on the 100 year anniversary of the institution of the solemnity, Pope Pius XII wrote an extraordinary encyclical, Haurietis Aquas, which recognized the importance of the devotion for the universal Church. In May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI published a letter to the Superior General of the Jesuits reaffirming the devotion.
In addition, Pope Benedict XVI is using the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart to kick off a Jubilee Year for Priests. This year the Solemnity also falls on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Vianney, patron saint of the parish priests. Pope Benedict will use the event to proclaim St. Jean Vianney as patron of all the world’s priests. (More about this next week.)
One excellent way to celebrate this devotion as part of your personal prayers is to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Sacred Heart of Jesus … Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God … Pray for us.
St. Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family … Pray for us.