A look at scripture and tradition can take us back to the feast of the sacred heart of Jesus and give our devotion new life.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not nearly as popular today as a couple of generations ago, when almost every Catholic at least knew about the nine first Fridays and the image adorned nearly every Catholic household, church and organisation.
Seen as a relic of the past, an outdated way of being Catholic, to some the first Fridays carry a whiff of superstition and the family enthronement ceremony is virtually unheard of. The image itself can be off-putting to modern tastes, either too gruesome, or overly sentimentalised.
But a look at scripture and tradition can take us back to the heart of the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and give our devotion new life.
Basis in Scripture
There are many references to the Sacred Heart in scripture. Jesus himself said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). God promised that he would remove “from your body your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). Finally, Jesus’ heart was opened on the cross by a spear, causing blood and water to pour from his side, an event seen as the birth of the Church (John 19:34).
Where we find Jesus, we also find Mary. Her own heart was pierced as though by a sword (Luke 2:35). Pope John Paul II formalised the long-held connection between the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with a new devotion to the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
AS THE STORY GOES…
Did you know that this devotion can be traced back to the Last Supper, when Jesus allowed John to rest his head upon his chest?
In 14th century St Gertrude had a similar grace. Jesus appeared to her on the feast day of St John the Evangelist and allowed her to rest her head near the wound in his side. She later asked St John why he never mentioned in his Gospel anything about the wonder and delight of hearing God’s human heartbeat.
St John replied that it was because it would be reserved until a time when men’s love for God had grown cold and in need of rekindling.
In the 1600s through the visions of another mystic, St Margaret Mary Alacoque, devotion to the Sacred Heart became formalised and the feast day extended to the whole Church by Pope Pius IX in 1856. As the century drew to a close Pope Leo XII had the whole of humanity solemnly consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Jesus had said to St Mary Margaret, a visitation nun, “Behold the Heart that has so loved men . . . instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of humankind) only ingratitude ”. He asked that a feast of reparation be held on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.
Other practices were part of the package too: Mass attendance at nine consecutive first Fridays of each month, and a Holy Hour on Thursdays in honour of Jesus’ agony in the garden at Gethsemane.
There was also St Margaret Mary’s individual act of consecration and the consecration of families to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also known as the enthronement of the Sacred Heart.
These formal devotions flourished through the first half of last century.
Renewal and Modern Devotion
Pope Benedict XVI has called for a renewal of devotion to the Sacred Heart, reflecting that “from the infinite horizon of his love God desired to enter into the limits of history and the human condition, he took on a body and a heart; thus we can contemplate and meet the infinite in the finite, the mystery of the invisible and ineffable human heart of Jesus, the Nazarene”.
Closely related is the Divine Mercy devotion – different expressions at different times of the same reality of God’s mercy and love.
Contemporary religious artist Miriam A. Kilmer, who has drawn her own version of the famous image says that her devotion to the Sacred Heart does not take the traditional forms but consists of “simple spontaneous acts of trust and love, and through my art”. “In times of doubt and suffering, and as I recall the great pain and trouble in the world around me, I remember the sufferings of the Heart of Jesus, and place my trust in his love,” she wrote.
Take it to Heart
Consider making your own Church’s devotion to the heart of Jesus. Search for a modern imagining of Jesus’ heart, or anything representative of God’s love for you. Place it in your retreat space (favourite window, corner, room), light candles, speak from your heart to him. Honour him in our own way or borrow the act of consecration by St Margaret Mary.
The Promises made to St Margaret Mary
The Lord Jesus revealed to St Margaret Mary the following promises to those souls who would honour the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus:
- I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life
- I will establish peace in their homes
- I will comfort them in all their afflictions
- I will be their secure refuge during life and above all in death.
- I will bestow a large blessing upon all their undertakings
- Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy
- Tepid souls shall grow fervent
- Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection
- I will bless every place where a picture of My Heart shall be set up and honoured
- I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts
- Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out
- I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the first Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment
- The Month of the Sacred Heart
- Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday, 11 June 2010
- Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary
- Rising Dove Art Gallery
As featured in the July edition of CathFamily E-Magazine. For more articles, prayers and activities, check out: