In the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, the entire month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Feast of the Sacred Heart, which is a moveable feast day, is always celebrated on the second Friday after Pentecost Sunday. This year (2018), it will fall on June 8th.1
If we were to sum up the meaning of the image of the Sacred Heart in a single word, it would be love. For from the earliest days of the Church, Christians have meditated on the mystery of the love that led Jesus to voluntarily sacrifice His life on the Cross for our Redemption. We have meditated on the meaning and significance of the water and blood that gushed forth from His pierced side – the font of Love and the birthplace of the Church. And as we reflected on the wound in His side, “the wounded Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the heart symbolized the wound of love.”2
Today, most Catholics are familiar with the image of the Sacred Heart, but many do not understand its significance. Its deeper meaning is rooted in our perception of the ‘heart’ as the centre of our spiritual and physical being. We see in it the place where all our emotions originate, the source of our deepest, most intimate feelings for one another. The heart represents the essence of our being – of those things we hold most dear, that define who we truly are. We speak of getting to the “heart of the matter,” of being “broken-hearted,” and at times we are even accused of “wearing our hearts on our sleeves.”
The image of the Sacred Heart symbolizes Jesus’ love for His Father as well as His love for each one of us.3 It speaks to the essence of who Jesus truly is, for He – God – is love (1 Jn 4:8).4 Jesus’ love is completely selfless and infinitely self-giving; it is a love so great that it led Him to die for us on the Cross to bring about our Redemption. “[The pierced Heart of Jesus],” wrote Pope Benedict XVI, “is not concerned with self-preservation but with self-surrender. It saves the world by opening itself. … The Heart saves, indeed, but it saves by giving itself away.”5
When we gaze on the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we see in it that infinite love of Christ: a love that has no boundaries, that holds nothing back but offers us everything – His whole life, to the last drop of blood. It is in the Heart of Jesus that we find our hope of Salvation, our hope for eternity. Having freely given His Love to us, there is only thing that Jesus longs for: that we should love Him in return.
History of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a powerful way to show our love for Him. Although Pope Leo XIII didn’t institute the Feast of the Sacred Heart until 1899,6 devotion to the Heart of the Redeemer can be traced back to Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries in the 11th century. The Cistercian abbot, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1113), was among the first to articulate the Catholic teaching of Jesus’ wounded heart in his commentary on the Song of Songs. Later, the German Benedictine nun, mystic, and theologian, St. Gertrude the Great (1256 – c. 1302), experienced mystic visions during which Jesus revealed to her the infinite love of His Divine Heart. He instructed her to write about what she had learned and share it with others, and because of this, she is known as the “theologian of the Sacred Heart.”7
But special devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus did not become widespread throughout the Church until after St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), a Visitation nun, “had a personal revelation involving a series of visions of Christ as she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. She wrote, ‘He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart.’ Christ emphasized to her His love — and His woundedness caused by Man’s indifference to this love.”8 Jesus said, “Behold the Heart that has so loved men… instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of mankind) only ingratitude.”9
During His apparitions to St. Margaret Mary, Jesus explained how He wanted the devotion to the Sacred Heart to be practiced. He asked to be honoured under the image of His Heart of flesh, and He requested that we make acts of reparation. He desires that we receive Communion frequently, and that we receive Communion on the First Friday of each month. He asked us to set aside one hour for Eucharistic Adoration every Thursday, and He requested a feast of reparation on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi (known today as the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). Pope Pius XII wrote, “Devotion of this kind is directed towards the love of God for us in order to adore it, give thanks for it, and live so as to imitate it.”10 Through this practice, we not only get to know our Lord more intimately, but we come to love Him more deeply.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart Today
Sadly, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has fallen off in recent years. It appears, in the words of Fr. Thomas Rosica, to be suffering from “cardiac arrest.” However, today – as has always been the case – our world is in need of love. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is about following the example of Jesus Christ in His unspeakable love for us. “It is the practice of selfless love toward selfish people. It is giving ourselves to persons that do not give themselves to us. … By loving them, we show something of the kind of love that God expects of His followers.”16
Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Devotion to the Sacred Heart includes two elements: consecration and reparation. In his encyclical letter, Annum Sacrum (Holy Year), Pope Leo XIII wrote, “Since there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another, therefore is it fit and proper that we should consecrate ourselves to His most Sacred Heart – an act which is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honour, veneration and love is given to this divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself.”11 St. Margaret Mary Alacoque composed the following prayer for those who wish to consecrate themselves to the Sacred Heart:
Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Thee I consecrate and offer up my person and my life, my actions, trials, and sufferings, that my entire being may henceforth only be employed in loving, honouring and glorifying Thee. This is my irrevocable will, to belong entirely to Thee, and to do all for Thy love, renouncing with my whole heart all that can displease Thee.
I take Thee, O Sacred Heart, for the sole object of my love, the protection of my life, the pledge of my salvation, the remedy of my frailty and inconstancy, the reparation for all the defects of my life, and my secure refuge at the hour of my death. Be Thou, O Most Merciful Heart, my justification before God Thy Father, and screen me from His anger which I have so justly merited. I fear all from my own weakness and malice, but placing my entire confidence in Thee, O Heart of Love, I hope all from Thine infinite Goodness. Annihilate in me all that can displease or resist Thee. Imprint Thy pure love so deeply in my heart that I may never forget Thee or be separated from Thee. I beseech Thee, through Thine infinite Goodness, grant that my name be engraved upon Thy Heart, for in this I place all my happiness and all my glory, to live and to die as one of Thy devoted servants. Amen.12
Acts of Reparation
Acts of Reparation are special prayers that we recite with the intention of making up for our sins and the sins of others. In the Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart, we seek the grace of atoning for the many ways that we have all offended and wounded Jesus’ Sacred Heart. Pope St. John Paul II referred to such prayers as the “unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified.”13
Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
O Jesus, Divine Saviour, deign to cast a look of mercy upon your children, who assemble in the same spirit of faith, reparation, and love, and come to deplore their own infidelities, and those of all poor sinners, their brethren. May we touch your Divine Heart by the unanimous and solemn promises we are about to make and obtain mercy for ourselves, for the world, and for all who are so unhappy as not to love you.
We all promise that for the future:
For the forgetfulness and ingratitude of men, we will console You, O Lord.
For the way You are deserted in your holy tabernacle, we will console You, O Lord.
For the crimes of sinners, we will console You, O Lord.
For the hatred of the impious, we will console You, O Lord.
For the blasphemies uttered against You, we will console You, O Lord.
For the sacrileges that profane your sacrament of love, we will console You, O Lord.
For the outrages against your divinity, we will console You, O Lord.
For the injuries of which You are the adorable victim, we will console You, O Lord.
For the coldness of the greater part of your children, we will console You, O Lord.
For the contempt of your loving invitation, we will console You, O Lord.
For the infidelity of those who called themselves your friends, we will console You, O Lord.
For the abuse of your grace, we will console You, O Lord.
For our own unfaithfulness, we will console You, O Lord.
For the incomprehensible hardness of our hearts, we will console You, O Lord.
For our long delay in loving You, we will console You, O Lord.
For our tepidity in your holy service, we will console You, O Lord.
For your bitter sadness at the loss of souls, we will console You, O Lord.
For your long waiting at the door of our hearts, we will console You, O Lord.
For the heartless scorn that grieves You, we will console You, O Lord.
For your loving sighs, we will console You, O Lord.
For your loving tears, we will console You, O Lord.
For your loving imprisonment, we will console You, O Lord.
For your loving death, we will console You, O Lord.
Let us pray: O Jesus! Divine Saviour, from whose heart comes forth this bitter complaint, “I looked for one that would comfort me, and I found none,” graciously accept the feeble consolation we offer you, and aid us so powerfully by your grace, that we may, for the time to come, shun more and more all that can displease you, and prove ourselves in everything, and everywhere, and forever your most faithful and devoted servants. We ask it through your Sacred Heart, O Lord, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit one God, world without end. Amen.14
12 Promises of the Sacred Heart
Jesus made 12 promises to those who consecrate themselves and make reparations to His Sacred Heart:
- I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
- I will give peace in their families and will unite families that are divided.
- I will console them in all their troubles.
- I will be their refuge during life and above all in death.
- I will bestow the blessings of Heaven on all their enterprises.
- Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
- Tepid souls shall become fervent.
- Fervent souls shall rise quickly to great perfection.
- I will bless those places wherein the image of My Heart shall be exposed and honoured and will imprint My love on the hearts of those who would wear this image on their person. I will also destroy in them all disordered movements.
- I will give to priests who are animated by a tender devotion to my Divine Heart the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
- Those who promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart, never to be effaced.
- 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 penitence: they will not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their Sacraments. My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.15
The devotion attached to these 12 promises includes the following:
- Frequent reception of Holy Communion.
- First Fridays: Go to Confession and receive the Eucharist on the first Friday of nine consecutive months, offering our prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father. The standard prayers for the Pope are one “Our Father” and one “Creed,” but we are free to substitute other prayers if we wish.14
- Holy Hour: Set aside one hour for Eucharistic Adoration every Thursday.
- Celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Some people prepare for this feast day by beginning a novena on the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Thursday of the week before the Feast of the Sacred Heart). On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we can gain a plenary indulgence – i.e. a remittance of our sins – by making an Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary
Our reflection on the Sacred Heart of Jesus would not be complete if we did not pause for a moment to consider Jesus’ Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. For from the moment that Jesus was immaculately conceived in Mary’s womb, her life was irrevocably joined with the redemptive work of her Son. Her love and her sorrows were completely and intimately united with the love and sufferings of Jesus. When Mary consented to bear Jesus into this world, she consented not just to His birth, but to everything that would come to pass: to His life, death, and Resurrection. Mary was His first disciple; she is also the Mother of the Church.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is thus closely joined to devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. “It is entirely fitting,” writes Pope Pius XII, “that the Christian people – who received the divine life from Christ through Mary – after they have paid their debt of honour to the Sacred Heart of Jesus should also offer to the most loving Heart of their heavenly Mother the corresponding acts of piety, affection, gratitude and expiation.”17 The Church celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the day after the Feast of the Sacred Heart, for after all, wherever Jesus is, we are sure to find Mary there, too.
Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary18
Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we consecrate ourselves, in an act of total entrustment to the Lord.
By You we will be led to Christ.
By Him and with Him we will be led to the Father.
We will walk in the light of faith, and we will do everything so that the world may believe that Jesus Christ is the One sent by the Father.
With Him we wish to carry His Love and Salvation to the ends of the earth.
Under the protection of your Immaculate Heart, we will be one People with Christ. We will be witnesses of His Resurrection.
By Him we will be led to the Father, for the glory of the Most Holy Trinity, Whom we adore, praise and bless forever. Amen.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 In 2009, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was celebrated on June 19th, which also marked the first day of the Year of Priests. It was a particularly auspicious day for Fr. Jerome Lavigne, who was ordained that day in St. Mary’s Cathedral.
2 Jean Bainvel, “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 7. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910). Available from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07163a.htm; Internet; accessed 3 June 2015.
3 Cf. CCC – Glossary, p. 898.
4 Jesus is God, yet at the same time He is human. The Church refers to this truth of our faith as the “hypostatic union: the union of the divine and human natures in the one divine Person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.” (See CCC – Glossary, p. 882).
5 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Behold The Pierced One, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 69.
6 See Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter, Annum Sacrum (Holy Year), available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo- xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_25051899_annum-sacrum.html.
7 Paola Rossi, “Feast of St. Gertrude of Helfta: 16 November,” EWTN; available from https://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/stgertrude.htm; Internet; accessed 9 June 2015.
8 “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” fish eaters; available from https://fisheaters.com/sh.html; Internet; accessed 3 June 2015.
9 Bainvel, “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 7.
10 Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart – May 15, 1956), 107; available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_15051956_haurietis-aquas.html; Internet; accessed 8 June 2015.
11 Pope Leo XIII, Annum Sacrum (Holy Year); available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_25051899_annum-sacrum.html; Internet; accessed 8 June 2015.
12 Quoted from Fr. John Croiset, S.J., Devotion To The Sacred Heart, reprinted by EWTN; available from http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/heart/consecration.htm – ixzz3cDu8jRxF; Internet; accessed 8 June 2015.
13 Pope St. John Paul II, “Letter to Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini for the 50th Anniversary of the Benedictine Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face,” available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_20001021_riparatrici.html; Internet; accessed 8 June 2015.
14 “Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Catholic News Agency; available from http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/prayers/sacred-heart-of-jesus/act-of-reparation-to-the-sacred-heart-of-jesus/; Internet; accessed 8 June 2015. We can obtain a partial indulgence (the partial remittance of temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned) when we recite this prayer. We can obtain a plenary indulgence (remittance of all temporal punishment for sins already forgiven) when we recite it once a month (on the First Friday of each month, with confession, communion and visit to a church) and when we publicly recite it on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. To understand what an indulgence means, it is important to note that forgiveness of sin is separate from punishment for the sin. When we go to Confession, we obtain forgiveness for our sins, but we aren’t let off the hook as far as punishment goes. “To acquire a plenary indulgence,” says the Enchiridion, “it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.” For more information, see “Introduction to Indulgences,” Catholic Online; available from http://www.catholic.org/prayers/indulgc.php.
15 “12 Promises,” Heart to Heart: A Mission to Encourage Personal Devotion to The Sacred Heart of Jesus; available from http://sacredheartdevotion.com/12-promises/; Internet; accessed 8 June 2015.
16 Fr. Thomas Rosica, “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has suffered cardiac arrest,” salt + light blog; available from http://saltandlighttv.org/blog/rosicareflections/devotion-to-the-sacred-heart-of-jesus-has-suffered-cardiac-arrest-3; Internet; accessed 8 June 2015.
17 Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart), 124.
18 “Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” The Holy Rosary; available from http://www.theholyrosary.org/immaculateheart; Internet; accessed 8 June 2015.