Devotion to the Sacred Heart is a wonderful historical expression of the Church's piety for Christ, her Spouse and Lord: it calls for a fundamental attitude of conversion and reparation, of love and gratitude, apostolic commitment and dedication to Christ and His saving work.
History of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is a form of devotion to the person Jesus, and especially to His Love.
The Catholic Encyclopedia details a history of this devotion. It observed that from the time of Saint John and Saint Paul there has always been in the Church something like devotion to the love of God, Who so loved the world as to give it His only-begotten Son, and to the love of Jesus, Who has so loved us as to deliver Himself up for us. But, accurately speaking, this is not the devotion to the Sacred Heart, as it pays no homage to the Heart of Jesus as the symbol of His love for us. From the earliest centuries, Christ's open side and the mystery of blood and water were meditated upon, and the Church was beheld issuing from the side of Jesus, as Eve came forth from the side of Adam. But there is nothing to indicate that, during the first ten centuries, any worship was rendered the wounded Heart.
It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first unmistakable indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side the wounded Heart was gradually reached , and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of Divine Love. In the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries devotion arose, although it is impossible to say what where the first texts. Saint Gertrude (d. 1302) had a vision on the feast of John the Evangelist. She was resting her head near the wound in the Savior's side and hearing the beating of the Divine Heart. She asked Saint John if on the night of the Last Supper, he had felt these delightful pulsations, why he had never spoken of the fact. Saint John replied that this revelation had been reserved for subsequent ages when the world, having grown cold, would have need of it to rekindle its love.
From the thirteenth to the sixteeenth century, the devotion was practiced as a private, individual devotion of the mystical order. In the sixteenth century, the devotion took an onward step and passed from the domain of mysticism into that of Christian asceticism. It was constituted an objective devotion with prayers already formulated and special exercises of which the value was extolled and practice commended.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart developed further during the seventeenth century. Ascetic writers spoke of it, especially those of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Alvarez de Paz, Luis de la Puente, Saint-Jure and Nouet and Father Druzbicki, small work “Meta Cordium, Cor Jesu“.
The devotion was greatly increased by the visions Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), a French Visitandine nun at the convent of Paray-le-Monial. She had a vision of Christ's Heart on the feast of Saint John that was similiar to that of Saint Gertrude. Jesus permitted her to rest her head upon His Heart, and then disclosed to her the wonders of His love, telling her that He desired to make this known to mankind and to diffuse the treasures of His goodness, and that He had chosen her for this work, (probably 1673, Dec. 27). In June or July o f 1674, Sister Margaret Mary said, Jesus asked to be honored under the figure of His Heart of Flesh and asked for a devotion of expiatory love — frequent Communion, Communion on the first Friday of each month and the observance of Holy Hours.
In another visioin, on the feast of Corpus Christi 1675, Sister Margaret Mary reported that Jesus told her, “Behold the Heart that has so loved men…instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of mankind) only ingratitude…” Jesus then asked for a feast of reparation on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi. bidding her to consult Father de la Colombiére, then superior of the small Jesuit house at Paray. He recognized the action of the Spirit of God and consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart and directed Sister Margaret Mary to write down her account and to circulate it throughout France and England. Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque was canonized in the 20th century.
(Principal source – Catholic Encyclopedia – 1913 edition, reproduced wf-f.org)
….Only the Heart of Christ who knows the depths of his Father's love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way —-From the Catechism. P:1439
From the depth of my nothingness, I prostrate myself before Thee, O Most Sacred, Divine and Adorable Heart of Jesus, to pay Thee all the homage of love, praise and adoration in my power
Amen. – -St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
The prayer of the Church venerates and honors the Heart of Jesus just as it invokes his most holy name. It adores the incarnate Word and his Heart which, out of love for men, he allowed to be pierced by our sins. Christian prayer loves to follow the way of the cross in the Savior's steps.
— From the Catechism. P: 2669