Today, June 23, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Although it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, why is this an important feast for Catholics? As Pope Pius XII explained in his encyclical Haurietis aquas (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart), the Sacred Heart is the foremost symbol and expression of Jesus’s love for us. As such, it is “the foundation and the culmination of the Incarnation and the Redemption.”
The devotion extends back to the early Church Fathers, who often contemplated the sacred wound in Jesus’s side, through which His love and mercy flowed into the world. It was formalized during the seventeenth century after Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, and showed her His Heart, aflame with love for men and pierced with the thorns of their indifference. Our Lord requested that His Heart be made known, loved, and adored, in expiation for the sorrow we cause Him by our sins and ingratitude.
St. Margaret Mary was not alone at the time in promoting devotion to Our Lord’s Heart. One of her contemporaries, a French priest and missionary, St. John Eudes, also emphasized the love of Jesus and His Mother, as represented by their hearts. He promoted devotion to the Adorable Heart of Jesus and the Admirable Heart of Mary, which we honor today as the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with the first public feast in their honor.
Both St. Margaret Mary and St. John Eudes are credited with spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart. However, as Pope Pius XII specifically noted, St. Margaret Mary’s revelations added nothing new to existing Catholic doctrine. They were instead a means of fostering increased contemplation of Jesus’s infinite love and mercy. As the pope proclaimed in his encyclical: “Their importance lay in this, that Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God's merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.”
The month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, as is the first Friday of each month. The First Friday devotion to the Sacred Heart consists in receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace on the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months, with the intention of making reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the sins and ingratitude of men. Our Lord made the following promises to those who keep the devotion to His Sacred Heart:
1. I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
2. I will establish peace in their homes.
3. I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
5. I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
6. Sinners will find in My Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
9. I will bless every place in which an image of His Heart is exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. Those who promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart, never to be effaced.
12. In the excessive mercy of My Heart, My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays 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.
As Catholics, we are exhorted to give Christ a place of honor in our lives. In this month of the Sacred Heart, consider expressing your devotion in your home with a Sacred Heart cross or wood print, or personally with unique, high quality Sacred Heart jewelry and gifts.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.