Our Lord Himself asked that this Feast-day honoring His Sacred Heart be established in the Church’s calendar (even specifying the day as the Friday following the octave of Corpus Christi), as a last effort of His love for mankind, by which He would reveal to us the treasures of His Heart.
In the Great Apparition of June 16, 1675 (during the octave of Corpus Christi), Our Lord revealed His Sacred Heart to Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque in her Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial, telling her of the pain and sorrow caused to His Heart by the ingratitude of men, in spite of His boundless love and sufferings for us:
“Behold this Heart, which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself in order to testify to Its love. In return I receive from the generality of Christians only ingratitude, coldness, irreverence, sacrilege, and contempt for Me in this Sacrament of love. And what is most painful to Me is that they are hearts consecrated to Me.
“I ask that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special Feast to honor My Heart, by communicating on that day, and making reparation to It by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars. I promise that My Heart shall expand Itself to shed in abundance the influence of Its Divine Love upon those who shall thus honor It, and cause It to be honored.”
Our Lord’s Sacred Heart, emblematic of the boundless love which induced Him not only to suffer and die for the redemption of mankind, but also to institute the Sacrament of His Body and Blood in commemoration of His death, pleads for our compassion. Today especially, let us demonstrate true sorrow for our own past indifference toward Our Savior’s love and sufferings, and also make reparation for the insults to which His ardent desire to dwell with the children of men daily exposes Him in the sweet Sacrament of His love.
Praise to the Divine Heart that wrought our salvation!
To It be glory and honor forever! Amen.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
by Dom Prosper Gueranger
The infinite love of the sacred Trinity, which calls us frail creatures to a participation in its own blessed life, would accomplish its merciful design by the help and means of another love, a love more like what we ourselves can feel; that is, the created love of a human soul, evinced by the beatings of a Heart of flesh like our own.
From the very first instant of its existence, the human Soul of Christ enjoyed the face-to-face vision of the divine essence; It therefore conceived an immense love for man and for God, which began simultaneously with life, and filled not only His soul, but impressed, in its own way, the Body too. The effect of His love told, consequently, upon His Heart of true human flesh; it set in motion those beatings, which made the Blood of redemption circulate in His sacred veins.
For it was not with Him as with other men, the pulsations of whose hearts are, at first, the consequence of nothing but the vital power which is in the human frame; and, later on, when age has awakened reason into act, the ideas so produced will produce physical impressions on us, which will, now and then, quicken, or dull, the throbbings of these our hearts. With the Man-God it was not so: His Heart, from the very first moment of its life, responded, that is, throbbed, to the law of His soul’s love.
Today’s Feast shows us how it is through the Heart of the Man-God that the divine work is achieved, and how, through that same Heart, the plan which was conceived from all eternity by the Wisdom of the Father, has been realized.
It was on the 27th of January, in the year 1281, in the Benedictine Monastery of Helfta, near Eisleben in Saxony, that our Divine Lord first revealed these ineffable secrets to one of the Community of that House, whose name was Gertrude. She writes, in the third person:
“It was the Beloved Disciple, who had rested his head upon Jesus’ breast at the Supper, and perhaps heard the beatings of the sacred Heart — the Disciple who when standing at the foot of the Cross had seen that Heart pierced with the soldier’s spear — yes, it was he who announced to Gertrude its future glorification. She asked him how it was that he had not spoken, in his writings in the New Testament, of what he had experienced when he reclined upon Jesus’ Sacred Heart. He replied thus: ‘My mission was to write, for the Church which was still young, a single word of the uncreated Word of God the Father — that uncreated Word, concerning which the intellect of the whole human race might be ever receiving abundant truth, from now till the end of the world, and yet it would never be fully comprehended. As to the sweet eloquence of those throbbings of His Heart, it is reserved for the time when the world has grown old, and has become cold in God’s love, that it may regain favor by the hearing such revelation.” (The Legate of Divine Love. Bk. iv. ch. 4.)
By thus revealing to Gertrude the admirable mysteries of divine love included in the doctrine which attaches to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was, so to say, forestalling the workings of hell, which, two centuries later on, were to find their prime mover in that same spot. Luther was born at Eisleben in the year 1483. He was the apostle, after being the inventor, of theories the very opposite of what the Sacred Heart reveals. Instead of the merciful God, as known and loved in the previous ages, Luther would have the world believe Him to be the direct author of sin and damnation, who creates the sinner for crime and eternal torments, and for the mere purpose of showing that he could do anything, even injustice! Calvin followed; he took up the blasphemous doctrines of the German apostate, and riveted the protestant principles by his own gloomy and merciless logic. By these two men, the tail of the dragon dragged the third part of the stars of heaven.
In the 17th Century, the old enemy put on hypocrisy, in the shape of Jansenism. Changing the names of things, but leaving the things unchanged, he tried to get into the very center of the Church, and there pass off his impious doctrines; and Jansenism (which, under the pretext of safeguarding the rights of God’s sovereign dominion, aimed at making men forget that He was a God of mercy), was a favorable system wherewith the enemy might propagate his so-called Reformation.
That God, Who so loved the world, beheld mankind discouraged or terrified, and behaving as though in Heaven there was no such thing as mercy, still less, love. This earth of ours was to be made to see that its Creator had loved it with affectionate love; that He had taken a Heart of flesh in order to bring that infinite love within man’s reach and sight; that He made that human Heart, which He had assumed, do its work — that is, beat and throb from love, just as ours do — for he had become one of ourselves, and, as the Prophet words it, had taken the cords of Adam. That Heart felt the thrill of joy when duty-doing made us joyous; it felt a weight and pang when it saw our sorrows; it was gladsome when it found that, here and there, there would be souls to love Him in return.
How were men to be told all this? Who would be chosen to fulfil the prophecy made by Gertrude the Great? Who would come forth, like another Paul or John, and teach to the world, now grown old, the language of the divine throbbings of Jesus’ Heart?
There were then living many men noted for their learning and eloquence; but they would not suit the purpose of God. God, Who so often loves to choose the weak, that He may confound the strong, had selected for the manifesting of the mystery of the Sacred Heart, a servant of His, of whose existence the world knew not. It was a Religious woman, who lived in a monastery which had nothing about it to attract notice. As in the 13th century He had passed by the learned men and even the great Saints who were then living, and selected the Blessed Juliana of Liége as the instrument which was to bring about the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi, so in this present case He would have His own Sacred Heart be glorified in His Church by a solemn Festival; and He imparts and entrusts His wish to the humble Visitandine of Paray-le-Monial, now known and venerated throughout the world under the name of [Saint] Margaret Mary.
The mission thus divinely given to her was to bring forward the treasure which had been revealed to St. Gertrude, and which, throughout the long interval since its revelation to her, had been known to only a few privileged souls. Sister Margaret Mary was to publish the secret to the whole world, and to make it a rare privilege no more, by telling everyone how to possess it.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus was a heavenly remedy offered to the world against the chillness which had settled on its old age. It became a touching appeal to all faithful souls, urging them to make reparation for all the contempt, and slight, and coldness, and sins, wherewith our age treats the love of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.
“I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament on one of the days during the Octave” [of Corpus Christi, in June 1675], says the Blessed Margaret in her Autobiography, “and I received from my God exceeding great graces of His love. And, feeling a desire to make some return, and give Him love for love, He said to me: ‘Thou canst not make me a greater, than by doing that which I have so often asked of thee.’ He then showed me His divine Heart, and said: ‘Behold this Heart, which has so loved men, as that it has spared nothing, even to the exhausting and wearing itself out, in order to show them its love; and, instead of acknowledgment, I receive, from the greater number, nothing but ingratitude, by their irreverences and sacrileges, and by the coldness and contempt wherewith they treat me in this Sacrament of love. But what is still more deeply felt by Me is that they are hearts which are consecrated to Me, which treat Me thus. It is on this account that I make this demand of thee, that the first Friday after the Octave of the Blessed Sacrament be devoted to a special Feast in honor of My Heart; that thou wilt go to Communion on that day; and give it a reparation of honor by an act of amendment, to repair the insults It has received during the time of Its being exposed on the Altar. I promise thee also that My Heart will dilate Itself, that It may pour forth with abundance the influences of Is divine love upon those who shall thus honor It, and shall do their best to have such honor paid to It.’”
By thus calling His servant to be the instrument of the glorification of His Sacred Heart, our Lord made her a sign of contradiction, just as He himself had been. It took more than ten years for Blessed Margaret to get the better, by dint of patience and humility, of the suspicions wherewith she was treated by the little world around her, and of the harsh conduct of the Sisters who lived with her in the same Monastery, and of trials of every sort. At last on the 21st of June, 1686, on the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi, she had the consolation of seeing the whole Community of Paray-le-Monial kneeling before a picture which represented the Heart of Jesus as pierced with a spear. This picture represented the Heart by itself, encircled with flames and a crown of thorns, surmounted by the Cross and the three Nails. That same year there was begun in the Monastery, the building of a Chapel in honor of the Sacred Heart; and Blessed Margaret had the happiness of seeing it finished and blessed. She died shortly afterwards in the year 1690.
But all this was a very humble beginning. Where was the institution of a Feast, properly so called? And where its solemn celebration throughout the Church?
So far back as the year 1674, our Lord had, in His own mysterious way, brought Margaret-Mary to form the acquaintance of one of the most saintly Religious of the Society of Jesus then living — Father Claude de la Colombière. He recognized the workings of the Holy Spirit in this His servant, and he became the devoted apostle of the Sacred Heart — first of all at Paray-le-Monial, and then later on, in our own country of England, where he was imprisoned by the heretics of those times, and merited the glorious title of Confessor of the Faith. This fervent disciple of the Heart of Jesus died in the year 1682, worn out by his labors and sufferings; but the Society, in a body, inherited his zeal for the propagation of devotion to the Sacred Heart. At once, numerous confraternities began to be formed, and everywhere there began to be built Chapels in honor of that same Heart.
Hell was angry at this great preaching of God’s love. The Jansenists were furious at this sudden proclamation, at this apparition, as St. Paul would say, of the goodness and kindness of God our Savior. The men who were proclaiming it were aiming at restoring hope to souls, in which they, the Jansenists, had sowed despondency. The big world must interfere; and it began by talking of innovations, of scandals, even of idolatry. At all events, this new devotion was, to put it mildly, a revolting dissecting of the sacred Body of Christ! Erudite pamphlets were published, some theological, some physiological, to prove that the Church should forbid the subject! Indecent engravings were circulated, and witticisms, such as indignation can make, were made, in order to bring ridicule upon those for whom the world had coined the name of Cordicolæ, or Heart-Worshippers.
But neither human wisdom, nor human prejudice, nor even human ridicule, can withstand God’s purposes. He wished that human hearts should be led to love, and therefore to worship, the Sacred Heart of their Redeemer; and He inspired His Church to receive the devotion which would save so many souls, though the world might not take Heaven’s view.
The Apostolic See had witnessed all this, and at last gave its formal sanction. Rome had frequently granted Indulgences in favor of the devotions privately practiced towards the Sacred Heart; she had published innumerable Briefs for the establishment of local Confraternities under that title; and, in the year 1765, in accordance with the request made by the Bishops of Poland and the Arch-Confraternity of the Sacred Heart at Rome, Pope Clement XIII issued the first pontifical decree in favor of the Feast of the Heart of Jesus, and approved of a Mass and Office which had been drawn up for that Feast. The same favor was gradually accorded to other Churches, until, at length, on the 23rd of August, 1856, Pope Pius IX, at the instance of all the Bishops of France, issued the Decree for the inserting the Feast of the Sacred Heart on the Calendar and making obligatory its celebration by the universal Church.[Thereafter, Pope Pius XI, in the encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (May 7, 1928), gave the following command:
“…we decree and command that every year on the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, — which feast indeed on this occasion we have ordered to be raised to the degree of a double of the first class with an octave — in all churches throughout the whole world, the same expiatory prayer or protestation as it is called, to Our most loving Savior, set forth in the same words according to the copy subjoined to this letter shall be solemnly recited, so that all our faults may be washed away with tears, and reparation may be made for the violated rights of Christ the supreme King and Our most loving Lord.”
The Holy See then proposed the following formula for the act of reparation requested by Our Lord to be made on this day:
Most sweet Jesus, whose overflowing charity for men is requited by so much forgetfulness, negligence and contempt, behold us prostrate before Thee, eager to repair by a special act of homage the cruel indifference and injuries to which Thy loving Heart is everywhere subject.
Mindful, alas! that we ourselves have had a share in such great indignities, which we now deplore from the depths of our hearts, we humbly ask Thy pardon and declare our readiness to atone by voluntary expiation, not only for our own personal offenses, but also for the sins of those, who, straying far from the path of salvation, refuse in their obstinate infidelity to follow Thee, their Shepherd and Leader, or, renouncing the promises of their baptism, have cast off the sweet yoke of Thy law.
We are now resolved to expiate each and every deplorable outrage committed against Thee; we are now determined to make amends for the manifold offenses against Christian modesty in unbecoming dress and behavior, for all the foul seductions laid to ensnare the feet of the innocent, for the frequent violations of Sundays and holydays, and the shocking blasphemies uttered against Thee and Thy Saints. We wish also to make amends for the insults to which Thy Vicar on earth and Thy priests are subjected, for the profanation, by conscious neglect or terrible acts of sacrilege, of the very crimes of nations who resist the rights and teaching authority of the Church which Thou hast founded.
Would that we were able to wash away such abominations with our blood. We now offer, in reparation for these violations of Thy divine honor, the satisfaction Thou once made to Thy Eternal Father on the cross and which Thou continuest to renew daily on our altars; we offer it in union with the acts of atonement of Thy Virgin Mother and all the Saints and of the pious faithful on earth; and we sincerely promise to make recompense, as far as we can with the help of Thy grace, for all neglect of Thy great love and for the sins we and others have committed in the past. Henceforth, we will live a life of unswerving faith, of purity of conduct, of perfect observance of the precepts of the Gospel and especially that of charity. We promise to the best of our power to prevent others from offending Thee and to bring as many as possible to follow Thee.
O loving Jesus, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother, our model in reparation, deign to receive the voluntary offering we make of this act of expiation; and by the crowning gift of perseverance keep us faithful unto death in our duty and the allegiance we owe to Thee, so that we may all one day come to that happy home, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit Thou livest and reignest, God, forever and ever. Amen.]