The Devotion To The Sacred Heart Explained

Matt. 11:29 "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."NRSV

 
"478 Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion, and gave himself up for each one of us: "The Son of God. . . loved me and gave himself for me." He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, "is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that. . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings" without exception. "
Catechism of the Catholic Church.

"The worship, although paid to the Heart of Jesus, extends further than the Heart of flesh, being directed to the love of which this Heart is the living and expressive symbol." Catholic Encyclopedia.

"The aim of this [text] is merely to give the history of Catholic practices and to explain their nature, their reasonableness and their use...

The month of June, as all Catholics know, is the month of the Sacred Heart. During it the Church urges the faithful to special zeal in the worship of the Heart of our Saviour, considered as a part of His sacred Humanity and as the emblem of His infinite love.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart is one which has become widely known only since the seventeenth century; and it was not sanctioned by the Church for general use until the latter part of the eighteenth. Though it is now recognized as an important elenient in Catholic worship, it met with strenuous opposition when it was first introduced - not only from the Jansenists (who had fallen into error regarding many doctrines of the Church) but from earnest Catholics who object to the new doctrine because they misunderstood it.

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Homage paid to the Heart of Jesus is mentioned by spiritual writers as early as the twelfth century; but it was practised to a very limited extent until a little more than two hundred years ago. A humble and holy French nun, the saintly Margaret Mary Alacoque, within the space of a religious life of only nineteen years, instituted a devotion which bids fair to last forever. She became the apostle of the beautiful and now universal worship of the loving Heart of our Blessed Saviour.

She was born in the village of Lhautecour, in France, in the year 1647, and lived until 1690. After a childhood remarkable for sanctity, she entered the community of the Visitation nuns at Paray-le-Monial in 1671. Here she lived a life of mortification and prayer, and in return for her fidelity and fervor our Divine Lord is said to have [granted] her a privilege which He has frequently given to other holy souls. He appeared to her on several occasions; and in one of these visions He showed her His Heart, pierced with a wound, encircled with a crown of thorns, surrounded by flames and surmounted by a cross - as we see it usually represented in pictures and statues at the present day. He commanded her to practise and to teach others the devotion to His Sacred Heart, because of His ardent desire to be loved by men and His wish to give to all mankind the treasures of His love and mercy. [See ccc 67 on private revelation.]

The pious nun sought the counsel of her superiors, and the account of her visions was received at first with incredulity. All her actions and her teachings were subjected to a most severe examination, and it was long before any approval was given to the devotion which she was endeavoring to establish. But the will of God cannot be opposed. The devotion spread rapidly through France, and was gradually established in other parts of the world. It did not at first receive the approbation[i.e. official approval] of the Holy See, for our Church is cautious in giving her sanctions to anything that savors of novelty in religion, and makes a long and careful scrutiny before she recommends a new devotion to her children. In 1794, however, Pius VI issued a decree approving the devotion to the Sacred Heart and granting indulgences to those who practise it.

The Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Attempts had been made, in 1697 and in 1729, to have a day set apart in honor of the Sacred Heart, but on both occasions the proposal was rejected by the Roman Congregation of Rites. In 1765, however, a number of churches were permitted to celebrate this feast, and in 1856 this permission was extended to the whole world, and the feast was fixed on the day after the festival of Corpus Christi, in the month of June. In 1889, under Leo XIII, the day was raised to a higher rank in the Church's calendar, and all mankind was solemnly consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On account of the importance of this great June festival, the whole month of June is considered as being specially devoted to the worship of the Sacred Heart.

Margaret Mary Alacoque was pronounced Venerable by Leo XII in 1824, and was honored with the title of Blessed by Pius IX in 1864. Through her intercession many miracles have been performed, especially at the place of her burial; and on account of these and of the great devotion which she established, her name has been placed on the calendar of the Church's Saints, and her virtues will be henceforth venerated by all Catholics. She was declared a Saint by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

Why We Adore the Sacred Heart.

Let us examine into the reasonableness of this devotion. Are we obliged to believe the account of the visions of Margaret Mary? No. We are not obliged to believe anything supernatural except the truths that God has revealed to be accepted by all. This is a point that is nearly always misunderstood by non-Catholics. Because we Catholics practise a devotion which was established by a woman who claimed to have had a vision, they regard us as votaries [followers] of superstition and our Church as a promoter of fanciful ideas, not reflecting that, even though the vision might be false, the devotion might be true. The Catholic Church does not assert that the French nun really saw our Blessed Lord; neither does she oblige us to believe it. She merely declares that the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not only not opposed in any way to divine revelation, but that it is an excellent form of worship; and she recommends it to her children, urges them to make use of it, and grants spiritual favors to those who do so.

We shall state briefly the Catholic doctrine regarding the worship of the Sacred Heart. It is not a mere relative homage, such as we give to holy things or to holy persons. It is not the higher form of religious veneration, such as we pay to the Blessed Mother of God. It is supreme adoration, because it is paid to the physical Heart of Christ, considered not as mere flesh, but as united to the Divinity. We Catholics adore that Heart as the Heart of Christ, an inseparable part of Him. All the members of Christ are or may be the object of divine worship, because they are a part of His human nature and are thereby united to the Divine Nature of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

["ccc 480 Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of his divine person; for this reason he is the one and only mediator between God and men." 481 Jesus Christ possesses two natures, one divine and the other human, not confused, but united in the one person of God's Son.
482 Christ, being true God and true man, has a human intellect and will, perfectly attuned and subject to his divine intellect and divine will, which he has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
483 The Incarnation is therefore the mystery of the wonderful union of the divine and human natures in the one person of the Word."]

But why is the Heart of Jesus selected as the object of this special adoration? Because His real and physical Heart is a natural symbol of the infinite charity of the Saviour and of His interior and spiritual life. The heart is a vital organ which, as it throbs within us, is part of our existence. It has always been looked upon as an emblem, sometimes of courage, sometimes of one's whole interior nature, but oftener of love. How often we hear such expressions as "Be of good heart," meaning "Have courage"; " He opened his heart to me," meaning " He told me all his secrets "; and our Lord Jesus, in asking our love, made the request in these words, "Son, give me thy heart." We see, then the reasonableness of taking the Sacred Heart of our Saviour as an object of our worship, not only because it is a part of Him, but because it symbolizes His love for all mankind. ["The heart is the seat of the moral personality..." ccc 2517.]

From early times the Five Wounds of our Lord were venerated as the symbol of His Passion, and this devotion received the approbation of the Church. In like manner, in these later days, she has seen fit to sanction and recommend the worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to urge her children to offer their homage to that symbol of our Saviour's love, wherewith "He has loved us even to the end."

[ ccc 2669 "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. The stations from the Praetorium to Golgotha and the tomb trace the way of Jesus, who by his holy Cross has redeemed the world. "]
A Symbol of Love.

We must remember, then, that while this devotion is directed to the material Heart of our Blessed Lord, it does not stop there. It includes also a spiritual element - namely, the infinite love of Jesus for us, which is recalled and symbolized by His Sacred Heart. [See ccc 478.]

There is no devotion that has been extended throughout the Catholic world in so short a time. This means of realizing and honoring the all-embracing love of our Blessed Saviour would seem to have filled a long-felt want in the hearts of the devout faithful...

The First Fridays.

One of the greatest factors not only in making the worship of the Sacred Heart known but in distributing its spiritual benefits is the " Devotion of the First Fridays." The faithful are exhorted to receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month for nine months in succession, by which they may gain a plenary indulgence; and in many churches and chapels the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament takes place, either during the whole day or in the evening, and special services are held in honor of our Eucharistic Lord and especially of His Sacred Heart, the symbol of His unutterable love for us whom He died to save." [See ccc 1438 on the penetential character of each Friday.]


Rev. John F. Sullivan, The Externals of the Catholic Church, Kenedy & Sons (1917) pp. 243-47. Imprimatur +John Cardnal Farley, Archbishop of NY, 3/27/1918. References to the catechism and material in brackets are provided by the editor. The image above was obtained from the NY Sacred Heart Apostolate. All the material on this web page is used for religious and educational purposes only. No other use is intended or permitted. See 17USC107.

See generally, Devotions in the catechism.

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