Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
The Month of June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Friday following the second Sunday after Pentecost.
In addition to the liturgical celebration, many devotional exercises are connected with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Of all devotions, devotion to the Sacred Heart was, and remains, one of the most widespread and popular in the Church.
Understood in the light of the Scriptures, the term “Sacred Heart of Jesus” denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being, and his person considered in its most intimate essential: Son of God, uncreated wisdom, infinite charity, principal of the salvation and sanctification of mankind.
From the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy
The History of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is a form of devotion to the person of Jesus, and especially to His Love. The Catholic Encyclopedia details a history of this devotion.
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 were 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 Saviour’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 similar 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 of 1674, Sister Margaret Mary said Jesus asked to be honoured 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 vision, 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.
Scriptural Basis for the Devotion
Jesus, who is one with the Father (cf. John 10, 30), invites his disciples to live in close communion with him, to model their lives on him and on his teaching. He, in turn, reveals himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11, 29). It can be said that, in a certain sense, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a cultic form of the prophetic and evangelic gaze of all Christians on him who was pierced (cf. John 19, 37; Zac 12, 10), the gaze of all Christians on the side of Christ, transfixed by a lance, and from which flowed blood and water (cf. John 19, 34), symbols of the “wondrous sacrament of the Church”(St. Augustine).
The Gospel of St. John recounts the showing of the Lord’s hands and his side to the disciples (cf. John 20,20), and of his invitation to Thomas to put his hand into his side (cf. John 20, 27). This event has also had a notable influence on the origin and development of the Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart.
These and other texts present Christ as the paschal Lamb, victorious and slain (cf. Apocalypse 5,6). They were objects of much reflection by the Fathers who unveiled their doctrinal richness. They invited the faithful to penetrate the mysteries of Christ by contemplating the wound opened in his side. Augustine writes: “Access is possible: Christ is the door. It was opened for you when his side was opened by the lance. Remember what flowed out from his side: thus, choose where you want to enter Christ. From the side of Christ as he hung dying upon the Cross there flowed out blood and water, when it was pierced by a lance. Your purification is in that water, your redemption is in that blood”.
From the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy
The Word of God
“This is the Covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put My law within them, and I will inscribe it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Jeremiah 31:33
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of Heart.” Matthew 11:28
“I have come to spread fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Luke 12:49
“When they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs but one of the soldiers thrust a lance into His side, and immediately a flow of Blood and water came forth.” John 19:33-34
Explaining the symbolism of the Sacred Heart (from an article by Stephen Beale in Aleteia)
The Sacred Heart is among the most familiar and moving of Catholic devotional images. But its symbolism can also be strange. As we mark the Feast of the Sacred Heart early this month, here is a look at the explanation behind some of the features of the Sacred Heart.
The flames. The Sacred Heart most obviously brings to mind the Passion of Christ on the cross. There is the crown of thorns, the cross, usually atop the heart, and the wound from the spear that pierced His side. But why is the Sacred Heart always shown as if it’s on fire? That certainly did not happen at the crucifixion.
There are three reasons behind this. First, we have to remember that Christ’s self-offering on the cross was the one-time perfect consummation of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. This necessarily includes burnt offerings. An early form of such sacrifices was what Abraham set out to do with Isaac, hence the wood he had his son collect beforehand.
Second, fire is always associated with the essence of divinity in the Old Testament. Think back to the burning bush that spoke to Moses, the cloud of fire that settled on Sinai, and the flames from above that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah. This explanation fits with the gospel account of the crucifixion, in which the piercing of Christ’s side revealed His heart at the same time that the curtain of the temple was torn, unveiling the holy of holies where God was present.
Finally, the image of fire associated with heart represents Christ’s passionate love for us. One 19th-century French devotional card has these words arched above the Sacred Heart—Voilà ce Cœur qui a tant aimé les hommes, which roughly translates to: “Here is the heart that loved men so much.” One traditional exclamation is, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning with love of us, inflame our hearts with love of Thee.” We see this actually happen in the gospels, where the disciples on the road to Emmaus realized that their hearts had been “burning” after their encounter with Jesus.
The rays of light. Look closer at the image of the Sacred Heart. There is something else framing it besides the flames. They are rays of light. In John 8:12, Christ declares that He is the “light of the world.” In Revelation 21:23, we are told that in the new Jerusalem at the end of times there will be no light from the sun or moon because the Lamb of God—that is, Jesus—will be its source of light. Light, like fire, is a symbol of divinity. Think of the Transfiguration and the blinding light that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. As the light of the world, Christ is also the one who “enlightens” us, revealing God to us. The Sacred Heart constitutes the climax of divine self-revelation, showing us the depths of God’s love for us.
The arrows. The crown of thorns and the spear make sense. But sometimes the Sacred Heart is also depicted with arrows. Again, that’s not something we find in the gospels. One explanation is that the arrow represents sin. The arrow could also draw upon an ancient Roman metaphor for love, which, according to ancient myth, occurred when the god cupid shot an arrow through the hearts of lovers.
The crown of thorns. Unlike the arrows, the crown of thorns is reported in the gospels. But in traditional images it encircles the Sacred Heart, whereas in Scripture the crown was fixed to Jesus’ head. One traditional account offers this interpretation, describing those who are devoted to it: “They saw the crown transferred from His head to His heart; they felt that its sharp points had always pierced there; they understood that the Passion was the crucifixion of a heart” (The Heart of the Gospel: Traits of the Sacred Heart by Francis Patrick Donnelly, published in 1911 by the Apostleship of Prayer). In other words, wrapping the crown around the heart emphasizes the fact that Christ felt His wounds to the depths of His heart.
Moreover, after the resurrection, the crown of thorns becomes a crown of victory. Donnelly hints at this as well: “From the weapons of His enemy, from cross and crown and opened Heart, our conquering leader fashioned a trophy which was the best testimony of His love.” In ancient gladiatorial contests, the victor was crowned. In the Revelation 19:12, Christ wears “many crowns” and believers who are victorious over sin and Satan will receive the “crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Finally, according to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the seventeenth French nun who helped start the devotion, the points of the thorns are the many individual sins of people, pricking the heart of Jesus. As she put it in a letter, recounting the personal vision she had received, “I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It had Its adorable wound and was encircled with a crown of thorns, which signified the pricks our sins caused Him.”
The cross. Like the thorns, the cross is both rooted in the gospels but also displayed in a way that does not follow them in every detail. There is almost an inversion of the crucifixion. In the gospels, Christ hung on the cross, His heart correspondingly dwarfed by its beams. But in images of the Sacred Heart, it is now enlarged and the cross has shrunk. Moreover, rather than the heart being nailed to the cross, the cross now seems ‘planted’ in the heart – as St. Margaret Mary Alacoque put it – as if to say to us that the entire reality of the crucifixion derives its meaning from, and can not be understood apart from, the heart of Jesus. It is the heart of Jesus, the love of Jesus, that makes the cross meaningful for us today.
Sacred Heart Prayers
Divine Jesus, you have said,
“Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find;
knock and it shall be opened to you.”
Behold us kneeling at your feet, filled with a lively faith and confidence
in the promises dictated by your Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary.
We come to ask this favour [mention the intentions of your prayers]
To whom can we turn if not to you?
whose Heart is the source of all graces and merits?
Where should we seek if not in the treasure
which contains all the riches of your kindness and mercy?
Where should we knock if not at the door through which God
gives himself to us and through which we go to God?
We have recourse to you, Heart of Jesus.
In you we find consolation when afflicted,
protection when persecuted,
strength when burdened with trials,
and light in doubt and darkness.
Dear Jesus, we firmly believe that you
can grant us the graces we implore,
even though it should require a miracle.
You have only to will it and our prayer will be granted.
We admit that we are most unworthy of your favours,
but this is not a reason for us to be discouraged.
You are the God of mercy,
and you will not refuse a contrite heart.
Cast upon us a look of mercy, we beg of you,
and your kind Heart will find in our miseries
and weakness a reason for granting our prayer.
Sacred Heart, whatever may be your decision
with regard to our request,
we will never stop adoring, loving, praising, and serving you.
O Jesus, be pleased to accept
this our act of perfect resignation to the decrees of your adorable Heart,
which we sincerely desire may be fulfilled in and by us
and all your creatures forever.
Grant us the grace for which we humbly implore you
through the Immaculate Heart of your most sorrowful Mother.
You entrusted us to her as her child,
and her prayers are all-powerful with you.
Remember, most kind Jesus,
that no one was ever abandoned
who had recourse to your Sacred Heart,
implored its help, or called for mercy.
Filled with this confidence, Divine Heart, ruler of all hearts,
we come to you, oppressed beneath the weight of our sins.
Do not reject our poor prayers, but listen to them mercifully,
and be pleased to answer them.
Most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing,
we adore you, we love you, and with a lively sorrow for our sins,
We offer ourselves to you.
Make us humble, patient, pure, and obedient to your will.
Grant, dear Jesus, that we may live in you and for you.
Protect us in the midst of danger;
comfort us in our afflictions;
give us health of body,
assistance in our temporal needs,
your blessing on all that we do,
and the grace of a holy death.
Love of the Heart of Jesus, inflame our hearts.
Charity of the Heart of Jesus, flow into our hearts.
Strength of the Heart of Jesus, support our hearts.
Mercy of the Heart of Jesus, pardon our hearts.
Patience of the Heart of Jesus, grow not weary of our hearts.
Kingdom of the Heart of Jesus, be in our hearts.
Wisdom of the Heart of Jesus, teach our hearts.
Will of the Heart of Jesus, guide our hearts.
Zeal of the Heart of Jesus, consume our hearts.
Immaculate Virgin Mary, pray for us to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
O God, we offer you all our prayers,
works, joys, and sufferings
in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
for the intentions for which he pleads
and offers himself in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
in thanksgiving for your favours,
in reparation for our sins,
and in humble supplication for our temporal and eternal welfare,
for the needs of our holy Mother the Church,
for the conversion of sinners,
and for the relief of the poor souls in purgatory.
Act of Consecration
We give and consecrate to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Our person, our life, our actions, our pains and sufferings,
so that we may no longer be willing to use any part of our being
except to honour, love, and glorify the Sacred Heart.
It is our unchanging intention to be all his and to do all for love of him.
We renounce at the same time with all our heart
whatever can displease him.
We, therefore, take you, Sacred Heart, for the only object of our love,
the protector of our life,
the pledge of our salvation,
the remedy of our weakness and inconstancy,
the atonement for the faults of our life,
and the secure refuge at the hour of our death.
Be then, Heart of goodness, our justification before God the Father,
and turn away from us the punishment of his just anger.
Heart of love, we put our confidence in you,
because we fear everything from our own sinfulness and weakness.
We hope for all things from your mercy and generosity.
Destroy in us all that can displease or resist your holy Will.
Let your pure love impress you so deeply upon our hearts
that we may never forget you or be separated from you.
May our names, by your loving kindness, be written in you,
because in you we desire to place all our happiness
and all our glory in living and dying in very bondage to you.
(Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque)
The Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Lord, have mercy Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of Infinite Majesty, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Sacred Temple of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Tabernacle of the Most High, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, House of God and Gate of Heaven, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, king and centre of all hearts, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, enriching all who invoke you, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, loaded down with opprobrium, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, obedient to death, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and our reconciliation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in you, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in you, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, O Lord.
V. Jesus, meek and humble of heart. R. Make our hearts like to thine.
Let us pray.
Almighty and Eternal God,
look upon the Heart of your most beloved Son,
and upon the praises and satisfaction
which he offers you in the name of sinners;
and to those who implore Your mercy,
in your great goodness,
grant forgiveness in the Name of the same Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with you, forever and ever.