Upon the cross, Jesus showed the depth of his love for us, pouring out his lifeblood for our redemption:
Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of him shall be broken.” And again another scripture says, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)
When his side was pierced, blood and water flowed forth from his heart like a fountain of life and grace. In devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we contemplate this great love.
In the earliest days of the Church, the apostle John, who had seen Jesus’ heart pierced, wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). By the twelfth century, the wound in the heart of Jesus was looked upon as a symbol of his divine love. From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, this devotion was of a private, interior, and mystical nature. In the sixteenth century, devotional prayers and acts of piety became popular. But it was in the seventeenth century that devotion to the Sacred Heart spread widely.
In 1677 Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun of the Visitation convent of Parlay-le-Monial, France, described how Christ appeared to her in a vision: “I could plainly see his heart, pierced and bleeding, yet there were flames, too, coming from it and a crown of thorns around it. He told me to behold his heart which so loved humanity. Then he seemed to take my very heart from me and place it there in his heart. In return he gave me back part of his flaming heart.”
Margaret Mary experienced four revelations, during which Christ made the now-familiar Twelve Promises as well as the request to establish a feast in honor of his Sacred Heart. In 1765, seventy-five years after Margaret Mary’s death, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was officially approved by Pope Clement XIII. The feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was inaugurated in 1856, and is now celebrated on the first Friday after the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus’ Sacred Heart is also honored on every first Friday of the month. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.
An Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
I give myself and consecrate to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, my person and my life, my actions, pains, and sufferings, so that I may be unwilling to make use of any part of my being other than to honor, love, and glorify the Sacred Heart. This is my unchanging purpose, namely, to be all his, and to do all things for the love of him, at the same time renouncing with all my heart whatever is displeasing to him. I therefore take you, O Sacred Heart, to be the only object of my love, the guardian of my life, my assurance of salvation, the remedy of my weakness and inconstancy, the atonement for all the faults of my life, and my sure refuge at the hour of death.
Be then, O Heart of goodness, my justification before God the Father, and turn away from me the strokes of his righteous anger. O Heart of love, I put all my confidence in you, for I fear everything from my own wickedness and frailty, but I hope for all things from your goodness and bounty.
Remove from me all that can displease you or resist your holy will; let your pure love imprint your image so deeply upon my heart that I shall never be able to forget you or to be separated from you.
May I obtain from all your loving kindness the grace of having my name written in your Heart, for in you I desire to place all my happiness and glory, living and dying in bondage to you. Amen.
—St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
Twelve Promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, made to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque:
1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
2. I will establish peace in their families.
3. I will comfort them in their trials.
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and, above all, in death.
5. I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
6. Sinners will find in My Heart an infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls will become fervent.
8. Fervent souls will rapidly grow in holiness and perfection.
9. I will bless every place where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. The names of those who promote this devotion will be written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.
12. I promise thee, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.