Upon the cross, Jesus showed the depth of his love for us, pouring out his lifeblood for our redemption. When his side was pierced, blood and water flowed forth from his heart like a fountain of life and grace (see John 19:34). 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 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 yeas 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.
All the popes of the twentieth century promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart. In this twenty-first century, Pope Benedict XVI has noted, Adoring contemplation of [Christ’s] side pierced by the spear . . . enables us to entrust ourselves to his saving and merciful love and at the same time strengthens us in the desire to take part in his work of salvation, becoming his instruments.
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