Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Theologians tell us that we adore at once Jesus’ Heart of flesh, symbol of love, and the love symbolized by this Heart, inseparable from each other, one and indivisible. They tell us also that our worship is directed to the Person of the Word, made manifest by this Heart and its love. Thus, in the fullest sense, the Sacred Heart is the whole of Jesus, as He reveals Himself to us through the Incarnation.
The liturgy considers the Heart of flesh at times, in the Litany for instance, with the invocations “Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mother” and “Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance”, and at other times its love, as in this invocation: “Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity, have mercy on us.” But the invocation is always addressed to the Person Himself, to this divine Person who can take pity on us, console us, and heal our misery, because He is possessed of infinite majesty and infinite power. Always before us is the all-lovable and all-loving Person of Christ Jesus.
The love and the lovability of His Person are revealed in many ways, especially through His virtues, for we can say that the virtues of Jesus are as it were the charm, the flower of His charity. But virtues are nourished by grace, their fertile source, and grace itself suggests the idea of redeeming blood. Devotion to the Sacred Heart reveals the virtues of Jesus to us: Cor Jesu, virtutum omnium abyssus; the graces of Jesus, and this is why the Litany invokes the Sacred Heart as a source of life and of sanctity: Cor Jesu, fons vitae et sanctitatis; the blood of Jesus, and this is again why the Litany invokes the Sacred Heart as a propitiation for our sins: Cor Jesu, propitiatio pro peccatis nostris, in the same way as St. John said, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Love of Reparation
Devotion to the Sacred Heart contemplates and adores in Him the love of the Savior, the source of all His blessings, from the Nativity to the consummation of the Redemption in heaven. Of this devotion another, more special devotion is the magnificent fruit: the devotion to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.
It consists, according to His Holiness Leo XIII, in “rendering love, gratitude, veneration and homage to this act of supreme dilection in virtue of which our Divine Redeemer, pouring out all the riches of His Heart, instituted the adorable sacrament of the Eucharist, to remain with us until the end of time.” (Brief of Leo XIII, establishing the Pontifical Church of St. Joachim as the general centre of the Archconfraternity of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, February 16, 1903.)
St. Margaret Mary did not receive the mission of revealing this devotion, which sprang up well before her time. Her mission was nonetheless of great nobility and importance: she was the instrument chosen by God to set forth the fullness of the devotion in its spirit and its practices, and impress upon it a universal movement and reach.
“My Divine Heart,” our Lord once told her, “is so impassioned with love for men, and for you in particular, that, no longer able to contain within Itself the flames of Its ardent charity, it must spread them through you and make Itself manifest to mankind to enrich them with these precious treasures that I reveal to you, which contain the sanctifying and saving graces necessary to bring them back from the edge of perdition. I have chosen you as an abyss of unworthiness and ignorance for the accomplishment of this great plan, so that all will be done by Me.” (Apparition of December 27, 1673).
Before St. Margaret Mary, this devotion was practiced not only by a few privileged souls, such as St. Gertrude and St. Catherine of Siena, but also, thanks to St. John Eudes, by a large part of the Christian people. What, then, was lacking?
First of all, the spirit of the devotion was perfected. Until this time those devoted to the Sacred Heart had chiefly rendered praise and thanksgiving to Him. There was no emphasis on reparation. It was, however, our Lord’s desire that we realize how unknown is His love and make reparation. Recognition of the infinite tenderness of the Divine Love is important, but it is of equal import to make reparation for the sins of the world. Of course fervent souls had already thought of this. But in a time where the Faith was weakening and the Divine Love was increasingly disregarded and insulted, it became important to emphasize reparation. It was Margaret Mary’s mission to draw the attention of loving souls toward this aspect of the devotion and to inspire souls to reparation, inviting them to turn to the forgotten and scorned Love:
“Behold this Heart which has loved men so much that It has spared nothing, exhausting and consuming Itself to show them Its love: and in return I receive from most of them only ingratitude, by their irreverence and their sacrileges and by the coldness and scorn that they have for Me in this sacrament of love. But what is even more painful to Me is that it is hearts that are consecrated to Me that act this way.” (Apparition of June 16, 1675.)
This incomprehensible scorn of the love of God calls for reparation. Jesus asked His servant for reparation, and through her He asks all generous souls: “You, at least, give Me the pleasure of making up for their ingratitude, as much as you are able…”
Importance of Holy Communion
But here is another important aspect: it is to Jesus in the Eucharist that this reparation must primarily be addressed, either because the Eucharist is, together with the Passion, the most expressive testimony of God’s love for mankind, or because it is in the tabernacle and especially at the Holy Table that we find the Heart of Jesus nearest to us. Thus the chief reparatory practices are related to Communion:
“First of all, you shall receive Me in the Blessed Sacrament as often as obedience permits…
“Moreover, you shall receive Communion on the first Friday of each month…
“I ask you that the first Friday following the octave of Corpus Christi be dedicated to a special feast to honour My Heart, by receiving Communion on that day and making honorable reparation and amends to make up for the indignities it has borne when exposed in the Holy Eucharist upon the altar…”
Remedy to Lukewarmness
Lastly, our Lord wished this blessed devotion to spread across the whole earth as the supreme remedy to the misfortune of the world dragged down by the times. Even more than during St. Gertrude’s time, the world had become lukewarm. It was time to complete the revelation of His Divine Heart so that “this world in decline should regain heat and burn with a new flame.” The Savior wishes Christians to comprehend the gravity of this new advance of love. He invites His friends to a new effort in spreading to the farthest-flung parts a devotion to which He has added multiple promises:
“He showed me,” the saint tells us, “that His ardent desire to be loved by men and to save them from the road to perdition down which Satan rushes them in crowds, caused Him to form this intention of manifesting His Heart to men with all the treasures of love, mercy, graces, sanctification and salvation it contains, so that He may enrich all those who wish to give Him and obtain for Him all the love, honor and glory within their power with an abundance and a profusion of divine treasures…It is as if this devotion were a final effort of His love which wished to favor men in these last centuries with such a loving redemption to withdraw them from the empire of Satan…and bring us into the sweet liberty of the empire of His love, which He wishes to reestablish in the hearts of all those who embrace this devotion.” (Gauthey, Vie et Oeuvres [Life and Works] vol. II, p. 567, Paris, 1915.)
What does devotion to the Sacred Heart require of us?
Devotion to the Sacred Heart does not involve any new commandments: it is founded on the basic act of all Christian and supernatural life: the act of love. This cult consists in an attitude of the soul, a disposition of all our faculties to return to our Lord love for love.
All the writings of St. Margaret Mary show that the fundamental act of our devotion towards the Divine Heart is an act of love. One day, our Lord removed her heart and set in its place a burning flame, telling her, “Here, My beloved, is a precious token of My love; enclosed in your side is this little spark of My love’s most burning flames, to be a heart to you and consume you until your last moment.” (ibid., pp. 69-70.) From then on, the saint’s life was consumed with love for the Master’s Heart. She wrote to Mother de Saumaise, “He will reign despite His enemies and will become the Master and possessor of our hearts, for the principal purpose of this devotion is to convert souls to His love.” The voice of the Church confirmed these words. In his encyclical of June 28, 1888, Leo XIII wrote, “Jesus has no more burning desire than to see the fire of love which devours His own Heart ignited in souls! Let us then go to Him who in exchange for His charity asks only the return of His love.”
What is new about the devotion to the Sacred Heart is first of all the consideration of the love of Jesus for us specifically, a love symbolized by His Heart of flesh.
The act of love asked of us is directed towards a particular object: our Lord’s love for us.
However, that is not all. It is not only divine love considered in itself, in the infinite richness of its gifts, it is this same love disregarded and outraged. Our Lord Himself complained of this to St. Margaret Mary, speaking of the Eucharist: “As for recognition, I receive from most only ingratitude through their irreverence and their sacrileges, and through the coldness and the contempt they show Me in the sacrament of love.”
The love of the divine Master, disregarded and outraged: such is the particular object of the devotion to His Sacred Heart. From this follows the chief element in its practice, the spirit of reparation.
The idea of reparation in devotion to the Sacred Heart does indeed seem to be the chief element, established by our Lord Himself to St. Margaret Mary. Not, indeed, that this idea was new to Christianity, for it is on the contrary an integral part of the Redemption. Before St. Margaret Mary, however, it was not related to devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Therein lies the originality of St. Margaret Mary’s work. The Sacred Heart and reparation are inseparable in her thought and her writings: “The Sacred Heart,” she writes, “asks for someone to do reparation, who will very humbly ask God’s pardon for all the injuries done Him in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.” An act of love addressed to the Sacred Heart of our Lord, in the spirit of reparation for His disregarded love, such is the complete formula of devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Compensation of Justice
The decree of 1765 establishing the feast of the Sacred Heart, comments that through this devotion “the memory of the love that brought the Son of God to take a human nature is symbolically renewed.” From this authorized interpretation of devotion to the Sacred Heart, it can be concluded that its reparative aspect is in the same spirit in which our Lord accomplished the Redemption.
The fundamental concept of the Redemption is the idea of satisfaction. Satisfaction implies first of all an idea of justice, a wrong done for which satisfaction is due. Although the satisfaction of Christ was superabundant, it is nonetheless the will of the Master that we should bring, in a certain measure, our cooperation not only for ourselves but for others.
This satisfaction, considered a compensation of justice, finds its place in the reparation required by the cult of the Sacred Heart. To compensate, in justice, is to bring what is lacking, to give what was at first refused by oneself, or what others refuse to give. It is to pay a price for oneself or others.
Our Lord, speaking of the abandonment to which men have subjected Him, told St. Margaret Mary, “But, at least, give Me the pleasure of making up for their ingratitude as much as you are able.” And as the saint showed Him her weakness, our Lord filled her with His love, saying to her, “Take this, it will compensate for what you lack.” (ibid. p. 72.)
Our Lord requires our love, but a love that pays and compensates for that which others do not give Him.
The first characteristic of this reparation is compensation, making up for those who do not recognize the Divine Love.
The second characteristic makes the reparation no longer a compensation in justice, but a compensation of love: it is suffering in union with the Master.
Compensation of Love
In February 1669, the time of the disorder of the Carnival, St. Margaret Mary wrote to Mother de Saumaise: “This charitable Heart seemed to ask me if I would not keep Him company on the Cross at this time where He is so abandoned by the rush each one is in to seek amusement, and that, by the bitterness that He gives me to taste, I could in some way alleviate that which sinners pour into His Sacred Heart; that I should weep unceasingly with Him to obtain mercy so that sin does not reach its worst excess.”
Thus to the idea of making satisfaction to God is added the idea of compassion, which touches the God-Man directly. The act of love required by devotion to the Sacred Heart is therefore an act of love mingled with sorrow. This last aspect shows how much this devotion expresses the pure essence of Christianity. The Redemption is only a sorrowful satisfaction because it is a fruit of love.
A solemn feast in honor of the Divine Heart, Holy Hour, Communion in reparation, veneration of His image: all these forms of the devotion suggest this characteristic of consolatory reparation that is essential to this cult.
“I ask you that the first Friday following the octave of Corpus Christi be dedicated to a special feast to honor My Heart, by the reception of Communion on that day and by making honorable reparation and amends to make up for the indignities It has borne when exposed in the Holy Eucharist upon the altar.”
A Holy Hour in particular is requested by His love. “Every night of Thursday to Friday,” our Lord told St. Margaret Mary, “I will make you share in the mortal sadness that I desired to feel in the Garden of Olives. To accompany Me in the humble prayer that I made then to My Father, you will rise between eleven and midnight; you will prostrate yourself one hour with me, face on the ground, as much to pacify divine anger by begging for mercy for sinners, as to sweeten in a fashion the bitterness that I felt when My apostles abandoned Me, unable to watch even for one hour with Me.”
The Church has long blessed the nocturnal prayer required of its monks. Our Lord seems to consecrate it anew and clarify its meaning: in the homage of satisfaction it brings to God for those who do not know Him, it adds, through the sacrifice it imposes on nature, this consoling reparation to the Heart of the God-Man, who makes this hour of prayer into the hour of Gesthemane.
Fruits of the Devotion
The fruits of this devotion have been listed by the virgin of Paray, St. Margaret Mary herself, when she included in her writings the promises made by the Divine Savior to all those who would practice this vital devotion. (These promises are given according to the texts verified with the greatest care at Paray-le-Monial; the diocesan authority guarantees their authenticity.)
For those who work for the salvation of souls: “My divine Savior gave me to understand that those who work for the salvation of souls will have the skill of touching the most hardened hearts and will work with marvelous success, if they themselves are filled with a tender devotion to His Divine Heart. For communities: “He promised me…that He will spread the sweet unction of His ardent charity” on all the communities that honor Him and place themselves under His special protection; that He will hold back all the blows of divine justice to return them to grace when they fall. For lay persons: “For lay persons, they will find through this amiable devotion all the help necessary to their state in life: that is peace in their families, relief in their labors, the blessings of heaven on all their enterprises, consolation in their afflictions; and it is in the Sacred Heart that they will find their refuge all their lives and above all at the hour of death.” For homes where an image of the Sacred Heart is exposed and honored: “Assuring me that He takes singular pleasure in being honored under the form of this Heart of flesh, He wished this image to be exposed in public, in order, He added, to touch the hard hearts of men; promising me that He would bestow abundantly on the hearts of all those who honored him all the gifts of which He disposes; and that anywhere this image was exposed and especially honored, it would draw down all kinds of blessings.” Promises of graces for all those who devote themselves to Him: “I feel as if I were lost in this divine Heart, if I mistake not [this manner of speech, habitual with the saint, does not indicate a doubt in her mind, but rather comes from her humility], as in a bottomless depth, where He shows me treasures of love and graces for the persons who will consecrate themselves and will make sacrifices to give Him and procure for Him all the honor, love and glory that is in their power.” Promise of salvation for all those who devote and consecrate themselves to Him: “Then He confirmed to me that the pleasure He takes in being loved, known and honored by His creatures is so great that, if I am not mistaken, He promised me that all those who should devote and consecrate themselves to Him should never perish.” Promise of a good death for those who receive Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month: “One Friday, during Holy Communion, He said these words to His unworthy slave, if she is not mistaken: ‘I promise you, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that His all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month, the grace of final repentance; they will not die unprepared or without receiving the sacraments; My divine Heart will be their refuge in their final moments.’” Promise of the reign of the Sacred Heart: “Fear nothing; I will reign despite my enemies and all those who would oppose it.”
“This Sacred Heart will reign in spite of Satan and all those he has raised up against Me.”
She heard Him repeat these words: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass.”
These promises are infinitely sweet. To this Master all power has been given on heaven as on earth; nothing resists Him, not even the rebellious heart. But above all He is a friend who wishes to be loved at any price and who, without waiting to be loved in return, makes the interests of those touched and enveloped by His freely given love, His own. He sends a wave of love throughout the world revivifying the priesthood, renewing religious communities, spreading through Christian souls, penetrating every home where the image of the Sacred Heart is honored. It is a true flood of mercy that purges the defiance sown by perfidious and glacial heresies, bringing with it the most consoling assurances of help during life and at the hour of death. The culmination of these promises is the mysterious promise of a terrestrial reign of the Sacred Heart.
The proper grace of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is the revival of charity in souls. It returns to religion its true concept and form: that is, not only an assembly of ritual practices, but above all a reciprocal love from man to God who gave him His only Son, to Jesus Christ who delivered Himself up for us as an oblation and as a sweet-smelling Victim. This reciprocity brings about a fusion between Jesus Christ who is our head and we who are His members. Therein lies the true Christian life.