Overlooked by many Catholics, the Church celebrates each year the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Friday that follows the Second Sunday after Pentecost.
Though this celebration doesn’t fall on a Sunday and is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it is considered one of the most significant feasts on the Church calendar due to the meaning behind devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
What is the Meaning of the Sacred Heart of Jesus?
But what is the meaning of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Why does the Church place such an emphasis on Our Lord’s human heart?
Well, according to Pope Pius XII in his 1956 papal encyclical on Devotion to the Sacred Heart titled Haurietis Aquas, “[T]he Heart of the Incarnate Word is deservedly and rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that threefold love with which the divine Redeemer unceasingly loves His eternal Father and all mankind.”
In other words, the Church devotes Herself to veneration of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus because the Heart of Jesus is the chief symbol of His incomprehensible Love.
To better understand the role of the human heart as a symbol, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the “heart” in the following way:
“The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place ‘to which I withdraw.’ The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.”Catechism of the Catholic Church 2563
Therefore it is beautifully fitting to place the image of the Heart of Jesus before our eyes as a visible symbol of Our Lord’s profound love for the Father and His Church.
A Brief History of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
And in case your wondering, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not anything new in the life of the Church. It’s been a spiritual practice of the Church for nearly 1,000 years.
It’s origin is often associated with the 11th century when many pious Catholics began meditating on the five wounds of Christ, which among other wounds included his pierced heart. It was then that prayers naturally began to be written addressing the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
However, it wasn’t until the 17th century that devotion to Our Lord’s Sacred Heart began to take off due to His apparitions to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun in the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.
Though St. Margaret Mary reported that Our Lord appeared to her frequently, it was from 1673-1675 that she reported His most significant messages.
First, during an apparition in December of 1673 Our Lord permitted St. Margaret Mary to rest her heard upon His Heart. During this experience, Our Lord recounted to her His great love for mankind and how He had chosen her to make known His love to all the world.
Then, during the summer of 1674, St. Margaret Mary reported that Our Lord expressed His desire to be honored under the symbol of His Most Sacred Heart by pious reception of the Holy Eucharist, particularly on the First Friday of every month, as well as through regular holy hour visits to the Blessed Sacrament.
Finally, in 1675, St. Margaret Mary reported that Our Lord appeared to her during the Octave of Corpus Christ (the eight days that follow the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ) and asked that a feast day to the Most Sacred Heart be established each year on the Friday following the celebration of Corpus Christi, with the intention of making reparation for those who express ingratitude for the sacrifices which Christ made for them out of love.
Though St. Margaret Mary died in October of 1690, it wasn’t until 1765 that the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus became an official feast for all of France.
And then, it wasn’t until May 8, 1873, that devotion to the Sacred Heart was formally approved by Pope Pius IX. And lastly, 26 years after papal approval – on July 21, 1899 – Pope Leo XIII urgently recommended that all bishops throughout the world observe the feast in their dioceses.
The Twelve Promises of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Throughout Our Lord’s apparitions to St. Margaret Mary, he repeatedly promised that those who consecrate themselves to His Sacred Heart and fervently practice this devotion will be showered with graces and blessings.
These promises have been collected from her writings, and after receiving an official approbation from Pope Leo XIII in 1899 came to be known as the “Twelve Promises of the Sacred Heart”:
1. I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
2. I will establish peace in their homes.
3. I will comfort them in their afflictions.
4. I will be their secure refuge during their life, and above all, in death.
5. I will bestow abundant blessings on their undertakings.
6. Sinners will find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls will quickly mount to high perfection.
9. I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. Those who promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart.
12. I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving the sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart
Lord Jesus Christ, today I renew my dedication to Your Sacred Heart. I remember Your love for me. I pledge my love in return, placing You at the center of my heart and my family. I wish to live my life in union with You and to share in Your mission of love to all. Lord, accept this dedication and keep me always in Your Sacred Heart. Amen.
Litany of the Most Sacred Heart
Lord, have mercy, R. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy, R. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy, R. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us, R. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, R. have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
God, the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, One God,
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father,
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother,
Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God,
Heart of Jesus, of Infinite Majesty,
Heart of Jesus, Sacred Temple of God,
Heart of Jesus, Tabernacle of the Most High,
Heart of Jesus, House of God and Gate of Heaven,
Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity,
Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love,
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues,
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise,
Heart of Jesus, King and center of all hearts,
Heart of Jesus, in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,
Heart of Jesus, in Whom dwells all the fullness of the divinity,
Heart of Jesus, in Whom the Father is well pleased,
Heart of Jesus, of Whose fullness we have all received,
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills,
Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful,
Heart of Jesus, enriching all who invoke Thee,
Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness,
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins,
Heart of Jesus, loaded down with opprobrium,
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our offenses,
Heart of Jesus, obedient unto death,
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance,
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation,
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation,
Heart of Jesus, victim for sin,
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who trust in You,
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in You,
Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, R. spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, R. graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, R. have mercy on us, O Lord.
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 praise and satisfaction which He offers You in the name of sinners; and to those who implore Your mercy, do You in Your great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who with You lives and reigns world without end.
Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart
Most sweet Jesus, whose overflowing charity for men is requited by so much forgetfulness, negligence and contempt, behold us prostrate before Thee, eager to repair by a special act of homage the cruel indifference and injuries to which Thy loving Heart is everywhere subject.
Mindful, alas! that we ourselves have had a share in such great indignities, which we now deplore from the depths of our hearts, we humbly ask Thy pardon and declare our readiness to atone by voluntary expiation, not only for our own personal offenses, but also for the sins of those, who, straying far from the path of salvation, refuse in their obstinate infidelity to follow Thee, their Shepherd and Leader, or, renouncing the promises of their baptism, have cast off the sweet yoke of Thy law.
We are now resolved to expiate each and every deplorable outrage committed against Thee; we are now determined to make amends for the manifold offenses against Christian modesty in unbecoming dress and behavior, for all the foul seductions laid to ensnare the feet of the innocent, for the frequent violations of Sundays and holy days, and the shocking blasphemies uttered against Thee and Thy Saints. We wish also to make amends for the insults to which Thy Vicar on earth and Thy priests are subjected, for the profanation, by conscious neglect or terrible acts of sacrilege, of the very Sacrament of Thy Divine Love; and lastly for the public crimes of nations who resist the rights and teaching authority of the Church which Thou hast founded.
Would that we were able to wash away such abominations with our blood. We now offer, in reparation for these violations of Thy divine honor, the satisfaction Thou once made to Thy Eternal Father on the Cross and which Thou continuest to renew daily on our Altars; we offer it in union with the acts of atonement of Thy Virgin Mother and all the Saints and of the pious faithful on earth; and we sincerely promise to make recompense, as far as we can with the help of Thy grace, for all neglect of Thy great love and for the sins we and others have committed in the past. Henceforth, we will live a life of unswerving faith, of purity of conduct, of perfect observance of the precepts of the Gospel and especially that of charity. We promise to the best of our power to prevent others from offending Thee and to bring as many as possible to follow Thee.
O loving Jesus, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother, our model in reparation, deign to receive the voluntary offering we make of this act of expiation; and by the crowning gift of perseverance keep us faithful unto death in our duty and the allegiance we owe to Thee, so that we may all one day come to that happy home, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit Thou livest and reignest, God, forever and ever. Amen.
Do you have a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus?
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Download a FREE PDF that includes the following:
1) A well-designed and printable PDF including the Litany of the Most Sacred Heart that can be used for group prayer
2) A 1-page list of the Twelve Promises of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque for those devoted to the Sacred Heart
3) Beautiful images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that will inspire you to pray and deepen your devotion to Our Lord