Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
A new ray of light shines today in the heaven of Holy Church, and its light brings warmth. The Divine Master given to us by our Redeemer, that is, the Holy Ghost, Who has come down into this world, continues His teachings to us in the sacred Liturgy. The earliest of these His divine teachings was the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity; and we have adored the Blessed Three in One: we have been taught Who God is, we know Him in His own nature, we have been admitted, by faith, into the sanctuary of the infinite Essence. Then this Spirit, the mighty wind of Pentecost, opened to our souls new aspects of the truth, which it is His mission to make the world remember (John 14: 26); and His revelation left us prostrate before the Sacred Host, the Memorial which God Himself has left us of all His wonderful works (Ps. 110: 4). Today it is the Sacred Heart of the Word made flesh that this Holy Paraclete puts before us, that we may know, love and adore It.
When the Sacred Heart of Jesus was pierced on Calvary, the Church, His Bride came forth from His Side, together with the Water which cleanses Her, and the Blood which was to be Her dower. Just as God cast a deep sleep upon Adam, that He might form Eve, his spouse, from his side, so did the Second Adam endure the sleep of death, that His Spouse, the Church, might come forth from His pierced Side.
Christ has given His Spouse full power over that Sacred Heart of His, from which She has issued. There lies the secret of all the Church's power. In the relations existing between husband and wife, which were created by God at the beginning of the world, and (as the Apostle assures us) in view of this great mystery of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5: 32), man is the head (1 Cor. 11: 3), and the woman may not domineer in the government of the family. The woman has power still, but she must address herself to her husband's heart, and gain all by love. If Adam, our first father, sinned, it was because Eve used, and for evil, her influence over his heart, by misleading him, and us in him. Jesus is a Savior to us, because the Church has won His Heart; and that human Heart could not be won, without the Divinity also being moved to mercy. And here we have the doctrine of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as far as regards the principle upon which it rests. In this its primary and essential notion, the devotion is as old as the Church Herself, for it rests on this truth, which has been recognized in every age: that Christ is the Spouse, and the Church is His Bride.
The Fathers and Doctors of the early ages had no other way than this of expounding the mystery of the Church's formation from Jesus' side; and the words they used – though always marked by that reserve which was called for by so many of their hearers being as yet uninitiated – were taken as the text for the sublime and fearless developments of lager ages. "The initiated," says St. John Chrysostom, "know the mystery of the Savior's fountains; from those, that is, from the Blood and the Water, the Church was formed; from those same, came our Mysteries; so that, when thou approachest the Sacred Chalice, thou must come up to it, as though thou wert about to drink of that very Side of Christ."
The Sacred Heart, as the expression of Jesus' love, was not treated of in the writings of the Fathers and early Doctors with the explicitness wherewith the Church would afterwards put It before us. For this end, Our Lord Himself selected certain privileged souls, through whose instrumentality He would bring the Christian world to a fuller appreciation of the consequences which are involved in the principles admitted by the whole Church.
** St. Gertrude **It was on January 27, 1281, in the Benedictine monastery of Helfta, near Eisleben, in Saxony (Germany), that Our Divine Lord first revealed these ineffable secrets to one of the community of that house, whose name was Gertrude. She was then in the 25th year of her age. The Spirit of God came upon her, and gave her a mission. She saw, she heard, she was permitted to touch, and what is more, she drank of, the Chalice of the Sacred Heart. She drank of it, even whilst in this vale of tears; and what she herself so richly received, she imparted to others, who showed themselves desirous to listen. St. Gertrude's mission was to make known the share and action of the Sacred Heart in the economy of God's glory and the sanctification of souls; and, in this respect, we cannot separate her from her companion, St. Mechtilde.
On this special doctrine regarding the Heart of the Man-God, St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde hold a very prominent position among all the saints and mystical writers of the Church. In saying this, we do not except even the Saints of later ages, by whom Our Lord brought about the public, official worship, which is now given to His Sacred Heart. These Saints have spread the devotion throughout the whole Church; but they have not spoken of the mysteries it contains within it, with that set purpose, that precision, that loveliness which we find in the Revelations of the two Saints, Gertrude and Mechtilde.
By revealing to St. Gertrude the admirable mysteries of Divine Love, included in the doctrine attached to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Ghost was, so to say, forestalling the workings of Hell, which, two centuries later on, were to find their prime mover in that same spot. Luther was born at Eisleben, in the year 1483. He was the anti-apostle, after being the inventor, of theories the very opposite of what the Sacred Heart reveals. Instead of the merciful God, as known and loved in the previous ages, Luther would have the world believe Him to be the direct author of sin and damnation, who creates the sinner for crime and eternal torments, for the mere purpose of showing that He could do anything, even injustice! Calvin followed; he took up the blasphemous doctrines of the German apostate, and riveted the Protestant principles by his own gloomy and merciless logic. By these two men, the tail of the dragon dragged the third part of the stars of Heaven (Apoc. 12: 4). In the 17th century, the old enemy put on hypocrisy in the shape of Jansenism; changing the names of things, but leaving the things unchanged, he tried to get into the very center of the Church, and there to pass off his impious doctrines; and Jansenism – which, under the pretext of safeguarding the rights of God's sovereign dominion, aimed at making men forget that He is a God of mercy – was found to be useful by the enemy in propagating his so-called Reformation.
** St. Margaret Mary **God, Who loves to choose the weak in order to confound the strong, had selected for manifesting the mystery of the Sacred Heart, one whom the world knew not – a Religious living in a monastery, which had nothing about it to attract notice. As in the 13th century He had passed by the learned men, and even the great Saints, who were then living, and selected the Blessed Juliana of Liège as instrument for bringing about the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi, so in this present case: He would have His Sacred Heart glorified in His Church by a solemn Festival; and He imparts and entrusts His wish to the humble Visitation Sister of Paray-le-Monial, now known and venerated throughout the world under the name of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The mission thus divinely given to her, was to bring forward the treasure, which had been revealed to St. Gertrude, and which, all during the long interval, had been known to only a few privileged souls. Sister Margaret Mary was to publish the secret to the whole world, and make the privilege universal, by telling everyone how to possess it. Through this apparently inadequate instrument, the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a Heavenly remedy offered to the world against the chill which had settled on its old age: it became a touching appeal to all faithful souls that they would make reparation for all the contempt, indifference, coldness and sins, wherewith the modern age treats the love of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As far back as the year 1674, Our Lord had, in His own mysterious way, brought Sister Margaret Mary to make the acquaintance of one of the most saintly Religious of the Society of Jesus then living; it was Bl. Claude de la Colombière. He recognized the workings of the Holy Ghost in this His servant, and became the devoted apostle of the Sacred Heart, first of all at Paray-le-Monial, and then, later on, in England, where he was imprisoned by the heretics, and merited the glorious title of Confessor of the Faith. This fervent disciple of the Heart of Jesus died in the year 1682, worn out by his labors and sufferings; but the Society, in a body, inherited his zeal for the propagation of devotion to the Sacred Heart. At once, numerous confraternities began to be formed, and everywhere chapels were built in honor of that same Heart. Hell was angry at this great preaching of God's love. The Jansenists were furious at this sudden proclamation, at this apparition, as St. Paul would say, of the goodness and kindness of God Our Savior (Titus 3: 4); for it aimed at restoring hope to souls, in which they had sowed despondency. The big world had to interfere; and it began by talking of innovations, of scandals, even of idolatry; at all events, this new devotion was, so it claimed, a dissecting of the Body of Christ! Erudite pamphlets were published, some theological, some physiological, to try to prove that the Church should forbid the subject! Indecent pictures were circulated, and indignant witticisms were made, in order to bring ridicule upon those for whom the world had coined the name of Cordicolae (Heart worshippers).
But human wisdom, or human prejudice, or even human ridicule, cannot withstand God's purposes. He wished that human hearts should be led to love, and therefore worship, the Sacred Heart of their Redeemer; and He inspired His Church to accept the devotion which would save so many souls, even though the world might not take Heaven's view. In the year 1720, the city of Marseilles was visited by a plague. It had been brought by a vessel that had come from Syria. As many as a thousand a day fell victims to the scourge. The Parliament, which was mainly composed of Jansenists, had, of course, fled; and there was nothing being done to stay the contagion from spreading. The Bishop, Msgr. De Belzunce, assembled such of his priests as had been spared; and, standing in the avenue which is now called by his name, he solemnly consecrated his diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At once the plague abated, and gradually disappeared. Two years later, however, it again showed itself, and threatened to repeat its fierce onslaught; but it was arrested in consequence of the city magistrates binding themselves and their successors for all future ages, by a vow, to the solemn acts of public worship.
These events were published throughout the world, and were the occasion of the Feast of the Sacred Heart being kept, not only as hitherto, in the monasteries of the Visitation Order, but in several dioceses in France. Eventually a national monument in honor of the Sacred Heart was built – it is the splendid church on Montmartre, in Paris. The Apostolic See had witnessed all this; and at last gave its formal sanction. Rome had frequently granted indulgences in favor of the devotions privately practiced towards the Sacred Heart; She had published innumerable Briefs for the establishment of local confraternities under that title; and in the year 1765, in accordance with the request made by the Bishops of Poland and the Archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart at Rome, Pope Clement XIII issued the first Pontifical Decree in favor of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and approved a Mass and Office. The same favor was gradually accorded to other Churches, until at length, on August 23, 1856, Pope Pius IX, at the request of all the Bishops of France, issued the decree for inserting the Feast of the Sacred Heart on the Calendar, and making obligatory its celebration by the Universal Church.
In 1928, Pope Pius XI raised the rank of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to that of Double of the First Class and added a Privileged Octave of the Third Order (equal to that of Christmas and the Ascension). He also ordered that public prayers be offered throughout the Catholic world on this Feast and that the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere renewed each year on the Feast of Christ the King.
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There is evidence that it was the will of Our Divine Lord that Devotion to the Sacred Heart be reserved for the last ages of the world, so that, in the last great struggle between Himself and Satan, the souls that He loves so dearly may be drawn to Him with renewed warmth, and thus strengthened against the final desperate attacks of the enemy.
In the times preceding the end of the world, Satan and his cohorts were to be loosed upon the earth in a mighty effort to draw as many souls as possible away from God, before the power of Hell would be remarkably restricted, if not completely broken. Satan's mission is one of hate. God wins souls through love. Our Blessed Savior knew that the hatred which would be rampant in those evil days could be best conquered by a devotion which would inspire love and charity in the hearts of men. It was to serve, as it were, as a magnet and a bulwark of strength by giving men a clearer knowledge of God's deep and abiding love and mercy. It would provide a harbor of peace and security in those days of confusion and anguish, when men's souls would be tried almost beyond endurance.