FAITH MATTERS: The Sacred Heart

Since the 16th century, the Church has assigned special devotions to each month of the year, June is devoted to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Since the 16th century, the Church has assigned special devotions to each month of the year, June is devoted to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This day of solemnity is held on the first Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi which happened to be June 7 this year, and a group gathered in the Diocesan Library for Formation Friday to explore the historical and cultural context of this devotion. Those gathered expressed how the image and devotions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were part of their upbringing. This image hung on the wall of most Catholic households, I still have the image that hung in my grandparents loungeroom, one participant recalled the image hanging in their grandparent’s bedroom, another spoke of deciding to buy a particular house because this image was the first thing they saw when they walked into the property, another recalled weekly Friday devotions that occurred in classrooms and the home. While the image and devotional prayers were well known its origins were not. The most significant source for the devotion to the Sacred Heart known today was Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690), a nun of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, who claimed to have received apparitions of Jesus Christ between 1673 and 1675 in the Burgundian French village of Paray-le-Monial.

As she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament in her community chapel, she saw Christ's heart pierced and bleeding with flames and a crown of thorns. According to St Margaret Mary, ‘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.’ Her spiritual director a young Jesuit priest saw her visions to be authentic as they were rooted in Scripture and tradition and these experiences were recorded.

Fast forward 200 years and Pope Leo XII was about to undergo surgery at the age of 89 and in his contemplative prayer he rereads a letter from a cloistered nun who claims she has received powerful visions from the Lord. In her letter she made a bold request, Jesus wants to consecrate the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pope Leo XII promised that if he pulled through the surgery, he would do just this, after prayer and consultation he made this consecration in 1899, 125 years ago this year. The consecration has been renewed every year by every pope since then, Pope Leo XII on the eve of the new century and by Pope John Paul II in 1999 on eve of the new millennium.

If you enter our own Sacred Heart Cathedral in Hamilton, you will see images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the left a side chapel devoted to Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Alacoque believed that in her apparitions Jesus promised twelve specific blessings to those who practice devotion to his Sacred Heart. These promises can be viewed in the side chapel.

If we look to number nine of the promises, I will bless those places wherein the image of My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated, this might explain why the image of the Sacred Heart was in so many homes in times gone by.

One thing has not changed, and that is the condition of the heart. It is seen as a centre of emotion, a place of prayer and decision. We listen from the heart and act from the heart. In 2024 we can look at our contemporary society and consider “where is the heart?” Pope Francis announced earlier this month that he is preparing to write a document dedicated to the devotion of the Sacred Heart to “illuminate the path of ecclesial renewal, but also to say something significant to a world that seems to have lost its heart.”

Pope Leo XII saw the beginning of a materialistic society in 1899 and wrote about this in the encyclical Rerum Novarum, On Human Labour. This groundbreaking document released during the height of the industrial revolution and child labour was the beginning of a list of church documents highlighting concerns for humanity and our world. These documents along with the wisdom from the Hebrew prophets and Jesus’ recorded actions form the foundations of the Catholic Social Teachings which are centred on the heart, love, mission and outreach.

Pope Leo’s act of consecration was pastoral and prophetic, he had a deep desire to entrust all of humanity to the Heart of Christ. This acts as a symbol for Jesus’ love for us, but also provides us with a reminder that we are called to love one another.  

Our next Formation Friday, 5 July will focus on relationships and the Trinity explored through the Divine Dance. To register and to find out what is happening in the library go to:


Image: Pastoral Placement Participants gather for formation on the first Friday of the month and visited the Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Follow on Facebook.