The Catholic Church has upheld the Sacred Heart of Jesus for a long time, and it’s as relevant now as ever, writes Jason Osborne
The month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was, and remains, one of the most widespread and popular devotions in the Church. In this hectic, scattered age, it’s all too easy to let these liturgical markers pass you by. Still engaging with a much-altered public worship in the midst of the age of Covid, we could be excused for allowing important events in the Church’s calendar fly over our heads.
However, it is to our benefit to pay attention and to engage with these great celebrations. Understood in the light of Scripture, the “heart” refers to the totality of our being, what is most essential to us. Following on from this, we see that remembering the Sacred Heart means remembering what is most important about Christ – the fully divine, fully human heart with which he loves us. Nowhere else in the world is a message like this to be found.
The dedication of the month of June to the Sacred Heart is intended to order our minds towards the person of Christ in his full humanity, his full divinity, the totality of his mystery. To fully appreciate it, however, we should be aware of the basis upon which the devotion rests.
Scriptural basis for the devotion
Jesus revealed his heart to the world during his life and continues to do so today through his Church. Fortunately for us, whatever God thought pertinent to our spiritual wellbeing was recorded in Scripture that we might come to know and love him more deeply through our engagement with it.
Christ reveals who he is and what he’s like in everything he does, but a couple of passages that point specifically to this include Christ’s identification of himself with the Father (John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one”) and his revelation of himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
However, the deepest understanding of the basis of devotion to the Sacred Heart in Scripture is that it’s an imitation of the Christians who stood at the foot of the cross and saw Christ’s heart pour itself forth from the cross (John 19:34). To participate in devotion to the Sacred Heart is to join in the gaze of those who stood at the foot of the cross and watched as a lance pierced Christ’s heart, which poured forth blood and water, symbols of the “wondrous sacrament of the Church” as St Augustine puts it.
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy tells us that Augustine further said: “Access is possible: Christ is the door. It was opened for you when his side was opened by the lance. Remember what flowed out from his side: thus, choose where you want to enter Christ. From the side of Christ as he hung dying upon the Cross there flowed out blood and water, when it was pierced by a lance. Your purification is in that water, your redemption is in that blood.”
As such, Christ’s invitation to St Thomas to put his hand in his side has always been understood too as a basis for the Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart”
The depiction of the Sacred Heart in iconography and art always sees Christ’s heart on the outside, and wounded. Following his death on the cross, Jesus’ heart was understood as being on display for all to see, wounded and yet inviting. As such, Christ’s invitation to St Thomas to put his hand in his side has always been understood too as a basis for the Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart.
The popes and devotion to the Sacred Heart
Pope Clement XIII approved the feast of the Sacred Heart in select dioceses in 1765, and this was extended to the entire Church by Pope Pius IX in 1856. In 1889, Pope Leo XIII elevated the feast to the rank of first class, before dedicating the entirety of the Catholic world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by an encyclical letter in 1899.
More recently, St Pope John Paul II drew attention to the Sacred Heart, referencing it as a key part of his hopes for the “new evangelisation” the Church required.
He said that for evangelisation in the modern world, “the heart of Christ must be recognised as the heart of the Church”.
“It is he who calls us to conversion, to reconciliation. It is he who leads pure hearts and those hungering for justice along the way of the Beatitudes,” the pope said.
“It is he who achieves the warm communion of the members of the one body. It is he who enables us to adhere to the Good News and to accept the promise of eternal life. It is he who sends us out on mission. The heart-to-heart with Jesus broadens the human heart on a global scale.”
The Sacred Heart and spirituality
So those are some of the bases of the devotion to the Sacred Heart in both Scripture and from the popes, but what about the devotion itself? What does that consist of? A number of practices traditionally, all with the intention of bringing you into closer relationship with the heart of Jesus Christ.
The depth and breadth of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is there to be explored for Catholics who want to renew and rejuvenate their relationship with Christ with what remains of the month”
As mentioned, a number of practices or devotions to the Sacred Heart exist, with some explicitly approved and recommended by the Vatican. These include:
– Personal consecration
– Family consecration
– Litany to the Sacred Heart
– The act of reparation to the Sacred Heart
– The practice of the first Fridays
Devotion to the Sacred Heart in modern times has been popularly linked to the “twelve promises” of Jesus to St Margaret Mary Alacoque, the French nun who promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart following visions of Jesus and his heart.
The depth and breadth of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is there to be explored for Catholics who want to renew and rejuvenate their relationship with Christ with what remains of the month.