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The Sacred Heart should be our rallying cry against secular society

Today’s feast is one of the most theologically profound of the year

By on Friday, 1 July 2011

A traditional representation of the Sacred Heart in stained glass (CNS photo)

A traditional representation of the Sacred Heart in stained glass (CNS photo)

The recent slew of feasts – Pentecost, Ascension, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, Ss Peter and Paul – has been a pleasant reminder to me of the continuing fecundity of the Catholic tradition. And it comes to a climax – at least this will be the last solemnity of the Lord until we reach the end of the liturgical year with Christ the King – with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart today, the second Friday after Pentecost.

The Sacred Heart to me represents one of the most important feasts of the year from a theological perspective. It is the feast of the flesh that was taken up by the Son of God. It is thus the feast of love made incarnate for us in the person of Our Lord. It is our way of celebrating what made the people of the Holy Land so happy during the earthly ministry of Jesus, namely, the presence of our loving Saviour among us.

As for the iconography of the Sacred Heart, it is important to realise that all crucifixes, in that they show the wounded side of Our Lord, are images of His Sacred Heart laid bare out of love.

The liturgy of the solemnity is particularly theologically profound. Consider the Preface:

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give You thanks
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lifted high on the cross,
Christ gave His life for us,
so much did He love us.
From His wounded side flowed blood and water,
the fountain of sacramental life in the Church.
To His open heart the Saviour invites all men
to draw water in joy from the springs of salvation.
Now, with all the saints and angels,
we praise you for ever: Holy, holy, holy Lord…

This has the merit of brevity and profundity. The Preface taken from the Missal of 1962 is rather more florid, but perhaps even more arresting. Here is an English translation of it, from a hand missal:

It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, that we should in all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, and everlasting God; who didst will that Thine only begotten Son should be pierced by the soldier’s lance as He hung upon the Cross: that from His opened heart, as from a sanctuary of divine bounty, might be poured out upon us streams of mercy and grace; and that in His heart always burning with love for us, the devout may find a haven of rest, and the penitent a refuge of salvation. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing: Holy, Holy, Holy…

There is far too much talk of God in the abstract, I find, these days, especially from unbelievers. But God is never in the abstract. He is a Person. Knowledge of God is best gleaned through the flesh of Jesus. The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is a good reminder that we should not let the enemies of religion set the agenda. They might want to talk about a God whom they do not believe in, but who we do not recognise either. We need to reply by talking about the God who is love, the Incarnate Son. Interestingly the Catholics who have most resisted deChristianisation – the brave folk of the Vendée and the Cristeros in Mexico – all took the Sacred Heart as their rallying cry. So should we.

  • Anonymous

    The Nine First Fridays

    Our Blessed Lord appeared to St Margaret Mary on many occasions. Four apparitions, known as the “Great Revelations” took place between 1673 and 1675. During these revelations, Our Blessed Lord requested the following:-

    The institution of a Holy Hour in memory of His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (St Margaret Mary was asked to do this from 11pm to midnight on Thursday nights; a practice we could imitate).

    A Communion of Reparation to be received on the First Friday of each month.

    A Feast in honour of His Sacred Heart, to be kept on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.

    Consecration to His Sacred Heart.

    Our Blessed Lord gave twelve promises to St Margaret Mary for souls who would practice devotion to His Sacred Heart:-

    1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.

    2. I will establish peace in their homes.

    3. I will console them in all their afflictions.

    4. I will be their secure refuge during life and especially at the hour of death.

    5. I shall bestow abundant blessings on all their undertakings.

    6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and ocean of infinite mercy.

    7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.

    8. Fervent souls shall rise rapidly to a high degree of perfection.

    9. I will bless every place where an image of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed and honoured.

    10. I will give to priests the power to touch the hardest hearts.

    11. Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.

    12. I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Communion on the First Friday of every month, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance, and that they shall not die without receiving the Sacraments, and that My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in that last moment.

    A concrete way in which to practise this devotion, can be found in the book “The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus” by Fr John Croiset SJ (TAN books ISBN 0-89555-334-1). The sleeve notes from the book state the following:- “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not “just another book on the Sacred Heart devotion”, but it can be truly said to be the book on this devotion. Written by the spiritual director of St Margaret Mary (1647-1690), the book comes from the pen of a man intimately familiar with every aspect of the revelations given by Our Lord to this famous saint; thus, the book is actually the “key” to understanding the importance and the centrality of the Sacred Heart devotion for our lives as true Catholics . . . Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was actually commissioned by Our Lord Himself through St Margaret Mary, and as the author neared completion of it, the Saint told him that Our Lord said it was so completely in accord with His wishes that it would never be necessary to make any change in it. Later she revealed to Fr Croiset that it was Our Lord Himself who had inspired him with the ideas in this book and that it was so pleasing to Him that “none other but Himself could have arranged everything so much to His wishes”.

  • Martin

    Or without lessening what you have written, a simple return to living the Christian Gospel would be just as nice. The results could be even greater!

  • Ratbag

    The Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of my all time favourite devotions. Pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus should be on the walls of every Roman Catholic home. I can’t imagine a home without His image of burning love, sacrifice and profound and tender consolation during difficult times and his joyful, loving heart during happy times in our lives.

    The Sacred Heart confounds atheists and secularists alike. All the more reason why we should have this image at home and in our wallets, purses and round our necks like lockets with pictures of loved ones.

    Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you – in all, for all and in spite of all. AMEN.

  • Anonymous

    “There is far too much talk of God in the abstract, I find, these days, especially from unbelievers.”  Oh Dear! Here we go again. Its always someone else’s fault isn’t it Father? I don’t suppose its ever occurred to you that an excessive reliance on kitsch, sentimental and peripheral devotions is ever an obstacle to faith? 

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    There is nothing kitsch, sentimental or peripheral about devotion to the Sacred Heart, as my post tried to convey. It is serious theology.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing kitsch???? But in any case it is perfectly possible to be a Christian and not endorse these kinds of devotion.

  • maryp

    Thank you for this wonderful post Father. Devotion to the Sacred Heart can be our greatest refuge and strength through life’s trials. The Pioneer Total Abstinence Society of the Sacred Heart are still active today. Their beautiful and practical prayer is as follows:

    For Thy greater glory and consolation, O Sacred Heart of Jesus. For Thy sake, to give good example, to practice self denial, to make reparation to Thee for the sins of intemperance and for the conversion of excessive drinkers, I will abstain for life from all intoxicating drinks.

    If you have a problem yourself or want to help someone who has, put your trust in the Sacred Heart. You will never be let down.

  • Nat_ons

    Sadly, yet typically, this all depends on the priests who are called and allotted to serve in the body of Christ, i.e. for us all; so re-Christianising the priesthood has to be the start. This is not a new understanding, anyone who recalls the heart-rending pleas and warnings in the later days of the Servant of God Fulton Sheen knows a turning back of priests and religious to the Cross, devotion to the Eucharistic Presence, and reparation before the Sacred Heart is necessary .. but almost unthinkable – not least today. It seems that many if not most priests, sisters and brothers – even lay ministers of the word or extra-ordinarily of the Eucharist – appear terrified of doing old-fashioned, orthodox religious things in private devotion and public lead; the scandal of violence, repression, immorality in boarding schools and borstals run by the church has simply added fear to the general retreat from, or secularisation of, the gospel life among the presbyterate and their assistant ministries: one that is Christ, all Christ, and always Christ, irrespective of the cost.

    The thoughts of his Heart are from generation to generation: To deliver their souls from death, and feed them in famine.

    Touch our hearts so cold and so ungrateful ..

    God bless, Nat.