The month of June is traditionally dedicated to Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart.
Evidence of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is found in the writings of the Fathers of the Church including Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Hippolytus of Rome and Cyprian of Carthage. St. Justin Martyr, whose memorial we celebrated on the first day of this month, wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho “We the Christians are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of his heart as from a rock.” In his famous Adversus Haereses, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, our newest Doctor of the Church, wrote, “The Church is the fountain of the living water that flows to use from the Heart of Christ.” Both of these men wrote in the second century and Irenaeus himself was a student of St. Polycarp, who himself had been a disciple of St. John the Evangelist himself, who recorded in his Gospel that at the Crucifixion, “One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth” (19:34-35) This is St. John’s way of saying that he was present at the Crucifixion and witnessed St. Longinus pierce the side of Our Lord and blood and water flowing out.
Apparitions to St. Margaret Mary
This spear thrust caused one of the Five Wounds of Our Lord (the others being the nails in his hands and feet) and devotion to the Sacred Heart naturally grew out of this devotion. In 1353, Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart but there was no liturgical feast. Starting in December of 1673, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque received a series of apparitions, in which Our Lord revealed His Sacred Heart to her and asked that she spread devotion to it, promising certain favors to those who heeded her message. In these visions Our Lord said to her, “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love.” One thing Our Lord requested was the establishment of a new feast dedicated to His Sacred Heart, on the day after the Octave of Corpus Christi. This year, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart falls on June 24.
The Sacred Heart and Corpus Christi
The connection between the two feasts is profound. In the first recorded Eucharistic miracle, when the bread and wine were transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ, they did not retain the appearance of bread and wine, but of flesh and blood. Although this occurred 12 centuries ago, they were preserved and subjected to scientific analysis in the 20th century. The flesh was found to be cardiac tissue. In other words, the Eucharist is literally the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This miracle occurred in the town of Lanciano, Italy. Since Corpus Christi traditionally fell on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart always falls on a Friday.
In addition to His request for a feast, Our Lord asked that the First Friday of every month be devoted in a special way to His Sacred Heart. The most likely historical date for Our Lord’s Crucifixion, the day on which His heart was pierced, is April 3, A.D. 33, which was a First Friday. Our Lord made the following twelve promises to those who would devoutly make reparation to His Sacred Heart by attending Mass, receiving communion and (if necessary) going to confession on the first Friday of nine consecutive months:
1. I will give them all of the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will establish peace in their homes.
3. I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
4. I will be their strength during life and above all during death.
5. I will bestow a large blessing upon all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall grow fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
9. I will bless every place where a picture of my heart shall be set up and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened 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 all to those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment
Christ the King and the King of France
After the death of St. Margaret Mary in 1690, the devotion grew in popularity until it was established as a feast in the whole of France in 1765. Unfortunately, Our Lord had made another request that was left unheeded: the consecration of France to His Sacred Heart by the King, then Louis XIV. The Sun-King ignored the request of God the Son, King of the Universe and exactly one hundred years later, on June 17, 1789, the Legislative Assembly stripped his great-great-great-grandson Louis XVI of his power, essentially abolishing the monarchy. This was the first in a series of events that would ultimately culminate in the execution of the King and the plunging of France into the anti-Catholic Red Terror.
Papal Support and Expansion of the Feast
In 1856, Bl. Pope Pius IX extended the feast of the Sacred Heart to the whole Church, according to the request of Our Lord. It was his successor, Leo XIII, however; who truly did the most to propagate devotion to Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. In 1897, he added the invocation “Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart” to the Divine Praises, usually prayed as part of Eucharistic Benediction. Two years later, in 1899, he approved the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for public use and issued the encyclical Annum Sacrum in which he called for the whole world to be consecrated to the Sacred Heart with a prayer that the Pope himself had written. Leo XIII is the same Pope who wrote the Prayer to St. Michael and ordered that it be recited at the end of each Mass. In the current Roman Calendar, the Sacred Heart is a Solemnity, the highest rank of litugical celebration.