Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is popularly associated with St. Margaret Mary Alocoque, a nun of the Visitation Order who during the years 1673-1675 who received a number of private revelations through which Our Lord chose to reveal His Most Sacred Heart to the world. ‘My divine Heart is so inflamed with love for mankind … that it can no longer contain within itself the flames of its burning charity and must spread them abroad by your means.’ In the course of these apparitions Our Lord had St. Margaret Mary ask that a Feast in honour of His Sacred Heart be offered to Him by the Church on the Friday after the Solemnity of Corpus Christi; that the King consecrate France to the Sacred Heart, and that the mission of propagating the devotion be entrusted to the Order of the Visitation, as well as the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuit Order. St. Margaret Mary was assisted by St. Claude de la Colombière, a Jesuit priest who was her spiritual director. From Paray-le-Monial, the site of the apparitions, the devotion has spread throughout the world; and since then, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has been a source of strength and consolation especially in times of persecution. As with hope we look to an end to the lockdown measures that have caused so much harm to society and to the practice of the faith, especially as it concerns the celebration and reception of the sacraments, this devotion can serve as a source of renewal of faith and life to God’s glory and the salvation of souls.
The Nine First Fridays Devotion is by far the most common expression of devotion to the Sacred Heart. In the course of His apparitions to St. Margaret Mary, Our Lord made twelve promises to those who practise this devotion. The last of these promises states: ‘I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that its all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on nine first Fridays of consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they will not die under my displeasure or without receiving their sacraments, my divine Heart making itself their assured refuge at the last moment’. In addition to Holy Mass and Communion, the faithful who observe this devotion also participate in a Holy Hour of Reparation and Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in their homes.
Sadly, as with many other traditional practices, this devotion was eclipsed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. As with many post-conciliar developments that contradicted the very texts of the Council’s documents, it may come as a surprise to many that in 1965, as the Council was coming to a close, Pope Paul VI exhorted the Catholic faithful to deeper devotion to the Sacred Heart: This, therefore, seems to us to be the most suitable ideal: that devotion to the Sacred Heart which, we say it sadly, has declined somewhat in some, now re-flourish daily more and more, and be esteemed by all as an excellent and acceptable form of true piety, which, in our times, especially because of the norms laid down in the Second Vatican Council, is strongly called for toward Christ Jesus, the king and center of all hearts… We especially desire … that through a more intense participation in the august Sacrament of the Altar, a greater devotion be given to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose outstanding gift is the Eucharist” (Pope Paul VI, Investigabiles Christi, Feb. 6, 1965). Near the very end of his turbulent pontificate, on October 13, 1977, on the 60th anniversary of the apparitions, Pope Paul VI observed: The tail of the devil is functioning in the disintegration of the Catholic World. The darkness of satan has entered and spread throughout the Catholic Church even to its summit. Apostasy, the loss of the faith, is spreading throughout the world and into the highest levels within the Church. These are very sobering words spoken by a pope. A few years earlier, he had made an even more sobering, often-quoted observation: We believed that after the Council would come a day of sunshine in the history of the Church. But instead there has come a day of clouds and storms and of darkness of searching and uncertainties…It is as if from some mysterious crack, no it is not mysterious, from some crack the smoke of satan has entered the temple of God (Sermon of June 29, 1972).