FRIDAY, JUNE 15: Most Christians can likely visualize today’s devotion, as depicted in countless works of art—Jesus’ heart flaming with divine light, pierced by a lance and topped with a crown of thorns—and today, many Christians around the world will enthrone that Sacred Heart of Jesus. This fairly new addition to the Roman Catholic calendar has only been observed 1856, yet many of its adherents swear by it: even modern families attest that by placing a picture of the Sacred Heart on a mantle or central shelf, peace enters the household. (Get more ideas from the National Catholic Register.) According to a popular Catholic tradition: By placing the heart of empathy, unconditional love and long-term suffering in the center of one’s life, he or she will be brought the 12 promised blessings revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. These blessings include grace, consolation and mercy. The final blessing involves love granted to those who receive Communion on the first Friday of the month; as a result, many Catholics who practice Sacred Heart devotion make special effort to attend Mass on the first Friday of each month. (Learn more from FishEaters, a Catholic site.)
A form of devotion to Jesus’ love isn’t new—it’s been around since the time of John the Evangelist and Paul of Tarsus. Yet it wasn’t until the 16th century that this practice took hold in a new way in Christian asceticism. A collection of prayers and exercises accompanied the devotion to the Sacred Heart. (Pray a Novena, courtesy of the Global Catholic Network.)
Another turningpoint came in the life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th-century nun who received numerous visions of Jesus. St. Margaret Mary—who unlikely had practiced any such devotions prior—claimed that the apparitions encouraged her to promote widespread devotion of Jesus’ Sacred Heart. (Wikipedia has details.) Finally, St. Margaret Mary told her confessor, Fr. Claude de la Colombiere, of the visions, and he circulated the account she had written of the “great apparition.” Even after her death, the devotion that St. Margaret Mary had popularized was spreading like wildfire.
As recently as 2006, Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter to Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach of the Society of Jesus about the Sacred Heart, reaffirming the necessity of its devotion. Many Catholics also recognize the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary—a term coined by Pope John Paul II in 1985. John Paul II had a deep devotion to Mary and many Catholics do believe that they are assisted in reaching Jesus’ heart by invoking the compassionate heart of Mary, the one who knows Him best. The Society of the Sacred Heart, established in 1800, still functions as a Roman Catholic congregation in 45 countries.