The Sacred Heart of Jesus
June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Catholic Church. Images of Jesus bearing His heart are woven throughout Catholic homes and churches, but I never fully understood the symbolism and the history behind the imagery. With the birth of our newest little fella, I have found that the late-night hours of nursing have provided great opportunities for me to dive into our faith and research our traditions. Although I am sure it’s more eloquently written somewhere else, this is the gist of what I found and a good backdrop to the first of many in my new Prayer Space Art collection, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Saccratissimum Cor Iesu in Latin) is one of the most widely practiced devotions in the Catholic faith. As early as the 2nd century and into the 7th century with Pope Gregory the Great, writers focused on the pierced side of Christ as the source of all graces which flow to mankind. The blood and water from the side of Christ represented the sacraments of the Church. In the 12th century, focus and dialogue on the imagery changed from one representing the sacraments to one that depicted Jesus’ Divine Love for all of humankind. Religious communities, particularly in France, placed emphasis on private devotion to the Sacred Heart. However, it was St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun in the 17th century who promoted the public devotion as we know it today.
St. Margaret Mary reported visions of Christ throughout her life. These visions revealed what has become our modern understanding of devotion to the Sacred Heart, including: reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month, Eucharistic Adoration in a “Holy Hour” each Thursday, and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart. In one of her visions, Christ asked St Margaret Mary to request that the Feast of the Sacred Heart be celebrated on the Friday after the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi, in reparation for the lack of mankind’s gratitude given for the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross. After St. Margaret Mary’s death in 1690, it took 75 years for the devotion to become a public devotion in France and nearly 100 more years before it became an official feast of the universal Church in 1856.
The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is associated with two liturgical celebrations, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (celebrated the third Friday after Pentecost) and the feast day of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque celebrated on October 16th. It is a symbolic representation of the physical heart of Jesus and has a wound of the spear that pierced His side. The Crown of Thorns, placed upon Jesus’ head prior to His crucifixion encircles His heart, signifying the painful gouging of our sins upon Him. A cross, symbolic of His brutal crucifixion, surmounts the top but is dwarfed in size by His heart. For, it is through his inexhaustible love for mankind, that the Cross was given meaning. Tongues of fire lick at the feet of the Cross, beckoning a biblical connection to Old Testament sacrifices but now in the New Testament, with Jesus, the Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins. Finally, beams of light shoot forth from His heart, symbolizing Jesus’ love for all of humankind.