Sacred Heart of Jesus,
Unknown, cir. 18th c.

Translation of the Epistle for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Brethren, To me, the least of all the Saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God, who created all things: that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the Church, according to the eternal purpose which He made in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him. For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man, that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts: that, being rooted and grounded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the Saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth: to know also the charity of Christ which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.

Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to St. John

At that time: The Jews (because it was the Parasceve), that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day (for that was a great Sabbath day) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came: and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with Him. But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it hath given testimony: and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true, that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture might be fulfilled: You shall not break a bone of Him. And again another Scripture saith: They shall look on Him whom they pierced.

The Saving Words of the Gospel.

“They shall look upon Him whom they pierced.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Transcription of Audio

The Feast of the Sacred Heart is relatively new, if we look at the history of feast days throughout the liturgical calendar. This feast day is only about 300 years old, but the notion of devotion to the Heart of Christ is older than 300 years old. We see many allusions to the Heart of God in the Old Testament and in the New. It wasn’t readily accepted or even understood when it was first promoted. When it was sought to be presented as an official feast day of the Church, many, in very important places, didn’t accept it, didn’t understand it. Nonetheless, it’s real.

And it’s thanks to this humble, very penitential, and loving virgin, St. Margaret Mary Alacocque, that we have this feast. She was a recipient of extraordinary mystical graces throughout her entire life. She had about 40 different extraordinary mystical events in her life. The devotion, as we know it, of the Sacred Heart, though, is really taken from three of those apparitions of Our Lord to her. Sometimes she saw Him, sometimes she just heard Him, and the Church is mostly concerned with the three visions that she had, and they were always intrinsically united to the Eucharist. Twice it was in Adoration when the Eucharist was exposed in a monstrance, and the third apparition that interests us was at the Consecration in Mass.

The first was on December 27th, the Feast of St. John, 1673, and in it, Our Lord opens up His breast and reveals to this nun, His Heart. And then, He reaches into her chest cavity, takes out her heart, and put it in [His]. And she says that my heart looked like a tiny atom in comparison to His Heart. And then He took her heart out of His own, gave it back to her, sealed the wound that he had reached into, and said that, “I’m sealing the wound, but you’ll continue to feel the pain of this for the rest of your life.” Which she did. That was a form of a stigmata, that she had an invisible stigmata, that He allowed His chosen one to experience. These three apparitions were over the period of about 18 months.

The second one was on the Feast of the Visitation, July 2nd, 1674. And again, His Heart is revealed to her, and this time as a furnace in flames to reveal His love for the world. He called His own Heart a treasure of love, mercy, grace, sanctification, and salvation. In all of these things, he said, “Will be poured out upon those who honor the image of My Heart in their homes.” So now we start to see that this is going in the direction of a very concrete practice; that He wants His Sacred Heart to be displayed in homes, we call it an Enthronement of the Sacred Heart, so that He would receive a certain honor.

The third time He appeared is in July 1674, and He revealed His five wounds that she said that were brighter than any sun, and flames pouring forth from His Heart. And He grieved, saying these really very bittersweet words, “Behold this Heart, which is so loved men, that it spared nothing, even going so far as to exhaust and consume Itself, to prove to them His love. And in return, I receive from the greater part of men nothing but ingratitude, contempt, irreverence, sacrilegious, and coldness with which they treat Me in this sacrament of love.” And then He goes on to say as if that weren’t sad enough, He goes on to say, “But what is still more painful to Me is that even souls consecrated to Me are acting in this way. Therefore, I ask you that the First Friday, after the Octave of Corpus Christi, be dedicated as a feast in honor of My Heart. And it’s meant to be made as an act of reparation, offered to It by the reception of Holy Communion on that day,” [Now remember too that this was a time when reception of Holy Communion was not a very frequent thing.] “to atone for the outrages It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars. I promise to you that My Heart will open wide and pour forth lavishly the influence of His divine love on all who render and procure for Its honor.”

So, we have this mystery of a God who suffers. We are perhaps a little too used to seeing images of Our Lord on the Cross, and we can become almost callous to that. We can think that His suffering is over, and we would be wrong; as he says to Saint Margaret Mary, that he still grieves in heaven. This is the difference between what’s called intrinsic sorrow and extrinsic sorrow. So, He has an intrinsic joy that’s impassable, unflappable, it can’t change, it’s immutable, but there’s an extrinsic joy and an extrinsic sorrow that is joined to it that we are the cause of. We’re the cause of joys or sorrows according to our choices.

Now when He spoke of these things that were grieving His Heart, it’s helpful to understand the historical context of what was going on in the Church at the time of these apparitions. There was a double heresy of Jansenism. I say double heresy because, on one hand, they appropriated some notions of Calvinism. So, it became kind of like a Catholic form of Calvinism; that God created some men for perdition. They were created to be damned. That’s what Calvin taught, and that’s what the Jansenists believed. But the Jansenists had another problem, not just that, and this was that only those who are perfectly holy may receive communion.

And there was a follower of Jansen, who published a book that was very widely read, and it exhausted the editions quickly. And so, this was a book that was spreading throughout France, and then in the Low Countries, and in Germany, discouraging Catholics from communion because you’re not perfect yet. Only the perfect may receive the bread of heaven. And so, all of a sudden, pastors are seeing nobody’s coming for communion, not even on Easter or around Easter. And so, people weren’t even fulfilling their Easter duty, because of this inherent scrupulosity, when Our Lord is saying, “Come to me,” what Our Lord was seeking. So, that’s part of the context.

Another context of this is sadly, and this is not very widely known, this was the time that the first Black Masses using the Roman Missal were starting to be offered, and this was in very high places. For example, in the court of King Louis the 14th, he had priests, Catholic ordained priests, who were also satanists. And so, that is that’s the sacrileges that He refers to because they would take the Hosts from Mass in the morning and do Black Masses at night. And so, this is the context of the apparition of the Sacred Heart and He wanted – notice Our Lord loves to use human instruments – and so, He wants to use this nun, who’s a cloistered nun, as an instrument to tell the whole world about the greatness of His love about His mercy.

And in fact, she was instructed to go to King Louis XIV, who at that time was the most powerful king in Europe, who had the most populous country, and therefore the most powerful army in Europe. And she went to him, and Our Lord told her, “Tell him I want him to consecrate France to My Secret Heart.” He listened to this nun and then met with his advisors, and his advisors said, ‘Well, what if you do that and things don’t go well for us?’ So, there was this inherent distrust. And so, he opted not to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart. 

And of course, after that came the War of Spanish Succession, and all sorts of disasters, and then the French Revolution. We see something similar with Fatima when, you know, Pius XI didn’t consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart, in union with all of the bishops, as he was asked to do.

And we can spend, and waste, a lot of time thinking, “What if? What if? What if?” And that goes nowhere. And in fact, I find sometimes that this “what if” is a distraction from focusing on what really matters, which is the message of the Sacred Heart, and what He’s asking of each of us, which is to spend a Holy Hour with Him, to observe the First Fridays, to have an image of the Sacred Heart enthroned in our houses, to do penance, to make reparation, to fast, and to pray. It’s very easy to complain about the situation of the world and the Church as a certain way of avoiding our own spiritual responsibilities. I think we could also make another similar mistake and say, “What if I had been more generous? What if I had obeyed Our Lord when He asked me to do this or did that?” And that goes nowhere either. We focus on now. “What are you asking of me, now?”

This fidelity to grace, this absolute obedience to whatever it is He’s asking of us, that’s all that ought to concern us. We ought to be neurotic about the will of God, now. Not yesterday. What I did wrong, that’s in Our Lord’s Heart. We’ve confessed it. It’s done. It’s not ours to reconsider. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. Now. That’s all that matters. What are You asking of me now? And when we come up with what we ought to be doing for Our Lord, He gives us those very concrete, practical steps. The Holy Hour, He said, ideally between eleven and midnight on the eve of a First Friday. We can certainly do more than that. He asks for the Nine First Fridays. He asks for the Image. He asks for prayers, reparation, and thanksgiving.

And then, He promises us that, “For those of you who honor My Sacred Heart as I ask,” He says, “I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life. I will establish peace in their families. I will bless every home in which My Image, the image of My Heart, is exposed in honor. I will console them in all their difficulties. I will be their refuge during life and especially at the hour of death. I will shower an abundant blessing upon all their undertakings. Sinners shall find My Heart a fountain of boundless ocean of mercy. Tepid souls shall become fervent. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection. I will give to priests the power of touching the hardest hearts. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their name written in My Heart never to be blotted out. I promise you, in the excess of My mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all who communicate on the First Friday of the month for nine consecutive months the grace of final penitence. They shall not die in My displeasure, nor without their last sacraments, My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost.

— Fr. Ermatinger