Tuesday, January 07, 2020 - Updated: 12:50 pm
QUESTION: One of the most enduring memories I have of growing up Catholic was a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I now hear so little about it and I wonder why?
ANSWER: Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was indeed a mainstay in the devotional life of Catholics in the past century. The June consecration of families to the Sacred Heart was part of the devotional life of most parishes, and a picture of the Sacred Heart was found in most Catholic homes.
The history of this devotion seems to be rooted in the Scripture passage in which Jesus quotes the Old Testament and speaks of living waters flowing from within him (see John 7:37). This passage was amplified by the crucifixion narrative in which blood and water flowed from the side of Christ (see John 19:34).
Over the ages, personal devotion to the Sacred Heart was proposed by saints such as Anselm, Bernard, Bonaventure, Catherine of Siena, Francis de Sales and John Eudes as well as the Benedictines, Cistercians, Carthusians, Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits. No one was more forceful, however, than St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who had private revelations regarding the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
This long history of personal devotion culminated in the establishment of the feast of the Sacred Heart in the liturgical calendar for the universal church by Pope Pius IX in 1856. This papal encouragement was continued by Pope Pius XI and Pius XII, who both wrote encyclicals on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
All of this history provided a rich field that was employed to encourage Catholics to see in this devotion the love of God made manifest in the incarnation of Christ. God was, therefore, not abstract and distant, but so near to us as the love of Christ signified in devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Why was this devotion so popular in the earlier years of the past century? At that time, Communion was received very rarely. Even after the reforms begun by St. Pius X (concerning frequent Communion), during the first years of that century people often stayed away from the Eucharist out of a sense of devotion, reverence or awe. It is not difficult to see that for these people devotion to the Sacred Heart was the chief means by which God was seen as close to us.
It seems that as the more recent liturgical reforms began to take hold and frequent reception of Communion became more commonplace, some felt less of a need for devotion to the Sacred Heart.
This need not be the case. Devotion to the Sacred Heart complements and unfolds our belief in the Eucharist. The church’s liturgical books provide beautiful prayers from which we can continue the ancient devotion to the Sacred Heart. One need only look to the preface for the Mass of the Sacred Heart for an example: “Lifted high on the cross, Christ gave his life for us, so much did he love us. From his wounded side flowed blood and water, the foundation of sacramental life in the church. To his open heart the Savior invites all to draw water in joy from the springs of salvation.”
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.