Continuing our review of the side altars and shrines of our church, we come to the altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This image of Jesus is in the same style as most of the statues in the church, which were presumably done by the same studio.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart has its roots in the Middle Ages, with Saints like St. Gertrude, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Lutgarde and St. Mechtilde. But this devotion really got going with St. Mary Margaret Alacoque (1647-1690). She was a French nun who had mystical apparitions of the Lord Jesus for a period of 18 months beginning in 1673. In these visions she received instructions to promote frequent reception of Holy Communion, especially on First Fridays, and Eucharistic devotion in a holy hour on Thursdays, meditating on the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane by Jesus.
Mary Margaret was aflame with love, and in her excessive zeal, cut the name of Jesus into her breast with a pocketknife, using the resultant blood to sign her testimony giving herself to Jesus.
In ther vision of Jesus on the Feast of Corpus Christi in1675, Jesus said to her (in French) "Behold the Heart that has so loved men. ...Instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of humankind) only ingratitude."
St. Mary Margaret’s writings and her devotions became very popular. This was during the height of Scholastic Theology, which was very formal and excessively dry and dull. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus responded to a need for the part of religion that speaks to the heart instead of to the head. It helped balance the overly intellectual approach to religion that was coming from universities and seminaries. In this it was a great gift to the Church.
The Feast of the Sacred Heart, which is a Solemnity on the Church calendar, takes place 19 days after Pentecost. Since Pentecost is always a Sunday, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus always falls on a Friday.
Jesus’ gift of Himself to us is His total self, including His feelings and emotions. The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus helps us to appropriate the emotional commitment of Jesus to all of us. He cares deeply and sincerely for every one of us. He is not only an effective Savior but an affective one as well.