Devotion to the Sacred Heart can be traced back to the Last Supper, when Jesus allowed John to rest his head upon his chest. In 14th century St Gertrude had a similar grace. Jesus appeared to her on the feast day of St John the Evangelist and allowed her to rest her head near the wound in his side. She later asked St John why he never mentioned in his Gospel anything about the wonder and delight of hearing God’s human heartbeat. St John replied that it was because it would be reserved until a time when men’s love for God had grown cold and in need of rekindling. (1) This certainly is such a time in our current American culture.
The actual feast of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is a relatively more recent development in our liturgical calendar. In 1670, a French priest, Fr. Jean Eudes, celebrated the first Feast of the Sacred Heart. This was right before the visions of St. Margaret Mary of the Sacred Heart from 1673 to 1675. In 1675, during the octave of Corpus Christi, Margaret Mary received the vision which came to be known as the “great apparition.” Jesus asked that the modern Feast of the Sacred Heart be celebrated each year on the Friday following Corpus Christi, in reparation for the ingratitude of men for the sacrifice which Christ had made for them. However, because the Church is always careful in approving a private apparition, the feast was not established as an official feast for all of France until 1765. (2)
Almost 100 years later, in 1856, Pope Pius IX, at the request of the French bishops, extended the feast to the universal Church. It is celebrated on the day requested by our Lord—the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi (the feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, but has been transferred to the Sunday following Trinity Sunday, in the United States), or 19 days after Pentecost Sunday. The Sacred Heart of Jesus represents not simply His physical heart but His love for all mankind (3).
As we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus this Friday, June 28th, let us meditate on the wisdom of Pope Benedict the XVI, who stated on this feast day in 2005: “In biblical language, “heart” indicates the center of the person where his sentiments and intentions
4 Benedict XVI, Angelus 5 June 2005