Posted by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan + J.M.J.
This month the Church is the scene for varied celebrations: ordinations, weddings, graduations. With so many festive occasions, it is easy to forget the traditional dedication of June to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Solemnity of which is commemorated this year on June 15th.
As is well known, the decades after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965) witnessed the decline of long-standing devotional practices, including that to the Most Sacred Heart. What was once held dear was often considered expendable and unenlightened. From the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to the nine First Fridays to the five First Saturdays, private devotions fell into disuse, and in some quarters were openly scorned.
Recently, however, Catholic devotional practices have begun to blossom. Parishes throughout the United States have blown the dust off monstrances and reinstated Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The Litany of the Sacred Heart is recited after Holy Mass in an increasing number of churches. Personal devotions no longer seem to be considered “embarrassing” as they were not long ago.
Yet, much remains to be done to ensure that pious practices dedicated to the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Angels and the Saints continue to be fostered and respected. There still exists among priests, Religious and laity the unfortunate misunderstanding that personal devotions are in opposition to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
It is as if one cannot truly love the Eucharistic Liturgy and at the same time be concerned about the Church-approved revelations of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary, the Church-sanctioned apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, and other private revelations which enjoy ecclesiastical approbation.
The Servant of God Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), in his 1956 encyclical entitled On Devotion to the Sacred Heart (Haurietis Aquas), reminded the Faithful that devotion to the Sacred Heart, far from being “optional,” is necessary and rests on “solid foundations”: Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and theologians. All three proclaim that the Heart of Christ “is the natural sign and symbol of His boundless love for the human race.”
The Sovereign Pontiff quotes his predecessor Pope Leo XIII: “In the Sacred Heart there is the symbol and the express image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love in return.”
Those who contend that private devotions detract from the centrality of the Mass would do well to meditate upon Pius’ assertion: “One may affirm that the divine Eucharist, both as a sacrament and a sacrifice—the one He bestowed on men, the other He Himself continually offers ‘from the rising of the sun even to the going down’—and the Priesthood, are really gifts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
The same Jesus who bestows His Sacred Body and Precious Blood upon His friends is the possessor of the Heart “which has loved so much but has been loved so little in return.”
Perhaps one of the reasons for the current revival of private devotions is the realization that personal piety can enhance one’s participation in the Mass. To reflect privately upon the riches of the Sacred Heart leads to a greater consciousness of the splendor of the Holy Eucharist. When one adores the Heart of Christ outside the celebration of the Eucharist, one will be better prepared to participate with deeper fervor and awareness within the Sacred Liturgy.
God’s gifts to His people are many. The bestowal of the Lord’s love upon His Church—as exemplified in the image of the Sacred Heart—is proof that Christ calls all to love as He Himself loved.
This June, as always, the Faithful look to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus because, as Pope Pius wrote quoting Pope Leo XIII, “in It man’s salvation must be sought and looked for.”
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!
(This article, which has been edited slightly, originally appeared on page four in the June 16, 1991 issue of the National Catholic Register and is used with permission.)