Just as the month of May is dedicated to Our Lady, that of June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Devotion to the Sacred Heart accompanies the spiritual life of every Catholic, and every year, in the month of June, it must be renewed, nourished, deepened. Nourishing and deepening a devotion means not limiting oneself to its sentimental aspect, although this too is important, because all true devotion comes from the heart, but also using reason to reflect on its nature and meaning. In the case of devotion to the Sacred Heart, this can be done by rereading three encyclicals, written by three different popes, dedicated to the Sacred Heart.
The first is Leo XIII’s encyclical Annum Sacrum (25 May 1899), in which the pope exhorts men, families and peoples to consecrate themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as a remedy for the evils that afflict humanity.
“We have gone astray, and we must return to the right path; darkness has overshadowed our minds, and the gloom must be dispelled by the light of truth; death has seized upon us, and we must lay hold of life. It will at length be possible that our many wounds be healed and all justice spring forth again with the hope of restored authority; that the splendours of peace be renewed, and swords and arms drop from the hand when all men shall acknowledge the empire of Christ and willingly obey His word, and ‘Every tongue shall confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father’ (Phil 2:11).”
The second encyclical is Pope Pius XI’s Miserentissimus Redemptor (8 May 1928), in which the pope adds to the consecration to the Sacred Heart, by which we offer ourselves to God and become sacred to Him, the need for acts of expiation and reparation for sins that we and others have committed.
“We are holden to the duty of reparation and expiation by a certain more valid title of justice and of love: of justice indeed, in order that the offence offered to God by our sins may be expiated and that the violated order may be repaired by penance…. Moreover, this duty of expiation is laid upon the whole race of men.”
The third encyclical is Pius XII’s Haurietis Aquas (15 May 1956), in which the pope asserts that one must not suppose that devotion to the Sacred Heart appeared almost abruptly in the life of the Church:
“It is clear that the revelations made to St Margaret Mary brought nothing new into Catholic doctrine. Their importance lay in this: that Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation, Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time, He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.”
Speaking at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran on 2 June 2016, Pope Francis advised the bishops and priests listening to him to reread Pius XII’s encyclical Haurietis Aquas: “I remember when Pius XII completed his encyclical on the Sacred Heart”, Pope Bergoglio said, “someone commented, ‘Why an encyclical on this? This is for religious sisters.’” Instead, he added, “we would do well to read it” even if some will say “it is pre-conciliar”. This also applies to the other two encyclicals, by Leo XIII and Pius XI, which we would do well to read again, even if some might say that they are “pre-conciliar”.
But in recalling the devotion to the Sacred Heart, how can one not associate it with that to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the creature who, more perfectly than any other, understood and loved the Divine Redeemer?
The prayer that the angel taught to the three little shepherds of Fatima in the autumn of 1916, before the apparitions of Our Lady began on 13 May 1917, goes as follows:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which He is so much offended. And, through the infinite merits of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners”.
It is a deeply theological prayer, which opens with an act of adoration to the Holy Trinity, recalling the first mystery of Christianity: one sole God in three divine persons. The act of adoration is the most perfect that any Catholic can perform because, in this act, we recognise our own nothingness and the totality of God, our complete dependence on God, to whom we owe everything. The prayer of the angel invites us to ally ourselves with the priest who, in renewing the Sacrifice of the Altar, offers the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, which is present not only at the moment of the Eucharistic consecration but in all tabernacles of the world in which the consecrated Host is reserved. How can we not see in this a most timely invitation to Eucharistic adoration, before the tabernacles nowadays abandoned and profoundly offended by outrages, sacrileges and indifference?
Profoundly theological, finally, is the distinction between the infinite merits of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which are however inseparably united by a single fire of love. For this reason, Pius XII writes in Haurietis Aquas:
“In order that favours in greater abundance may flow on all Christians, nay, on the whole human race, from the devotion to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, let the faithful see to it that, to this devotion, the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God is closely joined. For, by God’s Will, in carrying out the work of human Redemption the Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably linked with Christ… It is, then, entirely fitting that the Christian people — who received the divine life from Christ through Mary — after they have paid their debt of honour to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, should also offer to the most loving Heart of their heavenly Mother the corresponding acts of piety, affection, gratitude and expiation”.
Through the infinite merits of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, let us therefore ask for the conversion of poor sinners, which is the conversion of all humanity, but first of all, our own conversion.