Devotion to the heart pierced on Calvary is nearly as old as Christianity, but it has undergone many changes over the centuries.
Patristic writers saw in the blood and water issuing from the crucified Lord’s side (John 19:34) the fulfillment of his promise to give living water (John 4:13–14; 7:37), the fountain from which the Spirit flows upon the Church. Medieval piety placed less emphasis on Jesus’s heart as the source of grace and moved toward more personal and sentimental devotion.
The public cult celebrated today began in the seventeenth century, when Saint John Eudes (August 19) pressed for a liturgy (Mass and Office) of the Sacred Heart. Toward the end of that century, Saint Mary Margaret Alacoque (October 16) received visions of the Lord exposing his heart and urging public devotion. Her apparitions gave impetus to the devotion and shape to its purpose: to promote greater use of the sacrament of penance to offset indifference to the Blessed Sacrament.
Pius VI saw the devotion as a means of refuting Jansenism, which rejected the doctrine that Christ died for all people. Clement XIII first granted the petition for a liturgical observance to the Polish bishops and the Roman Archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart in 1765. Pius IX extended the observance to the universal Church in 1856 and, late in the nineteenth century, Leo XIII raised its rank to a feast.
Popular devotion includes the nine First Fridays and the enthronement of an image of the Sacred Heart in homes as a sign that love is the Christian way of life.
A Jewish midrash on the Exodus account of Moses’s encounter with God compares the burning bush to the human heart: the only created thing which can burn without being consumed. Yet nothing seems to be harder for human beings to believe in than unconditional love—love that is neither deserved nor earned. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, aflame with an unquenchable fire, stands today against lingering traces of Jansenism as a powerful symbol of Christ’s unquenchable love for the whole human race.
The Sacred Heart is the patron saint of: