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Sacred Heart of Jesus painting

The History of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Devotion, Part One

Jun 14, 2012 By Gretchen Filz

The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the most popular Catholic devotions. Many are familiar with the story of Jesus appearing to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to request a special devotion to his Sacred Heart, and how it was later instituted as a feast day for the universal Church. But there is so much more to the Sacred Heart devotion than is commonly known.

The Divine Mercy, the feast of Corpus Christi and the Eucharist, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are all marvelously interconnected.  Providentially, they are also back to back feasts on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. The depths of these mysteries can only be plunged in heaven. However, this article will attempt to skim the surface of these mysteries just a bit, so that you can appreciate this special devotion in a deeper way this weekend.


The Very Interesting History of the Sacred Heart Devotion

The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has its roots all the way back to the time of the Apostles, and arguably even before this in the Song of Songs penned by Solomon. St. John the Evangelist is the Apostle associated with the Sacred Heart devotion because, one, he was known as the disciple whom Jesus loved; two, he was called the “Apostle of Love” due to the theme of love repeated in his Gospel and epistles; and three, because he had the special privilege of reclining on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper (the significance of which will be discussed below).

In the Middle Ages the heart of Jesus became a specific object of adoration as the center and wellspring of Jesus' passionate and infinite love for us. The Sacred Heart also represented the woundedness of Jesus' heart, both the physical wound incurred to his physical heart on the cross (by the centurion's spear), and the spiritual wound of a love so great that he gave up his life because of it, even while his love is scorned by those for whom it was generously given.

This dual yet united aspect of the Sacred Heart, both passionately loving and being painfully wounded by love, is clearly seen in a mystical text entitled “Vitis mystica” that is attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. A quote from this text reads,

They dug therefore, and they dug through not only His hands, but also His feet, yea, and His side also; and the very recesses of His most sacred Heart, they pierced with the spear of rage, though it had already been wounded with the spear of love. 'Thou hast wounded,' says the Spouse in the Canticles of love, "thou hast wounded my Heart, my sister, my spouse.' O Lord Jesus, Thy spouse, Thy love, Thy sister has wounded Thy Heart. Why then was it necessary that that Heart should be wounded further by Thine enemies?”

A devotion to the Sacred Heart was thus twofold; one, it adored the infinite and self-giving love of Jesus, and two, this adoration was given to Jesus' heart in reparation for the disdain, rejection, and coldness his loving heart endured from others.

St. Gertrude Encounters sacred heart of jesus statuethe Heart of Jesus

In possession of a copy of the beautiful “Vitis mystica”, two 12th century Cistercian visionaries named St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde were known for enjoying mystical experiences with Jesus and his Sacred Heart. St. Gertrude the Great, who perhaps enjoyed the more profound intimacy of the two, had a mystical experience on the feast day of St. John the Evangelist in which she was granted the grace to rest near the living heart of Jesus.

St. Gertrude experienced the exquisite and divine beatings of Jesus' heart and wondered why St. John, who had also reclined on the heart of Jesus at the Last Supper, had never written of his experience. St. John appeared to her in a vision and replied, "Yes, I heard them, and my soul was penetrated with their sweetness even to its very center” and explained that he did not write of this because, "My mission was to write of the Eternal Word . . . but the language of the blissful pulsations of the Sacred Heart is reserved for latter times, that the time-worn world, grown cold in the love of God, may be warmed up by hearing of such mysteries."

St. Gertrude's mystical experiences with the Sacred Heart of Jesus as well as special prayers she penned in devotion to Him are contained in the Herald of Divine Love and The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude. Here is one touching prayer to the Sacred Heart she authored:

"I salute thee, O Sacred Heart of Jesus, living and vivifying source of eternal life, infinite treasure of the Divinity, ardent furnace of Divine love; Thou art the place of my repose and my refuge. Enkindle in my heart the fire of that ardent love with which Thine own is all inflamed; pour into my heart the great graces of which Thine is the source, and grant that my heart may be so closely united to Thine, that Thy will may be mine, and that my will may be eternally conformed to Thine, since I desire that henceforth Thy holy will may be the rule of all my desires and all my actions. Amen."

St. Margaret Mary Propagates the Devotion                                                                                    

Four centuries later in 1673, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, showing her a vision of the now famous image of his Sacred Heart surrounded by flames of love. He said to her, "My Heart is so full of love for men that It can no longer contain the flames of Its burning love. I must discover to men the treasures of My Heart and save them from perdition." Although thst. margaret mary alacoquee Sacred Heart devotion was devoutly practiced by many saints and religious in the previous centuries, it was not yet widespread throughout the universal Church. This was the special mission given to St. Margaret Mary; to her Jesus revealed his desire for a stronger, increased, and widespread devotion to his Sacred Heart.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, just like St. John and St. Gertrude, was allowed in a mystical vision to rest her head upon Jesus' heart, again on the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. Thus Jesus revealed that in addition to his love, it is devotion to his heart of flesh, his physical beating heart, that he desired to be propagated. In part two of this blog post, we will see that the Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion is closely connected with the Blessed Sacrament.

Pope Leo XIII Consecrates Mankind to the Sacred Heart

Finally, on June 11, 1899, by order of Pope Leo XIII, at the request of Jesus all mankind was solemnly consecrated to His Sacred Heart. Pope Leo XIII called this event "the great act" of his pontificate. Tomorrow's Sacred Heart blog post will talk about its connection to the Divine Mercy, the Eucharist, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and how you can have an enthronement of the Sacred Heart in your home.  Be sure to check it out!

Continue reading What You Didn't Know About the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Part 2


Do you know who painted the picture of the Sacred Heart at the top of this post?
Sorry Tony, we sure don't!
Mary says
Jun 7 2013 12:24PM
Thank you for this article, Gretchen! It was enlightening indeed!
carmelita s. ginivan
carmelita s. ginivan says
Jun 6 2013 8:47PM
In 1976, I was in a turmoil. I came from unloving irresponsible parents. I was never loved and accepted because in their eyes, I was ''weak.'' All that mattered to them was money at any cost. This reason was how I brought a child out of wedlock, from a very much married man yet. I left my family and vowed never to return to them. I couldn't find a job to support me and my child. One day, as I was passing a church in Marikina, Philippines, something made me look in. I will Never forget that day for the rest of my life. It was a huge Sacred Heart with His open welcoming arms reaching my innermost being. I knelt, and said to Him, '' I leave everything in your hands, Dear Lord...'' and I returned to my family. From that day on, HE turned my life around and blessed me enormously and continuous to bless me and my loved ones. Amen
Sunitha Babji
Sunitha Babji says
Jul 28 2012 4:20AM
Dear Brother / Sister,

I S.Sunitha, age 33, due to some personnel ego my 1st marriage broken

Till last year not planned for re-marriage, but my parents are forcing me to re-marry since they are getting old & coming down by health conditions

One of our family friend son's name:BABJI, RCM boy came forward to marry me but he is in little confusion about the society & also properly not settled in JOB.

Kindly pray for us, & also bless us( Sunitha & Babji) to step together in life without any struggle Since he his so caring to me, iam also very much interested in Babji.
zanele says
Jun 14 2012 5:56PM
I am so in love with my Catholic faith. God is so good and I have yet again had the power of the miraculous rosary proven to me. I would like to urge all Catholics 2 pray the rosary so we can save the world together with our Mother Mary...pray also for the priests,brothers,nuns and others that have chosen 2 give themselves completely to God in the church. As all these individuals pray for the well being of our spirits...let us use the saints as aids in life and ask for their guidence...I pray that the Catholic church stands firm because I LOVE IT!!!God bless and keep all of you and may our Mother lay u all on her chest

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Gretchen Filz Gretchen Filz

Gretchen is a Lay Dominican with a passion for fostering an increase in Catholic faith and devotion through content writing and journalism. She works as a digital content writer, creator, and marketer for The Catholic Company. In addition to blogging at, she is also editor of the daily devotional email and author at She holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics and converted to the Catholic Church in 2011. She is also active in R.C.I.A., pro-life work, and various faith-based web projects.

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