The Forgotten Customs of the Sacred Heart

Above: The Carillon-Sacré-Coeur – flag of French Canadians.


Look at this Heart which has loved men so much, and yet men do not want to love Me in return. Through you My divine Heart wishes to spread its love everywhere on earth (Words of our Lord Jesus Christ to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque)

The History of the Feast of the Sacred Heart & Its Forgotten Octave

While the entire month of June is devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Feast of the Sacred Heart is unique kept to honor the mercy and love of God while making reparation for the serious sins committed against Our Blessed Lord. Traditionally up until 1955, the Feast of the Sacred Heart immediately follows the Octave Day of Corpus Christi. After having celebrated 8 days devoted to the Blessed Sacrament, we immediately turn to the Sacred Heart, which also traditionally had its own octave as well.

The Institution of the Feast of the Sacred Heart was a result of the appearances of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675. St. Margaret Mary suffered contempt from many people who refused to believe the authenticity of the visions. In these appearances, Our Lord told her twelve graces that He would give to anyone devoted to His Sacred Heart. Our Lord said to her, “I ask thee that the first Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi be set apart as a special feast to honor My Heart.” He also promised 12 promises to those who are devoted to the Sacred Heart:

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
  2. I will give peace in their families.
  3. I will console them in all their troubles.
  4. They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of death.
  5. I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.
  9. I will bless the homes in which the image of My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and honoured.
  10. I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
  11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their name written in My Heart, and it shall never be effaced.
  12. The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under My displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Heart shall be their assured refuge at the last hour.

In 1693, three years after the death of St. Margaret Mary, the Holy See imparted indulgences to the Confraternities of the Sacred Heart, and in 1697 granted the feast to the Visitandines with the Mass of the Five Wounds, but refused a feast common to all, with special Mass and Office. The devotion spread, particularly in religious communities. The Marseille plague in 1720 furnished perhaps the first occasion for a solemn consecration and public worship outside of religious communities. Other cities of southern Europe followed the example of Marseille. In 1726 Rome was again asked for a feast with a Mass and Office of its own; this was refused in 1729 but granted in 1765. In that year, at the request of the queen, the feast was received quasi-officially by the episcopate of France. Hence, the Mass and Office in Honor of the Sacred Heart were not approved for any use until 1765 by Pope Clement XIII – one hundred years after the request was made by our Lord!

Finally, in 1856, at the urgent entreaties of the French bishops, Pope Pius IX extended the Feast of the Sacred Heart to the Latin Church under the rite of double major. In 1889 it was raised by the Latin Church to the double rite of first class. In 1928, Pope Pius XI raised the feast to the highest rank, Double of the First Class, and added an octave; the 1955 reforms of the general Roman calendar suppressed this octave and removed most other octaves.

On November 9, 1921, Pope Benedict XV established the Feast of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus on the Thursday within the Octave of the Sacred Heart, which in a sense, further established the connection of the Sacred Heart with Corpus Christi and its just-concluded Octave.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart Dates Back to the Middle Ages

Long before the apparition to St. Margaret Mary, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus existed. On the December 27th feast day of St. John the Evangelist in 1256 AD, St. Gertrude the Great had a profound vision in which she laid her head near the wound in the side of Jesus and heard the beating of the Sacred Heart. This is especially profound since St. John the Evangelist reclined his head to the heart of the Divine Savior at the Last Supper.

The First Friday Devotion

When Our Lord later appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1600s, He appeared to her on the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. Our Lord requested three things: frequently receiving Holy Communion, receiving Holy Communion especially on the first Friday of each month, and observing a Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament, with the aforementioned promises.

Father Weiser writes in Christian Feasts and Customs this short excerpt on Devotions to the Sacred Heart, mentioning this practice:

As a result of the revelations granted to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1690), the practice developed from the seventeenth century on of devoting the first Friday of every month in a special way to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Since 1889 a Roman indult has given this custom a liturgical expression through the “Mass of the Sacred Heart” which, under certain conditions, may be celebrated as a solemn votive Mass. Other liturgical devotions, too, have been provided for “First Friday”; they may be held in churches with the approval of the bishop and according to his regulations. Through the pious exercises of the “Nine Fridays” and the “First Fridays,” the custom grew in many places of performing on every Friday some devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, partly in church (by attendance at Mass, Communion, evening devotions), partly at home (by family prayer, burning of vigil lights before the Sacred Heart statue.

Hence, priests should be offering extra Masses each Friday in honor of the Sacred Heart and encouraging the faithful to make the nine First Fridays (and repeating it often throughout life). And families should also have statues of the Sacred Heart in their home which are housed on or near our home prayer altars.

Act of Dedication to the Sacred Heart

What is Consecration to the Sacred Heart? Fr. Peter Scott explains:

Consecration to the Sacred Heart is consequently an act of individuals, of families, of parishes, of nations, and will bring all the more graces as it is clearly understood as an act of returning love for love, and is accomplished fervently by an entire community. What, then, is consecration? It is much more than a formula, a passing pious act to be repeated from time to time. It is a complete gift of oneself, in this case to divine love. It is an interior belonging to Christ, that might be accomplished the words of the Apostle: “it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives within me” (Gal 2:20). It is a donation of our whole being and life, as of a victim, to be immolated to divine love. It is the living of our baptismal vows, by which we renounced entirely Satan and his allurements to serve Christ our King and Him alone.

There is no one act of consecration to the Sacred Heart. St. Margaret Mary in fact requested that her novices write their own, as she herself did. However, in a letter of 1684 to one of her superiors, she describes what it must contain: “If you desire to live for Him alone and to attain to the perfection that He desires from you, you must offer to his Sacred Heart the entire sacrifice of yourself and all that belongs to you, without any reserve, so that you may no longer like anything but what he likes; may act only according to his inspirations, undertaking nothing without first asking his counsel and his aid, giving unto him the glory of all-glorifying Him for everything… (Cf J.B. Bainvel SJ).

We can honor Heaven’s request to honor the Sacred Heart by making the Act of Consecration as written by St. Margaret Mary:

I, ______________, give myself and consecrate to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, my person and my life, my actions, pains and sufferings, so that I may be unwilling to make use of any part of my being, save to honor, love and glorify the Sacred Heart. This is my unchanging purpose, namely, to be all His, and to do all things for the love of Him, at the same time renouncing with all my heart whatever is displeasing to Him. I therefore take Thee, O Sacred Heart, to be the only object of my love, the guardian of my life, my assurance of salvation, the remedy of my weakness and inconstancy, the atonement for all the faults of my life and my sure refuge at the hour of death.

Be then, O Heart of goodness, my justification before God Thy Father, and turn away from me the strokes of His righteous anger. O Heart of love, I put all my confidence in Thee, for I fear everything from my own wickedness and frailty, but I hope for all things from Thy goodness and bounty. Do Thou consume in me all that can displease Thee or resist Thy holy will; let Thy pure love imprint Thee so deeply upon my heart, that I shall nevermore be able to forget Thee or to be separated from Thee; may I obtain from all Thy loving kindness the grace of having my name written in Thee, for in Thee I desire to place all my happiness and all my glory, living and dying in very bondage to Thee.

We can also pray the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart which was written by Pope Leo XIII.

Honor the Sacred Heart as a Family Throughout June

This Feast of the Sacred Heart, in addition to dedicating ourselves and our families to the Sacred Heart, we can and should make the Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart (which is an indulged prayer) and having our home enthroned to the Sacred Heart (if it has not already been). Lastly, after we conclude our daily Rosaries, each day of June we can add the Litany of the Sacred Heart. Other less common prayers like the Daily Offering to the Sacred Heart for the Dying are also worth practicing with fervor during this month.

While the Sacred Heart is a newer feast day in the life of the Church and has not developed customs like more ancient feast days, we can nevertheless live out the customs that have arisen in the past few centuries. After all, Our Lord asked for reparation to the Sacred Heart in the form of the nine First Fridays and if God Himself asks it of us, who can dare refuse?

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