The Popes and the Heart of Jesus
After the revelations of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the first Pope to say something about this devotion was Clement XIII, who declared that to the Heart of Jesus, pierced by the soldier’s lance, adoration is due, thus approving the respective devotion.
Pope Pius VI, in his Apostolic Constitution ‘Auctorem Fidei’, dated August 28, 1794, offers a new contribution to it, stating that this devotion is something essential and that “the doctrine which rejects the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is false, foolhardy, prejudicial, offensive to pious ears and also to the Apostolic See.
Pope Pius IX, great devotee of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, extended the Feast to the Universal Church.
It is to this Pope that we owe the approval of the Month of June in honor of the Heart of Jesus, as well as the spread of the use of the image according to the revelations of St. Margaret Mary.
Leo XIII, on June ll, 1899, consecrates all mankind to the Heart of Jesus, first announced in his Encyclical Annum Sacrum , dated May 25, 1899. On June 21, the same Pope approves the Litany of the Heart of Jesus and in the same text of the Congregation for the Rites, on the same date, there appears his exhortation for the faithful to make the First Fridays of the Month, a devotion Jesus had asked St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to practice.
Later on, St. Pius X ordered that the consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus should be renewed every year, and Benedict XV approved the Devotion to the Heart of Jesus, with its own Mass and Office, in a decree dated some time in 1921. Pius XI also published an Encyclical, Miserentissimus Redemptor, dated May 8, 1928, which became famous.
For his turn, Pius XII, in his Encyclical Haurietis Aquas, of May 15, 1956, entirely dedicated to the Heart of Jesus, stated the following:
The Heart of Christ is the Heart of the Divine Person, that is, of the Incarnate Word, and, therefore, represents and almost places before our own eyes all the love that He had and still has for us. Precisely for this reason, the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus ought to merit so much our esteem that we should consider it the most complete profession of the whole Christian religion…Therefore, it is easy to conclude that, after all, the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is the cult to the love with which God has loved us, through Christ, and it is also the practice of our love for God and the others”.
Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Letter Investigabiles Divitias Christi, dated February 6, 1965, wrote:
It is absolutely necessary that the faithful pay homage of worship, with private practices of devotion and public manifestations, to the Heart of Him from Whose plenitude we all have received and that they learn from Him the perfect way of conducting their lives, so that these may fully correspond to the demands of our times…”
These and many other texts place before us the Church’s thinking. It is urgent to intensify and renew the devotion to the Heart of Jesus. We need to talk about it, to urge people to live it, to make it known. This is one of the great missions of the Apostolate of Prayer and also of all the pastors and all the faithful. We need to do it now. This will bring in the ‘civilization of love’.
Pope John Paul II, throughout his pontificate, spoke and wrote a lot about the Heart of Jesus. It looked like it was one of his devotions, one of his ‘passions’. In the great Encyclical Dives in misericordia (God rich in mercy), he wrote that “the Church seems to profess and venerate, in a particular way, the mercy of God, when she turns towards the Heart of Christ. In fact, to approach Christ, in the mystery of His Heart, allows us to spend some time meditating on the revelation of the merciful love of the Father, which constitutes, in a certain way, the central nucleus – and, at the same time, the most accessible one, in human terms – of the messianic mission of the Son of Man”.
Later on, on October 19, 1985, the Pope stated that “the civilization of love springs from the pierced Heart of the crucified Christ: in the sanctuary of that Heart, God inclined Himself towards man and gave him the gift of His mercy, making him capable to open up, in turn, with mercy and pardon towards the others”.
Still later on, on June 11, 1999, on the centennial of the Consecartion of Mankind to the Heart of Jesus, John Paul II once again turned to this theme: “On the solemnity of the Sacred Heart and in the month of June, I have often urged the faithful to persevere in the practice of this devotion, which contains a special message, a message which is, in our time, of extraordinary opportunity”, because it is from the Heart of the Son of God dead on the Cross that sprang the eternal fount of life which gives hope to every man. It is from the Heart of Christ that mankind, redeemed from all sin, is born. Facing the task of the new evangelization before him, the Christian, looking at the Heart of Christ, Lord of time and history, consecrates himself to Him and, at the same time, consecrates his brothers too and, thus, finds himself being a carrier of His light”. As John Paul II well put it, the new civilization and the new evangelization spring from the pierced Heart of Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI, who, on the centennial of Pius XII’s Encyclical Haurietis Aquas, wrote to the Father General of the Society of Jesus, in charge of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus, returns to the theme of this devotion and urges everyone to rekindle the desire to make known the Heart of Christ and to be courageous apostles of this Divine Heart, for it is in Him that we find all the treasures of wisdom and science.
In his first Encyclical, he declares:
“The look fixed on the pierced side of Christ, of which St. John speaks (Cf. Jn 19, 17), understands what prompted this Encyclical Letter “God is Love”. It is there that this truth can be contemplated. And, starting from there, our purpose now is to define what love is. Starting from that look, the Christian easily finds his way to live and love (nr. 12)”.
For Benedict XVI, even the central nucleus of his Encyclical springs from the pierced Heart. Further on, he turns to the theme: “Throughout the previous reflections, we were able to fix our eyes on the Pierced One, recognizing the design of the Father, Who, moved by love, sent His Own Son into the world to redeem the world (nr. 19)”. With these words we are once again called to look at Him Whom they pierced. In fact, Benedict XVI invited us to spend the entire 2007 Lent contemplating Him Whom they pierced, for only this way we can convert to Love, only this way we can love the Love of God, only this way we can have a heart who keeps on loving as Jesus loved.