Saint Margaret Mary and Reparation to the Sacred Heart

“More Brilliant than the Sun," a weekly series by Robert Stackpole, STD, Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy 

The series so far:
PART 1: The Plan of the Heart of Jesus to Drive Back the World's Darkness
PART 2:  What Do We Really Mean By “The Heart of Jesus”?
PART 3:  Devotion to the Heart of Jesus and its Roots in Holy Scripture
PART 4: The Heart of the Savior in the New Testament
PART 5: 
 The Heart of Jesus Manifest in His Tender Affections and Compassionate Love
PART 6: 
 The Heart of Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross
PART 7:  From Easter Onward: The Heart of Jesus Lives in His Church
PART 8:  The Flowering of Love for the Heart of Jesus in the Middle Ages
PART 9:  Saint Gertrude the Great on Bringing Comfort and Joy to the Heavenly Christ

PART 10: Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and Reparation to the Sacred Heart

Let’s review what we have discovered so far in this web series.

To begin with, we saw that our Lord has a plan for the triumph of His Sacred Heart over the powers of the world’s darkness.

First, He calls us back to Holy Scripture, where we can meditate on the virtues and compassion of His Heart manifest especially in the Gospel story, and personally encounter the mystery of His love for each one of us.

Second, He teaches us through the history of devotion to His Heart in ancient and medieval times that many great saints have found in His Heart the source of the streams of “living water” of the Holy Spirit and all the graces of sanctification and salvation. We discovered that we even can bring joy and delight to our Risen Savior in Heaven by cooperating with the divine grace flowing from His Heart, especially through our works of piety and love.

Now let’s press on to the third and pivotal part of His plan for defeating the hold of Satan on this struggling and suffering world.

History of the devotion
At this point, it may be helpful to summarize the history of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus prior to the revelations given to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690). As the historian Fr. Jean Bainvel, SJ, once wrote (in Devotion to the Sacred Heart: the doctrine and its history [London: Benziger Bros., 1924], p. 273):

Saint Margaret Mary had not invented devotion to the Sacred Heart; it already existed. Before his revelations to her our Lord had already revealed His Heart to some chosen souls, and had shown them the riches contained in it. Christians, whilst meditating on the mysterious wound of the side, had seen therein the wounded Heart; had understood that it afforded a refuge to guilty or weary souls, and the treasures it contained; had perceived in the bodily wound the wound inflicted by love; lastly, had come to the knowledge and the sight of the divine Heart — most lovable and loving, the expressive symbol, the epitome of the virtues and the life of Christ.

All historians of the devotion agree that the spirituality of the Heart of Christ was well-developed before the revelations given to the saint of Paray-le-Monial, St. Margaret Mary. Nevertheless, she was instrumental in bringing the devotion out of the cloister and into the mainstream of popular spirituality. Through her, Jesus Christ made specific requests of the universal Church for public acts of consecration and reparation to His Sacred Heart: the veneration of the Image of His Heart, the annual Feast of the Sacred Heart, the First Friday Communions, and the Holy Hour.

For the next three centuries, clergy, religious, and laity alike would respond generously to this appeal. The Society of Jesus in particular (the Jesuit Fathers) embraced the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and made it an integral part of their mission to spread it. Key figures in this regard include two of Saint Margaret Mary’s own spiritual directors: St. Claude de la Colombière, SJ, and Fr. Jean Croiset, SJ. Also, many new religious orders and confraternities would arise that would be consecrated to the Sacred Heart, as well as countless churches, schools, and even entire nations. Pope Leo XIII would consecrate the whole world to the Sacred Heart in 1899.

A throne of flames
Accounts of the four apparitions of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary can be found in her autobiography, in her letters, and in the writings of her spiritual directors. We have already considered the importance of His second apparition to her, the one in which He unveiled His plan to drive back “the empire of Satan.” Let’s remind ourselves of this key revelation by quoting it again here (St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Letters, p. 229-230):

The first special grace I think I received in this regard was on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. Our Lord made me rest for several hours on His sacred breast ...

After that I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It had its adorable wound and was encircled with a crown of thorns, which signified the pricks our sins caused Him. It was surmounted by a cross which signified that, from the first moment of His Incarnation, that is, from the time this Sacred Heart was formed, the cross was planted in It; that It was filled, from the very first moment, with all the bitterness, humiliations, poverty, sorrow, and contempt His sacred humanity would have to suffer during the whole course of His life and during His holy Passion.

He made me understand that the ardent desire He had of being loved by men and of drawing them from the path of perdition into which Satan was hurrying them in great numbers, had caused Him to fix upon this plan of manifesting His Heart to men, together with all Its treasures of love, mercy, grace, sanctification and salvation. ... This devotion was as a last resort of His love which wished to favor men in these last centuries with his loving redemption, in order to withdraw them from the empire of Satan, which He intended to destroy, and in order to put us under the sweet liberty of the empire of His love.

Both in her autobiography and her letters, St. Margaret Mary speaks of the importance of making formal acts of consecration to the Heart of Jesus: dedicating our lives, with the help of His grace, to returning His love with our own, and renewing that consecration on a regular basis. For example, she wrote an act of consecration that has remained popular with Catholics ever since; it is customary to renew this act on every Friday of the week, or First Friday of the month:

I (N.), give and consecrate to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, my person, my life, my actions, my 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. It is my unchanging intention to be all His and to do all for love of Him. I renounce at the same time with all my heart whatever can displease Him.

I, therefore, take You, O Sacred Heart, for the only object of my love, the protector of my life, the pledge of my salvation, the remedy of my weakness and inconstancy, the atonement for the faults of my life, and the secure refuge at the hour of my death.

Be then, O Heart of goodness, my justification before God the Father, and turn away from me the punishment of His just anger. O Heart of love, I put my confidence in You, because I fear everything from my own sinfulness and weakness. I hope for all things from Your mercy and generosity.

Destroy in me all that can displease or resist Your holy Will. Let Your pure love impress You so deeply upon my heart that I may never forget You or be separated from You. May my name, by your loving kindness, be written In You, because in You I desire to place all my happiness and all my glory in living and dying in very bondage to you.

The revelations given to St. Margaret Mary also were instrumental in giving a new emphasis to the devotion: a focus on reparation to the Sacred Heart, an emphasis highly suitable to the coming era of “enlightenment” and social revolution in which apostasy and defection from the Church would become commonplace. The words of Christ from His most famous apparition to her (the fourth, in 1675; see The Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary [Rockford, Ill: TAN edition, 1986], p. 106-107) make this new emphasis crystal clear:

Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love; and in return I receive from the greater number nothing but ingratitude by reason of their irreverence and sacrileges, and by the coldness and contempt which they show me in this Sacrament of love. But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me that treat me thus. Therefore, I ask of thee that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special Feast to honour My Heart, by communicating on that day and making reparation to It by a solemn act.

This special revelation to St. Margaret Mary became the impetus for the institution of the liturgical Feast of the Sacred Heart, first granted by the Holy See in 1765 to any dioceses that asked for it, and then extended to the whole Church in 1856 by Bl. Pope Pius IX. Pope Pius XI later composed a solemn act of reparation to the Sacred Heart, to be recited by the whole Church on this great feast day every year. As we shall see later in this web series, our Savior also promised special graces to souls who would receive Holy Communion in a spirit of reparation to His Heart on nine consecutive First Fridays of the month.

What is reparation?
But what does our Lord mean by receiving Holy Communion in a spirit of reparation — what is “reparation” anyway? It’s not a word that we hear very often anymore, but the notion behind it is certainly timeless. In our devotion to Jesus Christ, we are meant to “return love for love” as St. Margaret Mary put it: We ought to make a total gift of ourselves to Him who has completely given Himself to us (especially in His Incarnation and saving Death for us on the Cross, and His intimate self-donation of love to us in the Blessed Sacrament). As St. Paul put it: “He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15). The trouble is that we almost always fall short of accomplishing this. Our sins obstruct the good purposes for which He made us, betray His infinite love for us, and wound His Heart with sorrow. By such penitential acts and dispositions of “reparation,” we acknowledge our moral failures and moral debts to Him, and seek to compensate Him in some small way. These acts of compensation or penance only have value in God’s eyes, of course, because they are prompted and enabled within us by the graces flowing from our Savior’s merciful Heart, and thereby unite us in penitence and faith to the merits of His saving Passion and Death for us on the Cross.

This emphasis on making reparation to the Sacred Heart for our failure to live as His true disciples — and especially for our rejection of the love Jesus offers to us all in the Blessed Sacrament — was a new feature of the devotion. It was tailor-made for a modern world in which humanity would have plenty to make reparation for: widespread apostasy from the faith, the spread of the institution of slavery, the exploitation of workers in the Industrial Revolution, global colonialism, the advent of communist and fascist totalitarianism, two world wars, and the global spread of abortion and divorce, just to name a few key items!

As we shall see next time, the call to make reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was not only a central feature of St. Margaret Mary’s spirituality and mission; in her, it actually took a new form as well. Suffice it to say here that the third part of our Savior’s plan to drive back the world’s darkness is clear from His revelations to this great saint: All Catholics need to center our hearts and lives on Jesus Christ by regular and sincere acts of consecration and reparation to His Heart.

This series continues next week with Part 11: "On Consoling the Heart of Jesus."
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