Monday, June 03, 2024

Our Lord’s Request for the Institution of the Feast of His Sacred Heart

The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has deep roots; texts can be found in the ancient and medieval periods that speak of the love of His wounded and glorious Heart, and of the appropriate response of adoring love we should make to Him.

However, the devotion in the form more familiar to Catholics today is traceable to the private revelations made by Our Lord Jesus Christ to St Margaret Mary Alacoque in the later 17th century. The content of these revelations was written down for her spiritual director, St Claude de la Colombiere, and are widely available (see, e.g., here).

A priest mentioned to me a detail that had previously escaped my notice. When Our Lord appeared to St Margaret Mary on June 16, 1675, to request the institution of a feast in honor of His Sacred Heart, He spoke as follows:
I ask of you that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special Feast to honor My Heart, by communicating on that day, and making reparation to It by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars. I promise you that My Heart shall expand Itself to shed in abundance the influence of Its divine love upon those who shall thus honor It, and cause It to be honored.
The very Son of God — God from God, Light from Light, Word Incarnate, Eternal High Priest, Head of the Mystical Body, Creator, Savior, and Judge of the universe — refers as a matter of course to the “Octave of Corpus Christi” and places His request for a special feast precisely in this context. Moreover, He specifically asks that the feast be one of reparation, and that this reparation be connected with the extended Eucharistic adoration during the Octave of Corpus Christi. Finally, He promises to shed His divine love on those who shall thus honor His Heart, that is, honor It in the manner He has explained.

Is it not disturbing, then, to think of liturgical reformers under Pius XII simply chucking out this Octave of Corpus Christi, which had endured from the time of its widespread observance in the 14th century until 1955, at which time all octaves were abolished except those of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost? [1] The invisible supreme Head of the Church endorsed this octave and made His requests based on it, but no matter; committees know better, and popes always know better, as we can see today.

Although the feast of the Sacred Heart always possessed a reparatory character, this was underlined by the new Mass and Office for the feast promulgated by Pius XI in 1928, to replace the Mass and Office first approved by Clement XIII in 1765, and extended to the universal Church in 1856. For 41 years, this Collect, which so aptly mirrors Our Lord’s request, was recited at Mass:
O God, Who in the Heart of Thy Son, wounded by our sins, dost mercifully vouchsafe to bestow upon us the infinite wealth of Thy love; grant, we beseech Thee, that revering It with meet devotion, we may fulfil our duty of worthy reparation. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ…
Moreover, the Postcommunion prays for detachment from worldly goods and attachment to heavenly ones, a petition characteristic of the usus antiquior in general, and fitting for this feast in particular, which is very much about the truth “where your heart is, there your treasure is also”:
May Thy holy mysteries, O Lord Jesus, produce in us a divine fervour, whereby, having tasted the sweetness of Thy most dear Heart, we may learn to despise earthly things and love those of heaven: Who livest and reigneth.
In contrast, the Novus Ordo Collect borrows some of its phrasing from Clement XIII, while recasting it in a more generic Christological way that does not emphasize the rationale behind the institution of the feast:
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we, who glory in the Heart of your beloved Son and recall the wonders of his love for us, may be made worthy to receive an overflowing measure of grace from that fount of heavenly gifts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son…
Happily, the Collect of Pius XI was added back as an option in the most recent edition of the Pauline missal, which will bring it back into circulation to some extent. The Postcommunion, regrettably, excises the unfashionable sentiment discamus terrena despicere, et amare caelestia, and, recasts the prayer to the Father, due to the subordinationist principle that we must nearly always address the Father rather than the Son in our public prayer:
May this sacrament of charity, O Lord, make us fervent with the fire of holy love, so that, drawn always to your Son, we may learn to see him in our neighbor. Through Christ our Lord.
As a friend commented on this prayer, “All man, all the time.” As Gaudium et Spes 12 begins, “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.”

In 1904, Pope St Pius X added the threefold invocation Cor Iesu Sacratissimum, miserere nobis to the already-existing Leonine prayers after Low Mass. In 1964, the Instruction Inter Oecumenici abolished all of the prayers after Mass. For sixty years, Catholics on every continent, of every culture, in every conceivable situation, prayed, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.” But this was, one supposes, just another of those useless repetitions that had to be purged for the benefit of . . .

Come to think of it, cui bono? Why was the character of the feast tilted away from the theme of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for sins, blasphemies, outrages, sacrileges, indifference, and worldliness? Why was the octave of Corpus Christi abolished, depriving the Church and the world of more solemn, calendrically set-apart opportunities to adore the Lord with Eucharistic adoration, exposition, and procession? Why did we abandon the humble collective invocations that united us to one another and to the merciful God at the end of Low Mass?

Indeed, the very Offertory of the Mass in which the priest says that he is offering sacrifice for his sins, offenses, and negligences, as also for the welfare of the living and the dead, was abolished, as was the Placeat tibi at the end of Mass:
May the homage of my bounden duty be pleasing to Thee, O Holy Trinity; and grant that the sacrifice which I, though unworthy, have offered in the sight of Thy Majesty may be acceptable to Thee, and through Thy mercy be a propitiation for me and for all those for whom I have offered it. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
What benefit did the reformers under Pius XII and Paul VI think they were bringing to the Church by removing so many references to the “sins, offenses, and negligences” for which we are called upon to make reparation?

On a good day in October 1946, a day when chopping off digits and limbs from the liturgical calendar wasn’t on the agenda, Pius XII said, “Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.” Whatever else may be said, this much is clear: the changes to the liturgy have not helped us regain it.

Cor Iesu Sacratissimum, miserere nobis.
Cor Iesu Sacratissimum, miserere nobis.
Cor Iesu Sacratissimum, miserere nobis.


[1] As the incomparable St. Andrew Daily Missal of 1945 tells us on p. 782: “To resist the attacks of renewed heresies against the Holy Eucharist and to revive in the Church a zeal which had somewhat grown cold, the Holy Ghost inspired, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the solemnity of Corpus Christi. In 1208, the blessed Juliana of Mount Cornillon, near Liège, saw in a vision the full moon with an indentation indicating that a feast was missing in the liturgical cycle. . . . It was thought that immediately after Paschaltide a feast with an octave should be established. As the Last Supper took place on Thursday, the Bishop of Liège instituted in 1246 this solemnity in his diocese on the Thursday which follows the octave of Pentecost. In 1264, Pope Urban IV extended this feast to the whole world.”

This commentary brings several truths to mind: first, that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of organic liturgical development, who also inspires the conservation of that which has been established; second, that the double fittingness of a Thursday feast followed by an octave was intuitively grasped, precisely because of the need to resist heresy and rekindle fervor; third, that if this feast was needed by medieval Catholics, a fortiori it is needed by Catholics today, who are facing heresy, apostasy, and indifference several magnitudes greater; fourth, that the Church observed this Corpus Christi octave for between 500 and 700 years (depending on the region, as the feast was of variable diffusion), before Pius XII unceremoniously scrapped the octave and later bishops bumped it to a Sunday (I refer not to the concept of a so-called “external solemnity,” but of a simple switch from the proper day to the nearest Sunday, thereby effectively surrendering to the Protestant conception of the secular work week). The changes offer another a textbook example of how badly mistaken recent popes and liturgists have been in “interpreting the signs of the times.”

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