Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

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Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Devotion to the Sacred Heart (of Jesus or of Mary) is a popular form of Roman Catholic piety. Catholic iconography frequently pictures Jesus and Mary with stylized hearts imposed on their chests. In the case of Jesus, a crown of thorns symbolic of His sufferings generally encircles the heart; above the heart is a cross and flame. The Sacred Heart of Mary is pictured variously, sometimes in a fashion resembling the heart symbol on Jesus, while sometimes it is pierced by a blade or simply shown as a heart.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart began as contemplation on the suffering of Jesus relative to His crucifixion. While on the cross, He was stabbed in the side with a spear. Through the Middle Ages, contemplation of the wound in Jesus’ side shifted to a veneration of His heart. It drew content from all of the traditional associations of the human heart, with a spectrum of compassionate emotions, and found resonance in various scriptural passages. However, the symbolism reached a new height in the seventeenth century. This was especially due to the efforts of two people: Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690) and Jean Eudes (d. 1681).

Sister Margaret Mary had seen apparitions of Jesus since childhood, and they continued after she joined the Visitation Order in 1671. Two years later, on December 27, she had a new vision of Jesus. He revealed the secrets of his Sacred Heart, which, she noted, he had concealed up until then. He also told her that she would be the one to spread the message of the Sacred Heart and save people from the abyss of perdition. Two subsequent visions in 1674 and 1675 provided further direction.

With the help of her fellow nuns, Sister Margaret Mary began the efforts to establish the devotion to the Sacred Heart, which began with a special altar at the convent. She then commissioned a painting of the Sacred Heart and copies were printed for widespread distribution. Soon, several booklets were written to provide basic information on the devotional practice. The practice first spread through the Visitation Order, and each Visitation Chapel erected a Sacred Heart altar.

At the same time, Eudes launched an effort to propagate the devotion to the Heart of Mary. His campaign began in Autun, France, in 1648, and then spread across the country. Eudes’s message eventually made it to Rome, where it failed to gain papal approval. However, through the next century, unofficial devotion continued. By themid-1850s, approval was granted to the Office and Mass of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. In 1856, with special urging from the French bishops, a feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was approved for the whole Church.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Montmartre in Paris emerged as one of the great centers promoting the Sacred Heart. Erected between 1876 and 1912 with the help of public subscriptions, it marked the fulfillment of the supplication to the Sacred Heart for France made during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871). The interior of the basilica is dominated by a mosaic of the Sacred Heart showing Jesus with His arms open wide. In 1899 Pope Leo III consecrated the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Heart of Mary received support in the twentieth century after many apparitions of the Virgin Mary were seen. Meanwhile, Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion was championed in the parallel devotion to the Divine Mercy initiated by Sister Josefa Menendez (1890–1923), a young Spanish woman who had joined a French religious order.

Devotion to the Heart of Mary is often intertwined with that of Jesus. The practice was heavily criticized in the mid-twentieth century for its over-sentimentality and the tendency of Jesus to be pictured as somewhat effeminate. However, the practice was revived during the pontificate of John Paul II. It has also been supported by stigmatist Padre Pio.


Arnoudt, Peter J. The Imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1974.
Fos, Robert. The Immaculate Heart of Mary. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1986.
Haring, Bernard. The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1999.
Hume, Ruth Fox. St. Margaret Mary, Apostle of the Sacred Heart. New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1960.
Menendez, Josefa. The Way of Divine Love; or, The Message of the Sacred Heart to the World and a Short Biography of His Messenger Sister Josefa Menendez Coadjutrix Sister of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus 1890–1923. Brookings, SD: Our Blessed Lady of Victory Missions, 1981.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary said, devotion to the Sacred Heart "is an expression of our faith in Jesus Christ's mercy and our way to express our gratitude for His mercy and love." Characteristic acts of devotion include almsgiving, consecration, and reparation.
Father Damien was a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, not the Congregation of the Sacred Heart.
Considered by the Holy See as the "Apostle of Devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary," St.