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Among the marvelous developments of sacred doctrine and of piety, whereby the designs of the Divine Wisdom manifest themselves to the Church ever more clearly, there is scarcely any other more outstanding than the triumphant progress of the cult of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

True, in the course of former times, the Fathers, the Doctors and the Saints have again and again celebrated the love of our Redeemer; they called the open wound in the side of Christ the hidden source of all graces.  But, since the Middle Ages, when the faithful began to have a more tender affection towards our Savior's Sacred Humanity, contemplative souls, such as St. Gertrude the Great, used to penetrate as it were through this Wound into the Heart itself, wounded for love of men.

From that time forward, this contemplation became familiar to all those who excelled in sanctity, so that there is neither country nor religious Order where there are not to be found testimonies for that, which, for that period, are very remarkable.  Finally, especially at the time when heretics, under the guise of false piety, were bent on deterring Christian people from the Blessed Eucharist, public worship began to be paid to the Sacred Heart, particularly by means of St. John Eudes who, not without reason, is called "the author of the liturgical cult of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary."

Yet, in order to give the cult of the Sacred Heart its full and perfect form, and to propagate it throughout the world, God Himself chose as an instrument a humble virgin of the Visitation Order, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.  From her early youth she had been animated with an ardent love towards the Blessed Sacrament, and Christ our Lord, in many apparitions, deigned to manifest to her the riches and the wishes of His Divine Heart.

Of these apparitions the most famous is that in which, whilst she was praying before the Eucharist, Jesus presented Himself to her and showed her His Sacred Heart.  He complained that, in return for His boundless charity, He received from ungrateful men nothing but outrages, and He ordered her to work for the institution of a new feast on the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi, by which due honor should be paid to His Heart, and the outrages offered Him by sinners in the Sacrament of His love should be expiated by worthy homage.

There is no one who does not know of the great difficulties God's servant experienced in executing Christ's commands.  But Our Lord Himself was her strength; and vigorously supported by her spiritual directors, who were animated with an incredible ardor to promote this cult, she never ceased, even to her death, to faithfully acquit herself of the task entrusted to her.

In 1765, finally, the Sovereign Pontiff Clement XIII approved an Office and Mass in honor of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Pope Pius IX extended the Feast to the universal Church.

Ever since that time, this cult of the Sacred Heart, like an overflowing stream sweeping away all obstacles, has spread abroad throughout the world.  At the dawn of the new century, after he had proclaimed the Jubilee, Pope Leo XIII desired that the whole human race should be consecrated to the Sacred Heart.  This Consecration, which was made with great solemnity in all the churches of the Catholic world, brought about an immense increase of the devotion.  It won nations as well as single families; those that consecrated themselves to the Divine Heart and submitted to Its royal empire were innumerable.

Finally, in order that the solemnity of the Feast might correspond more fully to the devotion which was so widespread among the Christian people, Pope Pius XI raised the Feast to the rite of Double of the First Class with an Octave.  Moreover, to make up for the violated rights of Christ, our supreme and loving Lord, and to atone for the sins of nations, he prescribed that every year, on the same Feast day, an Act of Reparation should be recited in all the churches of the Christian world.

The chief historical dates of the Devotion are:

First Apparition of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary

The Devotion which we are studying here owes its origin, from an historical point of view, to Our Lord's apparitions to St. Margaret Mary. Among these there are four of greater importance, which for that reason are commonly called "the great apparitions."

The first apparition took place on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, that is, on December 27th, probably in 1673. The Saint relates it as follows:

"One day, being before the Blessed Sacrament, as I had some leisure time, I was so overwhelmed by this Divine presence as to forget myself and the place where I was. I abandoned myself to this Divine Spirit, surrendering my heart to the might of His love. He disclosed to me the marvels of His love and the unutterable secrets of His Sacred Heart, which He had always concealed from me, until He opened It to me now for the first time. This He did so effectually and so sensibly as to leave me no reason to doubt it, because of the effects which this grace produced in me, though I am always afraid of being mistaken in all that I say is going on in me. It happened, as it seems to me, in this way:

"He said to me:'My Divine Heart is so passionately inflamed with love for men, and for you in particular, that, not being able any longer to contain within Itself the flames of Its ardent charity, It must needs spread them abroad through your means, and manifest Itself to men, that they may be enriched with Its precious treasures which I unfold to you, and which contain the sanctifying and salutary graces that are necessary to hold them back from the abyss of ruin. And I have chosen you, an abyss of unworthiness and ignorance, for the accomplishment of this great design, that all this may be My work.' Thereupon He demanded my heart, which I entreated Him to take. "...'Hitherto you have taken but the name of My slave; I give you now the title of the beloved disciple of My Sacred Heart'."

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