11 June: Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This Solemnity is celebrated on the Friday after the Feast of Corpus Christi. The Sacred Heart is depicted as a flaming heart surrounded by a crown of thorns, with a cross on top and bleeding from a wound. (It is often displayed with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is also on fire, surrounded by a crown of flowers and pierced by a sword.) This feast was celebrated in seventeenth century France at the request of St. John Eudes. But the history of this devotion goes much farther back; it was highlighted by the fathers of the Church, including Origen, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Hippolytus, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr, and St. Cyprian. This devotion was also given form in the 12th century by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in his famous “O Sacred Head Surrounded.” In 1673, Jesus appeared to a French nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. He told her that he wished to be honored in Eucharistic adoration during a holy hour on Thursdays, that he desired a feast day devoted to his Sacred Heart, and that he desired the faithful to receive Holy Communion on first Fridays. It took years, but eventually devotion to the Sacred Heart spread throughout the world. In 1856, Pope Pius IX established the Feast of the Sacred Heart as obligatory for the whole Church.
12 June: Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the midst of WWII, Pope Pius XII put the whole world under the protection of our Savior’s Mother by consecrating it to her Immaculate Heart. He decreed that the Church should celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary so as to obtain by her intercession “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity and the practice of virtue” (Decree of May 4, 1944). This is not a new devotion; in the seventeenth century, St. John Eudes preached it together with that of the Sacred Heart; in the nineteenth century, Pius VII and Pius IX allowed a feast of the Pure Heart of Mary. In Scripture, Simeon’s prophecy portrayed Mary with her heart pierced with a sword; and at the foot of the Cross, we are shown the Heart of Mary. Mary was not merely passive at the crucifixion, “she cooperated through charity” as St. Augustine says, “in the work of our redemption.”
Both of these feasts use the heart as a symbol of love. In the Sacred Heart, the emphasis is on God’s love and mercy. Love so intense that the symbol is a human heart encircled with a crown of thorns, crowned with a cross, and radiating flames: this is how much Christ loves us. Devotion to the Immaculate Heart stems from Mary’s privileged status as the Mother of God. She provides a model for what our own hearts should look like. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is one of gratitude for Jesus’ great love for us; devotion to the Immaculate Heart indicates our desire to emulate the way in which Mary loves Jesus.
Ideas for celebrating these feast days at home:
- Food ideas: make Heart-Shaped Pizza. Bake a heart-shaped cake or cookies. Make an Immaculate Heart out of fruit and a Sacred Heart out of veggies. Serve red meat, red jello, or any other red or heart-themed foods.
- Read The 12 Promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Learn about the practice of First Friday and First Saturday devotions.
- Read the Scripture readings of the day, which you can find at usccb.org. The readings for the Solemnity include a beautiful Sequence that you can sing or pray before your evening meal.
- Make valentines from Jesus to each child or family member, with a message echoing the theme of Christ’s infinite love for us. For a craft, make hearts with Mexican Tin Art, instructions here.
- Consecrate your family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Do a home Enthronement, instructions here.
- Read Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Sacred Scripture by Cardinal Raymond Burke.
(sources: teachingcatholickids.com; The Catholic All Year Compendium; Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 ed.; catholicculture.org)