Introduction to the Feast of the Sacred Heart
The modern origins of the celebration of the feast of the Sacred Heart may be traced to Saint John Eudes who in 1670 composed a Mass and Office in honor of the Sacred Heart based on the theology of St. John. In 1856 the feast was extended to the universal Church in praise of the peaceful triumph of Christ’s boundless love. In 1899 Leo XIII elevated the feast to the rank of First Class, now Solemnity, and dedicated the whole Catholic world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The celebration of this feast in the Society goes back to its origins. In St. Madeleine Sophie Barat’s Journal (Poitiers, 1806-1808) there is an account of the solemn celebration of this feast, “the greatest of our Society.” The journal notes that a renewal of vows occurred on this day, but not yet in the Eucharistic celebration. The earliest extant ceremonial (1820) describes the Feast of the Sacred Heart as the patronal feast. The Ceremonial of 1827 mentions solemn renovation of vows of professed and aspirants, and by that year, if not before, this renovation was made within the Eucharistic celebration.
In the contemporary Church the reading of the Gospel of John in year B, taken from the old Mass of the Feast, has contributed to a new understanding of Sacred Heart devotion as contemplation of the pierced heart of Christ. The earlier connection between the celebrations of Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart (the Feast of the Sacred Heart was placed the day after the octave of the Feast of the Body of Christ), no longer apparent in the renewed liturgy, is still clearly evidenced in the Society’s spirituality as captured in its Constitutions of 1982: “It is through the Eucharist that we enter the mystery of the pierced heart of Jesus. In our daily life, the Eucharist both celebrates and actualizes His death and resurrection at the heart of the sufferings and hopes of our brothers and sisters. Through the Eucharist, we are more and more drawn into Jesus’ gift of Himself to the Father for the life of the world, and in His Body we are gathered into one” (Const. 5).
The custom of renovation of vows on this patronal feast of the Society remains unchanged. “The feast of the Sacred Heart is a time to renew and deepen our common spirit. On that day, in thanksgiving and in union with the whole Society, we renew our vows” (Const. 25).
Opening Prayer during Solemnity of the Sacred Heart
Most compassionate God,
we honor the heart of your Son
broken by human cruelty
yet symbol of love’s triumph,
pledge of all that we are called to be.
Teach us to see Christ in the lives we touch,
to offer him living worship
by love-filled service to our brothers and sisters.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Every year on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, members of the Society throughout the world renew their vows using the following formula:
“I __________________ wishing to follow Jesus Christ more closely, promise to Almighty God obedience, poverty and chastity, and according to obedience to dedicate myself to the education of youth in the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus forever, in conformity with its Constitutions.
Trusting in the fidelity of God and in the love of my sisters, I make this vows before you.
An excellent resource to learn more about the Sacred Heart is Wendy M. Wright's book Sacred Heart: Gateway to God (Orbis Books, 2001).