Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Feastday Highlights: the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 27, 2014 | In The Liturgical Year

The final weeks of June are full of multiple feasts, including several solemnities. If you are one for adding dessert to celebrate special feast days, this time can be hard on the waistline! We end this week with the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus which falls the third Friday after Pentecost and the following Saturday is the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Having just celebrated my six month anniversary of my open heart surgery, these feasts that focus on the hearts of Jesus and Mary have taken on new dimensions for me, and I couldn’t let the days go by without giving a little mention of these feasts.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus arose during medieval times. There was no official devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus, but it gradually developed in private devotion through many religious orders and saints. A key impetus rests on the revelations revealed to St. Margaret Mary (including Twelve Promises of Jesus and Nine First Fridays). After her death the devotion became far-reaching, and by 1856 Pope Pius IX established as a feast on the universal calendar. It is now one of the most widespread devotions to Jesus.

Not all feasts and saints are included in the Directory of Popular Piety, but this June cluster of feast days happen to have several entries, including for these two feasts. The document really provides understanding and added depth to the feasts. It first explains that devotion to the Sacred Heart doesn’t just isolate the heart of Jesus, but applies to His whole person.

166. Understood in the light of the Scriptures, the term "Sacred Heart of Jesus" denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being, and his person considered in its most intimate essential: Son of God, uncreated wisdom; infinite charity, principal of the salvation and sanctification of mankind. The "Sacred Heart" is Christ, the Word Incarnate, Saviour, intrinsically containing, in the Spirit, an infinite divine-human love for the Father and for his brothers....

And further we learn of what this devotion means for us:

172. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is a wonderful historical expression of the Church's piety for Christ, her Spouse and Lord: it calls for a fundamental attitude of conversion and reparation, of love and gratitude, apostolic commitment and dedication to Christ and his saving work. For these reasons, the devotion is recommended and its renewal encouraged by the Holy See and by the Bishops. Such renewal touches on the devotion's linguistic and iconographic expressions; on consciousness of its biblical origins and its connection with the great mysteries of the faith; on affirming the primacy of the love of God and neighbour as the essential content of the devotion itself.

June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, and the section on the monthly dedication provides the papal devotion and writings on the Sacred Heart and also the Scriptural basis as quoted from Directory on Popular Piety. Matthew shares the first reference when Jesus refers to Himself as "meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:25-30, today's Gospel). The other key quotes are when Jesus' heart is pierced by the lance, with blood and water flowing, and St. Thomas puts his fingers into Jesus' side after the resurrection.

God Is Love

Popular culture refers to the heart as the image of love. Jesus is all-loving and all-merciful and the example for what real love truly is -- sacrificial and giving of entire self to the point of "laying down His life."

I often think of St. John the Evangelist leaning on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper in regards to the Sacred Heart. Do I work on getting that close intimate connection with Christ, that I can lean on Him as my refuge, enter into His heart and remain as Jesus invited us the night before He died as the True Vine (John 15)? St. John's Gospel and Letters completely emphasize the love of God, living that love in imitation of Christ and remaining in Him. Today's second reading is a summary of this: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love...In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sin....if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us." (1 John 4:7-16).


A stumbling block to fostering this devotion in modern times is the depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Many in Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions do not understand the images. For some it can be considered too graphic to see an anatomical heart on an artistic rendering of Jesus and Mary. The Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy touches on exactly this:

173. Popular piety tends to associate a devotion with its iconographic expression. This is a normal and positive phenomenon. Inconveniences can sometimes arise: iconographic expressions that no longer respond to the artistic taste of the people can sometimes lead to a diminished appreciation of the devotion's object, independently of its theological basis and its historico-salvific content.

This can sometimes arise with devotion to the Sacred Heart: perhaps certain over sentimental images which are incapable of giving expression to the devotion's robust theological content or which do not encourage the faithful to approach the mystery of the Sacred Heart of our Saviour. Recent times have seen the development of images representing the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the moment of crucifixion which is the highest expression of the love of Christ. The Sacred Heart is Christ crucified, his side pierced by the lance, with blood and water flowing from it (cf, John 19, 34).

I dislike the saccharine and overdone images. For myself personally I look for artistic interpretations of Jesus that are stronger masculine depictions. I don't really need to see the actual heart of Christ displayed to help my devotion. I've seen too many medical depictions for it to evoke rest and refuge. Having had my chest opened and now bearing the scars from surgery makes the devotion to the Sacred Heart less sentimental. I now dwell more of the sacrificial love of Christ, which makes my favorite images the ones with Christ on the Cross with His heart being pierced, or of the risen Christ showing his wounds. For me, Jesus' scars symbolize that ultimate love.

Immaculate Heart

The history of devotion of the Immaculate Heart isn't as extensive as the Sacred Heart, but because of Mary's intimate relationship with her Son, this devotion is directly tied to the feast of the Sacred Heart.

The contiguity of both celebrations is in itself a liturgical sign of their close connection: the mysterium of the Heart of Jesus is projected onto and reverberates in the Heart of His Mother, who is also one of his followers and a disciple. As the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart celebrates the salvific mysteries of Christ in a synthetic manner by reducing them to their fount —the Heart of Jesus, so too the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a celebration of the complex visceral relationship of Mary with her Son's work of salvation: from the Incarnation, to his death and resurrection, to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Following the apparitions at Fatima in 1917, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary became very widespread. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the apparitions (1942) Pius XII consecrated the Church and the human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and extended the memorial to the entire Church (Dir. on Pop. Piety, #174).

The main scriptural reference for the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the Presentation in the Temple in the Gospel of Luke. Simeon prophecies that her heart will be pierced, "and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Further is the reference: "Mary treasured all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." The devotions of the Seven Sorrows of Mary and the Five First Saturdays are connected with the Immaculate Heart. As a mother I identify more with this devotion to Mary than I did before I had children. We learn to give our love to our husband and children -- and if we follow Mary's example, it is an unselfish love, but at times it is love given until it hurts.


Because the Sacred Heart is a solemnity, abstinence from meat or extra sacrifice is lifted. As I mentioned before, this is a reminder that Sundays and solemnities are exceptional and should be treated in this way.

While solemnities and feasts, which occur less frequently than memorials, are fully festive days, a memorial is celebrated as the mere calling to mind of a saint on the anniversary of his death. Solemnities and feasts are exceptional days. (Flannery, The Saints in Season)

Sundays and Solemnities are the highest rank in the ecclesiastical calendar, and our lives should reflect that fact!

There are no long-standing cultural traditions regarding this feast, which leaves room for the imagination. I'm not making anything that depicts hearts, nor am I cooking "hearts" of animals. I do have a weakness for artichoke hearts, which I might serve as an appetizer to recall these feast days. Our plan for celebrating will be attending Mass together as a family followed by special coffee and breakfast treats. Later we are looking forward to a special dinner with fresh grown food from the farmer's market and a simple dessert.

Our thoughts and prayers will be focused on growing closer to Jesus and Mary through love, mercy and reparation.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is a wife, mother, homemaker, CGS catechist, and Montessori teacher. Specializing in living the liturgical year, or liturgical living, she is the primary developer of’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Jun. 27, 2014 5:16 PM ET USA

    It was great to attend mass today in commemoration of this very important feast. Many cannot truly fathom the love God has for us, his children. In spite of our weakness, he loves us!! The priest invited us to think about this when we're at rest; think of God as looking directly at us with love.