During the pandemic, American Bishops have called for the faithful to pray the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus at noon on Good Friday.
Do you know the origin of this devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? It began with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun who was herself ill as a child and credited the Blessed Virgin with her healing.
Born in Burgundy, France on July 22, 1647, Margaret was the only daughter of Claude Alacoque and Philiberte Lamyn and had several brothers. As a child, Margaret developed an early love for prayer and a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
When she was 8, her father died, and a corrupt relative controlled the family’s finances, keeping the Alacoques in deep poverty. Margaret was sent to live with the Poor Clares. While living at the convent, she developed rheumatic fever and was bedridden from the time she was ten until she turned 15. She prayed to the Blessed Virgin for healing, vowing to become a religious sister. Margaret was instantly healed of her weakness and was so grateful she added the name “Mary” to hers in homage to the Blessed Virgin.
The corrupt Alacoque relative soon died, and control of the family fortune was returned to Margaret’s mother. She encouraged her 17-year-old daughter to socialize and find a good husband. Margaret left her thoughts of religious life behind, and became a social butterfly, often attending parties and balls with her brothers.
However, returning from a ball celebrating Carnival one evening, she was startled by a vision of Jesus asking her if she had forgotten him and reminding her of her vow to the Blessed Virgin. Margaret was changed by the experience, and became determined to fulfill her promise. She entered the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary at Paray-le-Monial when she was 24. The superior was not fond of Sister Margaret, constantly challenging the sincerity of her vocation, and even delaying her final vows. It was said that Margaret was not skilled at the tasks she was assigned to in the convent.
On Dec. 27, 1673, Sister Margaret had a vision in which she rested her head on Jesus’ heart, and he told her she was chosen for very special work. More visions of Jesus followed over the next 18 months with instructions for her to spread devotion to his Sacred Heart, and instituting the practice of the Nine Friday Devotions, as well as the Thursday Holy Hour.
The mother superior was reluctant to accept Sister Margaret’s visions and the instructions for the new devotions, but soon accepted them. The sisters at the convent then instituted the practice. Margaret had less success getting theologians to accept the devotions, until the veracity of her visions was accepted by the Jesuit priest who was the order’s confessor, St. Claude de la Colombiere.
Later, a new superior was elected who was much kinder to Sister Margaret, allowing her to serve as her assistant, and later as Novice Mistress. Other convents in the order took on the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and the practice later became widespread. In 1688, a chapel was built at Paray-le-Monial in honor of the Sacred Heart. The Jesuits also began to promote the Devotion to the Sacred Heart. However, the devotion would not be officially recognized by the Church until Pope Clement XIII did so in 1765, seventy-five years after St. Margaret’s death. She died on Oct. 17, 1690.
She was canonized in 1920.
She is the patron of of those suffering with polio, devotees of the Sacred Heart, loss of parents.
More information about Devotions to the Sacred Heart can be found here:
The Litany of the Sacred Heart can be found here: