From the Vatican Information Service:
VATICAN CITY, 18 JUN 2009 (VIS) – The Pope has sent a Letter to the priests of the world for the occasion of the Year for Priests, which has been called to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney.
Tomorrow, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and day of prayer for the sanctification of the clergy, Benedict XVI will inaugurate this Jubilee Year for Priests during Vespers in the Vatican Basilica.
The Letter has been published in Italian, French, Spanish, English, German, Polish and Portuguese. The complete text of the English language version is given below:
Dear Brother Priests,
On the forthcoming Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19 June 2009 – a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy – I have decided to inaugurate a “Year for Priests” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the “dies natalis” of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide. This Year, meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world, will conclude on the same Solemnity in 2010. “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus”, the saintly Cure of Ars would often say. This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labours, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as “friends of Christ”, whom He has called by name, chosen and sent?
I still treasure the memory of the first parish priest at whose side I exercised my ministry as a young priest: he left me an example of unreserved devotion to his pastoral duties, even to meeting death in the act of bringing viaticum to a gravely ill person. I also recall the countless confreres whom I have met and continue to meet, not least in my pastoral visits to different countries: men generously dedicated to the daily exercise of their priestly ministry. Yet the expression of St. John Mary also makes us think of Christ’s pierced Heart and the crown of thorns which surrounds it. I am also led to think, therefore, of the countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister. How can we not also think of all those priests who are offended in their dignity, obstructed in their mission and persecuted, even at times to offering the supreme testimony of their own blood?
There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection. What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgement of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realisation of the greatness of God’s gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides. Here the teaching and example of St. John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Cure of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy”. He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realised what he is, he would die. … God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host”. Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the Sacraments, he would say: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put Him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest. … After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realise what he is”. These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the Sacrament of the Priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: “Were we to fully realise what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love. … Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth. … What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods. … Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshipping the beasts there. … The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”.
He arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, warned by his bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: “There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there”. As a result, he was deeply aware that he needed to go there to embody Christ’s presence and to bear witness to His saving mercy: “[Lord,] grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!”. With this prayer he entered upon his mission. The Cure devoted himself completely to his parish’s conversion, setting before all else the Christian education of the people in his care. Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of St. John Mary Vianney! The first thing we need to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission tend to coincide: all Christ’s saving activity was, and is, an expression of His “filial consciousness” which from all eternity stands before the Father in an attitude of loving submission to His will. In a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification. Certainly this is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry’s objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister. The Cure of Ars immediately set about this patient and humble task of harmonising his life as a minister with the holiness of the ministry he had received, by deciding to “live”, physically, in his parish church: As his first biographer tells us: “Upon his arrival, he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed”.
The pious excess of his devout biographer should not blind us to the fact that the Cure also knew how to “live” actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organised popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for his charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the “Providence” (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.
His example naturally leads me to point out that there are sectors of co-operation which need to be opened ever more fully to the lay faithful. Priests and laity together make up the one priestly people and in virtue of their ministry priests live in the midst of the lay faithful, “that they may lead everyone to the unity of charity, ‘loving one another with mutual affection; and outdoing one another in sharing honour'”. Here we ought to recall the Vatican Council II’s hearty encouragement to priests “to be sincere in their appreciation and promotion of the dignity of the laity and of the special role they have to play in the Church’s mission. … They should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes, and acknowledge their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able together with them to discern the signs of the times”.
St. John Mary Vianney taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life. It was from his example that they learned to pray, halting frequently before the tabernacle for a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. “One need not say much to pray well” – the Cure explained to them – “We know that Jesus is there in the tabernacle: let us open our hearts to Him, let us rejoice in His sacred presence. That is the best prayer”. And he would urge them: “Come to communion, my brothers and sisters, come to Jesus. Come to live from Him in order to live with Him. … “Of course you are not worthy of him, but you need him!”. This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Those present said that “it was not possible to find a finer example of worship. … He gazed upon the Host with immense love”. “All good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass” – he would say – “since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God”. He was convinced that the fervour of a priest’s life depended entirely upon the Mass: “The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!”. He was accustomed, when celebrating, also to offer his own life in sacrifice: “What a good thing it is for a priest each morning to offer himself to God in sacrifice!”
This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him – by a sole inward movement – from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this Sacrament. In France, at the time of the Cure of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He thus created a “virtuous” circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day. It was said that Ars had become “a great hospital of souls”. His first biographer relates that “the grace he obtained [for the conversion of sinners] was so powerful that it would pursue them, not leaving them a moment of peace!”. The saintly Cure reflected something of the same idea when he said: “It is not the sinner who returns to God to beg his forgiveness, but God Himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to Him”. “This good Saviour is so filled with love that He seeks us everywhere”.
We priests should feel that the following words, which he put on the lips of Christ, are meant for each of us personally: “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite”. From St. John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the Sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the “dialogue of salvation” which it entails. The Cure of Ars dealt with different penitents in different ways. Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God’s forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the “flood of divine mercy” which sweeps everything away by its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Cure would unveil the mystery of God’s love in these beautiful and touching words: “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, He already knows that you will sin again, yet He still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: He even forces Himself to forget the future, so that He can grant us His forgiveness!”. But to those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how “abominable” this attitude was: “I weep because you don’t weep”, he would say. “If only the Lord were not so good! But He is so good! One would have to be a brute to treat so good a Father this way!”. He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God’s own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor. To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God’s love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with Him and dwelling in His presence: “Everything in God’s sight, everything with God, everything to please God. … How beautiful it is!”. And he taught them to pray: “My God, grant me the grace to love You as much as I possibly can”.
In his time the Cure of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord’s merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love. Thanks to the Word and the Sacraments of Jesus, John Mary Vianney built up his flock, although he often trembled from a conviction of his personal inadequacy, and desired more than once to withdraw from the responsibilities of the parish ministry out of a sense of his unworthiness. Nonetheless, with exemplary obedience he never abandoned his post, consumed as he was by apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls. He sought to remain completely faithful to his own vocation and mission through the practice of an austere asceticism: “The great misfortune for us parish priests – he lamented – is that our souls grow tepid”; meaning by this that a pastor can grow dangerously inured to the state of sin or of indifference in which so many of his flock are living. He himself kept a tight rein on his body, with vigils and fasts, lest it rebel against his priestly soul. Nor did he avoid self-mortification for the good of the souls in his care and as a help to expiating the many sins he heard in confession. To a priestly confrere he explained: “I will tell you my recipe: I give sinners a small penance and the rest I do in their place”. Aside from the actual penances which the Cure of Ars practised, the core of his teaching remains valid for each of us: souls have been won at the price of Jesus’ own blood, and a priest cannot devote himself to their salvation if he refuses to share personally in the “precious cost” of redemption.
In today’s world, as in the troubled times of the Cure of Ars, the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a forceful witness to the Gospel. As Pope Paul VI rightly noted, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”. Lest we experience existential emptiness and the effectiveness of our ministry be compromised, we need to ask ourselves ever anew: “Are we truly pervaded by the Word of God? Is that Word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that Word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this Word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking?”. Just as Jesus called the Twelve to be with Him, and only later sent them forth to preach, so too in our days priests are called to assimilate that “new style of life” which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles.
It was complete commitment to this “new style of life” which marked the priestly ministry of the Cure of Ars. Pope John XXIII, in his Encyclical Letter “Sacerdotii nostri primordia”, published in 1959 on the first centenary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, presented his asceticism with special reference to the “three evangelical counsels” which the Pope considered necessary also for priests: “even though priests are not bound to embrace these evangelical counsels by virtue of the clerical state, these counsels nonetheless offer them, as they do all the faithful, the surest road to the desired goal of Christian perfection”. The Cure of Ars lived the “evangelical counsels” in a way suited to his priestly state. His poverty was not the poverty of a religious or a monk, but that proper to a priest: while managing much money (since well-to-do pilgrims naturally took an interest in his charitable works), he realised that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his “Providence”, his families of modest means. Consequently, he “was rich in giving to others and very poor for himself”. As he would explain: “My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back”. When he lacked money, he would say amiably to the poor who knocked at his door: “Today I’m poor just like you, I’m one of you”. At the end of his life, he could say with absolute tranquillity: “I no longer have anything. The good Lord can call me whenever he wants!”. His chastity, too, was that demanded of a priest for his ministry. It could be said that it was a chastity suited to one who must daily touch the Eucharist, who contemplates it blissfully and with that same bliss offers it to his flock. It was said of him that “he radiated chastity”; the faithful would see this when he turned and gazed at the tabernacle with loving eyes”. Finally, Saint John Mary Vianney’s obedience found full embodiment in his conscientious fidelity to the daily demands of his ministry. We know how he was tormented by the thought of his inadequacy for parish ministry and by a desire to flee “in order to bewail his poor life, in solitude”. Only obedience and a thirst for souls convinced him to remain at his post. As he explained to himself and his flock: “There are no two good ways of serving God. There is only one: serve him as he desires to be served”. He considered this the golden rule for a life of obedience: “Do only what can be offered to the good Lord”.
In this context of a spirituality nourished by the practice of the evangelical counsels, I would like to invite all priests, during this Year dedicated to them, to welcome the new springtime which the Spirit is now bringing about in the Church, not least through the ecclesial movements and the new communities. “In his gifts the Spirit is multifaceted. … He breathes where He wills. He does so unexpectedly, in unexpected places, and in ways previously unheard of, … but he also shows us that He works with a view to the one body and in the unity of the one body”. In this regard, the statement of the Decree “Presbyterorum Ordinis” continues to be timely: “While testing the spirits to discover if they be of God, priests must discover with faith, recognise with joy and foster diligently the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, whether these be of a humble or more exalted kind”. These gifts, which awaken in many people the desire for a deeper spiritual life, can benefit not only the lay faithful but the clergy as well. The communion between ordained and charismatic ministries can provide “a helpful impulse to a renewed commitment by the Church in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of hope and charity in every corner of the world”. I would also like to add, echoing the Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis” of Pope John Paul II, that the ordained ministry has a radical “communitarian form” and can be exercised only in the communion of priests with their bishop. This communion between priests and their bishop, grounded in the Sacrament of Holy Orders and made manifest in Eucharistic concelebration, needs to be translated into various concrete expressions of an effective and affective priestly fraternity. Only thus will priests be able to live fully the gift of celibacy and build thriving Christian communities in which the miracles which accompanied the first preaching of the Gospel can be repeated.
The Pauline Year now coming to its close invites us also to look to the Apostle of the Gentiles, who represents a splendid example of a priest entirely devoted to his ministry. “The love of Christ urges us on” – he wrote – “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died”. And he adds: “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him Who died and was raised for them”. Could a finer programme be proposed to any priest resolved to advance along the path of Christian perfection?
Dear brother priests, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney (1859) follows upon the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Lourdes (1858). In 1959 Blessed Pope John XXIII noted that “shortly before the Cure of Ars completed his long and admirable life, the Immaculate Virgin appeared in another part of France to an innocent and humble girl, and entrusted to her a message of prayer and penance which continues, even a century later, to yield immense spiritual fruits. The life of this holy priest whose centenary we are commemorating in a real way anticipated the great supernatural truths taught to the seer of Massabielle. He was greatly devoted to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin; in 1836 he had dedicated his parish church to Our Lady Conceived without Sin and he greeted the dogmatic definition of this truth in 1854 with deep faith and great joy”. The Cure would always remind his faithful that “after giving us all he could, Jesus Christ wishes in addition to bequeath us His most precious possession, His Blessed Mother”.
To the Most Holy Virgin I entrust this Year for Priests. I ask her to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church which inspired the thoughts and actions of the saintly Cure of Ars. It was his fervent prayer life and his impassioned love of Christ Crucified that enabled John Mary Vianney to grow daily in his total self-oblation to God and the Church. May his example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful, which today, as ever, is so necessary. Despite all the evil present in our world, the words which Christ spoke to His Apostles in the Upper Room continue to inspire us: “In the world you have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world”. Our faith in the Divine Master gives us the strength to look to the future with confidence. Dear priests, Christ is counting on you. In the footsteps of the Cure of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by Him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!
“I am the Mother of all who seek me and place their trust in me…”
Petition to His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. Archbishop of Chicago, President of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archdiocese of Chicago
From Catholic Citizens of the United States of America
We Request a Consecration of the United States of America to the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Guadalupe
“For I am truly your compassionate Mother: your Mother and the Mother to all who dwell in this land and to all other nations and peoples who love me and call and entreat me. I am the Mother of all who seek me and place their trust in me.”
~ Our Lady of Guadalupe
Canon 212, subsections 2 and 3, provides for Catholics the liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church. In addition, it affords them the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church.
We, the undersigned Catholics of the United States of America, respectfully request Your Eminence to consecrate our beloved country to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her glorious title of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas.
As Catholic citizens of this great country which our Heavenly Father has deigned to richly bless, our concern for our spiritual welfare has increased dramatically since President Barack Obama has taken office and rapidly begun to foist upon our nation, with the assistance of numerous anti-Catholic politicians, a virulent Culture of Death and perverse agenda which, if not rapidly defeated, will destroy our nation. No citizen can be assured of God-given liberties in a nation which so aggressively legislates in favor of death and perverse lifestyles.
During his first one hundred days in office, President Barack Obama has “fulfilled ten of fifteen agenda items outlined in a December report from over 50 abortion-rights organizations submitted to the Obama-Biden transition team” (Susan B. Anthony List):
Reverse pro-life Mexico City Policy – Restore funding to UNFPA – Increase Title X Funding (Planned Parenthood Funding Stream) to $700M – Rescinding Conscience Protections for Medical Providers – Strike Abortion Budgetary Restrictions – Provide $1B for International Family Planning – Select Pro-Abortion Judicial Nominees – Choose Pro-Abortion Federal Appointees – Review Policies that Restrict Access to Emergency Contraception – Reduce Cost of Birth Control at College Health Centers
In addition to these aforementioned actions which are rabid attacks against Holy Mother Church, Her faithful shepherds and laity, the Hate Crimes Acts (S. 909) is set for a vote. If it passes, Catholics will be severely hindered from sharing pro-life information in public and, thus, saving babies from abortion; pro-lifers may especially be at risk of arrest and censorship under such “hate crimes” provisions, making these bills a serious threat to freedom of speech. It is multi-faceted and will result in persecution of Catholics who endeavor to uphold their Faith and Morals in a public forum. Catholics are experiencing systematic silencing as they witness President Barack Obama’s intentions for our nation, including the penetration of Catholic institutions.
At this most critical period in our nation’s history we look to you, Your Eminence, as our shepherd to utilize your God-given authority to call down upon our nation the powerful aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, that she may grant us an abundance of graces to defend our Catholic Faith in this present battle with the powers of darkness, even to our death if necessary; and if it be the will of God, mitigate incidences of persecution which will surely befall us if the current Administration is not promptly halted from proceeding full force with its perverse and deadly agenda. As Catholics continue to accomplish everything in their human power to avert morally destructive legislation, they recognize that our nation’s deep spiritual crisis has reached a level beyond their human abilities alone to fully correct. We, therefore, entreat you to lay our petition before the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Confident as we are in the illustrious history of Our Lady’s maternal protection of her devoted ones in times of dire need, we seek her graces through your act of Consecration. As a token of our immense gratitude for your courageous pastoral leadership in this regard, we shall offer you during the month of June (the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) a spiritual bouquet of all our Masses, Rosaries, and sacrifices.
“Know for certain that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God…I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all those who have confidence in me…. Listen and let it penetrate into your heart…. Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? What else do you need?”
~ Our Lady of Guadalupe
VATICAN CITY, 12 MAY 2009 (VIS) – According to a decree made public today and signed by Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv., respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Benedict XVI will grant priests and faithful Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the Year for Priests, which is due to run from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010 and has been called in honour of St. Jean Marie Vianney.
The period will begin with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, “a day of priestly sanctification”, says the text, when the Pope will celebrate Vespers before the relics of the saint, brought to Rome for the occasion by the bishop of the French diocese of Belley-Ars. The Year will end in St. Peter’s Square, in the presence of priests from all over the world “who will renew their faithfulness to Christ and their bonds of fraternity”.
The means to obtain the Plenary Indulgence are as follows:
(A) All truly penitent priests who, on any day, devotedly pray Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament exposed to public adoration or in the tabernacle, and offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, will be granted Plenary Indulgence, which they can also apply to their deceased confreres, if in accordance with current norms they take Sacramental Confession and the Eucharist and pray in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. Priests are furthermore granted Partial Indulgence, also applicable to deceased confreres, every time they devotedly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a saintly life and to carry out the duties entrusted to them.
(B) All truly penitent Christian faithful who, in church or oratory, devotedly attend Holy Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mould them to His Heart, are granted Plenary Indulgence, on the condition that they have expiated their sins through Sacramental Confession and prayed in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. This may be done on the opening and closing days of the Year of Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful.
The elderly, the sick and all those who for any legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain Plenary Indulgence if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, “on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles”.
Partial Indulgence is offered to all faithful each time they pray five Our Father, Ave Maria and Gloria Patri, or any other duly approved prayer “in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life”.
Moses told the people,
“Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign,
and let them be a pendant on your forehead.
“I set before you here, this day, a blessing and a curse:
a blessing for obeying the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today;
a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today,
to follow other gods, whom you have not known.”
Ps 31:2-3, 3-4, 17, 25
R. (3b) Lord, be my rock of safety.
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me,
incline your ear to me,
make haste to deliver me!
R. Lord, be my rock of safety.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Lord, be my rock of safety.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
Take courage and be stouthearted,
all you who hope in the LORD.
R. Lord, be my rock of safety.
Rom 3:21-25, 28
Brothers and sisters,
Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law,
though testified to by the law and the prophets,
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ
for all who believe.
For there is no distinction;
all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.
They are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption in Christ Jesus,
whom God set forth as an expiation,
through faith, by his blood.
For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?
Did we not drive out demons in your name?
Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’
Then I will declare to them solemnly,
‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”
The Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Friday following the second Sunday after Pentecost. In addition to the liturgical celebration, many devotional exercises are connected with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Of all devotions, devotion to the Sacred Heart was, and remains, one of the most widespread and popular in the Church.
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.
The Roman Pontiffs have frequently averted to the scriptural basis of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Jesus, who is one with the Father (cf. John 10, 30), invites his disciples to live in close communion with him, to model their lives on him and on his teaching. He, in turn, reveals himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11, 29). It can be said that, in a certain sense, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a cultic form of the prophetic and evangelic gaze of all Christians on him who was pierced (cf. John 19, 37; Zac 12, 10), the gaze of all Christians on the side of Christ, transfixed by a lance, and from which flowed blood and water (cf. John 19, 34), symbols of the “wondrous sacrament of the Church”.
The Gospel of St. John recounts the showing of the Lord’s hands and his side to the disciples (cf. John 20,20), and of his invitation to Thomas to put his hand into his side (cf. John 20, 27). This event has also had a notable influence on the origin and development of the Church’s devotion to the Sacred Heart.
These and other texts present Christ as the paschal Lamb, victorious and slain (cf. Apoc 5,6). They were objects of much reflection by the Fathers who unveiled their doctrinal richness. They invited the faithful to penetrate the mysteries of Christ by contemplating the wound opened in his side. Augustine writes: “Access is possible: Christ is the door. It was opened for you when his side was opened by the lance. Remember what flowed out from his side: thus, choose where you want to enter Christ. From the side of Christ as he hung dying upon the Cross there flowed out blood and water, when it was pierced by a lance. Your purification is in that water, your redemption is in that blood”.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart was particularly strong during the middle ages. Many renowned for the learning and holiness developed and encouraged the devotion, among them St. Bernard (+1153), St. Bonaventure (+ 1274), the mystic St. Lutgarda (+1246), St Mathilda of Marburg (+ 1282), the sainted sisters Mathilda (+ 1299) and Gertrude (+ 1302) of the monastery of Helfta, and Ludolf of Saxony (+1380). These perceived in the Sacred Heart a “refuge” in which to recover, the seat of mercy, the encounter with him who is the source of the Lord’s infinite love, the fount from which flows the Holy Spirit, the promised land, and true paradise.
In the modern period devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus underwent new developments. At a time when Jansenism proclaimed the rigours of divine justice, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus served as a useful antidote and aroused in the faithful a love for Our Lord and a trust in his infinite mercy symbolized by his Heart. St. Francis de Sales (+ 1622) adopted humility, gentleness (cf. Mt 11, 29) and tender loving mercy, all aspects of the Sacred Heart, as a model for his life and apostolate. The Lord frequently manifested the abundant mercy of his Heart to St. Margaret Mary (+ 1690); St. John Eudes (+ 1680) promoted the liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart, while St. Claude de la Colombière (+ 1682) and St. John Bosco (+1888) and other saints were avid promoters of devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are numerous. Some have been explicitly approved and frequently recommended by the Apostolic See. Among these, mention should be made of the following:
personal consecration, described by Pius XI as “undoubtedly the principal devotional practice used in relation to the Sacred Heart”;
family consecration to the Sacred Heart, in which the family, by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony already participating in the mystery of the unity and love of Christ for the Church, is dedicated to Christ so that he might reign in the hearts of all its members;
the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, approved for the whole Church in 1891, which is evidently biblical in character and to which many indulgences have been attached;
the act of reparation, a prayer with which the faithful, mindful of the infinite goodness of Christ, implore mercy for the offences committed in so many ways against his Sacred Heart;
the pious practice of the first Fridays of the month which derives from the “great promises” made by Jesus to St. Margaret Mary. At a time when sacramental communion was very rare among the faithful, the first Friday devotion contributed significantly to a renewed use of the Sacraments of Penance and of the Holy Eucharist. In our own times, the devotion to the first Fridays, even if practised correctly, may not always lead to the desired spiritual fruits. Hence, the faithful require constant instruction so that any reduction of the practice to mere credulity, is avoided and an active faith encouraged so that the faithful may undertake their commitment to the Gospel correctly in their lives. They should also be reminded of the absolute preeminence of Sunday, the “primordial feast”, which should be marked by the full participation of the faithful at the celebration of the Holy Mass.
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.
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 time 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).
To prepare well for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and for the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is essential to reflect upon the Heart of Jesus in the divinely inspired texts of the Sacred Scriptures and the official teaching of the Church.
Through His inspired Word in the Sacred Scriptures, God Himself opens up for the depth of His love for us in Jesus Christ, love symbolized most fully in the Sacred Heart. The official teaching of the Church guides us in applying the Word of God to our daily living, helping us to return a response of love to God for the immeasurable gifts of His love to us. Our attention to the Word of God and the Church’s teaching, and the obedience of our response makes our devotional life true and strong, fruitful in love of God and our neighbor. The Pierced Heart of Jesus
The principal text from the Holy Bible which inspires devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the account of our Lord’s Passion and Death. After our Lord Jesus had died on the cross, the soldiers wanted to use the customary means of ensuring that crucified criminals had truly died, namely the breaking of the legs. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that the soldiers broke the legs of the other two criminals crucified with Jesus (Mt 19:32). When they came to Jesus, however, it was clear to them that there was no need to break His legs, for He was already dead. As a result, one of the Roman soldiers thrust his spear into the side of our Lord, from which there immediately flowed blood and water (Jn 19:34). The soldier pierced the Heart of Jesus with his lance. The blood and water which flowed from the Pierced Heart of Jesus is the sign of His life with us in the Church. Once risen from the dead and seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, Christ has never ceased to pour out, from His glorious Pierced Heart, the grace of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples. The Preface for the Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus expresses the ancient symbolism of the water and the blood:
“Lifted high on the cross,
Christ gave His life for us,
So much did He love us.
From His wounded side flowed blood and water,
The fountain of sacramental life in the Church.
To His open side the Savior invites all men,
To draw water in joy from the springs of salvation” (The Roman Missal).
The flow of water and blood from the Pierced Heart of Jesus also reminds us of our Lord’s words regarding the source of salvation in His Heart:
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me,
Let him drink who believes in Me.”
Scripture has it:
“From within Him rivers of living water shall flow” (Jn 7:37).
Our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus leads us to remember always the many ways in which Christ has poured out and continues to pour out His love for us in the Church from the moment of His death on the cross.
Meaning of Heart in the Scriptures
In understanding the meaning of the Scriptural passage referring to the piercing of the Heart of Jesus, it is important to remember the significance of the heart in the Holy Scriptures. In the Bible, the heart is the center of man, wherein is found his fullest being. It is in the heart, in the words of the Holy Scriptures, that all our thoughts and desires have their origin. When God speaks to us, He speaks to our heart. In the Gospel according to St. Mark, our Lord quotes the Prophet Isaiah to describe our hypocrisy when we claim to love God and, at the same time, disobey His commands: “How accurately Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites when he wrote, ‘This people pays Me lip service but their heart is far from Me’” (Mk 7:6).
Later on, in the same passage, our Lord reminds us that our evil thoughts and deeds have their origin in the heart:
“Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, an obtuse spirit” (Mk 7:21-22).
Uniting our heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our heart is at once purified of all wrong thoughts, desires and inclinations and inflamed with love of God and our neighbor. The revelation of the Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary showed the mark of the piercing and the purifying flame of love with the cross within it, which crowns the Divine Heart. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is surrounded by the crown of thorns to signify the entire Passion by which He poured out His life for us.
Heart of Jesus
What the Holy Scriptures understand about the heart of man applies also to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for His heart is the heart of a man. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, God the Son, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, took a human heart under the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary. In the Litany of the Sacred Heart, there is a most beautiful invocation which is inspired by our reflection upon the Incarnation: “Heart of Jesus formed by Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.” The invocation which follows reminds us again that the human heart of Jesus was made one with His divine nature: “Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God.” It is to His own Heart that Christ refers in the Gospels: “My heart goes out to My people” (Mt 15:31); and “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:28-29).
The outpouring of Christ’s Life for us, represented in the blood and water which flowed from His pierced Heart, continues in the Church, especially through the sacraments. The Church has always seen in the water and blood which flowed from the Pierced Heart of Jesus a sign of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, by which we come to life in the Church through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls, and by which the life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is nourished by the Heavenly Food which is the true Body of Christ.
Heart of God
The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the forming of the human heart of God the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is the fulfillment of the Word of God spoken through the Prophet Ezekiel. Speaking through Ezekiel, God described His work of Redemption with these words: “I will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart, so that they will live according to My statutes, and observe and carry out My ordinances; thus they shall be My people, and I will be their God” (Ez 11:19-20).
The “new heart” and the “new spirit” is nothing less than a heart animated by God the Holy Spirit because the Heart of God the Son was pierced and welcomes now every contrite heart into the deep and peaceful recesses of its joy and peace.
The prophet Jeremiah provides a profound and ample reflection upon the heart of the people whom God is coming to save. In speaking about His saving work, through the Prophet Jeremiah, God the Father refers to His own Heart, His deepest being: “I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently” (Jer 3:15). We see the fulfillment of God’s promise to send shepherds to care for us, who are animated by His own divine love, by the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through the sacramental consecration God transforms a man’s heart, in order that he may act in the very person of Christ for the salvation of the people.
It is through the Sacrament of Holy Orders that Christ the Good Shepherd continues to lay down His life for the sheep (Jn 10:11-18), faithfully fulfilling the promise of God the Father.
When Christ appeared to St. Thomas the Apostle after the Resurrection, He showed him His wounded hands and feet, and His open side, beneath which lay His pierced Heart. He said to Thomas: “Take your finger and examine My hands. Put your hand into My side. Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!” (Jn 20:27).
The response of St. Thomas at seeing the wounds of Christ, and especially His open side, has become for us a favorite prayer when the Host and chalice are elevated after the consecration: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). In the apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, our Lord Jesus invites us, who may have grown weak or cold in faith or who may have abandoned the faith, to examine his Pierced Heart and to believe in Him, the Incarnation of God’s immeasurable and unending love of us.
St. Paul reflects upon the Incarnation of the love of God in the Heart of Jesus in his Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 3:8-19). He writes of the “inscrutable riches of Christ,” which open up to us God’s plan for our salvation. He, then, prays that “Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith,” and that “(we) will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that (we) may attain to the fullness of God himself” (Eph 3:18-19). Christ dwells in our hearts through the gift of His life for us, most perfectly in the Holy Eucharist. Christ dwells in our hearts when we respond to His invitation to place our hearts completely in His Sacred Heart, to open our hearts completely to Him in the celebration of the Holy Mass and throughout each day of our lives.
In a wonderful reflection on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, expresses the profound significance of the references to the Heart of God and the Heart of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures. He writes: “The pierced Heart of the Crucified is the literal fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the Heart of God, which overturns His justice with compassion and precisely in this way remains just. Only in this concordance between the Old and New Testament can we behold the full extent of the biblical message concerning the Heart of God, the Heart of the divine Redeemer (‘The Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart’ in Towards a Civilization of Love [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985], p.159).
Heeding the Cardinal’s wise words, we should frequently return to the Word of God, in order that the Word of God may inflame in us a sorrow for our sins, a desire to make reparation and a new generosity in returning love to God for His immeasurable love for us.
There are many more texts from the Holy Scriptures which refer to the human heart, to the Heart of God and the Heart of Jesus. It is recommended that the Holy Bible be kept on the small table or shelf beneath the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, enthroned in the home. In our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we should take up the Word of God daily, so that God can speak to us from His Heart, so that our Lord Jesus can open up to us all the riches of His Sacred Heart. It will be good to mark the passages which refer to the human heart and the Divine Heart, so that we can easily meditate upon them.
Now, it is important that we look at the Church’s teaching regarding the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Next week, I will examine briefly the teaching of the Word of God about the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.