Tag Archives: Sacred Heart of Jesus

Musical Mystagogy: St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today marks the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–90), a Burgundian nun who experienced a series of visions from 1673 to 1675 that ultimately resulted in her petitioning Church authorities to institute a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Because of her role in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Margaret Mary's visions feature prominently in the stained glass windows of Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Because of her role in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Margaret Mary’s visions feature prominently in the stained glass windows of the Lady Chapel in Notre Dame’s own Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

In addition to the feast itself, St. Margaret Mary promoted acts of devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart, chief among which was the reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, a devotion many still practice to this day. It is for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and her untiring efforts to spread that devotion to others that Margaret Mary Alacoque is honored as a saint, and so today’s musical piece will focus not on the saint herself, but on the object of her unwavering devotion: the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart is twofold: on the one hand, we honor the physical heart of Jesus, the pulsing heart of muscle and blood with its valves and chambers whose very existence encapsulates the mystery of the Incarnation—the heart that testifies that “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); the heart that was pierced by a lance and poured forth the precious lifeblood of Him who loved unto the end. On the other hand, we also honor what the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes: the sheer, unmerited gift of God’s unsurpassable, unfathomable love and mercy, offered without reservation to all who would receive it into their own hearts.

Today’s musical piece, the motet Improperium Expectavit by 18th-century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Casali, is a setting of the Offertory text for the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, taken from Psalm 69 [68]:21–22b. Translated from the Latin, the text reads:

My heart expected reproach and misery
and I desired one who would grieve with me
and there was none:

I sought one to console me, and I found none:
and they gave me gall as my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

The text of today’s piece draws attention to both the physical and the symbolic elements of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From the symbolic standpoint, the heart of the one proclaiming the psalm—understood in the context of the feast as the Heart of Jesus himself—is broken; it is inconsolable, overcome with grief at the devastation of reproach and abandonment. And yet there is also an immense physicality in these lines. Hearing this passage from the Psalms in the voice of Jesus, we are reminded perhaps of his words from the Cross: “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28). Here is the one who hungers and thirsts to draw all into the communion of life he shares with the Father and the Spirit, and his longing is met with derision; his thirst for love is slaked with a drink of malice. We see the juxtaposition with stark clarity in the Reproaches for Good Friday: “I gave you saving water from the rock to drink, / and for drink you gave me gall and vinegar.”

To contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not simply to contemplate the overwhelming love that Jesus pours forth from his Heart; rather, it is to contemplate the mystery that Jesus pours forth his love for us even as we wound his Sacred Heart with our sins. We see this mystery in the way that the Sacred Heart is represented in visual art: pierced, surrounded with the crown of thorns, surmounted by the Cross which ultimately stopped its beating, and yet, even in the midst of these wounds, it is still ablaze, burning with divine love, the love of the God-man who longs for nothing more or less than perfect communion with his people.

We hear this mystery in Casili’s motet in the way that musical dissonance (clashing/grating of pitches) gives way to serene consonance (rest/resolution). This is the way that nearly all Western music operates at some level: tension arises in the music that is ultimately resolved. The dissonance somehow serves to help us appreciate all the more the consonance that resolves it. In this sense, consonance seems to purify the dissonance as the notes are brought into harmonious communion with one another in the movement toward resolution. This is what happens when we allow the dissonance of our sinfulness to give way to the love of the Sacred Heart: we ‘sour notes’ are brought into a radiant harmony with Jesus as we learn to sing with ever greater fidelity the hymn of self-giving love he intones from the Cross.

In contemplating with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque the Sacred Heart of Jesus, may we learn to give ourselves over to the ardent love of Christ as it blazes forth from his pierced Heart, that the dissonance within our own hearts may be melted away and dissolve into the consonant, radiant harmony of life in God; that, in the words of St. Paul from the proper reading for today, we may be “rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17b–19).

At the Feet of and Entrusted to the Heart of Jesus

Hope BoettnerHope Bethany

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

Echo 12 Apprentice

This writing finds me in a familiar place, though at a different stage of life. I often come to sit at the feet of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue on campus. When I came here as an undergraduate, I liked to think about sitting here as an image of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus—the type of quiet listening, spent sitting at the feet of Jesus, that we think of when we think about Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary.

Johannes Vermeer's painting of "Christ in the House of Mary and Martha"
Johannes Vermeer’s painting of “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha”

One day this past spring (maybe because of this writing job, in fact; it has made the wheels of my mind continually turn and try to catch ideas for writing), I realized that my mental picture of sitting at the feet of Jesus and sometimes trying to force the sentiments of peace that Mary might have found was overly idealistic. I hope and pray that there will be many times in my life of sitting at the feet of Jesus, quietly and at peace like Mary. But Mary of Bethany’s time at the feet of Jesus does not image for us the only time spent at the feet of Jesus.

These scenarios also did, and maybe they do so more powerfully.

The woman caught in adultery found herself at the feet of Jesus.

 

 

 

Mary Magdalen, pouring the anointing of oil on Jesus in sorrow for her sin, began by crying at the feet of Jesus and drying those tears with her hair.

 

 

 

 

And Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to spend hours at her Son’s feet while at the foot of the Cross, experiencing the agony of watching her Son die.

 

 

And so at another point, I realized that my thought process of sitting at the feet of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue here on campus, and finding my way to it no matter what state of mind and heart I found myself, more closely mirrors the way that St. Margaret Mary Alacoque wrote about the scenarios in which we ought to entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus than it did to any time Mary of Bethany spent quietly at the feet of Jesus, as Martha bustled busily around the house.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque—the saint to whom we believe that Jesus appeared and revealed his Sacred Heart—expresses the reality that our lives belong at the feet of Jesus, or, in keeping with the feast we celebrate today, entrusted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

This divine heart is an abyss of all blessings, and into it the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need.

Therefore, you must unite yourselves to the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, both at the beginning of your conversion in order to obtain proper dispositions, and at its end in order to make reparation. Are you making no progress in prayer? Then you need only offer God the prayers which the Savior has poured out for us in the sacrament of the altar. Offer God his fervent love in reparation for your sluggishness. In the course of every activity pray as follows: “My God, I do this or I endure that in the heart of your Son and according to his holy counsels. I offer it to you in reparation for anything blameworthy or imperfect in my actions.”

Continue to do this in every circumstance of life. And every time that some punishment, affliction or injustice comes your way, say to yourself: “Accept this as sent to you by the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in order to unite yourself to him.”

But above all preserve peace of heart. This is more valuable than any treasure. In order to preserve it there is nothing more useful than renouncing your own will and substituting for it the will of the divine heart. In this way his will can carry out for us whatever contributes to his glory, and we will be happy to be his subjects and to trust entirely in him.

Life belongs at the feet of Jesus, entrusted to his Sacred Heart, in all circumstances. In joy and in peace, yes: but also in sorrow, and especially in contrition for sin.

And what do the feet of Jesus and entrusting ourselves to his Sacred Heart have to do with anything about writing? Oblation editor Tim O’Malley asked Sam Bellafiore and me to write “wrap-up” pieces about what we have learned as undergraduate fellows and where we are headed. As became more and more epidemic as the year went on, I am late in writing (spilling ramen on my laptop and destroying it did not help this process; requiescat en pace, old laptop).

But I am grateful for this last year, in which I have been able to write for this blog as a job (it felt like I was cheating every time I entered hours). I am grateful for what I have learned about writing, about thinking of writing as a kind of ministry, about Tim and Carolyn’s senses of humor and patience (and the abilities Sam and I had in testing that patience). Writing can be a kind of ministry, I suppose. As I prepare to begin master’s level coursework in theology and to serve in parish ministry during the next two years, this writing—and this lesson of entrusting it all back to the heart of Jesus for his glory (and not for mine), will continue to be on my mind. Because, again, as St. Margaret Mary said:

This divine heart is an abyss of all blessings, and into it the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need.

May we give ourselves over to that “abyss of love” of the heart of Jesus more and more, entrusting ourselves to his will.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary: A Model of Purity

Danielle PetersDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life,
University of Notre Dame

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This past Friday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, recalling that the human heart of Jesus Christ is the prototype of a heart totally directed to and united with God. On the following day—Saturday June 28—we commemorated the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The main promoters of the veneration of Mary’s Immaculate Heart (St. Anselm, d.1109; St. Bernard of Clairvaux, d.1153; St. Bernardine of Siena, 1380-1444; St. John Eudes, 1601-1680) were solicitous in emphasizing the intimate union between the two hearts of Jesus and Mary. Sacred and Immaculate HeartsThe Gospel of Luke speaks twice of Mary’s pondering heart: “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart” (2:19) and “His mother meanwhile kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).

The heart as the expression of the core of a person is universally accepted as the symbol of love. It is likewise the heart from which our choices and commitments originate. Thus we can say that Mary’s fiat given to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation reveals her innermost disposition to serve God with an undivided heart, no matter the cost. Thus writes St. John Paul II in his encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater:“By her loving consent, Mary first conceived Christ in her heart and then in her womb accepting fully and with a ready heart everything that is decreed in the divine plan” (RM, §14).

Mary’s Immaculate Heart is God’s gift to her, preserving her from original sin and strengthened her in her resolve to remain sinless. In actuality, sin—to say it simply—is a lack of love. Mary does not experience this lack, because the ecstasy of her heart leaves no room for sin (cf. RM, §36). Thus, when Mary ponders all she has experienced in her heart, she does so with a purity of spirit which allows her to “see” with her heart the ways God wants to lead her.

Unfortunately, it is not so with our hearts: “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mk 7:21-23). Yet, a heart which at baptism has received the “purification for sins” through the Son of God has become a pure und undivided heart (cf. Heb 1:3), capable of loving God and neighbor with heart and soul.

Love washed, cleansed, and transformed through the Blood of Christ does not wither, but is passionate in seeking the integral good: “Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, §10). Indeed, true love cannot be disimpassioned! Immaculate Heart of Mary-largeThe purified heart is a strong heart because with the help of grace it can succeed in channeling all antagonistic powers wrestling within towards God and His reign. Such a heart is also brave because it has persevered and matured amidst trials and challenges. Those who may call such a heart their own are allowed to see God (cf. Mt 5:8).

“Here is my secret. It is very simple. One sees well only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” These words of the Little Prince could also have been spoken by Mary. A heart that sees well has acquired the art of love; it perceives God’s gifts reflected in His goodness, His creation and creatures! We may want to ask, “How well does a heart need to be in order to see rightly?” Or “what obstacles prevent a heart—my heart—from seeing well?” Celebrating the Immaculate Heart of Mary invites us to take stock of the condition of our hearts.

Purifying the Polluted Heart
Daily we are confronted with the devastating effects pollution has on the earth and are taught preventive actions. Yet, hardly anybody speaks of the pollution of the human heart! Nonetheless, the abiding contamination of the world around us corresponds to the increasing threat and devastation of our inner world caused by the poisonous impressions we permit to enter our heart.

Do we need to pay better attention to the hygiene of our heart? This could start with a good confession and the decision to regularly allot time for the sacrament of reconciliation. The prophet Ezekiel tells us rather bluntly: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit” (Ez 18:31).

Sincere efforts to purify and beautify our hearts will by necessity have an impact on our daily decisions and personal style of life. At stake is a sincere (re)evaluation of our habits concerning prayer, language, and choice of entertainment, to name but a few. Needless to say, the cultivation of our hearts is no romantic waltz. On the contrary, it involves pertinacious legwork, patience and humility, since this endeavor will doubtlessly bring us to remove the different layers with which we cover, protect, disguise, and even harden our hearts.

The following scriptural passages could accompany us on the journey:

   I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you
your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26).

   Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing heart, to sustain me (Ps 51:12).

?     My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music (Ps 57:8).

   So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people
and to distinguish between right and wrong (1 Kings 3:9).

?     Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Mt 5:8).

By commemorating Mary’s Immaculate Heart we can confidently turn to her knowing that she is our Mother and teacher. We can take her hand and tell her:

Blessed Mother, your heart is well-ordered and in harmony with the heart of your Son. Your favorite occupation is to treasure and ponder Him in your Immaculate Heart. In many ways, my heart lacks this order. Let me participate in the richness and beauty of your heart. Teach me in my struggle to surrender my heart undividedly to Jesus and His work. Strengthen me in my efforts to depollute the trash accumulated in my imagination and consciousness. Then I, like you, will discover my heart as the temple of God and learn to see and ponder Him in my everyday life. Amen.

Karl Rahner on the Sacred Heart

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

“The center of our hearts has to be God; the heart of the world has to be the heart of our hearts.   He must send us his heart so that our hearts may be at rest.   It has to be his heart.   But it must not be the heart that embraces each and every thing in unfathomable unity.   He must make us the center of our being a heart that is really the heart of the infinite God, and that nonetheless is a heart that is not everything, a heart that does not signify only one, a heart that is not only the ground of one.   For the mortal fear over his ambiguous infinity and for the need of our hearts to depart from us, he has to let his heart become finite.   He must let it become the unequivocality that is our life.   He must let it enter into our narrow confines, so that it can be the center of our life without destroying the narrow house of our finitude, in which alone we can live and breathe.

And he has done it.   And the name of his heart is:   Jesus Christ!   It is a finite heart, and yet it is the heart of God.   When it loves us and thus becomes the center of our hearts, every need, every distress, every misery of our hearts is taken from us.   For his heart is God’s heart, and yet it does not have the terrifying ambiguity of his infinity.   Up from this heart and out of this heart human words have arisen, intimate words, words of the heart, words of God that have only one meaning, a meaning that gladdens and blesses” (The Great Church Year, 243).