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Sacred Heart


One image of the Sacred Heart

The Sacred Heart is a devotional name used by some Roman Catholics to refer to Jesus Christ. Devotion to the Sacred Heart in focusing on Christ's heart metaphorically focuses on the emotional and moral life of Jesus and especially his love for humanity. In the image, Christ's heart is shown containing wounds to which Jesus is pointing, including a crown of thorns. This 'wounded heart' is meant to symbolise Christ's hurt at the rejection of his message by humanity. In including the 'crown of thorns', it alludes to the manner of his death, which is further highlighted by the inclusion of crucifixion wounds on Christ's hands. Thus the Christ of the image is of a post-resurrection Jesus speaking symbolically to humanity, not the pre-crucifixion Jesus of the Gospels.

No one source is credited with the origins of this form of religious devotion. One major source is often given as St. Margaret Mary (22 July 1647 - 17 October 1690) of the Religious of the Visitation Order who claimed to have received visions of Jesus Christ. In his Papal Bull[?] Auctorem Fidei Pope Pius VI praised devotion to the Sacred Heart, which had its own critics within Roman Catholicism. However devotion to the Sacred Heart has been traced back as early as St. Mechtilde (d. 1298) and St. Gertrude (d. 1302).

Following a theological review, in his encyclical Annum Sacrum (May 25, 1899) Pope Leo XIII decreed that the consecration of the entire human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus should take place. It took place on 11 June 1899.

Religious imagery of the Sacred Heart regularly featured in Catholic homes, particularly before Vatican II. Sometimes that image contained beneath it a list of family members, meaning that the entire family were devotees of the Sacred Heart, from whom blessings on the home and the family members were sought, often though the prayer "O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in Thee". One particular image was used as part of a set, along with an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In that image, Mary too was shown pointing to her heart, expressing her maternal love for the human race and for her son, Jesus Christ. This set of images is shown here.

Many non-Roman Catholics, particularly fundamentalist protestants, have criticised devotion to the Sacred Heart as idolatory. Some Catholics too have been critical of the "overly sentimental" nature of such imagery and devotion, many of the representations of which date from the sentimentalised imagery popular in the victorian era. While marian imagery has undergone a degree of a revival under the papacy of Pope John Paul II, who is a devotee of the Blessed Virgin, devotions to the Sacred Heart have declined substantially, with post-Vatican II Catholic devotions focusing on different images of, and a different perspective on, Jesus Christ.

The Sacred Heart however still a widely used name for many catholic institutions, including universities in Connecticut in the United States, in Tokyo in Japan and in Luxembourg and many Catholic hospitals, schools and religious orders.



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