Devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary
If you have been in this parish very long, you have heard me lament the generally poor attendance at the First Friday and First Saturday Masses. A few months ago I had a conversation with a man who claimed to be a “cradle Catholic,” but who also claimed that he had never heard a sermon about the need to make reparation to the hearts of Jesus and Mary on first Fridays and Saturdays.
It helps somewhat to understand the origin of these devotions, in order to understand what their object might be:
Saint John, in his Gospel, tells us that one of the Roman soldiers, in order to insure that Jesus was dead on the Cross, took his lance and “opened His side . . . and immediately there came forth blood and water.” We can't tell for sure if this soldier is the same one identified in the other Gospels, but at least one soldier was heard to say at this moment, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” We might say that this event brought the first convert to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
And, it was an event that would be often commented upon by the spiritual writers of later ages. This gushing forth of blood and water is often used to represent the cleansing waters of Baptism, and the powerful flowing of God's graces in the Sacraments. It often evokes memories of the Old Testament paschal lamb, and the cleansing of the Israelites in the blood of the sacrificial lamb. Saint Augustine and Saint John Chrysostom wrote stirring accounts of the significance of this wound of our Lord, and the out-flowing of His Precious Blood.
In the middle ages, pious writers explored the idea of our Lord's sacred humanity, mentally entering into the wound of the lance to probe the Sacred Heart—the symbol of God's burning love for His children; of the willingness of Jesus Christ to lay down His life for His people. People like Saint Bernard and Saint Bonaventure, like Saint Gertrude or Saint Mechtilde—they never lacked an audience for what they had to say about the loving Heart of Jesus. And about us loving that Heart.
In later years, as the so-called “Enlightenment” spread false ideas throughout Europe, saints like John Eudes and Margaret Mary Alacoque were raised up to counter both the rationalism which denied God and His love, and also the over reaction that insisted God's love was limited to only a select few members of the human race.
Saint John Eudes is of particular interest, for he seems to be one of the first to urge devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary along with devotion to the Sacred Heart of her Son. Devotion to Mary was not new —Saturdays had been dedicated to Mary for as long as anyone could remember—but John Eudes seems to have been among the first to suggest that Mass should be offered in honor of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Margaret Mary Alacoque seems to have been asked by our Lord Himself to carry on where John Eudes left off, receiving the promise that those who devoutly received Holy Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays would die in the state of grace. She also worked for liturgical recognition of the Sacred Heart.
And, indeed, in 1765 Pope Clement XIII approved a Mass in Honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and in 1799 a Mass in honor of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. Both of these Masses were offered optionally—only in places where there was sufficient interest. Only in the twentieth century were they extended to the entire Church, by Pius XI and Pius XII. In a way, that's sad—particularly when we think of how these devotions originated. They started out as acts of love. In the middle ages, Christian people truly loved Jesus and Mary. But in our times, so many people have lost that love. They have had to be reminded of their duty: 1912 Pius X offered a plenary indulgence for First Saturday reparations for blasphemies against the Blessed Virgin. 1917 Our Lady at Fatima again reminded us of the need for reparation for sin, and gave us a promise of final perseverance for only five First Saturdays. In the 1930s Pius XI ordered an act of reparation to be recited each year on the feast of the Sacred Heart, and another on the feast of Christ the King. In 1942 Pius XII asked reparation for the atrocities of war.
The message is really quite clear. At the very minimum, we are called to do penance and make reparation. We should become conscious of the need for frequent Confession, to devoutly receive Holy Communion, to pray the rosary, and all of the other things which honor the love of Jesus and Mary.
And, none of this should be done with the legalistic mentality of keeping 9 First Fridays or 5 First Saturdays and then stopping! This is not a numbers game, and it is hard to believe that 900 First Fridays would help a person who is just trying to “score points,” without having a genuine devotion.
And, devotion, of course, is the ultimate issue. We need to do penance, we need to make reparation—but none of this will do any of us much good, if in the long run we don't wind up loving Jesus and Mary.
 John xix:34 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=50&ch=19&l=34#x