By Br. Warren Perrotto, MSC
Because Mary is intimately united to the mystery of her Son’s Heart, we pray to her, as our Founder did, using the title Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. (MSC Constitutions, 18)
In Issoudun, France, on December 8th, 1854, the last day a novena was prayed to Mary, Mother of Jesus, by Fr. Jules Chevalier and his companion, Fr. Emile Maugenest. They promised that if their prayers were answered, they would make Devotion to the Sacred Heart known and loved everywhere and make “Mary loved and known in a special way by all possible means.” They hoped that Mary would give them a sign to begin a Religious Community, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC). Indeed, she answered in favour through her powerful intercession. On this day, December 8th, 1854, the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart was born. It was a joyous occasion for the two priests because the dream of Fr. Chevalier came to fruition.
Fr. Chevalier always had a devotion to Mary because of her intimate relationship with her Son, Jesus. In a prayer for the beatification of Servant of God, Jules Chevalier, the MSC pray, “Standing at the foot of the cross with Mary, he [Chevalier] wished to make known and loved everywhere the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Indeed, Chevalier saw in Mary’s relationship with Jesus the “ineffable love between her and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” He believed that Mary gave the Sacred Heart to God and the world.
Chevalier might have already had in mind a unique title to honor Mary with the title, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. This title and Devotion do not come from any extraordinary apparition or pious cult. Neither was it a new doctrine. Instead, Mary’s title comes from a life of prayer and reflection on her unique, profound communion and commitment to do the will of the Father.
It was not until 1857 when Chevalier brought up the question of what title should the MSC give to Mary, exemplifying her intimate relationship with the Sacred Heart. Various suggestions surfaced from a few MSC confreres present with him at the time. Finally, Chevalier announced that her title should be Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. He wrote,
Knowing that all is done through Mary, we decided to associate her in the diffusion of the knowledge of the Heart of her divine Son. But we needed a new title which would indicate her cooperation in this work of regeneration, and it was then that we had the idea of calling her Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
So, from the very beginning, Devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has been a devotion propagated to support and serve the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Chevalier began the Devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. It immediately took favour among religious and laypersons–prayed worldwide today. Chevalier saw Our Lady of the Sacred Heart as the first Missionary of the Sacred Heart. Her mission spread the love of the Sacred Heart through her maternal caring and prayers, arriving before the MSC expansion to other countries.
Remembering his promise to honour Mary for her intercession to found the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Chevalier, in August 1874, founded the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (FDNSC). Their prayers, Spirituality of the Heart, charism, and mission were the same as the MSC men. For the Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart (MSC), founded by Herbert Linkens, MSC in 1900, Chevalier is their Spiritual Founder. They, likewise, follow the MSC prayers, Spirituality of the Heart, charism, and mission. Lay members, associations and communities were also initiated by Chevalier. The five groups, MSC men, Daughters, MSC Sisters, and Lay Members are identified as the Jules Chevalier Family and share Chevalier’s mission to make the Sacred Heart of Jesus known and loved everywhere. Today, there are over a thousand members when the four groups are combined.
Mary, Mother and Disciple
An image of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart depicts her holding the child Jesus with her other hand pointing and touching his Heart. This image communicates a clear understanding and appreciation for Mary and her role as Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. When the Woman points to the Sacred Heart, she beckons us to “Do whatever he tells you.” She calls her children to do the will of her Son. In Issoudun, France, an image of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart stands in the sanctuary of the Sacred Heart Basilica. She faces her Son on the cross with her right hand facing out to visitors. Her left hand reaches out to the crucified Jesu in front of her, pointing to Him. Her hand points directly to the Heart of Jesus.
At her Annunciation, Mariam (Mary) gave her profound Yes to do the will of God. She never annulled this commitment of obedience to the Father. On the contrary, she made her perpetual vow of discipleship with the words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” The young Jewish maiden was from Nazareth in Galilee, reared in her Jewish faith and culture, including attending the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Synagogue, and celebrating the Shabbot each week with her family. First-century Nazareth was a town under Roman rule but not noted for wealth. It was composed of two classes, upper and lower. The upper class comprised farmers; the lower class consisted of “peasants, artisans, the unclean, degraded ones, expendable ones” —the marginalized. Therefore, Mary and her family were artisans, most likely of the lower middle class because her husband was a woodworker. The Roman Government heavily taxed all.
Nevertheless, the Israelites of Nazareth were family oriented. The authority of the father passed to the girl’s husband. There was a two-step process: betrothal and transferal. The former was an official consent between the couple before witnesses. This consent was witnessed as a legal-marriage contract. Entering a marriage contract as early as age 12 was the norm for girls. The time for this bonding was one year, and the woman remained with her parents this year. After one year, she would move in with her husband and his household. Thus Mary became a member of the family of St. Joseph.
As a marginalized member of her society under Herod, Mary was no stranger to poverty or oppression. A corrupt Roman government ruled Nazareth. After the death of Herod (4 B.C.), the Palestinian people revolted. The Romans reacted brutally, putting an end to the rebellion. They massacred many, burned homes, and created enslavement. Mary and St. Joseph were no different from the migration of oppressed persons who must give up their home roots and move to distant lands for shelter. Mary and Joseph first travelled to Bethlehem and later migrated to Egypt to live in a temporary, safer environment. When her Son was around 30, she witnessed His crucifixion, standing at the foot of his cross.
Fr. Chevalier’s Vision
In the 19th century France, there were two significant and popular devotions: Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Devotion to Mary. Adherence to the Sacred Heart is not romantic, heart-gazing piety. On the contrary, it is a devotion that requires commitment and active participation for all persons, especially those who are the least in the Kingdom.
Chevalier saw these same sentiments in the Devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. He combined the Devotion to the Sacred Heart with Devotion to Mary. Here a new adoration is born. Praying to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is to lead one to love the Sacred Heart and to make this Heart known and loved everywhere. Mary continues to point to her Son, and she repeats the words, “Do whatever He tells you.” Thus, the Devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is indeed Christocentric. The focus is on Jesus. It relates specifically to a relationship with her Son and sums up His being the essence of His mission to build up the Kingdom of God.
Additionally, the Devotion does not place Mary isolated from her Son. On the contrary, it positions her in a deep relationship with Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The basis of this Devotion comes from Scripture, Mary at the foot of the cross.
Mary at the Foot of the Cross (John 19: 25-37)
The roots of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart are from Chevalier’s prayer and reflection with Mary at the foot of the cross. This vision seems to be the most significant passage for him. As Jesus’ first disciple, Mary has a special and unique role standing in front of the cross. She followed her Son from the beginning of His ministry to the moment of his crucifixion. Mary, the mother of Jesus, becomes our mother. It is here that we all become brothers and sisters. No one is excluded. It brings forth God’s relationship with us and our relationship with one another. At the foot of the cross, we can stand with our Mother, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. She is signalling us to remain with her. She is communicating to us the message to listen and to follow Him. Indeed, Mary and Jesus are one. Two hearts continue to beat as one in front of the cross. Mary is genuinely the faithful mother and disciple.
The crucifixion story presents the whole of Scripture and our whole Catholic faith. In this scene, we discover the Spirituality of the Heart and Devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Here we see Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost, all taking place in one moment when Christ’s Heart is pierced. All come from the Heart of Jesus. Life is taken away, and new life is given. “I see a new world emerging from the Heart of the Incarnate Word pierced on Calvary…..” Mary, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, is “associated with these great events that bring about a whole new life.” However, careful to clarify Mary’s intercessory role, Chevalier affirms that Jesus is the only one who earned grace for us. Jesus is the only one whom we must approach to obtain grace. Mary, however, can attain the grace of God for us through her “all-powerful intercession.”
In her presentation at the Chevalier Family Member Conference in 2013, Sr. Merle Salazar, FDNSC, notes that we go to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in prayer. We ask for her intercession. We pray, e.g., to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart for peace in the world, and then we tend to walk away. We tend to place the onus on Mary to do everything for us. Sr. Merle proposes that we understand Mary’s motherhood as a mother giving flesh and blood to her child—not in terms of privileges but in terms of Mary’s spiritual motherhood. Her motherhood provides flesh and blood so others may live. In this way, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart cannot solely be seen as an intercessor and dispenser of grace. Our Mother, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, reminds us that the Spirituality of the Sacred Heart requires that orthopraxis must follow orthodox faith. We must put our faith into action. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart always points to the Heart of Jesus, reminding us to “Do whatever He tells you.”
- E. J. Cuskelly, MSC Man With a Mission: Jules Chevalier, Roma: Casa Generalizia Missionari del Sacro Cuore, 1975.
- Jan Bovenmars, MSC, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Rome: MSC General House, 1996.
- Jules Chevalier, “Letter Regarding the First Edition” dated 24 August 1884 in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. 4th edition, Sheila Larkins, FDNSC, translator, (Canberra Publishing and Printing: Australia, 1985).
- John 2:5
- Luke 3:38
- Merle Salzar, FDNSC, “Mother and Disciple of the Sacred Heart: Our Mother and Guide,” Santo Domingo: Conference for the International Lay Associates, November 17, 2008.
- Jules Chevalier, Sacred Heart in J. Bovennmars, MSC, Jules Chevalier Daily Readings, Roma: Tipografia, S.G.S.-Via Umbertide, 1993.
- John 19:27