January 2018 marks the 130th year of the publication of the Sacred Heart Messenger. The popularity of the little red magazine has remained strong through the years and it is still among the highest selling magazines in Ireland. Current circulation is around 52,000 per month, but possibly twice as many people read the Messenger as it is passed around among families and friends. Mary Rose McCarthy traces the origins of devotion to the Sacred Heart, the establishment in Ireland of the Apostleship of prayer, the tradition of the Sacred Heart Lamp, and the first edition of the Sacred Heart Messenger in Ireland in January 1888.


Devotion to the Sacred Heart can be traced back to the eleventh century, when pious Christians meditated on The Five Wounds of Christ. From this grew a tradition of prayer for the wounded shoulder of Christ and then for his Sacred Heart. These were essentially private devotions, to help Christians focus on the passion and death of Christ, and so grow in love for the Saviour who had died to save them.

It wasn’t until 1670 that Fr. Jean Eudes, a French priest, celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart. At around the same time Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque began experiencing visions of Jesus. He appeared frequently to her and in December 1673, He permitted her to rest her head upon His Heart. In June or July of the following year, she reported that He wished the faithful to receive him monthly in Communion and to spend an hour in devotion to him. This later became known as The Holy Hour.

What became known as the ‘Great Apparition’ happened during the octave of Corpus Christi in 1675. In that vision, Jesus asked that the Feast of The Sacred Heart be celebrated each year, on the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi.

St. Margaret Mary died in 1690. Following her death, the devotion to the Sacred Heart became very popular. But the official church is always wary of approving private apparitions or devotions, so the feast was not officially established in France until 1765.

On May 8th 1873, devotion to the Sacred Heart was formally approved by Pope Pius IX. Today, The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is celebrated, worldwide, on the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi.

The practice of having an image of the Sacred Heart in homes was begun by a Peruvian priest, Fr. Mateo Crawley (1875- 1960). He was a priest of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart and established a social centre to further make known the works and life of Jesus Christ. An earthquake in 1906 destroyed the social centre. While working with the wounded and destitute Fr. Mateo became seriously ill and went to Europe to seek treatment.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own