Sister Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

Today is the feast day of Saint Margaret Mary.  Ora pro nobis. 

 “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love.”

by Meghan Ferrara

Sister Margaret Mary, the saint to whom Jesus Christ would reveal His Sacred Heart, was born Margaret Alacoque on July 22, 1647, during the reign of King Louis XIV, to Claude Alacoque and Philiberte Lamyn in Lhautecour, France. Whilst growing up, Margaret preferred silence and prayer to the usual youthful pastimes, and she demonstrated an intense love of the Blessed Sacrament. For this reason, she was allowed to receive her First Communion at the age of nine.

A Sad Childhood

Margaret’s childhood was marked by sadness and difficulty. Her father died when she was eight years old, and disputes with relatives regarding his property were a great trial for Margaret and her family for many years. In addition, shortly after Claude’s death, Margaret contracted rheumatic fever, from which she suffered for four years. It was only after making a vow to the Blessed Mother to consecrate herself to religious life that Margaret was healed.

Throughout this hardship, Margaret found solace in the Blessed Sacrament. During this period, Margaret received visions of the Crucified Christ, reminding her of His presence and protection, which she assumed others experienced as well. Upon the coming of age of Margaret’s eldest brother, the family property was returned and Mme Alacoque wished for her daughter to marry. Margaret wanted to please her mother, but she still felt called to the consecrated life.

While she prayerfully considered which path to take, she enjoyed a normal life in society. Once, however, when returning from a ball, she experienced a vision of Christ during his scourging. Margaret immediately felt that she had betrayed Christ by breaking her childhood promise to the Blessed Mother. As a result, she rededicated herself to religious life.

The Apparitions

Margaret Mary, as she was now known, entered the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial in the summer of 1671. After enduring many trials to confirm her vocation, the young novice pronounced her final vows on in November 6, 1672. A year later, on December 27, Sister Margaret Mary experienced the first of a series of revelations that would continue for another year and a half.

During the course of these apparitions, Christ confided to the young sister his desire for her to establish the devotion to His Sacred Heart. He instructed that this consecration should include Holy Communion on the First Friday of each month, Eucharistic Adoration (in particular, on Thursdays during the Holy Hour of from 11 p.m. until midnight in memory of his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane), and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart on the Friday after the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Rejected in Disbelief

Sister Margaret Mary’s attempts to convince her community of the validity of her message were unsuccessful. Her superior, Mother de Saumaise, was particularly resistant to Margaret Mary’s claims. When this rejection seriously affected the young nun’s health, Mother de Saumaise reconsidered her opposition.

A primary source of support for Sister Margaret Mary during this difficult period was her spiritual director and confessor to the entire community, St. Claude de la Colombière. He was immediately convinced of the veracity of her visions, and his writings about them were an integral part of their eventual acceptance.

This new détente continued with the election of Mother Melin as Superior in 1683. She named Margaret Mary as her assistant and was more sympathetic to the young nun’s mission. Later, Margaret Mary also became Novice Mistress. Under her direction, the convent began to privately observe the feast of the Sacred Heart in 1686, but the practice soon spread to other Visitation convents.

Her Holy Death

Sister Margaret Mary died just four years later on October 17, 1690, at the Visitation Convent in Paray-le-Monial. She faced her final illness with courage, frequently praying from Psalm 73, “What have I in heaven, and what do I desire on earth, but Thee alone, O my God?” She received the Last Sacraments, stating, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

The writings and teachings of St. Margaret Mary were thoroughly examined, and finally the Sacred Congregation of Rites passed a favorable vote on the heroic virtues of this faithful sister. The first petition to the Holy See for the institution of the Feast of the Sacred Heart was from Queen Mary, consort of James II of England. The devotion was officially recognized and approved by Pope Clement XIII in 1765, seventy-five years after Margaret Mary’s death. In March 1824, Pope Leo XII pronounced her Venerable, and on September 18, 1864, Pope Pius IX declared her blessed. Pope Benedict XV canonized this Apostle of the Sacred Heart in 1920.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in you!

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