Guess which European country was the first to be given papal approval to celebrate a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Was it France, where both St. John Eudes and St. Margaret Mary promoted devotion to Jesus’ heart? Nope. Was it Germany, where St. Gertrude the Great composed prayers to the Sacred Heart? Guess again.
The first country to institute a liturgical feast in honor of the Sacred Heart was, of all places, Poland. This is confirmed by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical, Haurietis aquas.
“The Sacred Congregation of Rites – by a decree of the 25th of January 1765, which was approved by Our predecessor, Clement XIII, on the 6th of February of the same year – granted the liturgical celebration of the feast to the Polish Bishops and to what was called the Archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Rome. The Apostolic See acted in this way so that the devotion then existing and flourishing might be extended, since its purpose was ‘by this symbol to renew the memory of that divine love’ by which Our Savior was moved to offer Himself as a victim atoning for the sins of men.”
This first approval of the liturgical feast broke down any previous barriers, as the request for a feast had been twice denied by previous popes. Devotion to the Sacred Heart spread rapidly across Europe, but it still took nearly one hundred years for the feast to be extended to the universal Church by Pope Pius IX in 1856.
How did this happen? Why did the Polish bishops request a liturgical celebration of the Sacred Heart, even in the face of previous rejections by the Holy See?
It all began with Father Kasper Drużbicki, a Jesuit priest who lived and worked in many cities in Poland, spending six years in the city of Krakow. He died in 1662 and was known as the chief promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart in Poland. One of his most important works was Meta cordium Cor Jesu (The Sacred Heart, the Goal of Hearts), which was published posthumously in 1683. In it Father Kasper wrote an explanation of the devotion, as well as many prayers, including an Office of the Sacred Heart and the first known litanies of the Sacred Heart. It is believed that he wrote these in 1623, well before Saint John Eudes wrote his litanies in 1668.
After the death of Father Kasper, devotion to the Sacred Heart spread and grew in intensity with the private revelations of St. Margaret Mary. It was so well received by the Polish people that by 1726 the King of Poland (Augustus III) petitioned Rome for a feast dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The people of Poland wanted to publicly celebrate their love and devotion to Jesus’ Heart and demanded that a separate feast be created.
It appears that God was preparing this country for the “spark” that would set the world aflame with God’s mercy. Exactly two hundred years after the Feast of the Sacred Heart was established in Poland, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla was given permission to investigate the authenticity of Sister Faustina Kowalska’s Divine Mercy revelations, which were closely linked to a devotion to the Sacred Heart.
God’s providence is always a beauty to behold, and we can see through these events that God is always nudging us in the right direction, inspiring saints throughout the centuries to proclaim God’s marvelous love. It is no coincidence that Pope Francis has asked us to look to Poland for inspiration during this Jubilee of Mercy. Let’s learn from their example and devote ourselves to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.