Dear Fellow Parishioners,
Now that spring is largely behind us, I’d like to share a few thoughts on two feasts that fall in June: the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (the 3rd Friday after Pentecost) and the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24th).
The Feast of the Most Sacred Heart arises from a fusion of scripture, popular devotion, private revelations, and artistic depictions. Devotion to the Sacred Heart already existed in the Middle Ages – long before the apparitions of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who was born and lived near the geographical center of France. The Sacred Heart is an expression of Christ’s heroic humanity, depicted by the heart of Jesus, crowned with thorns, and often surrounded with flames of ardent love. At first, St. Margaret Mary had great difficulty gaining official recognition of this devotion. It was with the help of her confessor, the Jesuit priest St. Claude la Colombiere, that this devotion gained greater acceptance after their deaths. Devotion to the Sacred Heart spread from rural France to the whole world, and is most commonly celebrated today as a First Friday Devotion.
The overriding theme and purpose of the devotion was to express and experience the heartfelt mercy of the Divine Savior. It was a powerful reminder that the mission of Jesus was (and is) a mission of mercy. It was promoted by icons and artistic images, familiar to nearly every Catholic. Devotion to the Sacred Heart has been especially influential because it is both intensely private and personal, yet connected to the public worship and mission of the Church.
The Birth of John the Baptist: There are only three persons whose births are celebrated in the Church calendar: Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist. In fact, the Birth of John the Baptist is a higher-ranking feast than the Birth of Mary – September 8. The Birth of John the Baptist has been celebrated since at least the 4th century.
Why June 24th? Because the Gospel tells us that when the angel announced the birth of Christ to Mary, it also mentions that Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren, was already in her sixth month – that nothing is impossible with God. John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus – that’s why this feast is in the middle of June.
Finally, a bit of trivia: The seven notes of the musical scale – do, re, mi, fa, so, and so on – come from the first syllables of each of the seven lines of “Ut queant laxis,” a hymn to John the Baptist composed c. 700 A.D.. That’s right: Do–re–mi comes from a 1300-year-old hymn to John the Baptist. It wasn’t invented by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
Fr. Bill Donahue