This past week an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was enthroned in the crowded Chapel of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and the College was consecrated to the Sacred Heart.
“Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini… Qui fecit coelum et terram.” With these words began the traditional ceremonials little seen or heard at Catholic institutions in recent decades as Thomas More College Chaplain Father John Healy blessed a large icon recently completed by the College’s Artist-in-Residence, David Clayton.
Once a traditional and wide-spread devotion, the act of enthronement and consecration has fallen into great neglect. “It was important that my first year as president begin with this clear display of devotion,” said Dr. William Fahey, President of Thomas More College. “Pius XII referred to the devotion to the Sacred Heart as the ‘devotion of devotions.’ It is a simple spiritual and intellectual acceptance of the person and mission of Our Lord. I like to explain the Sacred Heart devotion as a deep meditation on the Kyrie of the Mass—we accept Jesus as the Christ, the redeemer, as our Sovereign Lord, and we accept His mission as a mission of mercy for all men.”
“Both John Paul II and now Benedict XVI have emphasized that our own humanity is best understood to the degree that we know and experience the humanity of Christ,” said Dr. Fahey. “It seems natural that our College, which is so focused on the humanities, should have this as a central liturgical moment in its academic year.”
The Mass celebrated was that of the Sacred Heart. Professor John Zmirak noted that the celebration took place on the eve of the 16th—exactly between the current and traditional dates of the Feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque—perhaps the greatest proponent of the devotion. “That is consoling and interesting given the emphasis that is now being made by the Holy Father on finding links and points of continuity between the long Catholic tradition and the Church’s recent developments and changes,” said Dr. Zmirak.
Enthronement and Consecration to the Sacred Heart became common in the second half of the 19th century. The devotion itself, of course, is scriptural and one can find key proponents in every age—St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Albert the Great, Ignatius of Loyola, and many others. But the specific act of consecration developed over the last two centuries.
Faculty, staff, and students joined first in praying the ancient “Litany of the Sacred Heart” and then in offering the traditional prayer, pledging to the Sacred Heart to strive in “person…life…actions…pains, and sufferings… to do all things for the love of Him, at the same time renouncing what is displeasing to Him.”
Thomas More College senior, Paul Kniaz, said, “We’re all trying to restore the image of Christ’s Sacred Heart in ourselves. I think that is something we can do as a community as well. This event established our education as having that as its goal.”
Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whole states consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart, including Ireland, Poland, Spain, Portugal, and Ecuador. In the United States certain schools and colleges, religious communities, and families would enthrone the Sacred Heart and make the act of consecration.
In 1943, one day in Chicago alone, 125,000 people made the act of consecration. In 1953, the Catholic University of America enthroned the Sacred Heart and consecrated itself to it. A large painting of the Sacred Heart once faced all those who entered the University’s central building, McMahon Hall.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart has nearly disappeared among Catholic academic institutions and the images have largely been moved or taken down.
“It’s sad that there hasn’t been a greater revival,” remarked President Fahey. “Leo XIII firmly established the devotion; Pius XII enriched its popular appeal. John Paul II spoke about the devotion again and again, and Pope Benedict has always been a proponent of the Sacred Heart. Recently, he issued a letter to the Jesuits encouraging its revival and this summer he opened the Year of the Priest on the Feast of the Sacred Heart.”
In the middle of the Mass—after the homily—the faculty recited the Profession of Faith before the Tabernacle. The Profession contains the Creed as well as a testimony accepting the entirety of Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church. It also calls for the professor to promise to “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect” to all authentic Catholic teachings which are presented by the “Roman pontiff or the College of Bishops” whenever they “exercise their authentic Magisterium.”
“It was very unifying to see the entire faculty together making that decision to adhere to the Magisterium,” said Thomas More College senior Lucy Domina. “It really emphasized the connection between a devotion to the Sacred Heart and cooperation with the Church’s teaching authority.”
Dr. Fahey then, with right hand on the chapel Bible, took the Oath of Fidelity on Assuming Office, pledging to see that under his leadership the College will safeguard “the deposit of faith in its entirety” and “faithfully hand it on and explain it.” Both the Profession and the Oath are required by Canon Law, but the knowledge of this law appears little known and its observance rare. All faculty teaching theology or Sacred Scripture at Thomas More College have also received the Mandatum from the Bishop of Manchester.
The Mass was celebrated in Latin and English with traditional hymns honoring the Sacred Heart and the sovereignty of Christ. Thomas More College’s choir also provided a communion meditation by Thomas Tallis. The Mass concluded with the singing of the Te Deum.
“I thought it was a very beautiful ceremony,” said Thomas More College senior Luke Chichester. “I hope it can bring the community closer, through an enriched prayer life and dedication to a common goal, as embodied in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
After Mass, the College retired to the dining hall and enjoyed a feast of seafood and wine.