Paray Le Monial, France: Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and The Sacred Heart of Jesus
The story of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque:
Born in France in 1647, Margaret was as the only daughter of Claude and Philiberte Lamyn Alacoque. Even as a child, she showed an intense love for the Blessed Sacrament and preferred silence over typical childhood play. She began practicing severe corporal mortification after her first communion at 9-years-old.
She continued this until rheumatic fever confined her to her bed for four years. After making a vow to the Blessed Virgin Mary to consecrate herself to religious life, Margaret instantly returned to perfect health.
In recognition of this favor, Margaret added the name Mary to her baptismal name.This shrine is the home to the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the most popular of Catholic devotions. Here God chose St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to be the instrument that would lead the world back to Christ through His Sacred Heart, favoring her with a number of apparitions between 1673 and 1675.
On June 20, 1671, she entered the Visitation convent of Paray-le-Monial at the age of 24 after having heard Jesus say to her: “This is where I want you”. She made her religious profession on November 6, 1672. During her time in this monastery, Margaret received several private revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These visions showed her the “form of the devotion, the chief features being reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month, Eucharistic adoration during a ‘Holy hour’ on Thursdays, and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.” The Lord Jesus requested His love be made evident through her.
In her vision, she was instructed to spend an hour every Thursday night meditating on Jesus’ Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, a practice, known as “The Holy Hour,” that later became widespread.
On the night of December 21, 1673, St. Margaret Mary was kneeling alone before the Blessed Sacrament when Christ appeared again. In His revelation He said to her, “My Divine Heart is so full of love for all, and for you in particular, that it is unable to contain within itself the flames of its burning love. Its needs must be spread abroad by means of yourself, and so manifest itself to all to enrich them with the treasures this Heart contains.” Jesus then mourned the world’s ingratitude, indifference, and coldness and asked Margaret Mary for a communion of reparation on the first Friday of each month. The Divine Heart was then exposed to her, “like a sun, ablaze with a dazzling light.”
In 1674, Jesus appeared again to St. Margaret Mary. She recorded, “the Divine Heart was represented to me as upon a throne of fire and flames. It shed rays on every side brighter than the sun and transparent as crystal. The wound which He received on the cross appeared there visibly. A crown of thorns encircled the Divine Heart, and it was surmounted by a cross.” Jesus again spoke of His burning love for humanity.
The third, and most famous, apparition took place in June, 1675. As Margaret Mary knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus exposed His Sacred Heart again. With burning love He spoke these words to her: “Behold this Heart which has loved everyone so much that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love.” Christ then asked for the first Friday after the Octave of the Body and Blood of Christ to be set apart as a feast day in honor of His Sacred Heart. He also asked for a “solemn act of reparation” for all the offenses and indignities He had received in His sacrament of love, the Holy Eucharist. St. Margaret Mary said that Jesus revealed to her that this was a “final effort of His Love to favor human beings in the last centuries of the world, and to withdraw them from the empire of Satan, which He intends to destroy and to replace with the reign of His Love.” Our Lord told her that Satan greatly fears this devotion and would do everything to hinder it, “knowing how many souls would, because of it, be converted and sanctified.”
Jesus told St. Margaret Mary: “The eternal Father…wishes to make use of the reigning monarch of France (Louis XIV) to proclaim public devotion of reparation to the Sacred Heart”. He asked that the king erect a shrine in which a picture of his Divine Heart would receive homage, and that the king request the Holy See to authorize the Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart. In return, Our Lord promised that the king would have His blessing and protection from all his enemies. The French court was rife with scandal, and Louis XIV was not willing to heed the requests of Jesus. He did not respond to the request of the Sacred Heart even though knowledge of this extraordinary message appeared to have spread anyway, and some ladies in the court began to practice the devotion. The 1667, the first series of wars began and continued throughout his entire reign. Nine years after the King refused to accept the devotion, France was defeated by the Netherlands, then again defeated by the Spanish. Finally, impoverished by war, the nation fell into a state of economic crisis. All this failed to move the spiritually lukewarm king. His son, Louis XV, also did not respond!
Sister Margaret Mary died in 1690, and did not live to see Our Lord’s request fulfilled. We celebrate the Feast of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque on October 17.
In 1789, 100 years after the Sacred Heart made His request, the French revolution destroyed the monarchy. Cast into the Bastille prison, the grandson of the king who had received the request of the Sacred Heart was awaiting execution by the leaders of the revolution. A document on which was recorded the last will and testament of the monarch was found wedged in the wall of the prison. It read:
“If God will deliver me from this prison alive within a year, with the bishops of my kingdom, I will take all necessary measures to establish in canonical form a solemn feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to be celebrated in perpetuity throughout France on the Friday following the Octave of Corpus Christi. I will go to the foot of the altar (of Notre Dame) and pronounce a solemn consecration of my person and of my kingdom to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a promise to give my subjects an example of the honor and love due to this Sacred Heart.”
It was too late – King Louis XVI was executed. France did not respond to the requests made to St. Margaret Mary until two hundred years later, when France was on the verge of being conquered in 1871, in the Franco-Prussian war. The laity petitioned the Archbishop of Paris to fulfill the requests, and they offered to raise funds to build the requested chapel on the hill of martyrs (see the page about Sacré-Coeur Basilica).
Almost immediately after this initiative (the “National Vow”), Our Lady appeared in Pontmain on January 17, 1871, just a short distance from where the German armies had advanced after already overrunning most of France. In her hands was a blood red crucifix. A banner appeared at her feet with the words: “Continue to pray. My Son allows Himself (His Heart) to be touched.” At that same moment, Our Lady revealed Her Immaculate Heart in the church of Our Lady of Victories in Paris. Forty-two stars appeared at her feet, the war ended immediately, and there followed forty-two years of peace.
St. Mary Margaret Alacoque’s feast day was originally October 17, but was later changed to October 16. You will find her tomb here at the Chapel of the Visitation.
Pope Pius IX established the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 1856 as obligatory for the whole Church. It is not the same date each year, it is celebrated on Friday, 19 days after Pentecost.
The twelve Great Promises of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary are:
1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will give peace in their families.
3. I will console them in all their troubles.
4. I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
5. I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
9. I will bless those places wherein the image of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
10. I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
11. Persons who propagate this devotion shall have their names eternally written in my Heart.
12. In the excess of the mercy of my heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.
The specific conditions to receive the Great Promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are:
1. Receive Holy Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month (this assumes that the person is in a state of grace, having made a sacramental confession for any mortal sins prior to receiving communion). This can be at any Catholic church.
2. Having the intention, at least implicitly, of making reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for all the sinfulness and ingratitude of men.
Traveling to Paray le Monial:
If you happen to be traveling from Paris, then you can book your trip directly to Paray-le Monial: the TGV high-speed train takes you to Le Creusot and then you change to a bus to Paray le Monial (your train tickets serves as your bus ticket as well). Total travel time is 2-3 hours, depending on which train you take, so it is probably a bit long for a day trip from Paris, but it can be done. And there is service from other cities, such as Lyon (much closer). Get train & bus schedules, see fares & buy tickets here.
Address: Place Cardinal Perraud, 71600 Paray-le-Monial
GPS coordinates: 46° 26′ 58.6104” N, 4° 7′ 20.6508” E
Tel & email: use the contact page on their website.
Click here for the official website of the Shrine of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque at Paray-le-Monial.
Photo credits: left photo: Tom & Sue Mellilo Additional photos: Fr. James Kubicki, SJ, from his pilgrimage to Paray-le-monial 2014.