Paray Le Monial, France: Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and The Sacred Heart of Jesus
The story of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque:
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 the night of December 27, 1673, St. Margaret Mary was kneeling alone before the Blessed Sacrament when Christ appeared for the first time. In his first 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.
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 desperate 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.
Traveling to Paray le Monial:
The largest major city near Paray le Monial is Lyon, about 70 miles south. There are several trains daily from Lyon to Paray le Monial. In addition there is frequent train service from Lyon to Creusot-Montceau-Montchani and from there you continue by bus. The total takes about two hours. There is “bus-only” that you want to avoid—it takes about 8 hours!
If you happen to be traveling from Paris, then you can take the TGV high-speed train to Lyon and then catch to the regional train to Paray le Monial. Although it is longer in terms of distance, the total travel time is only about four hours since the TGV travels the 200 miles in less than two hours. Neverthless, it is probably a bit long for a day trip from Paris.
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.