The worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for Christians is twofold: on the one hand, it means worshipping the heart of Jesus as a symbol of his humanity, of having become a man and having sacrificed for us all. On the other, it is about recognizing it as the symbol Jesus’ love for mankind, of his Passion in their name.
The same representation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus recalls the symbols of the Passion: the crown of thorns, the cross, and the wound caused by the spear. The flames around him symbolize the ardent love of the Savior, His mercy.
The consecration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a symbol of devotion occurred in the nineteenth century, at the hands of Pope Leo XIII, but examples of adoration date back to the Middle Ages. The worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus finds its origins in the Early Middle Ages through the work of some German mystics, and underwent further development in the seventeenth century through, among others, the Society of Jesus.
It was also the subject of strong theological debates and diatribes. Some saw in the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus a manifestation of idolatry, as an object made of flesh and related only to the body. For others it was clearly a purely symbolic value, a representation of the love of Christ.
Another subject of discussion was also the apparition of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. She informed Holy Jesus of the “Great Promise”: anyone who attended communion, in a state of grace, on the first Friday of nine consecutive months, would forgiveness from all sins. What emerged was the devotional practice of “First nine Fridays of the month.”
The feast of the Sacred Heart was started in France around 1672, but was later recognized by the whole Church. It is celebrated between May 29th and July 2nd depending on the date on which Easter falls. In Trentino-Alto Adige, there is a tradition of lighting bonfires to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In the name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, many religious congregations were born.
Statues representing the Sacred Heart of Jesus usually show the whole figure of the Savior in a blessing position, the heart in his chest crowned with thorns and surrounded by flames.