A highlight of our recent September Pilgrimage was a visit to Paray-le-Monial. Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in 1647 in Burgundy. From early childhood, she showed intense love for the Blessed Sacrament. Rheumatic fever confined her to bed for four years, but having made a vow to the Blessed Virgin to consecrate herself to religious life, she was instantly restored to perfect health. It seems she also had visions of Jesus Christ, which she thought were a normal part of human experience. The death of her father plunged her family into poverty, and her only consolation was visits to the Blessed Sacrament in the local church. When she was 17, however, the family regained their fortune and her mother encouraged her to socialise, in the hopes of finding a suitable husband.
One night, after returning home from a ball, Margaret Mary experienced a vision of Christ. He reproached her for her forgetfulness of him, yet he also reassured her by demonstrating that his Heart was filled with love for her, because of the childhood promise she had made. As a result, she determined to fulfil her vow, and when she was 23 she entered the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial in 1671, making her profession as a nun the next year.
Over 18 months from 27 December 1673 she received several private revelations of the Sacred Heart. The visions revealed to her details of devotion to the Sacred Heart, such as reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month, Eucharistic Holy Hours on Thursdays, and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Margaret Mary claimed that Jesus had permitted her to rest her head upon his heart, and disclosed to her the wonders of his love. He told her that he wanted to make them known to all, and that he had chosen her for this work. Initially discouraged in her efforts, she eventually received the support of Claude de la Colombière, S.J., the community’s confessor. The monastery observed the Feast of the Sacred Heart privately from 1686, and St Margaret Mary died in October 1690.
Later, the devotion to the Sacred Heart was fostered by the Jesuits, but the practice was not officially recognised until 75 years later. She was canonised by Pope Benedict V in 1920, and her body rests in the Chapel of the Apparitions.
Finally in an encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pope Pius XI affirmed the Church’s position regarding the credibility of her visions of Jesus Christ by speaking of Jesus as having “manifested Himself” to Saint Margaret