Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque was an ordinary nun of the Visitation order, living in her convent at Paray le Monial, France, when she was graced by visions and messages from God.
These revelations, which came to her at different times between 1673 and 1675, had one single focus: God’s love for us, through the physical symbol of the heart of his Son, Jesus, was to be proclaimed and shared with the whole world.
And Margaret Mary was the person chosen to do this. It was a shattering responsibility.
What was the spiritual situation in France and Europe at that time? It was the 17th century, and the Reformation had changed the way in which many Christians viewed God. The Calvinist Reformed Church, and the influence of the Catholic doctrine of Jansenism, had made many Christians fearful of their salvation and anxious about whether they were ‘good enough’ to be saved.
By contrast, the revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Margaret Mary proclaim that God’s grace is lavishly poured out upon all. And all men and women should put away fear and anxiety, consecrate themselves to this love and let it work its power in their lives.
To help Margaret Mary, God sent her a spiritual guide, Claude de la Columbiere, a Jesuit priest. Together, these two moved to get the devotion to the Sacred Heart accepted in the Catholic liturgy: the nine First Friday devotions, Holy Hour of prayer, the special feast a week after the feast of Corpus Christi and, most of all, the acts of consecration and reparation, whereby one would consecrate herself to propagating this devotion and repair for sin by leading a life of penance and austerity.
Margaret Mary was only 47 when she died, but even before this, the devotion to the Sacred Heart spread like wildfire from her convent throughout the Catholic world. The Jesuits in France were the main promoters. Until Vatican II in the 1960s, it was the single most important devotion in the Church, with a far-reaching influence into religious and family life.
And it was this obscure Visitation nun, Margaret Mary, who brought about this tremendous change in the prayer life of the Church.