Claude Alacoque and Philiberte Lamyn named the fifth of their seven children Margaret on the day of her birth, July 22, 1647. Margaret, born in Lauthecourt, France, would barely get to know her father before he would die of pneumonia when she was eight. A short time after his death, Margaret was sent away to a convent school where she excelled until, at the age of eleven, she contracted rheumatic fever and then spent the next four years bedridden.
Returning to the family home, Margaret found that her family had fallen on hard times since the death of her father. Claude’s relatives now ran the household and treated Philiberte and her children like servants. This sad situation lasted until the eldest of Philiberte’s sons finally became of legal age and control of the estate reverted back to Philiberte’s family.
Margaret had a deep love for Jesus throughout her childhood. Her strong love for Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, led her, at age twenty-two, to enter the community of nuns founded by St. Francis de Sales called the Order of the Visitation at Paray-le-Monial. This community was founded on principles of humility and selflessness for which Margaret’s earlier experiences at the hands of her relatives had prepared her well. Upon her profession, she was given the name Mary, which was added to her given name, Margaret.
On December 27, 1673, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, Margaret Mary had a unique experience while praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. It seemed to her that she no longer existed as a separate entity. In the midst of this experience, she felt as though Jesus wished for her to take the place of the Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper. She imagined laying her head against the Lord’s breast so that she might hear the beat of his heart and know how great was the love that Jesus had for the human race. Jesus shared with Margaret Mary his sadness at how indifferent people were to his love.
Her superior did not take Margaret Mary’s prayer experiences seriously. But when Margaret insisted on the validity of them, her superior appointed several theologians to listen to Margaret’s story. They concluded that Margaret Mary suffered from delusions. Thus Margaret suffered silently until Father Claude de La Colombière, a Jesuit, was appointed as her spiritual director; only then did she find someone who believed her experiences were indeed genuine.
Margaret Mary continued to experience visions of Jesus. He revealed his heart, pierced after the crucifixion, to Margaret and told her that it symbolized his love. The heart was aflame with love, and the Lord wanted Margaret Mary to make known this love to all the world.
Jesus told her that he wished for a feast celebrating his love on the Friday after the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (the Feast of the Body and Blood or Our Lord; literal translation from Latin: “Body of Christ”). He also made known his wish for a special devotion of the reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month in reparation for the ingratitude of humanity. Margaret Mary relayed all this to her spiritual director, Father de La Colombière, who is largely responsible for the spread of the devotion. Margaret Mary died on October 17, 1690. After a vigorous scrutiny of her life and visions, she was beatified in 1864 and canonized in 1920.
The modern devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus spread from Paray-le-Monial in 1907 by Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SSCC. The movement urged people to enthrone an image of the Sacred Heart in their homes, to consecrate themselves to the love that Jesus had for them, and to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion for nine consecutive first Fridays as Jesus had instructed St. Margaret Mary. Jesus promised that those who did so would be blessed with the grace of final perseverance and would not die without the opportunity to receive the Last Sacraments of the Church. (The Last Sacraments, or Rites, are actually a number of sacramental rites, including the celebration of the Rite of Reconciliation, Viaticum [Holy Communion “for the journey”], and the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick.)