Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 11, 2004
Venerating Sacred Heart of Jesus
Town surrounds the sight of the apparitions of Christ to St. Margaret Mary
St. Margaret Mary - - October 16
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Paray-le-Monial is a gem of a town. It's arranged around religious structures along La Bourbince stream and is famed as the site of miraculous apparitions of Christ experienced by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
From here, 330 years ago, the tradition of venerating the Sacred Heart of Jesus was promoted.
Paray, in the department of Sa“ne-et-Loire, is situated in France's massif central. Parodiens often refer to their home in the nation's heartland as the Blessed City of Heaven because of its powerful religious attachments.
Pilgrims come to visit the remarkable 11th century Romanesque Cluniac Sacred Heart basilica and the 1535 St. Nicholas Church tower. However, the ultimate objective of all visitors is the Visitation Chapel, forever associated with the saint.
From a very early age, Margaret Mary believed that she had a calling to the religious life. This feeling wasn't dispelled despite enduring years of illness and mistreatment at the hands of relatives following the early death of her father. A promise to devote her life to Our Lady resulted in a miraculous release from her sickness and at 22 she entered the Convent of the Visitation at Paray-le-Monial.
The order had been founded in 1610 in France by St. Frances de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal as a contemplative community. Its 26th French foundation, Paray convent, was established in 1626.
Soon after arriving, Margaret Mary experienced a series of four visions of Our Lord in 1673 in which he requested frequent reception of the Eucharist and increased veneration of his Sacred Heart. He also desired that a special feast day be established to honour it.
Today, a sign proclaims the scene of appearances as the Chapelle des Apparitions. It's not an impressive building: Built in 1633 to conform to standard stone chapel designs and renovated several times since.
Inside, the most compelling decoration, a large fresco above the altar, of the second apparition, by artist Luc Barbier, immediately attracts attention, with its unusual pastel hues that attempt to capture the heavenly light surrounding Christ.
Arms extended as on the cross, he presents his heart to Margaret Mary, flanked by figures of people associated with the devotion.
Many visitors are powerfully moved to find themselves in the very place where the saint experienced the apparitions more than 300 years ago, a place that seems to exude a natural aura of reverence.
For some, the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist in this holy sanctuary is an added blessing.
Mystical events scorned
Relating her mystical experiences, Margaret Mary encountered skepticism and strong opposition from her superior, other nuns and clergy who investigated her story.
Fortunately, the arrival at Paray of (St.) Father Claude de la Colombiere provided the support she needed to actively promote the cause of the Sacred Heart. Eventually, her community accepted the fact that her visions were coming from God and became active in supporting the devotion.
The first celebration of the new feast took place at Paray 13 years after the visions and the observance was extended to the universal Church in 1856 by Pope Pius IX.
Margaret Mary died in 1690 and was canonized in 1920.
Today, veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is observed worldwide and hundreds of churches and schools hear this appellation.
Although the devotion was widespread in 17th century Europe, associated closely with, for example, St. Gertrude (1300) and St. John Eudes (1600), general public acceptance had to wait on the perseverance and dedication of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Her shrine continues to welcome a steady stream of pilgrims, from ordinary people to the newsworthy, including the holy father in 1986.