Today's Catholic family is under so much pressure on so many fronts, it sometimes seems like it would take a house visit from Christ himself to ease the strain.
Ask and ye shall receive.
When Jesus appeared in the 1670s to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun, he asked that homes be consecrated to his Sacred Heart as a sign of families’ faith in his living presence in the Church. This consecration — or “home enthronement” — was blessed by Pope St. Pius X (1835-1914).
It has been renewed by every pope since — and it is being rediscovered and promoted in the 21st century by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis.
Speaking to St. Margaret Mary, Jesus promised “peace in your families, refreshment in your labors, the blessing of heaven in all undertakings, consolation from heaven, and refuge during life and at the hour of death.” All that, and more, just for enthroning Christ as king of the home.
The enthronement ceremony focuses on the familiar image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: bleeding from open wounds and flaming with love. A series of prayers and readings are led by a priest or by the head of the household, and the image is blessed and hung in a prominent spot. The image becomes for the family a daily reminder that, in living out our love for one another, we can make reparation for the sins and ingratitude of the world.
This is not simply a picture-hanging ceremony; in fact, the rite is only the beginning. By formally recognizing Christ as Lord of the family, a father places his own authority in the service of Christ. The family also promises to lead a Christ-like life, to develop Christian virtue in the home, to not compromise with the spirit of secularism and to cultivate deep love for Christ by the frequent reception of holy Communion. Grace inspires families to perform acts of charity, participate in family prayer and frequent the sacraments of penance and Eucharist.
Perhaps it's due to the frenetic pace of our times that home enthronement of the Sacred Heart is seeing a resurgence just now. And then, not only in homes, but also in schools, businesses and, in at least one instance, an entire diocese.
In 2001, Bishop Raymond Burke of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., decided to bring the enthronement to every parish in his diocese.
“I was inspired by my experience with a devotion to the Sacred Heart from my own childhood,” Bishop Burke recalls. “I was also [motivated] by a great need among people for a devotion which would bring the Eucharist to the home — to enable the family to continue to live consciously in the presence of Christ at all times. In this way, Christ is recognized as the king of the heart, of the home and as a constant member of the family.”
Ignited by the graces of the Jubilee, the diocese invited the Sacred Heart Apostolate of Syracuse, N.Y., to come and prepare the faithful for a diocesanwide enthronement. Pastors and laity were given extensive doctrinal and practical instruction in preparation for the event, which fittingly took place in November 2001 on the feast of Christ the King.
A Sacred Heart icon was created for the enthronement of the cathedral, and copies were made available throughout the diocese. “Having the same diocesan icon available to all the faithful created a unique connection between the family and the parish,” says Chris Carstens, director of La Crosse's sacred worship office. “It was a reminder of the ideal of the enthronement: having Christ in the home and Christ in the tabernacle.”
Matthew Brasmer, director of La Crosse's office of stewardship and development, says signs that the initiative made an impact were not hard to come by.
“In parishes where the enthronement was actively promoted,” he says, “we have seen increases in giving, in parish involvement and in participation in eucharistic adoration.”
Bishop Burke remembers a number of instances in which the graces received through enthronement were clearly evident. “One family wrote to tell me about one of their members who was dying of cancer,” he says. “He was confined at home, feeling very restless and upset. The neighbors, who were close to the man's family, suggested to the wife that perhaps the enthronement should be done over the sick bed — they thought it might bring the sick man the help he needed. It was truly miraculous. After the enthronement, the man became very much at peace. He ended up dying a peaceful death.”
Nor are the graces available through enthronement limited to the spiritual realm. Phil Lenahan, a certified public accountant who serves as vice president of Catholic Answers in El Cajon, Calif., says he has even seen the benefits of enthronement carry over into family finances. “Restoring the kingship of Christ over the home brings both spouses to desire the will of God for everything in the family,” he says. “That includes the ways they spend money.”
Carstens encourages families throughout the United States to consider what enthronement has done for the Diocese of La Crosse — and what it could do for them. “This devotion will not take all family problems away, of course,” he says. “But having Christ in the home can only help situations that families face today. When we have Christ actively in our midst, it helps families to stay together.
“The promises Christ made to St. Margaret Mary are not magical,” adds Carstens. “However, they are promises made by God himself, so they are serious. If we do what he asks of us in honoring his Sacred Heart, those promises will be fulfilled.”
Caroline Schermerhorn writes from Newark, Ohio.
Sacred Worship Office
Diocese of Lacrosse
Worship@dioceseoflacrosse (608) 791-2674
National Enthronement Center 3 Adams St.
Fairhaven, MA. 02719
Sacred Heart Apostolate: Scaredhc@dreamscape.com (800) 851-5320
Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/C DWPIETY.HTM