125th Anniversary of the Consecration of the World to the Sacred Heart

In 1899, Pope Leo XIII promulgated Annum Sacrum, an encyclical calling for the world’s consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Detail of a painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Visitation Monastery in Marclaz, France.
Detail of a painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Visitation Monastery in Marclaz, France. (photo: godongphoto / Shutterstock)

“In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it, the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.” — Pope Leo XIII

This June 11 is a banner day in the faith. It marks the 125th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII consecrating the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

First, a quick timeline leading to this consecration:

  • 1673-1675 — Jesus appears to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, reveals his Sacred Heart to her, calls for the nine First Fridays devotion, and tells her to promote devotion to his Sacred Heart.
  • 1856 — Blessed Pius IX makes the Feast of the Sacred Heart a universal feast for the entire Church.
  • 1899 — Pope Leo XIII writes Annum Sacrum, an encyclical calling for the world’s consecration to the Sacred Heart. 

Let’s look at the highlights of Annum Sacrum.
Leo XIII began by clearly stating his intention:

We have in mind a more signal form of devotion which shall be in a manner the crowning perfection of all the honors that people have been accustomed to pay to the Sacred Heart, and which We confidently trust will be most pleasing to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.

Why? There are so many reasons, and they have a rock-solid scriptural basis. Leo — who happened to be the first pope to make a recording (Ave Maria) and wrote 12 encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the Rosary — lists several of them. For a start, he wrote, “This worldwide and solemn testimony of allegiance and piety is especially appropriate to Jesus Christ, who is the Head and Supreme Lord of the race. His empire extends not only over Catholic nations and those who, having been duly washed in the waters of holy baptism, belong of right to the Church, although erroneous opinions keep them astray, or dissent from her teaching cuts them off from her care; it comprises also all those who are deprived of the Christian faith, so that the whole human race is most truly under the power of Jesus Christ.”

Leo presents clear explanations that rest on Jesus being God, the Son of God from Psalm 2, Hebrews 1:2 and Matthew 28:18 — where Jesus declares, “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth” — his words to Pilate (John 18:37); and commanding “His Apostles to preach His doctrine over the earth, to gather all men together into the one body of the Church by the baptism of salvation, and to bind them by laws, which no one could reject without risking his eternal salvation.” Added to this, Leo points out how Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1Timothy 2:6).

To this, Leo adds:

He graciously allows us, if we think fit, to add voluntary consecration. Jesus Christ, our God and our Redeemer, is rich in the fullest and perfect possession of all things: we, on the other hand, are so poor and needy that we have nothing of our own to offer Him as a gift. But yet, in His infinite goodness and love, He in no way objects to our giving and consecrating to Him what is already His, as if it were really our own; nay, far from refusing such an offering, He positively desires it and asks for it: ‘My son, give me thy heart.’

Leo XIII, who also was the first to embrace Mary as Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix, explains:

Since there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another, therefore is it fit and proper that we should consecrate ourselves to His most Sacred Heart — an act which is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honor, veneration and love is given to this divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself.

So what do we do? He emphasizes:

For these reasons We urge and exhort all who know and love this divine Heart willingly to undertake this act of piety; and it is Our earnest desire that all should make it on the same day, that so the aspirations of so many thousands who are performing this act of consecration may be borne to the temple of heaven on the same day.

But why the consecration of the world? And how?

Leo said he can’t forget the “innumerable others” who have yet to have “the light of Christian truth” shine upon them. Jesus came to save the lost and “shed His blood for the salvation of the whole human race.” Leo said missionaries have been sent into the world for them, and “now, in pity for their lot with all Our soul we commend them, and as far as in us lies We consecrate them to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

He continues:

In this way, this act of devotion, which We recommend, will be a blessing to all. For having performed it, those in whose hearts are the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ will feel that faith and love increased.

This consecration to the Sacred Heart, he says, will extend to others in need. First, that those “who knowing Christ, yet neglect His law and its precepts, may still gain from His Sacred Heart the flame of charity.”

Second, that those …

… still more unfortunate, who are struggling in the darkness of superstition, we shall all with one mind implore the assistance of heaven that Jesus Christ, to whose power they are subject, may also one day render them submissive to its exercise; and that not only in the life to come when He will fulfill His will upon all men, by saving some and punishing others, (St. Thomas), but also in this mortal life by giving them faith and holiness. May they by these virtues strive to honor God as they ought, and to win everlasting happiness in heaven.

World’s Consecration Essential Today

Leo XII was well aware of the problems of society — problems that were only to grow worse in our own day. What he said is now multiplied many times over. Because this consecration “can establish or draw tighter the bonds which naturally connect public affairs with God,” it gives “States a hope of better things. In these latter times especially, a policy has been followed which has resulted in a sort of wall being raised between the Church and civil society. In the constitution and administration of States the authority of sacred and divine law is utterly disregarded, with a view to the exclusion of religion from having any constant part in public life.”

Isn’t that true today? He saw then what is rampant now:

This policy almost tends to the removal of the Christian faith from our midst, and, if that were possible, of the banishment of God Himself from the earth. When men's minds are raised to such a height of insolent pride, what wonder is it that the greater part of the human race should have fallen into such disquiet of mind and be buffeted by waves so rough that no one is suffered to be free from anxiety and peril? When religion is once discarded it follows of necessity that the surest foundations of the public welfare must give way, whilst God, to inflict on His enemies the punishment they so richly deserve, has left them the prey of their own evil desires, so that they give themselves up to their passions and finally wear themselves out by excess of liberty.

The answer Leo gives? We need help from Jesus, “by whose strength alone they can be driven away. Who can He be but Jesus Christ the Only-begotten Son of God? ‘For there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). We must have recourse to Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We have gone astray and we must return to the right path: darkness has overshadowed our minds, and the gloom must be dispelled by the light of truth: death has seized upon us, and we must lay hold of life.”

Everyone in the world has to “acknowledge the empire of Christ and willingly obey His word, and ‘Every tongue shall confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:11).”

He accentuates, “In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it, the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.”

That is why he ordained that on June 9, 10 and 11, 1899, “in the principal church of every town and village, certain prayers be said, and on each of these days there be added to the other prayers the Litany of the Sacred Heart approved by Our authority. On the last day, the form of consecration shall be recited.” Leo included the consecration (see below) along with the encyclical letter. That year he also approved for public use the major Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He surely should be given the title of the Pope of the Sacred Heart.

Devotion Endorsed by Popes

Popes such as St. John Paul II and Venerable Pius XII heartily followed Leo’s lead.

In his 1956 encyclical, Haurietis aquas (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart), Venerable Pius XII said while the revelations to St. Margaret Mary brought nothing new into Catholic doctrine, they are important in their own right:

Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God's merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation, Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time, He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.

By its nature, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus “is a worship of the love with which God, through Jesus, loved us, and at the same time, an exercise of our own love by which we are related to God and to other men.”

Pius XII adds:

In order that favors in greater abundance may flow on all Christians, nay, on the whole human race, from the devotion to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, let the faithful see to it that to this devotion the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of God is closely joined.

That happens with the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary the day after the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart.

Then came St. Pope John Paul II. On June 11, 1999, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the 100th anniversary of Leo XIII’s consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart, he wrote, “The consecration of the human race in 1899 represents an extraordinarily important step on the Church's journey and it is still good to renew it every year on the feast of the Sacred Heart.”

He reminded that Leo XIII presented the consecration as …

… the summit and crowning of all the honors which have been customarily paid to the Most Sacred Heart.’ Such a consecration, the Encyclical explains, is owed to Christ, Redeemer of the human race, for what he is in himself and for what he has done for human beings. Since in the Sacred Heart the believer encounters the symbol and the living image of the infinite love of Christ, which in itself spurs us to love one another, he cannot fail to recognize the need to participate personally in the work of salvation. For this reason every member of the Church is invited to see consecration as the giving and binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, the King ‘of prodigal sons’, the King of all who are waiting to be led ‘into the light of God and of his kingdom.’

There is no better time than now to make or renew your consecration, perhaps using this Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by St. Margaret Mary or another consecration prayer.

Also, blessings have been promised to families where the image of the Sacred Heart is honored. St. Margaret Mary told us:

Our Divine Lord assured me that He takes a singular pleasure in being honored under the figure of His Heart of flesh, the image of which He wishes to be exposed in public in order to touch the unfeeling hearts of men. He promised that He would pour out in abundance into the hearts of all those who would honor His Heart all the gifts with which It is filled, and that everywhere this image is exposed and honored, it would draw down all kinds of blessings.


Consecration Issued with the Encyclical Letter Annum Sacrum

Most sweet Jesus, redeemer of the human race, look down upon us, humbly prostrate before your altar. We are yours and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with you, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to your Most Sacred Heart. Many, indeed, have never known you, many too, despising your precepts, have rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart. Be you king, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their father's house, lest they die of wretchedness and hunger. Be you king of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one shepherd. Be you king also of all those who sit in the ancient superstition of the Gentiles, and refuse not you to deliver them out of darkness into the light and kingdom of God. Grant, O Lord, to your Church, assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the divine heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor forever. Amen.