Private Revelation and the Revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

The Nature of Private Revelation

When thinking about the idea of private revelation, it occurs to one that there is, and has been, a lot of it going around for centuries; and the reason that it is so successful, both the true and the bogus, is that the ordinary member of the faithful, not to mention the non-Christian, has little, or no idea, as to what legitimate private revelation is. Take, for example, the Albigensians, against whom St. Dominic preached. According to Fr. William Hinnebusch, OP, Albigensianism was another form of Manichaeism, a Gnostic cult with which St. Augustine toyed early in his life.1 Commerce with the East (Mani was a Persian) had brought it into northern Italy and southern France during the early 12th century. It took root in the cities, but was spread far and wide by tradesmen. Albigensianism was nothing but Manichaeism reborn. It was Gnosticism in Christian garb. Like all Gnostic cults, it preached a dualism, whereby spiritual beings were good and created by God, but the physical universe, including our bodies, was created by an evil principle. Men were essentially spirits imprisoned in bodies, and since the flesh was evil, one could both destroy it, and be sexually profligate. The humanity of Christ and the sacraments, because they used the physical, were all from the evil principle.2 Gnosticism continues in various forms today.3

Take, also, visions, revelations, and understandings in the Church today, which have either been condemned by the Church authorities as inauthentic, or are highly questionable. Events like the “Bayside” visions of Veronica Lueken,4 or the ideas of many in the Catholic “traditionalist” camp today, who hold that Vatican II and the liturgical reforms coming from it, were a conspiracy to destroy the Church,5 are some examples of Gnostic forms of “revelation” which have always plagued the Church.

But this, in no way, says that there are not legitimate forms of extraordinary communication by God in the present. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help to live more fully by it in a certain period of history.”6 As Scripture says, Christ did not leave us orphans.7 St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that

(t)he prophets, who foretold the coming of Christ, could not continue further than John, who, with his finger, pointed to Christ actually present. Nevertheless, as Jerome says on this passage,8 “This does not mean that there were no more prophets after John. For we read in Acts of the Apostles that Agabus and the four maidens, daughters of Philip, prophesied. … at all times, there have not been lacking persons having the spirit of prophesy, not, indeed, for the declaration of any new doctrine of faith, but for the direction of human acts.”9

St. Paul deals with the various gifts given to the faithful for the building up of the Church. He demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is always at work in the Church, which is a living thing, built of living stones, “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:22). The implications of this are enormous and rarely understood by both laymen and many clerics. Referring to the continuing work of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Yves Congar, OP, states: “The Spirit can be the principle of communication and communion between God and us, and between us and our fellow men, because of what he is as Spirit—sovereign and subtle, unique in all men, and uniting persons without encroaching on their freedom or their inner lives.”10 St. Paul writes: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed11 in the Church, first, Apostles, second, prophets. …” (1 Cor 12:27). Later on, after showing that all of this is orienting toward love, he writes, “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1). The purpose of the prophecy is not the benefit of the one who exercises this particular gift, but the benefit of the Church: “On the other hand, he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. … he who prophesies edifies the Church. … He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the Church may be edified.”

The upbuilding of the Church has been stressed ever since Vatican II, with the Church focusing its efforts on its own renewal—and recognizing the need for its own renewal—in order to defend itself from threats from the outside. Pope Paul VI put it well:

The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love. She is the People of God immersed in the world, and often tempted by idols, and she always needs to hear the proclamation of the “mighty works of God” which converted her to the Lord; she always needs to be called together afresh by Him and reunited. In brief, this means that she has a constant need to being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor, and strength, in order to proclaim the Gospel.12

So it can be said that, not only is prophecy continuing in the Church, but, also, that the Church has a continued need for it. This is explained as follows:

In every age, the Church has received the charism13 of prophecy, which must be scrutinized, but not scorned. On this point, it should be kept in mind that prophecy, in the biblical sense, does not mean to predict the future (a common popular notion), but to explain the will of God for the present, and, therefore, show the right path to take for the future. … The prophet speaks to the blindness of will and reason, and declares the will of God as an indication and demand for the present time. … (T)he actualization of the definitive Revelation, which concerns me at the deepest level.14

This means that the elusive expression, “signs of the times,”15 and the charism of prophecy, are linked.16

Post-biblical prophecy appears much in the same way as it did in biblical times. Fr. A. Poulain, SJ, points out that there are two types of revelations which come to men, and one can easily point to biblical examples of both, as well as those in the lives of the saints, who had a prophetic role. The first is locutions, or words. These can be heard with the ear, as in exterior or auricular locutions; imaginative locutions, which are words which are received by the imaginative sense, without the assistance of the ear; and intellectual locutions, which are wordless understandings given to us by God. Second, there are visions. There are exterior visions, which are perceived by the bodily eyes; then imaginative visions, which are perceived with the mind without the assistance of the eyes; last, there are intellectual visions, which are perceived by the intellect, but without any form.17 In other words, God communicates with his people in the same way he always has, the difference being that the post-apostolic communications reveal no new doctrine, but give guidance to the Church, understood in the broad sense of all true believers.

The Signs of the Times: The Condition of the Church at the Time of St. Margaret Mary

The history of the Church in the 16th and 17th centuries is complex. The Church had to deal with the crisis of the Reformation, and the causes within its walls, as well as without. But, on the level of spirituality, there was a series of crises brewing. First, there was the Baianism crisis. Michel Baias (or Michel de Bay) was a French theologian. Essentially, he was a Pelagian, holding that God “had” to give the Holy Spirit to Adam. The gift of the Holy Spirit “was in no way something gratuitous, for it was not a better good, but something whose absence would properly have constituted an evil, an evil against nature.” Hence, grace was merely the natural state of man.18 De Lubac says that, according to St. Jerome, Pelagius felt that God wound man up like a clock and went to sleep; but for Baias, man needed continual rewinding by God. This made man a beggar, constantly claiming what God owes him. Baianism becomes, then, a legalistic or juridical theology.19

Then, there was the fight over Mysticism. Some influential Catholics began to question the spiritual reality of the experiences of famous mystics. The times saw the growth of an “abstract mysticism,” which had, as its principle features, communing with the transcendent, but without excluding Christ, and complete abandonment to the Holy Spirit. Names like Fr. Lallement, SJ, (1588-1635), Fr. Saint-Jure (1588-1657), and Fr. Jacques Olier (1608-1657), founder of the Sulpicians, under whom St. Louis de Montfort studied, not to mention the famous Carmelites, such as St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, are included in this spirituality. One influential opponent was Mére Angelique Arnaud, abbess of the abbey of Port-Royal, a center of the Jansenist heresy, who considered all of this mere imagination.20

After some time, this split in spirituality between those focusing on the action of God in the soul, and those focusing on an ascetic spirituality, reached an extreme. On one hand, there was the aforementioned Jansenism. The bishop of Ypres in Belgium wrote a book called Augustinus, which claimed, by exaggerating the thought of St. Augustine, that “man was irremediably corrupt owing to original sin, and could only be saved by grace granted by God to the predestined alone.” To put it another way, Christ did not die for all men, but for those he chose beforehand to save.21 This also denied free will, which meant that the person had no hand in his salvation, and was damned or saved by God’s choice, without the cooperation, or lack thereof, of the person.22 Interestingly, this heresy came at a time when many were alarmed at the laxity of the clergy, and general moral laxity, and, so, there began a love of austerity.23 The Jansenists insisted on an emotionless religion, complete austerity, extreme fasting. Bishops sympathetic to Jansenism gave St. Louis de Montfort frequent trouble during his preaching crusades, due to his appeals to the emotions of the people. Frequently, there would not be a dry eye in the church, as he elicited sorrow for sin among the congregation,24 something the Jansenists rejected.

Gallicanism was a problem at the time, as well. Gallicanism was an attempt to set up a national church in France. The church would be Catholic in belief, but would be under the control of the king. One pro-Gallican author tried to impose “limits on the infallibility of the pope, and left a place for the divine right of kings in the ecclesiastical field.”25 According to Braure, France only missed lapsing into schism by a hair.26 Gallicanism also verged on the heresy of Consiliarism, which holds that a general council of the Church is superior to the decrees of a pope, and to which, such papal decrees can be appealed.27 The French King, Louis XIV, required that a Gallican Creed be taught in the seminaries. The pope, of course, rejected this creed and the teaching of it, and refused to install any bishops who subscribed to it.28 This left 35 bishoprics unfilled at one particular time, and Louis XIV was excommunicated as well. Interestingly enough, the Jansenists were thrilled about this struggle between the secular and ecclesiastical spheres—despite the fact that the king despised them—because it would limit the pope’s power to deal with Jansenism.

Devotion to the Heart of Christ

Devotion to the sacred and wounded heart of Christ had always been central to the Church, ever since St. John the Apostle pointed out the details of the piercing of this Sacred Heart at the crucifixion: “(B)ut when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn 19: 33-34). Fr. Philip Mulhearn discusses the fact that the Fathers of the Church, from the earliest days, have focused on the Heart of Christ as the fountain of living waters, what Jesus himself referred to in John 7: 36: “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”29 Fr. Mulhearn says that the Fathers and theologians, from St. Augustine and St. Cyril of Jerusalem, to St. Peter Canisius, refer to these living waters as taking their origin from the side of Christ.30 He says that the earliest reference to the entire future cult of devotion to the Divine Heart is seen in St. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, which took place with a rabbi around A.D. 135-150. Justin says: “As the Christ is called Israel and Jacob, so we, hewn out of the side of Christ, are the true Israel.”31 Since then, a multitude of holy men and women have developed this devotion. This includes medieval theologians, such as William of St. Thierry and St. Bernard; nuns such as Sts. Lutgard, (died 1246); Mechtild of Magdeburg (died 1285), whose writings “read like a preview of the revelations of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque;32 and Mechtild of Hacheborn (died 1298).33 The Dominican and Franciscan friars also continued to develop the devotion.34

God Sends His Prophet

So, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord was not new. Because of the eclipsing of the Church and its teaching in Europe, and especially in France, our Lord willed that new life had to be put into focus on him. People tend to forget that our Faith is not a list of theological propositions. These propositions, though necessary for the proper understanding of the Faith, are not the core of the Faith. Our religion is a person—Jesus Christ. In truth, most laymen only know about the Sacred Heart from the revelations given to St. Margaret Mary, not through the many writings hinted at above. Reasoning in reverse, if this was God’s intention, it achieved its effect.

St. Margaret Mary was born in 1647 and died in 1690. She was born into a devout, comfortable family, but after the death of her father, she and her mother were subjected to great persecution by relatives who were in charge of the house and the family income. St. Margaret Mary accepted becoming a virtual slave in her house, and led a devout life during her childhood, except for one period of vanity, which later she rejected totally.35 She practiced heroic sanctity as a nun of the Visitation Order, and, hence, prepared her soul for the completely unexpected role that our Lord would give her.36

In June, 1675, St. Margaret Mary experienced the following, told in her own words:

Being before the Blessed Sacrament one day of Its octave, I received from my God signal tokens of His love, and felt urged with the desire of making Him some return, and of rendering Him love for love. “Thou canst not make Me a greater return of love,” He said, “than by doing what I have so often asked of thee.”37 Then, discovering to me His Divine Heart, He said: “Behold this Heart, Which has loved men so much, that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love; and in return I have received from the greater number nothing but ingratitude by reason of their irreverence and sacrileges, and by the coldness and contempt which they show me in this Sacrament of Love. But what I feel the most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus.”38

He then gave her his instructions on what he wanted her to accomplish for him.

Therefore, I ask of thee, that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special feast to honor my heart, by communicating on that day39 and making reparation to It by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars.40

Note the similarity of the paradigm here with that of the prophet Ezekiel. St. Margaret Mary is sent to Jesus’ own house:

And he (God) said to me, “Son of man, go, get you to the house of Israel, and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel—not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you; for they are not willing to listen to me. …” (Ezekiel 3: 4-7)

Our Lord then, in response to her loss as to how to bring this about, promised to send her a new confessor, St. Claude de la Columbière, to whom Jesus had already made known his request.41

As have most prophets, like Ezekiel above, St. Margaret Mary suffered opposition and ridicule, and many proofs were demanded for the authenticity of the visions and our Lord’s request: “I was forbidden, henceforth, to put any picture of the Sacred Heart in a conspicuous place, being allowed merely to honor it in private. … persecutions of various kinds arising at that time, it seems, indeed, as if all hell were let loose against me, and that everything conspired to annihilate me.”42

The Church, in the end, approved the visions and the message that were delivered through St. Margaret to God’s own people. But even though the devotion to the Sacred Heart has become one of the most popular devotions in the Church, as Pope Paul VI explains,43 the Church is in constant need of self-evangelization. After these revelations to St. Margaret Mary and the establishment of the public devotion to the Sacred Heart, Catholicism continued its decline: to wit, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the rise of atheism, communism, etc.44 Even after Vatican II, with its universal call to holiness, and in the face of so many encyclicals written by the popes, explaining and encouraging this devotion, it has become almost moribund. All this is reminiscent of the situation facing Jeremiah. This is characterized in the book of Lamentations: “Behold, O Lord, I am in distress, my soul is in tumult, my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious” (Lam 1: 20). King Zedekiah decided to rebel against the tutelage of Babylon, but God had already decided to punish Judah for its unfaithfulness. The king was going to rely on the army of Egypt to help him, but this help would never come. Jeremiah said to the king: “Thus says the Lord, Do not deceive yourselves, saying, ‘The Chaldeans will surely stay away from us,’ for they will not stay away. For even if you should defeat the whole army of Chaldeans who are fighting against you, and there will remain of them only wounded men, every man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire” (Jer 37: 9-10). Finally, Jeremiah describes the future Jerusalem:

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void:
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no man,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruit of the land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord,
before his fierce anger. (Jer 4: 23-26)

Is this not a spiritual portrayal of France, “the eldest daughter of the Church,” today?

  1. St. Augustine, Confessions
  2. William A. Hinnebusch, OP, The History of the Dominican Order, volume 1, Origin and Growth to 1500 (New York: Alba House, 1965), 23-24. 
  3. See, Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics and Gnosticism (Chicago: Regnery, 1968), and The New Science of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) esp. chap. IV. 
  4. See Accessed 5/28/07. 
  5. There are so many of these people around and their books, that a reference seems hardly necessary. 
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2nd ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1994), # 67. 
  7. John 14:18.
  8. See S. Th. II-II. Q. 176, a.6, obj 3, where it says, “Further, our Lord said (Matthew 11:13): ‘The prophets and the law prophesied until John’; and afterwards the gift of prophesy was in Christ’s disciples in a much more excellent manner than the prophets of old, according to Ephesians 3:5, ‘In other generations’ the mystery of Christ ‘was not known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.’ Therefore it would seem that in course of time the degree of prophesy advanced.” 
  9. S. Th. II-II. Q. 176, a.6, reply to obj. 3. 
  10. Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 33. 
  11. Notice the present perfect tense. 
  12. Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, # 15, Accessed on 6/6/07. 
  13. More on this subject later on. 
  14. Accessed 5/30/07. 
  15. See Mt 16:3, and Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, #4, and Vatican II, Apostolicam Actuositatem, #14. 
  16. Accessed 5/30/07.
  17. A. Poulain, SJ, The Graces of Interior Prayer: A Treatise on Mystical Theology, tr. by Lenora Yorke Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949), 301ff. 
  18. Henri de Lubac, Augustinianism and Modern Theology (New York: Crossroad, 2000), 4. 
  19. Ibid, 5. Baias’ propositions were condemned by Pope St. Pius V in the Bull Ex omnibus afflictionibus (1567). See Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, tr. by Roy F. Deferrari (Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 1955), no. 1001. 
  20. For a thorough discussion of this complex history see, Louis Cognet, Post-Reformation Spirituality, tr. by P. Hepurne Scott (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1959), 100ff. 
  21. Of course, this is similar to the Calvinist position.
  22. Maurice Braure, The Age of Absolutism (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1963), 61. 
  23. Ibid. 
  24. See Eddie Doherty, Wisdom’s Fool (Bay Shore, New York: Montfort Publications, n.d.), chapter 17. Most authors focus on the machinations of the Jansenist faction. The difficulty was whether Jansenius really held the propositions condemned by a decree of the Holy Office, December 7, 1690, and they insisted that St. Augustine, in fact, did hold the propositions that Jansenius accused him of holding. For a fuller discussion, see Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion (Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, 1983), 177-201. For the condemned propositions, see, Denzinger, nos. 1291-1321; and the Constitution Cum occasione by Innocent X, May 31, 1658, Denzinger, 1092-1096; Unigenitus by Clement XI, September 8, 1713, Denzinger, 1351-1451. 
  25. Braure, The Age of Absolutism, 16. 
  26. Ibid., 17. 
  27. Ibid., 69. 
  28. The bishops in France at the time were nominated by the King. Ibid., 69. 
  29. See also John 4:7, where Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given him living water.” 
  30. Fr. Philip Mulhearn, “Patristic Sources,” in Jordan Aumann, OP, et al., Devotion to the Heart of Jesus (Rome: Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Institute of Spirituality, 1982), 4. 
  31. Ibid, 5. 
  32. Jordan Aumann, OP, “Monastic Roots,” in ibid., 59-61. 
  33. Ibid., 62-66. 
  34. Ibid., chap. 5. Space does not permit a full discussion of the whole development of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 
  35. St. Margaret Mary, Autobiography (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1986), 19-34. 
  36. Ibid., 50-106. 
  37. This was not the first time Jesus had appeared to her, but He was a frequent visitor, preparing her and guiding her to become more perfect, a process which bean even prior to her entrance to the Visitations. St. Margaret Mary, Autobiography, 42 ff. 
  38. St. Margaret Mary, Autobiography, 106. Regarding this complaint of Our Lord about the coldness toward him from consecrated religious, he later appeared to another Visitation nun, Mother Louise Margaret claret de la Touche with a similar message directed to priests. See, Patrick O’Connell, BD, The Life and Work of Mother Louise Margaret Claret de la Touche (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1987), esp. chap. 4. 
  39. Remember, the Jansenists rejected frequent communion. 
  40. Ibid. 
  41. Ibid., 107. 
  42. Ibid., 108-109. 
  43. See fn. 12 and its quote, above.
  44. When this author was a professor at the now defunct Cardinal Newman College in St. Louis, a friend, showed him a book in that library which had a quote form Our lord to St. Margaret Mary saying that if only the king of France would put a picture of His Heart on his banners and his shields, there is nothing that He would not do for him. The King did not do this. God seemed to have left France to its own devices, which is why the French Revolution occurred. This, according to the book, is why the soldiers of the Vendeé resisting the revolution, wore the symbol of the Sacred Heart on their uniforms, to make recompense for this neglect of God’s wishes. The book also said that Sacre Coeur church in Paris was built in reparation for this failing on the part of the King. This author has been unable to find this book again, after 30 years. 
Dr. William R. Luckey, PhD About Dr. William R. Luckey, PhD

Dr. William R. Luckey is Professor Emeritus and Scholar in Residence at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. He has a BA from St. John's University in New York, where he also taught for five years. He has an MA and PhD in political philosophy from Fordham University, an MBA from Shenandoah University in Virginia, an MA in economics from George Mason University, and an MA in systematic theology from the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology of Christendom College. He is widely published in scholarly and popular forms. He has been married for 45 years, and has four grown children, and 22 grandchildren. Dr. Luckey and his wife are Lay Dominicans.


  1. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    As you know there were the apparitions in Mexico of Our Lady at tepeyac hill to the native American, followed by1830 in Paris to Catherine Laboure, ,1846 to two children at La Salette, 1858 at Lourde to Bernadette, 1917 at Fatima Portugal to the three cousins, and 1932 at Beauraing and Banneux, Belgium to orphans and a convent girls. All were proven that Jesus sent his mother with messages of moral, spiritual and national advise. May God be praised for his gifts of divine help to us.


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