By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
In the first chapter of the life of Blessed Margaret Mary, Msgr. Bougaud, deploring the political and moral conditions of France, predicted that this devotion would be a most effective remedy against the numerous evils threatening her Christian heredity. The first French writers on this devotion like to represent France as being the object of a special predilection to the Sacred Heart. The pestilence of Marseilles which, in a short time, carried off nearly 40,000 souls, offered a singular occasion for fostering this devotion. Our authority for the foregoing and subsequent statements is found in the Acts and Documents of that age, preserved and quoted in their entirety by Bishop Languet. It was only after the saintly Bishop of Marseilles, Msgr. de Belsunce, consecrated his whole diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that the pestilence ceased its depredations. This took place in 1720. Two years later the pest was raging again with implacable fury, but as soon as the administrative body of laymen of that city signed an agreement by which they obligated themselves to the best of their ability to promote the worship of the Sacred Heart, the scourge stopped with incredible suddenness. As a consequence of this miraculous occurrence, the Devotion to the Sacred Heart took a deep root in the hearts of the French people, but especially of the inhabitants of the city of Marseilles.
The lion's share in the spread of this devotion is justly attributed to the classic and authentic life of Blessed Margaret Mary written by Bishop Languet and edited in 1729. Msgr. Bougaud, who, in 1874, engaged in a similar undertaking, makes the appropriate statement that Bishop Languet was eminently fitted for such a task. He knew Blessed Margaret Mary personally. Having been in frequent communication with Paray, he was also acquainted with her contemporaries in the convent life. The learned author had free access to the Memoirs of the Beata, and refers to them with frequency. He quotes her letters quite extensively, describes her revelations, using her own simple language, gives an exact exposition of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, and, with scholastic skill, answers the objections raised against it by its adversaries. Soon the cult began to spread to a new field along the shores of the Mediterranean.
In 1726 the devotion had gained a new Apostle in Father Galliffet, who, in the same year, issued a most excellent work in Latin. At this juncture, Frederick Augustus, king of Poland, Henry Belsunce, Bishop of Marseilles, Philip, king of Spain, and others, seeing the popularity of the devotion and the numerous blessings which accrued from it, judged the time opportune for the renewal of the petition refused by Innocent XII on a previous occasion. Thus, Benedict XIII was asked for no less a favor than the establishing of the feast of the Sacred Heart for the universal Church. All the circumstances looked favorable to the cause of the petitioners. Cardinal Lambertini, afterward Benedict XIV, was acting as Promoter Fidei, while Father Galliffet pleaded the cause of the petitioners. The arguments used against the introduction of such a feast were practically identical With those used thirty years before, viz., the case of the holiness of Blessed Margaret Mary was as yet pending, the Church must needs be on her guard in giving her approval to novelties, the acceptation of this devotion would give rise to many scandals and unreasonable requests, the devotion savored of Nestorianism, etc. These, and similar supposedly adverse reasons militated against its introduction. Though Father Galliffet gave a satisfactory answer to all these objections, Lambertini won the College of Cardinals to his view when he called their attention to the opinion that the Devotion, as advanced, considered the heart as the source of all virtues and affections, the centre of all internal pleasures and pains. This, he pointed out, involved a philosophical question from the settlement whereof the Church ought to abstain. Thus originated the negative decision of the Sacred Congregation handed down July 30, 1729.