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Sacred Heart

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Teaching the Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Part I

Principles and Methodology

Editors: Thomas Diehl, S.J. and John Hardon, S. J.

Practice of Virtue and Christian Piety

The touchstone of sincerity in the spiritual life for all Christians, of whatever age or mental maturity, is to serve God with their whole heart in the person of Christ, and their neighbor as themselves for the love of God. But we do not serve unless we love. Unless our wills are duly trained to respond to the goodness of God, to His great mercy and love for us even to becoming man and remaining with us in the Eucharist, we shall not serve Him, at least not in the measure that His goodness deserves.

There are no exceptions to this law of spirituality, that love begets service and finally determines all human dedication. From the dawn of reason the operative principle in the supernatural life is the virtue of charity that was infused in baptism but needs to be nourished and developed at the risk of being weakened or even lost altogether; and in the degree to which love has been cultivated in the formative years of a child, it will bear fruit in later life out of all proportion to the small effort expended in the process.

It may seem coincidental that youthful saints like John Berchmans or Dominic Savio, the Little Flower or Maria Goretti, reached heroic stature at an age when most people are still learning the rudiments of Christian perfection. The facile explanation would attribute their holiness only to the grace of God. Actually in these and similar cases, history shows that early training in the practices of piety, at the hands of experienced teachers either in the home or in school, is a most important factor contributing to the development of sanctity.

In the following samples of how to integrate the Sacred Heart devotion with the spiritual life of the pupils, two aspects of this integration are seen to be heavily emphasized: the Holy Eucharist as sacrament and sacrifice, and a spirit of prayer in union with the person of Christ. This should not be surprising if we consider that the Sacred Heart, an organ of the Glorified body of the Lord, is present in the Eucharist; and that the ultimate object of the devotion is Christ Himself, who is more than ready to assist whose who call upon Him.


The element of motivation enters the fiber of devotion to the Sacred Heart at many angles. Of primary importance is the need of persuading the students to adopt the devotion or take it seriously. Equally valuable are the motivating forces inherent in a sincere love of the Sacred Heart, to train the will for sacrifice in the practice of all the virtues.

Without exception, teachers insist on the incentive of presenting the Sacred Heart devotion as something for life, and not as a mere passing form of piety. “Give the students a solid, stable motive,” they urge, “one they can use on a permanent basis, for cultivating a devotion to Christ’s Heart. Near the beginning of the school year I have used an orientation talk on realizing that God’s will for them is to be a high-school student, and that their sanctity will depend on fulfilling that state of life. This makes an easier point of recall and association than other momentary pious persuasions. As a constant reminder I found the morning offering and a push now and then for ‘contact with Christ in Mass and Holy Communion’ are indispensable.”

Others prefer to stress the essential features underlying the devotion. “This is done very easily and naturally in religion class by showing that God did everything for us out of love and that we ought to do everything out of return of love for God. Something that is not done in the classroom is possible here during our noon-period Masses. I point out that the relationship (of love and reparation) between man and God is best exemplified in the Mass. A brief talk after the Gospel is enough, recalling the meaning of the Offertory (and Consecration and Communion) and stressing the benefit of making a good thanksgiving---when I ask Christ to stay with me and make my actions during the rest of the day more like His: apostolic, redemptive, and done out of love.”

Those who teach boys know that even a sublime devotion can be ignored unless presented to them in the right way. A brother with high school experience reports that “I try to promote true devotion to the Sacred Heart by emphasizing that Christ’s love for us is a manly love, as shown by His manner of life--the example He gave us of courageous moral virtue and the self-sacrifice He underwent for love of us. In some schools where I have been stationed, especially in small towns, I have had some success in promoting daily Mass and Holy Communion, so that through an increased love for Christ the boys would receive from Him the strength to conduct their lives in the manly way He desires.” As another teacher, also a brother, puts it to the boys: “Live your consecration. Don’t take back part of it by doing a half-baked job of studying.”

No matter what the mode of presentation, the underlying principle is always love through sacrifice. Using the heart as a symbol of Christ’s love for us, the whole of His mortal life from birth to death can be shown the students as so many proofs of His charity toward us. “Sharing, sacrifice, and service are proofs of true love. Point out incidents in the life of Christ in which the three S’s were fulfilled. One has to make a distinction between true love of friendship and emotion or sentimental passion.” The more clearly this difference is understood, the more effectively will the students, especially the boys, respond to the Sacred Heart devotion.

Retreat masters often make the devotion a unifying force in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to students. “In the Principle and Foundation, I recognize my personal vocation from the fact that Almighty God picked me out in creation. Reflecting on the nativity, the public life, and passion, I see that Christ the King, I hear the appeal of the Sacred Heart for souls---mine through consecration, others through my apostolate of example and offering my daily life for others.” In context, the encyclical on the mystical body of Christ may be quoted extensively as the passage in which the pope speaks of the trials and labors that people have to suffer and reminds them how profitable these can be for themselves and the Church if borne with patience. As Pius XII says, “The daily use of the offering made by the members of the Apostleship of Prayer will contribute very much to make this intention more efficacious.” Some schools have devotions to the Sacred Heart during the annual three-day retreat, conducted in each class by the homeroom teacher. This gives the students a chance for “active participation” through vocal prayers, to given expression to the thinking they do in the retreat conferences.

Part of the process of motivating students to practice the devotion to the Sacred Heart is making them see the benefits of the devotion. A sister teaching in high school writes, “I find that private counseling furnishes the best opportunity for inculcating devotion to the Sacred Heart. When students come with their personal problems, whatever they may be, I try to make them understand that God sends or permits the disturbing situation for the student’s ultimate good. The next step is a very natural one: inspiring confidence in God’s love, goodness, and power. This confidence can be expressed very beautifully in the simple prayer, ‘Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you.’ I encourage the student to say that tiny prayer over and over in the most fervent and trusting way.”

In much the same way another counselor begins by asking the student routine questions. After one or two visits, she goes into more particular areas like personal habits, tardiness, and punctuality in getting in assignments. “Should there be opportunity for praise, it is given; but if constructive criticism is to be made, I mention the related virtue of the Sacred Heart. Sometimes I give them an aspiration to say: ‘Sweet Heart of Jesus, be my love. Help me to be more….’ In some cases the student offered to come back to make a progress report. Not all of them were really honest in the beginning; but those who returned of their own accord were really helped by considering the devotion to the Sacred Heart.” Outside of formal counseling, the same method can be used when teachers deal personally with individual students. Or on a group basis, some have taken guidance-class periods to integrate the virtues of the Sacred Heart with specific personality aims.

A priest-teacher stresses reception of Holy Communion as a powerful means of sanctification. “I point out that selfishness is the one thing that ‘prevents’ God from making us saints by means of Holy Communion. What ‘slows God down,’ as it were, is deliberate venial sin and inordinate self-love. I show the boys that every action done in a spirit of reparation takes some of the selfishness away. Gradually God takes over, slowly forming Christ within us. This idea is worked out in connection with the Eighth Promise: ‘Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection’” As an added motive, attention may be called to saints whose activities centered about the Sacred Heart, while drawing the obvious moral conclusion that we can follow their example.

Using the Promises judiciously helps much to ‘sell’ the devotion to students who would otherwise be unimpressed. “Children are eager to learn of the Promises made to St. Margaret Mary. In religion instruction on the First Friday, I explained one or two of the Promises and made practical applications. Occasionally the class was asked to write their explanation of a Promise. Devotion to the Sacred Heart thus helps the children appreciate Christ’s personal interest in their daily problems. Through the devotion they learn to talk things over with Him in their Holy Communion and visits to our school chapel.”

The Twelfth Promise is a favorite incitement to practice the Sacred Heart devotion. Some begin their motivation here. “First I explain the meaning of the Promise as given in one of the standard works on devotion to the Sacred Heart. Then I follow with stories. And finally I ask: ‘How certain am I that I shall save my soul, if I make the nine Fridays?’ Give many examples, make it picturesque. They have to see the thing clearly. Later I take each Promise, as it comes up, and go through the same process.”

Devotion to the Sacred Heart should never be far removed from daily routine of school life. To this end, students can be inspired to apply themselves more earnestly to their books by doing especially the hard things to show how much they really love Christ and to save millions of souls, especially sinners in their agony. Another grammar-school teacher reports “we use the devotion to the Sacred Heart as motivation for effort and conduct during our busy day. The children like to think of Jesus as a little child like themselves. They also know He is the best person that ever lived on earth. So having a model to copy from, they will try ‘for little Jesus.’ Also we pray three times a day, ‘Come into my heart, O Jesus dear, and make a good child of me.’ They know that even if Jesus was a little boy like themselves, He was also God. We do our reading as well as we can, for Jesus; we do our printing as well as we can, for Jesus… Children like to tell you whom they are doing things for.”

This spirit of doing things for Christ has an instinctive appeal that experienced teachers recognize. “Devotion to the Sacred Heart provides a strong incentive for behavior and effort in almost any line. Children respond to the idea of a loving Friend for whom they can do something.” This includes the practice of personal virtue as well as active charity. Writes a teacher from Chicago: “If we wish to encourage students to give financial aid to others---for polio victims, various missions, the bishops’ fund, pagan babies, and the like---we tell them the charity of Christ is so great that anything they do in His name will be paid back a hundredfold. In other words, we don’t just ask that they contribute to a good cause; we want them to gain merit and continue to do these acts after they leave the school.” While all the children will not be equally affected, some benefit is always derived from identifying the love of the Sacred Heart with an outgoing charity that involves a bit of sacrifice.

Prospective conversions are also motivational. During religion class, for example, “I emphasized the simple fact that devotion to the Sacred Heart was a fine way to get lax members of their families to attend to their religious duties. This is a worry to some of my pupils.” Or on a more personal basis, “Johnny, who had special difficulty in obeying and being attentive, tried especially hard to overcome himself when told of devotion to the Sacred Heart---joined to his self-conquest---as a means of winning the conversion of his Protestant mother.” Although a situation like this must be very delicately handled, the basic principle is sound and has a variety of applications.

Finally, promotion of vocation, usually stressed in March, has a “personal charm when His Heart is part of it. Vocation can be explained as His call and the answer to Him.” Incidentally, this also places the promotion of vocations on a solid dogmatic basis, as an invitation from Christ to a more perfect service and love, rather than a duty binding under pain of sin. “Every medium lends itself to this. Last year at the conclusion of a career assembly, with strains of a pleasant melody to change the mood, there was an exquisite oral presentation of Christ’s Heart pleading for help and asking for love in the making of the vocational decision. It was well received by the students and teachers.” Not every school situation would permit a program of this kind, but the general pattern can be variously interpreted.

Morning Offering

The recitation of the morning offering, the first and fundamental practice of the Apostleship of Prayer, is almost universal in the schools.

As a rule, the pupils are urged to say the morning offering at home “as your morning prayer or immediately when you rise. This is the ‘First Must,’ your word of honor to our Lord, which gives you a goal to strive after for the rest of the day.” Some teachers regularly ask the students before the opening class, “How many said their morning offering today?” and have a show of hands. Or, without being asked to identify themselves, the pupils are told, “If you haven’t said it, say it now.” A pause in silence follows.

Others place a large size poster on the wall, easily visible from any part of the classroom, on which the general and mission intentions of the Apostleship of Prayer are printed in big letters. Poster colors change every month with the change of intentions. For later use, on the back of each card is printed one of the Twelve Promises to St. Margaret Mary. Personal reminders often become ingenious. During religion class the students are instructed to tie a knot in their shoestrings during the class. “I told them to keep the knot tied all day. That night when they took off their shoes before retiring they were to take them off without untying the knot. In the morning the knot would remind them to say the morning offering.” By keeping the practice up for several weeks, with periodic checking, the habit was gradually acquired. A more common suggestion has the pupils make a sign reminding them to say the offering. They put this on the mirror in their bedroom or elsewhere. “In this way not only the students but also other members of the family were reminded about the morning offering.” Also instead of just a simple memo, printed stickers with the full text of the prayer are used for the same purpose.

In coeducational high schools, teachers sometimes exploit the boy and girl complex in the interest of the Sacred Heart. “In the freshman religion class I teach, the boys and girls are separated. I had the boys all write their telephone numbers on a piece of paper---just telephone numbers, no names. These papers I distributed among the girls in their class. I instructed them to call these numbers and ask for the freshman boy who attended our high school. They were not to give their name, just call and ask him to please start saying the morning offering. My experience has been that this proves very successful.”

Encouraging the morning offering at home is the standard practice. But some pupils are bound to forget, or even when they remember, the recitation may be mechanical and unreflective. To obviate both difficulties many teachers have the students say the offering in school or in church, with different methods used to insure prayerful attention and stimulate the affections. It may be just a moment’s forethought. “Before I say the opening words of the morning offering each day, I ask the youngsters to pause and think over what they are presenting to God. It is a wonderful help during the day, when things don’t go the way they want them to go, to think, ‘This suffering I already gave to Jesus.’” Children and young people no less than adults need variety. Two variations have been found effective. The most ambitious has the pupils renew the oblation to the Sacred Heart in a modified form each hour of the day. After a short introduction, like, “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer this hour for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world for…”; a specific intention is named every hour as particular or local circumstances suggest. It may be for a sick person, a member of the class or his parent, a current need in the parish like a school fund campaign, the conversion of a certain class of people, return to the true faith, mercy for the dying, those who died in the past hour, those in grave temptation, those suffering persecution, those in prison, the hungry, vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. One advantage of the frequent change of intention is to impress the students with the variety of subjects to pray for and the spontaneous integration of daily and hourly needs with the spirit of constant prayer. In some schools chimes are sounded each hour, to remind the pupils to recall the presence of God and to say “All for You, most Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

With the same end in view, most teachers recite the morning offering in the first period and urge the students to renew it several times a day, at least during the change of classes. Some have found the use of the daily intentions helpful. The morning offering is said only once, at the opening of school, but a short formula is recited before each class, using the intention for the day, as specified in the League leaflet, to focus attention and break the routine.

“Avoid prayer ruts,” is a frequent warning. “Impress the concept of the offering as freshly as possible. My big point is: the work at hand, the study, the class work. This is the center of attention always.” Nor should “secular” intentions be despised, like “Make us men and no longer boys… Help us in our studies… Thanks for the victory,” while including spiritual ones, “Make us saints… Save souls.”

The morning offering is such a concentrated prayer that, unless the teacher periodically explains its meaning, the students may get into the habit of reciting it with little real profit. Teachers find it necessary, therefore, to explain each part of the morning offering---preferably not all at once. Along with this explanation should go an evaluation of the various parts, with special attention to the Mass. “By stressing the idea that we unite ourselves with all the Masses being offered throughout the world, I help the students see the influence of the Mass. The most perfect kind of apostolic efficiency is achieved by union with our Lord in the Mass, by contributing our efforts to the great work of Christ the Redeemer. For as a Mass is offered every minute of the day, we join with the Church and our Lord in the work of bringing salvation to a sinful world.” A point to note is that students need to be convinced that one short offering in the morning, “in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,” literally unites us to thousands of Masses in a way that would be impossible except for the morning dedication.

Daily and Monthly Intentions

Members of the Apostleship of Prayer make the morning offering not only according to the intentions of the Sacred Heart but also for the specific needs of the Catholic Church as indicated by the vicar of Christ in the monthly intention. In doing this, the members not only cultivate in themselves a love of the Church and full agreement of mind with her, but they also grow in a strong spirit of filial obedience toward the supreme pontiff. Without this obedience, there can be no union between the members and the head of the mystical body of Christ.

Teachers are aware of the unitive and inspiration value of the monthly intention and use it accordingly. In order to have the students understand its implications, around the first of each month all or part of a religion period is given to informal discussion of it. During the same class period, the explanation in the Messenger is read by the students, with comments by the teacher. For the higher grades in high school or college, carefully prepared commentaries on the papal intentions are published in Rome in the English language and are available to teachers. (Write: Apostleship of Prayer, Casella Postale 9048, Rome, Italy.)

Describing their discussion of the pope’s intention, teachers stress the element of practicality, “the bearing it might have on the lives of the students at school and in their own homes.” At the beginning of the month, “we study the leaflet intensely by discussing the application of the intention to the students’ daily lives.” Instead of a discussion, the teacher may read the commentary in the small leaflet, and then “about every third day, previous to the morning offering, make some personal comment on the monthly intention, like the need or the evils it will overcome.” The religion class may get an evening assignment to read the Messenger reflections on the pope’s intention and be ready to make an oral report on the next class day.

Besides the particular intention specified monthly by the Holy Father, the Apostleship of Prayer has a list of daily intentions that are recommended to the prayers of the League. The intentions are listed on the calendar page of the monthly leaflet. Here the teachers find a wide area for ingenuity. Since the daily intention is always coupled with a suggested practice and generally also with the saint for the day, any one or a combination of all three elements are promoted. “We study the calendar of the month and plan how we can practice the particular devotion and learn more about the saints whose feast days are listed.” In some schools with a public-address system, the principal announces a special intention every day, just before the morning offering is recited in common.

In order to personalize the daily and monthly intentions, the students can be encouraged to use them as bookmarks, written or typed on appropriate cards. In the same way, “the promoters write a student’s name on each of the leaflets at the beginning of the month. Each student prays for the one whose name is on the leaflet he receives.” Occasionally a teacher may find that assigning special intentions for each day of the week helps to induce a pattern of prayer. One sequence assigns the missions for Monday, world peace for Tuesday, vocations for Wednesday, the poor souls for Thursday, and reparation for the sins of the world on Friday. The order may be changed periodically, and private intentions suggested for the weekends.

Parallel with intentions, the Apostleship has definite practices recommended to the members of the League. Teachers find that by assigning specific virtues or acts of self-discipline for certain days, the children remember them more easily, especially if the cycle is repeated week after week. One technique is to have “the days and practices printed on a chart with a picture of the Sacred Heart at the top. The complete chart may be posted, or the day and practice may be changed daily and inserted into slits on the chart. Each morning, either after the opening prayers or at the beginning of the religion period, the practice for the day is read. Suggestions and examples are then given by the pupils of how the virtue may be practiced that day in school or at home.” Two sets of virtues are as follows:


Grades 1 and 2   


Grades 3 to 8


Be silent


Silence and charity


Be kind


Kindness and humility


Be gentle


Meekness and sweetness


Be obedient


Submission and resignation


Be generous


Generosity and self-denial

Comparable to having special practices for each day of the week, teachers in high school also draw up a periodic set of resolutions to serve the same purpose. “At the beginning of a new quarter, we form a list of resolutions that we all make in common. Pupil suggestions range from the general --- study harder, obey school rules --- to the particular --- stop jaywalking, give a certain sum weekly to the missions. Each student is, of course, encouraged to add personal resolutions to his copy of the common list.” Another variant offers with specific intentions the work of each class to the Sacred Heart, by means of an aspiration and the mention of His name. “At the end of the day we recite the short prayer and an Act of Contrition ‘for all the things we have done imperfectly during the day.’” This method helps to focus the mind on the duty at hand and gives definite purpose for which an act is performed.

Mental Prayer

In his encyclical on prayer and expiation to the Sacred Heart, Pope Pius XI expressed the judgment that reflective meditation, as nothing else, can remove the basic cause of human misery, insatiable greed for earthly goods irrespective of their relation to God. For the “the man who prays, looks above to the goods of heaven whereon he meditates and which he desires.” Yet we know that mental prayer must be cultivated and taught even in grammar school if the adult is to put this valuable instrument of spirituality into practice.

Several methods are currently in vogue to dovetail the beginnings of mental prayer with devotion to the Sacred Heart. A simple but effective way is to use the morning offering as the basis for a class meditation, lasting five minutes, or less, and following the Ignatian second method of prayer. Each significant phrase of the offering is briefly commented upon: “O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary…. I offer you my prayers …my works ….my joys…my sufferings…” To ensure maximum attention, “each student should be provided with a copy of the meditative commentary, which should be read slowly, giving each student time to consider his own personal works, joys, and sorrow.”

Another method, used by certain teaching brothers and called The Reflection, consists in telling a pointed story to the class for a few minutes. Although short, it should cover three elements: an outstanding deed or achievement, practiced by some definite person, whose action embodies the principle or ideal being proposed. In context, an apostle or devotee of the Sacred Heart, either a saint like Margaret Mary or Blessed Claude de la Colombière, or an ordinary person in modern times, becomes the focus of attention. Even a small collection of such anecdotes can go a long way. One teacher reports telling such short stories everyday and allowing the students to tell stories of their own. Among other subjects, the Sacred Heart is a regular theme. While someone is speaking, the others are urged to make a prayerful reflection on what is being said.

Teachers who have tried mental prayer say that pupils take up the practice avidly. The usual methods are either to have “points” briefly given to the students by the teacher, and then pause for a minute or more of silent meditation or slowly propose a few reflective thoughts while the class meditates along with the speaker.

A typical short meditation on the apparition of the Sacred Heart has the pupils imagine they are kneeling beside St. Margaret Mary when Christ shows her His Heart. “Feel the flame of love,” they are told. “It is as if you were standing in front of the open door of a furnace. You automatically get warm and feel the heat. Ask the Sacred Heart to let you catch some of His fire so that you can give it to others and thus ‘set the world on fire.’ See the thorns around the Heart draw drops of blood. You are causing that by sins and by the fact that you pay no attention to His love. Tell Him how sorry you are. See the cross above the Heart and consider what the Sacred Heart has done for all of us. He died on the cross and showed His love for all men. Thank Him for loving you so very much.”

For grammar school children the best way to develop prayerful habits and the practice of simple mental prayer oriented toward devotion to the Sacred Heart is provided by the Eucharistic Crusade of the Apostleship of Prayer. In their weekly meetings members of the Eucharistic Crusade receive regular but unobtrusive instruction in the practice of prayer and they are taught to integrate it with their attendance at Mass, reception of the sacraments and the fulfillment of their daily duties.

In the spirit of mental prayer, aspirations to the Sacred Heart may also be encouraged with spiritual profit to the students. One school has the custom of appointing a child for every half hour of the day “to watch the clock and renew the intention of the morning offering, ‘All for You, most Sacred Heart of Jesus.’ The whole class takes part and new motivation and fervor is added to their work.” Another teacher uses the change of classes or subject matter as occasion for a moment’s aspiration. “I tap my little desk bell and the class stops for a minute to say the prayer, ‘All for You…’”

Similar to reminders about the monthly intentions, posters are sometimes placed in the classrooms with aspirations to the Sacred Heart. Drawings on the board serve the same purpose. “These are changed every month. Students discuss them and give their ideas when to say them. They usually suggest saying them when entering a new class, while changing classes and before beginning their study period.” One salutary effect noticed as a result of either mental prayer or periodic aspirations is a growing realization of God’s presence by the pupils at other times of the day, when at home, on the street, or even at play. They have built up associations in the mind that evoke prayerful sentiments outside of formal prayer and meditation.

In proposing Christ to young people, priests and brothers insist that a basic prejudice must be overcome. “The youth of today put Jesus down as effeminate. They are willing to believe in Him but they aren’t too ready to accept Him as one whom they sincerely admire.”

A priest with wide experience in giving school retreats feels “we must first make youth understand that although Jesus was God, He had a human nature that operated in a human way and that He did not work miracles to put Him through the ordinary day. They must understand that He had feelings the same as we, so they can understand that His suffering was not miraculously relieved but that perhaps a miracle sustained Him to suffer beyond the bounds of human endurance.” He urges that before we instruct children in the fine points of the Sacred Heart devotion, whether in prayer or otherwise, we must discover the person Jesus, whose love is symbolized by the Sacred Heart.

His own method is to emphasize the fact that Christ had (and has) emotions, feelings, and human reactions like our own. “There could have been a bully in Christ’s life, but He would not have called upon a miracle to keep from being shoved around. There were to be people who would step on His toes, offend Him, and He was not insensible to such things. Did Jesus play with the children of the neighborhood, or did He stay alone? Did He sing and make noises when He felt good all over? Did He have to be called in when He was with His companions at play? Did Christ use a miracle to throw the men out of the temple, or did He use His moral and physical muscles? What was the disappointment He suffered when only one leper returned to thank Him? What precisely was the joy over one sinner doing penance? What was the understanding He had for the woman at the well of Sichar? These are the things that go through the heads of young people and they want to know whether or not Jesus was ‘a regular guy,’ meaning did He know what people were like, and as a man did He attract them”

The moral of these observations is that when presenting Christ in the context of the Sacred Heart devotion, His perfect humanity and therefore conformity to our nature needs to be constantly borne in mind. Otherwise the prayers of our young people can miss an essential element of the devotion, indeed of Christian piety, that God became man and God-man is the object of our petitions and the model of our virtue.

An effective way to cultivate the spirit of prayer is by means of aspirations. One priest-teacher says he uses the prayer: “All for You, most Sacred Heart of Jesus” as a summary or prayerful compendium of the key meditations of the Kingdom, Classes, and Modes of Humility in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Given a clear explanation of the prayer in retreat, when used later on it will contain all the psychological elements that were associated with the formula when explained for the first time.

The Eucharist and the Mass

The importance of associating the Eucharist with devotion to the Sacred Heart can scarcely be overestimated. Our instinctive Catholic sense tells us that no devotion is worth cultivating unless grounded on the solid dogmas of revelation and based on the tradition of the universal Church. Among other reasons why the Sacred Heart devotion has this grounding and basis is its close correlation with the Blessed Sacrament, which certainly is intrinsic to Catholic doctrine. The object of the devotion is Jesus Christ, true God and man, under the aspect of His human and divine love for us, as symbolized in His physical Heart. In the Eucharist is present Jesus Christ, God become man as the highest token of His love, and under the species His Heart of flesh invites our responsive love in return.

In view of its essential functions, therefore, the Eucharist as the real presence, and as sacrament and sacrifice is consciously taught and impressed upon students from their earliest days. Already in kindergarten, many teachers find that children respond generously when Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is clearly explained to them. “Among the very small children,” writes one teacher, “I have found that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament appeals very strongly. For many of them it is a ‘new Friend’ that they have found in the tabernacle. I encourage them to make a little visit to their Friend on the way home from school.” Speaking of youngsters just beginning school, she explains that “First graders often feel lonesome and homesick. I have found that devotion to the Sacred Heart helps them to ‘find themselves’ in their new Friend. They know that Jesus loves them and they are quick to love Him in return.” When explaining the real presence to little children, teachers should bear in mind that the Church does not require any profound understanding of the mystery. Provided they can sufficiently distinguish the sacred host from ordinary bread to believe that “Jesus is present” under the species, they may approach the holy table. The same degree of knowledge is also enough for them to profit from visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

Adoration before the tabernacle, with the Sacred Host exposed or not, has become standard practice for children in Catholic institutions. One school has the Blessed Sacrament exposed all day in the school chapel on the third Wednesday of each month. The students observe silence throughout the building in token of reverence. As reminders, paper angel figures are set up by the Sodalists along the corridors and stairways. Experience proves the value of having the students understand that “Christ’s love for us as displayed in the tabernacle is almost an audible beat of the Sacred Heart. Just how would you separate the Sacred Heart from the Eucharistic Heart? Problems of teen-agers are many. They avail themselves of our chapel that is always open for them, for pop-calls or longer visits. Many of them learn to make confidential talks with the Sacred Heart of Christ living in the Eucharist. Elsewhere visits to the Blessed Sacrament are encouraged on every Thursday when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed to encourage prayer for vocations.

The Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament is a popular devotional medium to honor the Sacred Heart. Where facilities allow, the students make the Hour on the school grounds or in the adjoining parish church. Holy Hours on Sunday afternoons or evening are fairly common. Some schools prefer the eve of First Friday from nine to ten in the evening. To insure adequate attendance, several schools in one section of the city may choose a centrally located church where they sponsor a Holy Hour for all the students in the participating institutions. Normally this will be once a month, say, on the first Sunday. Teachers remind the students beforehand and encourage them to attend as an expression of gratitude to the Sacred Heart. Honor points are sometimes given as a material reward. One teacher of high school seniors has the prospective graduates keep vigil the entire night on the Thursday before the First Friday in June. “Each girl will draw from a box the time she is to keep vigil. In that way, reparation is being made the whole night through and the students join together in offering their parting gift to the Sacred Heart. I did this with the graduating class of last year, and the girls showed a great deal of enthusiasm. One of the girls even succeeded in getting the rest of the family to join her in keeping her half hour of adoration.” Retreat time and the months of May and October are especially suitable for Holy Hours, whether made privately or in groups; also the vigils of feast days and other occasions like times of national or world crisis that call for earnest prayer. If at all possible, prepared manuals of prayers should be in the hands of each student during the Holy Hour, for example, the Reparation Booklet compiled by the Soul Assurance Prayer Plan.

Once the intimate connection between them is explained, any method that strengthens an appreciation of the real presence is correspondingly a means for promoting the Sacred Heart devotion. Respectful silence in church or chapel, frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament, periodically thinking of Christ present in the tabernacle, are all calculated to deepen the student’s knowledge and love of the Sacred Heart. The important thing is to keep the mind alert to the great truths involved here. Even otherwise trivial occasions may serve the purpose. “At dismissal time,” writes one teacher, “our route was past the door leading to the sacristy and the church. The line stopped at this door to give the ones at the rear a chance to catch up. At that moment I would remind the children of their nearness to the Sacramental Presence.”

A basic element in developing the Eucharistic phase of the Sacred Heart devotion is a profound realization that the whole Christ, in all the perfection of His divinity and humanity abides with us under the Eucharistic species. Doctrinal explanations are given by teachers as allowed by the school curriculum. These may be complemented by short stories from the lives of the Eucharistic saints, like Margaret Mary, John Eudes, and Pashal Baylon, either during religion class or at other times. Always emphasized are the faith and conviction which the saints had that “Jesus is really here” on the altar, just as He is in heaven at the right hand of His Father.

Assistance at Mass and union with the Holy Sacrifice are correspondingly fostered. “Using the drops of water that the priest pours into the chalice to represent them and therefore the actions of the day, I try to show the boys how every action of the day is offered in the 350,000 Masses said daily throughout the world. Christ offers these actions with Himself, and therefore almighty God is pleased with the least things we do, and pours grace into our hearts when in the spirit of the morning offering we unite ourselves so closely with the oblation of Christ on the altar.” A more direct approach for young children is to have a Mass clock on the bulletin board telling in what country Mass is being offered at each hour of the day. Every hour on the hour one child rings a bell and says aloud the country having Mass at that hour. Each child then privately renews his morning offering in union with the Mass wherever it is being said.

Where feasible, if “something special” is had for the Mass on First Friday, the students are correspondingly impressed and motivated. A familiar practice is to have a Missa recitata on First Fridays. Schools report that “the entire student body has improved perceptibly as a consequence and much spiritual good has been accomplished.” Confessions are heard either on Thursday or before Mass on Friday.

Assistance at the regular student Masses can be used to foster vocations and obtain conversions to the Church. “The system is simply to place an intention box near the back of the chapel several days before the eighteenth and twenty-fourth of each month, the days designated on the Apostleship of Prayer list for prayers for vocations and conversions. On the day itself the box is placed on the altar during the students’ Masses. The box itself is an attractive one, with a small-framed picture of the Sacred Heart on the front of it. Through the monthly talks of the promoters in each class and also by posters, we urge the students to pray for these two intentions. In my own classes I have stressed that by means of the intention box we are very specifically praying for ‘the intentions of the Sacred Heart,’ as the students say each day in the morning offering. I further elaborate on the fact that, while their intentions are on the altar, they pray for these intentions ‘in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass.’”

Frequent and fervent Holy Communion is one of the simplest ways of promoting the devotion to the Sacred Heart. In some places, classes begin an hour or so later on Fist Friday to afford students the opportunity of receiving in their parish churches. Confessions are heard he day before and the times of Masses in the various parish churches are posted on the bulletin board. With the new fasting regulations, late morning or noonday Masses are often said in the student chapel. At least Communion is distributed to the students who are permitted to leave classes about fifteen minutes earlier. This gives them a chance to make some kind of preparation before and thanksgiving after Holy Communion.

The most comprehensive plan for teaching grammar-school children to understand the Mass and the Holy Eucharist and their place in true devotion to the Sacred Heart is that of the Eucharistic Crusade, the papally approved section of the Apostleship of Prayer for children. The purpose of the Eucharistic Crusade is to train children to live the morning offering in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass. To this end the Crusaders are taught the practical meaning of offering all their actions “in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass,” and especially to be ready to accept the hardships and disappointments of daily life in a cheerfully sacrificial spirit. They are also taught to receive Communion as often as possible, and to make their Communions fervent. The efficacy of the methods used by the Eucharistic Crusade is attested not only by teachers who have had experience with them but also by the world-wide reputation that the Eucharistic Crusade has gained as a means of fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Associating the morning offering with the Holy Eucharist may foster the Spiritual Communions. The custom in one school is to begin each class with a short prayer in which the morning offering to the Sacred Heart is briefly renewed. Students are told to make this renewal an act of desire to receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Frequent Communion may be promoted by means of occasional assembly programs for the entire student body. Part of the program can be a performance, of an allegorical nature, in which “Good Spirits” appear on the stage and urge vacillating students to receive Holy Communion. Or the students put on a short skit, dramatic but with careful avoidance of all exaggeration, “in which each of the more capable takes the part of a fictional character who had led a life of some particular sin but was saved by final devotion to the Sacred Heart and making the First Fridays. In a dimmed room with an inspirational tableau these persons were represented as speaking from purgatory though the audience could not see them at all. The day after the program (a First Friday) all the students, for the first time in the year, received Holy Communion together.”

Communion calendars are also used successfully. One calendar is placed in each classroom. “Promoters were asked to have the boys check or initial the dates on which they pledged Communion. The idea is to have the class represented at the altar by at least one boy every day of the month. Promoters themselves were expected to take any dates (for example, Saturdays) left. The calendar was then tacked on the class bulletin board. This can be done any month you can find an excuse for it,” like October and May in honor of our Lady, November for the poor souls, and December in preparation for Christmas. The format of the calendar is quite simple. On top of on 8.5 x 11 sheet is duplicated the title: “Apostleship of Prayer, League of the Sacred Heart, May 196x” Then somewhere below this title is the promise: “To please the Sacred Heart of our Lord, the members of class….pledge Communion of Reparation on the following days during the month of His Mother (the poor souls, His Passion).” There is a square for each day of the month. It is numbered but otherwise is left blank for the insertion of the student’s name.

Keeping the First Fridays during the summer is a common problem. Away from the reminders at school, the students forget or permit vacation interests to obscure the importance of receiving Holy Communion. One high school teacher had the students discuss the question and decide on some solution. They agreed to bring three government post cards or buy them at school. In one of the last religion classes in May---after fervent motivation---each student addressed his cards to himself (his address of the summer) and wrote a reminder of the July, August, and September First Friday dates on them. Several volunteers undertook to mail the cards opportunely during the vacation period. It was later estimated that the summer attendance had increased by about 30 per cent.”

An unusual approach to thanksgiving after Communion invites the students to use the Sacred Heart as a “meeting place” after Holy Communion for all their friends---this especially on the First Friday of the month. “I have heard of this idea from another sister. She said she made an agreement with all her students to meet them in the Sacred Heart after Holy Communion of First Friday. I like the idea because it was so novel and have adopted it myself.”

Reparation and Consecration

Reparation for one’s own past sins and expiation for the sins of others have always characterized the authentic devotion to the Sacred Heart. Self-oblations to appease the Divine Majesty and secure pardon for sinners are so prominent they practically distinguish the Sacred Heart devotion from other forms of piety centered on the love of Christ.

Conscious of the objective importance of reparation, teachers weave the idea into every phase of school life. One project that works with younger children urges them to respond to the love of the Sacred Heart many times during the day by making up for the sins of those who do not love Him as they should. “Before beginning the project, tell the children the story of St. Margaret Mary and the meaning of the Heart. Thus ‘the Heart symbolizes love, as on greeting cards for St. Valentine’s Day. The flames signify Jesus’ Heart burning with love for us and His desire that we spread His love to others. The cross is the sign of love; Jesus died on the cross because He loves me. In the wound of the Heart I see that He gave the last drops of His blood for me; and the thorns are put in our Lord’s Heart by people who love sin more than they love Jesus.’ This little scheme works very well during Lent. As a class project, we take away Jesus’ thorns by making acts of love. For every twenty-five acts of love we place a silver start over a thorn so that by Holy Week Jesus has a crown of silver stars. Our acts of love are performed at school---acts of silence, obedience, neatness, kindness, and other acts of child-like virtue. At the end of the day, each child tells sister what he did as an act of love. Those above first grade can write their acts of love.”

The same teacher adds that a small heart to signify “the child’s heart may be placed around the Sacred Heart. A silver star is placed on the child’s heart for every five acts of love performed at home, which must be written and signed with the child’s name and collected each morning. At the end of the project, the child’s names may be written in the Sacred Heart. This project proves to be interesting and successful in grades 1 through 4.”

Moreover, the teacher continues, “the fact that the acts of love performed at home were to be written down made a number of parents of first graders conscious of the devotion. One mother and father made a heart at home for their acts of love. One sister had me make ten smaller ‘home edition’ hearts for married nieces and nephews. In the center of the heart we printed ‘Mother…Dad,’ and listed the children’s names to make it a family project.”

As a variant to the preceding, “this past year our 55 fourth graders suggested several other ideas, such as an ‘act of love Christmas tree’ and ‘act of love wreaths.’ At Christmas time we wrapped our acts of love in a small gift package for Jesus. For St. Valentine’s Day we made crowns for the Sacred Heart, our King, and gave Him our valentine money for a Mass in reparation for sin. After Easter we made booklets, ‘My Morning Offering to Jesus,’ stressing our personal prayers, works, joys, and sufferings. Most of the Children have obtained the booklet, The Heart of Jesus, by A.R.T., published by the Eucharistic Crusade. It is a complete and excellent brochure for reminding them to continue their acts of love.” In all these “little heart projects” the emphasis is on sacrifice, but the children are shown that they can offer up their joys and pleasures as well.

A number of sisters have found Father Mateo’s League of Tarcisians highly practicable. The objective of the League is the social reign of the Sacred Heart through the apostolate of the children’s prayers, sacrifice, and Eucharistic devotions. One teacher writes “we began our League early in January, giving the aspirants a probation period of four months. About 65% of the children in grades 4 to 6 responded. At the end of the probation, about 40% had remained faithful. Solemn enrollment took place on the First Friday in May. Each Tarcisian received a special program with dates for group Mass attendance, directions for depositing their sacrifice records, and pertinent information.” One index of success is the children’s fidelity to Mass and Holy Communion during the summer months.

The idea of reparation and allied sentiments should be cultivated early in the child’s life. An item as simple as a picture of the Sacred Heart can be used to stimulate the first motives. “This gives occasion to tell the meaning of the picture through the story of the Sacred Heart and St. Margaret Mary. After the children understand the ideas of love and reparation as explained on their own level, they could learn short, simple aspirations like ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus, I love You.’ They can get into the habit of offering their little acts of good behavior to the Sacred Heart, making sacrifices for Him, visiting Him in church, enshrining His picture at home, telling their family the story of St. Margaret Mary, drawing pictures of the Heart of Jesus. These activities and motivations can be incorporated into the religion class on the eve of First Friday or at other times.”

Extraordinary acts are not necessary to make acts of reparation. There may even be danger in associating only rare and strange forms of mortification when offering satisfaction to God. With the least ingenuity, all the ordinary acts of an ordinary school day can be made reparative. “Silence in the classroom, writing a neat paper, making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, eating everything on my plate at lunch time, walking quietly, tokens of kindness,” are one teacher’s sample list. Another suggests some one action which carries through the day, like “watching their silence at appointed times, keeping their lines straight, sitting straight,” and in general conscientiously observing the school regulations.

In the Eucharistic Crusade great emphasis is placed upon “the sacrifice of daily duty--the sacrifice involved in being obedient, charitable, and so forth. Such daily sacrifices are offered in union with the sacrifice of the Mass, in reparation for sin and for all the intentions of the Sacred Heart.”

For high school students the indirect approach may be more effective. “The best way I found is to avail myself of some opportunity or situation. For instance, if a class or an individual should complain that Mr. X gives too much homework, I seize the opportunity for an off-the-cuff speech on reparation” Thus students can be taught to “offer things up” at other times---at home, at recreation, whenever an act of charity or other virtue requires self-denial.

Sacrifice without proper motivation will be sterile and scarcely durable. Along with specific acts of reparation the teacher must offer reasons, draw from faith and adapted to the pupils’ psychology. Always the fundamental motive should be love, directed to Jesus Christ and symbolized in His Sacred Heart. It should also be a reparative love, desiring to “make up” for what we and others have done wrong in the past and what many are still doing now. To dramatize the motive some find it helpful to suggest reparation for sins committed by the students in school, by members of the family, by Catholics in the parish; others specify the types of sin, with emphasis on the coldness and indifference of people to the love of God, notably His love for us in the Mass and Blessed Sacrament. A bit of explanation helps to bring out the full meaning of reparation as having terminal good effects on those for whom the mortification is offered, in the form of repentance and return to the sacraments, deliverance from temptation and being spared whatever punishments God had in store for the sinner.

Where daily Mass is optional for the student body attendance can be put on a basis of reparation on certain days “for class offenses and to petition the Sacred Heart for blessings for the class and for religious vocations.” The added feature here is a social benefit because the members of a class are psychologically close to one another.

Times, places, and social groups can be skillfully associated with the idea of expiation that tends to induce powerful habit for later life. Popular days of the month are the twelfth, eighteenth, and twenty-fifth. “These become ‘Reparation Days’ for making special acts of self-denial to undo the evils of sin.” Fridays are also prominent. Reparation calendars are renewed every month allowing thirty students each to select one day on which they offer Mass and Holy Communion as an act of responsive love to God. If a record is kept of these and similar sacrifices during eighth grade or the last year in high school, the composite offering may be used as a “graduation gift” of generosity to the Sacred Heart. Where feasible “the student body may be divided into bands each with its own leader. Every band has a day of reparation so arranged that each day of the week is a day of reparation. On this day all the members of a particular band wear the Sacred Heart badge exposed and offer their entire day’s works, joys, and sufferings in reparation to the Heart of Christ.”

A different form of the same technique uses the idea of a Mass Club whose members on assigned days make reparation for any students who are in special need of divine mercy. In one school the Mass Club consists of groups of six or seven girls who choose to assist at Mass and receive communion on specified days in reparation for sins against the Sacred Heart. As a periodic stimulant to the practice of charity teachers report “we get results by explaining to the students how dear the virtue of charity is to the Sacred Heart and His Blessed Mother. We compare our blessings in America with the miseries of people behind the Iron Curtain. When we ask the students to perform these acts in order to please the Sacred Heart from whom all blessings have come, the results are very encouraging.” Similar applications can be made to other virtues, for example, patience, by comparing our conveniences with the trials that others have, or industry, by comparing the small demands on our generosity with the heroism required of others.

High School teachers have often associated the familiar practice of a Holy Hour of Reparation with a season of penance like Advent or Lent. “I tried using the Holy Hour of Action as an Advent offering to the Sacred Heart on the part of my homeroom of 43 high school freshmen. After an explanation of the Holy Hour of Action, each girl volunteered to make one hour of the day an hour of reparation. Those who chose the night hours were to make the intention before retiring. In this way each hour of Advent was offered in reparation.” Essentially the idea of the “Holy Hour of Action” is to dedicate some one hour, normally a period involving sacrifice, especially to the Sacred Heart. During the hour the offer makes an extra effort to do as perfect a job as possible---without complaint or reluctance---and to be united in spirit with the Sacred Heart.

In some schools the pupils correlate the principle of the particular examen with mortification during Lent, in honor of the Sacred Heart. “On Shrove Tuesday,” for example, “I have them write but about three resolutions they have been considering since Septuagesima and each day they check themselves in a little book they have made.” Checking may be done at home or in school with appropriate motivation added from time to time.

Love of the Sacred Heart and confidence in His grace may be used to good effect in helping students overcome bad habits through a daily examen of conscience. “I usually have boys with difficult problems take a sheet of paper and number the lines to correspond with the days of the months and then establish two columns, one for “Yes” and the other for “No.” Daily before retiring we ask the boy to check the sheet and determine---after a very short but sincere examination of conscience on the problem in question---whether he is closer to heaven because of his actions on the given day. In the beginning most of the checks appear in the negative column. Then the checks shifted to the other column a progress is recorded. Sometimes very difficult problems have been completely conquered by this method. Spiritual motivation is important and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are stressed as a means to conquer ugly problems.” To be noted is the value of associating the Immaculate Heart of Mary with the Sacred Heart of Christ. It places the Blessed Virgin in proper focus as mediatrix with her divine Son.

As described in the writings of the popes, consecration to the person of Christ is of the essence of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Fundamentally it is an act of dedication that has been aptly described as halfway between a mere good intention and a formal vow. Those who consecrate themselves wish to manifest certain stability in their devotedness to Christ and a corresponding firmness in His service.

Where the devotion to the Sacred Heart is seriously promoted by the school, some form of consecration is also encouraged. It may be a personal dedication, as when the seniors consecrate themselves publicly to the Sacred Heart on graduation day just before Benediction and after having received their diplomas. In the same spirit the senior class may choose the Sacred Heart as its class patron with the symbolic colors of red and white. At the close of the graduation exercises, “the graduates solemnly surround a statue of the Sacred Heart and on bended knee recite the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart for Graduates.” A copy of this consecration, suitable for framing, is distributed to the members of the graduating class.

Consecration on solemn occasions makes the ceremony more impressive. In many schools the students consecrate themselves in a body on or just before the Feast of Christ the King. “The students take an active part in the celebration by using the booklets In Honor of Christ the King (published by The Queen’s Work). The church is beautifully decorated for this solemnity. As the pastor reads the Gospel and the Invocation the entire student body responds. When he begins the solemn Latin acclamations, Christus vincit, the glee club repeats and then all the students. This is followed by prayers for the Church, the consecration, and Benediction. Each Monday of October during the activity period the students assemble for a general practice of prayers and hymns. In this way they are conscious of the approaching feast throughout the entire month.”

In another high school on the nine days preceding the First Friday in June, a freshman Sodalist reads a short prayer (the Collect, Secret, or Post communion prayers from the Mass of the Sacred Heart may be used) over the public address system, asking the girls to join her. All the homerooms had received dittoed copies of the novena prayer. The novena was climaxed on the First Friday of June, when the principal recited the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart after Mass in the chapel. To keep the novena in the minds of the girls during the nine days, posters were displayed on bulletin boards.

Elsewhere the entire student body assembled before a new picture of the Sacred Heart above the cafeteria entrance. “The reverend superintendent gave a short address on the significance of the image in the heart of the school, blessed the picture, and asked all to joint in the prayer of consecration. In this case, I found that a good build-up and frequent subsequent reminders with a short, informal ceremony impressed our teen-agers.”

Classroom dedications to the Sacred Heart are very popular. “In my homeroom on First Friday, we recite the Act of Consecration of the Family, and change the word ‘family’ to ‘class.’ Thirty-five juniors kneel before a small shrine and one girl lights the vigil light. The practice has an evident effect in keeping students conscious of the devotion and the small penance (of kneeling) has its influence for the idea of reparation.” Usually each classroom is consecrated at least once annually.

Most schools do not distinguish between consecrating the students and enthroning an image of the Sacred Heart. In fact, the two elements are generally combined. As reported by one teacher, “since the Sacred Heart had not been enthroned in our classroom, Sister suggested that we discuss the matter at our next class meeting. We then set a date and asked one of the parish priests to officiate at the ceremony. During the days preceding, the students were informed about the meaning of the enthronement. The ceremony began with the blessing of the statue, followed by a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and the Act of Consecration.” To make sure the Sacred Heart would not be forgotten, a vigil light was kept burning before the statue for the rest of the year.

There is no prescribed ritual for the consecration, though there is one for the enthronement properly so-called. Some prefer to have the picture blessed beforehand and have the superior of the convent preside. For the actual enthronement, the picture is placed on a pedestal or classroom shrine. After a hymn like “To Jesus Heart All Burning,” the superior leads a few prayers for the enthronement or consecration exercise and then gives a short motivating talk. Lasting benefits can be assured by having leaflets passed out to students, containing the Twelve Promises, and a suggestion made (or even orders taken) to buy pictures of the Sacred Heart for personal or home use as reminders of the act of dedication.

Copyright © 1999 Inter Mirifica

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