Hey, Father! Why are we asking for the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus to pray for us?

Why are we asking for the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus to pray for us? Does the Heart of the Lord pray to the Lord or to God? In the traditional Mass, we ask for the Sacred Heart to have mercy on us and not to pray for us.

– Jake in Springfield

Dear Jake,

Thanks for your question. It brings up a couple of opportunities for clarification that I find are pretty common. First, on the distinction of asking for God’s mercy versus asking the intercession of the saints. We can look at the centuries-long practice of the Church’s use of Litanies in her public prayer to answer your principal question.

Litanies today seem to be recited, more often than not, but in former times, they were nearly always sung, which better illustrates that they are a dialogue. Some of the Litanies that people might be familiar with still today include the Litany of the Saints, of the Holy Name of Jesus, of the Most Precious Blood, of the Holy Ghost (a central element of St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary), the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary (commonly called Loreto), and the Litany of St. Joseph (to which Pope Francis recently added additional invocations). Since you mentioned the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, you might also be familiar with the Major Litanies of the Rogation Days celebrated each spring, leading up to Ascension Thursday, and those of the feast of St. Mark.

In all these, we begin by praying, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” These are supplications first to the Father, then to the Son, and finally, to the Holy Spirit. Then we ask for Christ to hear us, and then more emphatically, to graciously hear us. Then we pray, “God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us. God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us. God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us. Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.”

This would be the most appropriate point to address the second clarification. Many people colloquially use “God” when what they are talking about is “God the Father.” Additionally, many use “Lord” only when they mean “Jesus,” but we know from the Old Testament that Lord in Hebrew is “Adonai,” and they were certainly invoking God the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when saying “Lord.” This leads to some people saying they invoked “both God and Jesus,” which is extremely problematic language we should not use, because the three Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are indeed all God and Lord.  This is most clearly expressed in the ancient Preface of the Holy Trinity which says:

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God. For with your Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit you are one God, one Lord: not in the unity of a single person, but in a Trinity of one substance. For what you have revealed to us of your glory we believe equally of your Son and of the Holy Spirit, so that, in the confessing of the true and eternal Godhead, you might be adored in what is proper to each Person, their unity in substance, and their equality in majesty.”

I am unfamiliar with any prayers that would ask the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to “pray for us.” Instead, the proper response is either “have mercy on us” or “save us” (as in the Litany of the Most Precious Blood), or “Lord, deliver us we pray” (as in the Litany of the Saints), or “hear us / Lord, hear our prayer” (as opposed to not hearing our petitions).

In the Litany of the Saints, the Litany of Loreto, the Litany of St. Joseph, etc., we always respond “pray for us” after invoking the saints. It’s possible whatever resource you saw that put Jesus on the same level as the saints just made an error in typing. The distinctions in what we ask from the Persons of the Trinity and what we ask of the saints, by God’s power, has been consistently expressed in the ways I’ve mentioned for a very long time. This is true in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Mass.

To best envision how prayer works in general is to remember what happens at the Offertory of the Mass. We have the horizontal dimension of the faithful entrusting all their prayers and needs symbolically to the priest, who then offers all these needs along with the bread and wine that will later become the Body and Blood of the Lord at the consecration. Then there is the vertical dimension where the priest, on behalf of the faithful, offers up all these things to Jesus on the Cross at the Consecration, Who, in turn, offers it all up to God the Father. The priest also asks that the Holy Spirit would come down upon the gifts on the altar and sanctify them. So, heaven meets earth on the altar, and the vertical dimension of prayer (our love of God) and the horizontal dimension (our love of neighbor) meet. Many hours of meditation can be spent on that reality alone! I hope this was helpful. Please pray for me and all the clergy.

Father Zach Edgar is in residence at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Quincy and is Chaplain at the Illinois Veterans Home