Sacred Heart Novena – ‘The heart swells for nine days’
The Novena to the Sacred Heart took place at St Francis Xavier’s Church, Gardiner Street Parish, Dublin, from 8 to 16 June 2023. Fr Brendan Comerford SJ, author and spiritual director, was preacher this year. His homilies explored and opened up a different Gospel theme for each day and were grounded on the comings and goings of parishioners’ daily lives. One parishioner noted, “His homilies are deep, and deeply interesting”. Below, read a report on the Novena by Christine Halloran, Volunteer Pastoral Assistant in Gardiner Street Parish.
Novena to the Sacred Heart 2023
This year, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus fell on 16 June and so, the annual Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus took place in St Francis Xavier’s Church, Gardiner Street over nine days from Thursday, 8 June to Friday, 16 June, ending as is customary on the Feast of the Solemnity. Although the Novena clashed with the Novena to St Anthony celebrated at nearby Merchants’ Quay Church (4 to 13 June), attendance this year was extremely good. Some put this down in part to the glorious sunshine which filled the church over the nine days, making it easier for elderly devotees to make it to the church in person. I, however, believe that it was the inspired preaching this year, preaching that spoke to people’s lived experience and gave them a renewed sense of faith, and more importantly hope. Hope as they grapple daily with the problems of a “worl(‘s) in a terrible state o’ chassis.”
Traditionally the Sacred Heart Novena is prayed during the nine days leading up to the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is always 19 days after Pentecost and on a Friday. Devotion to the Sacred Heart began in the 1670s, when Jesus appeared multiple times to St Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun in France. Through these visions, Jesus told her how He wished to be honoured with the symbol of His heart, asking for the faithful to make amends for any wrongdoing they had done, frequently take Communion, and observe the Holy Hour. In 1856, the devotion was added to the Church calendar by Pope Pius IX.
The preacher this year was Fr Brendan Comerford, Jesuit priest and member of the Jesuit community living in Gardiner Street. Parish Manager, Iva Beranek, commenting on the Novena said: “Sometimes we have in our midst people who carry in themselves the deepest treasures and yet we are not even fully aware of this. Our own Fr Brendan Comerford SJ from the community in Gardiner Street, who was the preacher for the Sacred Heart Novena this year, revealed to us what a treasure we have in him. His homilies are deep, and deeply interesting. He has quoted poets and writers, he told us stories from his life, or from the lives of people he admires. Each homily has been so profound that one could spend more time pondering on it in order to really ‘taste it’ in fullness. God’s goodness, and His love shined through each word that Brendan shares, as much the sacredness of humanity and of our journey of life does. One parishioner told me she noticed that people really listen as Fr Brendan speaks.”
“What really struck me about Fr Brendan’s homilies,” says Christine, “was that every day his homily explored and opened up a different Gospel theme. He grounded the gospel passages in the everyday, the comings and goings of our daily lives and I could really see how my own life and experiences are mirrored in Jesus’ life, His teachings and His encounters with others.”
There were two Novena Masses daily, the flagship Mass at 11am and evening Mass at 6pm. On Sunday the Novena Masses were at 11am and 12.30pm. Cantor for the morning Mass was Cecelia Byrne accompanied by organist Deirdre Doyle. Music for the evening Mass was provided by Fr Niall Leahy and Suzanne Mangan and on alternate evenings by Brian and Berna Cunningham and Michael Ahearne. On the final morning people had the opportunity to meet over tea and coffee in the Pope Francis Corridor and share their thoughts and experiences with Fr Brendan and others.
Fr Niall Leahy, parish priest, had this to say when asked about his experience of the nine-day novena: “The Novena to the Sacred Heart doesn’t draw the same number of people as the Novena of Grace but it is every bit as powerful. There is a depth and a warmth to the people’s devotion, and you know that they are feeling the love of God, which is what the Sacred Heart is all about. The heart swells for nine days.”
The 11am Novena Mass was recorded each day and is temporarily available on the Gardiner Street Parish website (see recordings on the church webcam) ». Again Iva says, “I would strongly encourage you to go to our website and listen to Brendan’s homilies. There is so much in them, and I believe you will get a lot out of them for your life and faith journey.”