The author and composer of this hymn is Father Theodore A. Metcalf and for a long time, little was known or written about Father Metcalf and his contributions to Catholic Music for most of the 20th Century. In February 2020, while I was researching this beautiful hymn, I came across an old Catholic periodical from 1888 known by its subscribers as the Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart or The Pilgrim of Our Lady of Martyrs.
The Messenger of the Sacred Heart periodical was first published in France by Jesuits of the Apostleship of Prayer (Society of Jesus) around 1861; and it spread to other countries including United States, Australia, Canada, England, and Ireland. It was one of the most widely read Catholic periodicals, and by the mid-twentieth century there were over seventy Messengers published in more than forty languages. It is still published today as The Sacred Heart Messenger.
Theodore A. Metcalf was the grandson of Theron Metcalf, a member of the Massachusetts Judicial Court. Theron Metcalf was a high Anglican and encouraged family members to become Catholic, even though he did not convert himself. Two of his grandsons did become Catholic, including Father Metcalf.
Father Metcalf was baptized in the chapel of Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass., when he was a boy by Bishop Fitzpatrick on Oct. 2, 1851. Father Metcalf was ordained in May 1869 in the new Cathedral Chapel of the Holy Cross, Boston. He studied at the American College in Rome and later served as the college’s vice president, and he had the honor of attending the first Vatican Council acting in the role as a transcriber.
He returned to the Boston Archdiocese and was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Charlestown in 1874, succeeding Father William Byrne. He was Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston, 1874-1879, under Archbishop John J. Williams, and lived at the Cathedral parish during this time. He conducted some of the most important ceremonies the church had witnessed such as the dedication, the conferring of the pallium on the Right Rev. John J. Williams, and the solemn requiem for Pope Pius IX.
Father Metcalf was the master of ceremonies at the dedication of St. Mary’s Church, Dedham, Massachusetts, October 1880.
In 1881, Father Metcalf was appointed as the third pastor to Our Lady Star of the Sea in Marblehead, Mass., from 1882 to 1886. While he was there the Young Men’s Catholic Temperance Society was formed. In 1886 he was appointed pastor to the Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston where he served for four years. During his pastorate at Gate of Heaven Church, he defended the church publicly regarding its teachings on indulgences during an incident involving a faculty member at English High School who was critical of church teachings.
During his years at Gate of Heaven parish, he established and encouraged Sacred Heart devotions and was affiliated with the League of the Sacred Heart of the Apostleship of Prayer. At this time, he composed several hymns to the Sacred Heart, among others.
- Hymn for the League of the Sacred Heart (Form your ranks, oh! all ye Leaguers of the Heart Divine)
- May Hymn (Welcome dearest, Mother, this beautiful Mayday)
- Hymn to the Sacred Heart (O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine!)
- Ave Maris Stella (Hail, thou star of ocean! Portal of the sky!)
- Hymn of Thanksgiving to the Sacred Heart (Heart of Jesus, We Are Grateful)
- O Cor Jesu (Cordis Jesu dulcis, Amor sacratissime!)
All the hymns listed above can be found in the monthly editions of the Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart, periodicals (publ. 1888-1894). Father Metcalf’s Hymn to the Sacred Heart, more commonly known through its opening lines, O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! became traditional among American Catholics. It appeared in the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1888, published by the Basilian Fathers of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada. Successive editions of this hymnal, which was to become the most popular of all American Catholic hymnals for most of the 20th Century, included this hymn. In 1890, Father Metcalf retired from the Gate of Heaven Church because of poor health. During his lifetime Father Metcalf gained a reputation as an effective preacher drawing many from all parts of the city to listen to his sermons. Father Metcalf died July 29, 1920.
The hymn, O Sacred Heart, O Love Divine, was the most popular of all hymns to the Sacred Heart in pre-Vatican II days. It is contained on a DOT record 33 LP Album, circa 1961, Best-Loved Catholic Hymns. The hymns are sung by the Lennon Sisters and directed by Lawrence Welk. Some may recall, too, that it was used as an introduction to the Sacred Heart Hour, a radio program in the 1940s that converted to a TV program in the 1950s and even into the early 1960s.
O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! and Heart of Jesus, We Are Grateful appeared in the 1944, 1954, 1958, and 1968 editions of The Catholic Chapel Hymnal, a publication of McLaughlin & Reilly Co. There are no new hymns (previously unpublished) contained in this volume; the hymns included are the result of an extensive survey compiled by McLaughlin & Reilly of military chaplains in World War II. The 118 Catholic chaplains were asked which hymns elicit spontaneous singing by the servicemembers participating in chapel services. The Catholic Chapel Hymnal is the outcome of that survey.
Unfortunately, no attribution is given to Father Metcalf in any of the major hymnals in which his works appear. These hymnals include the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL (1888 thru 1925); THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY HYMNAL, 1898; the AVE MARIA HYMNAL, 1936; HYMNS USED BY THE PUPILS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME, (1920 and 1948), and ST. JOSEPH’S HYMNAL, 1930. This may have been the way Father Metcalf intended it to be. Yet, on the other hand, his O Sacred Heart, O Love Divine was the most popular and widely used of all hymns to the Sacred Heart in American Catholic life through the entire 20th century. It was used at Sacred Heart novenas, devotions, First Friday Masses, and by Catholic school children at various exercises honoring the Heart of Jesus.
After Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart in 1898, there was a great demand for Sacred Heart hymns as this devotion was flourishing. Thus, the hymns mentioned, and many other others, became an important part of Catholic devotional life.
The hymn is a collection of invocations to the Sacred Heart to hear our prayers and will for some of you be very new as you are not accustomed to singing to the Sacred Heart in this way. In the first verse we ask the Sacred Heart to keep us near and to make our love like His.
O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! Do keep us near to Thee.
And make our love so like to Thine, that we may holy be.
In the second verse you might ask what is the Temple pure or House of Gold? What can be our heaven here below? When you are in church what do you see that resembles a temple or a house of gold? From which our delights and wealth ever flow, can you see it?
I have a particular fondness for the last verse because all of us have at one time or another been ungrateful or forgetful of the Sacred Heart.
Ungrateful hearts, forgetful hearts, the hearts of men have been.
To wound Thy side with cruel darts, Which they have made by sin.
In the gospel we read that a soldier pierced the side of Jesus with a lance (John 19:34). Father Metcalf uses this imagery but switches the lance to darts made from sin. How often have you wounded His Sacred Heart with the cruel darts you have made from your sins?
This was an extremely popular hymn to sing when I was in the choir at St. Mary’s, especially during the month of June which the Catholic Church dedicates to the Sacred Heart. We would sing this hymn sometimes before Mass, at Offertory, during Communion and for Benediction services. We used the arrangement found in the ST. BASIL’S HYMNAL, 1918. May the hearts of many known only to God be drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and may this hymn become the favorite in the repertoire of Catholic choirs again.
Below is a recording from a cassette tape of St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Concert that was held in June 1982 featuring O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! and Heart of Jesus, We Are Grateful. It’s so good to hear my friends in the choir again.
A special thank you to Peter Meggison producer of the Devotional Hymns Project for allowing me to link to the Hymn Fest for the Sacred Heart which was performed by the choirs of St. Adelaide Church, Peabody, MA, on June 28, 2019.
Also, a special thank you to Noel Jones, AAGO in granting permission to link to A Catholic Book of Hymns with nearly 300 time-honored traditional Catholic hymns, including O Sacred Heart! O Love Divine! and Heart of Jesus, We Are Grateful.