By Jean Lee, M.A., D.Min.
“O God, who in the Heart of your Son,
Wounded by our sins,
Bestow on us in mercy
The boundless treasures of your love,
Grant, we pray,
That, in paying him the homage of our devotion,
We may also offer worthy reparation.”
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus celebrates God’s creating and saving love made manifest in the enduring sacrament of Jesus Christ. The term “Sacred Heart of Jesus” denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being, and his person. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is a wonderful historical expression of the Church’s piety for Christ: it calls for a fundamental attitude of conversion and reparation, of love and gratitude, apostolic commitment and dedication to Christ and his saving work. The Sacred heart of Jesus is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings without exception.
Devotion to the heart pierced on Calvary is nearly as old as Christianity, but it has undergone many changes over the centuries. Patristic writers saw in the blood and water issuing from the crucified Lord’s side (Jn 19:34) the fulfillment of his promise to give living water (Jn 4:13-14; 7:37), the fountain from which the Spirit flows upon the church. Medieval piety placed less emphasis on Jesus’ heart as the source of grace and moved toward more personal and sentimental devotion.
The public cult celebrated today began in the seventeenth century, when St. John Eudes pressed for a liturgy (Mass & Office) of the Sacred heart. Toward the end of that century (1673-1675), St. Mary Margaret Alacoque received visions of the Lord exposing his heart and urging public devotion. After these private revelations to her, it became popular to devote the first Friday of each month to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Parishioners would participate in Mass and receive communion (even during years when frequent communion was rare) on nine consecutive Fridays out of special devotion, in reparation to the Sacred Heart. It also became common for parishioners to have an image of the Sacred Heart enthroned in their homes.
Almost 200 years later, in 1856, Pope Pius IX extended the observance to the universal church and late in the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII raised its rank to a feast. There are many religious traditions associated with devotion to the Sacred Heart apart from the feast itself. Primarily, the theme of this day honors Jesus for the love symbolized by his heart.
“The Lord has drawn us to his heart – Suscepit nos Dominus in sinum et cor suum.” God’s heart, as the expression of his will, is spoken of twenty-six times in the Old Testament. Before God’s heart men and women stand judged. Even so, he never abandons Israel to the power of its enemies, because “my heart” —the Creator of the universe observes—“recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.” The heart of God burns with compassion! On today’s solemnity of the Sacred heart of Jesus the Church presents us this mystery for our contemplation: the mystery of the heart of a God who feels compassion and who bestows all his love upon humanity. A mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind.
Together let us pause to contemplate the pierced heart of the Crucified One, the very core of Christianity is expressed in the heart of Jesus. In Christ the revolutionary “newness” of the Gospel is completely revealed and given to us: the Love that saves us and even now makes us live in the eternity of God. As the Evangelist John writes: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). God’s heart calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to forsake our human certainties, to trust in him and, by following his example, to make ourselves a gift of unbounded love.