The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is the last feast of the Lord celebrated after Easter (after the Ascension, Christ Eternal High Priest, and Corpus Christi) and, although devotion to and worship of the Saviour’s Heart began already in the early Church, it received great impulse with Saint John Eudes (1601-1680); with Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque (1648-1690), a visitation in Paray-le-Monial, and with Saint Claude de la Colombière, S.J. (1641-1682). However, the feast was introduced in the Liturgical Calendar in relatively recent times, with Pius XI. It is a feast that is especially appropriate for men of our times. It is celebrated on the Friday following the octave of Corpus Christi, in keeping with Jesus Christ’s will as revealed to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. “I ask that on the first Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi a special feast be celebrated to honor my Heart, and that communion be received that day to ask for forgiveness and to do reparation for the outrages It has received during the time It has been exposed on altars. I also promise you that my Heart will dilate to scatter abundantly the influence of its divine love on those that do it that honor and pay tribute to it (Fourth Revelation during the octave of Corpus Christ of the year 1675).
As all feasts in the Church, it must be contemplated from the biblical-liturgical point of view. The whole History of Salvation arises out of love, as God seeks the healing of man, fallen after original sin, through the healing of his heart, and to whom He promises a renewed heart, capable of living love. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26), so that the human being will cease to have a hard heart, which does not fear God or respect man (cf. Saint Bernard, Book I of Consideration), and acquire a heart capable of God, capable of receiving the great gift of the Spirit, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). This divine action, which traces in history a universal will of salvation, culminates by showing the Heart of Jesus, the Heart of mankind’s Saviour, who is source of Life and Salvation. ”With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3), we pray in the Responsorial Psalm of the Mass on this feast in this year’s cycle B.
In fact, the Patristic Tradition converged in presenting the Heart of Christ as source of life, cor Christi Fons vitae. Saint Ambrose exclaims:
Drink Christ, as He is the rock from which water springs
Drink Christ, as He is the source of life
Drink Christ, as he is the current whose impetuosity rejoices the city of God
Drink Christ, as He is peace
Drink Christ, as from his Body currents of living water flow
(Commentary on the Psalms 1, 33).
On the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus Himself proclaimed, “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink, let him who believes in Me drink (John 7:37), and the Gospel recounts how after the Lord died on the cross, a soldier “pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:31), a fact that the Fathers of the Church interpret mystically as the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Baptism, which build the Church. Connected thus is worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the sacramental life of the Church, which springs from the Sacred Heart. It was Saint Augustine who established a beautiful typology between Adam-Eve and Christ-Church, on contemplating this evangelical scene of the Saviour’s death. “Adam sleeps for Eve to arise; Christ dies for the Church to be born; Eve is formed from the side of the sleeping Adam, Christ is pierced by a spear after his death, for the Sacraments to spring, basis of the Church” (Saint Augustine, “Treatises on the Gospel of Saint John 9:10).
The living God, Father of Christ, who has bowed before mankind in the Incarnation of His Word, has not remained impassive in His silence and abysmal solitude, but reveals His mercy saying through the prophet Hosea: “my heart recoils within me” (Hosea 11:8). Hence, God has a heart, if we speak in a figurative way, and He manifests in Christ the movements of his Heart, rich in mercy. Therefore, let us imitate Christ, who says to us: “Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29) and let us be more tenderly human, more merciful, readier to forgive, more humble; let us not give back evil for evil, let us not look down on others, let us not be too sure of ourselves because our strength lies in trusting the Lord.
This endearing Solemnity expressed that our Redeemer has a heart capable of loving and of suffering just as men’s hearts and, in addition, this feast reminds us how necessary it is to relate to the Lord “heart to heart, especially in these times when we are all very tempted to dispersion, in a society that lives as fast as it does superficially, and in which we are subjected to the great stress of information and activity.
The solution to our ills, stemming from the dispersion in which we live, is to return to the heart, as Saint Augustine invites us to do. “Return to your heart and ascend from there to God. If you return to your heart, you return to God from a place close to you (Saint Augustine, Sermon 311) and, having conquered our heart, we will be able to give it to the Lord, who asks us for it in those words ”Son, give me your heart” (Proverbs 23:26), establishing a profound communion of life with Him.
Let us think, therefore, that in today’s feast Christ calls us to live at the level of a profound heart, to connect with Him, who is “gentle and lowly of heart (Matthew 11:29), and He invites us to go to Him to find consolation and rest in our existential fatigues, “and you will find rest for your souls.”
In a word, we Christians, who are essentially hearers of the Word and, therefore, worship a Deus Verbi, a God of the Word, who communicates Himself, are called to receive God as Deus Cordis, as a God of the heart, who speaks from the Heart of His Son to our heart, cor ad cor loquitur (heart speaks to heart). We need the Word to penetrate us and descend to the heart, making our heart like unto Christ’s.
Worship of the Sacred Heart presents two essential aspects, which are reparation and consecration, which it’s worthwhile mentioning, even if briefly.
The idea of reparation accompanies the whole History of Salvation, in which man is called to expiate his sin through contrition and rejection of sin (Isaiah 2:11-17; Malachi 1:8 and 3:5). To repair evil implies to associate oneself to Christ’s sacrifice on which all value of expiation depends, as we are called to complete in ourselves what is lacking in His sufferings for the Church (Colossians 1:24, through the sacrifice of our lives as martyrs in a bloody way or as confessors in an unbloody way, thus giving witness of love as no one has greater love than he who gives up his life for his friends (John 15:13). This commitment to sharing with Christ the pain for the expiation of the sin of the world responds to the dynamic of a loving heart that desires to console the beloved Heart for its afflictions and must be accepted only from a theological perspective of charity: love pushes the one who loves to associate himself to the fortune of the beloved so that a faithful soul seeks to compensate for men’s offenses against the Lord, which is done by taking part in Christ’s sufferings and offering sacrifices for brothers (cf. Pius XI, Miserentissimus Redemptor, nn. 6;10;12). In his encyclical Haurietis Aquas, Pius XII said that love and reparation are typical notes of worship of the Sacred Heart and its essential elements (nn. 52; 56).
Thus, we understand by reparation suffering with Christ out of love, to restore the love that sin has harmed. The capacity to adhere to sufferings in favor of God’s cause grows obviously with an increase of love. This suffering consists in accepting with Faith, Hope, and Charity the multiple sufferings of life, as all the deeds, prayers, family life, daily work, trials of life if lived with patience become agreeable sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ (LG 34). Saint Peter’s words are appropriate: “rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
It was in the third private revelation to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1674 that Christ said to her: “give me the pleasure of supplying for their ingratitude (of those from whom He received ingratitude) when you are able” and in the fourth revelation of 1675, He asked that the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi be dedicated to a feast to honor his Heart, repairing his honor with an act of apology for the injustices He received when exposed on the altars.
Together with reparation, worship of the Sacred Heart is also associated with the consecration to the Heart of Jesus. Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, whose heart the Lord had asked for, said that the Lord desires consecration to his Heart and she herself wrote several formulas to carry it out, such consecration consisting in giving ones heart with confident abandonment in the Lord’s hands, which recalls the admonition in the Book of Proverbs that states “Give me your heart” (Proverbs 23:26). In Haurietis Aquas 4, Pius XII said: “This worship exacts from us a full and absolute decision to give ourselves and consecrate ourselves to the love of Christ.” And Paul VI, in his message for the anniversary of the Cerro de los Angeles of May 25, 1969, said that to “live and apply with realities the supreme commandment of love of God and of one’s neighbor is a primordial exigency of a conscious and consequent consecration to the Heart of Jesus. And in an allocution on April 27, 1969, he said: “by consecration, we no longer understand to separate something from the world to reserve it to God but to re-establish something in its relationship with God, in keeping with the order of its nature. Therefore, we order everything to God if we consecrate our hearts to the Lord.
Of course, this consecration is congruent with our condition of baptized persons, so it implies abound in our baptismal consecration to God, giving ourselves confidently to God’s love manifested in the Heart of Jesus.
Devotion to and worship of the Sacred Heart leads us to trust in the Lord, as to love and give one’s heart to a person implies trusting him, and Christ inspires confidence for having given His life for us, what popular piety had been able to express concisely in the ejaculation Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in You!
Luis Miguel Castillo Gualda
Rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus