The Catechism, quoting Pope Pius XII’s beautiful encyclical on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Haurietis Aquas (1956), states, “[Jesus] has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ‘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 (#478).
To appreciate this rich symbolism of the heart, we must remember in Judaism that the word heart represented the core of the person. While recognized as the principle life organ, the heart was also considered the centre of all spiritual activity. Here was the seat of all emotion, especially love. As the psalms express, God speaks to a person in his heart and there probes him. This notion of the heart is clear when we read the words of Deuteronomy 6:5-6: “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”
The early Church Fathers clearly cherished this meaning of the Sacred Heart of our Lord. St. Justin Martyr (d. 165), in his Dialogue with the Jew Trypho said, “We Christians are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of His heart as from a rock.” Likewise, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) said, “The Church is the fountain of the living water that flows to us from the Heart of Christ” (Adversus Haereses). St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) in his Letters (#21) added, “John, who rested blissfully on the breast of our Lord, was inebriated with the Holy Spirit, from the Heart of all creating Wisdom he quaffed an understanding which transcends that of any creature.” Although these are just a few brief examples from the times of the early Church, we find a profound respect for the Sacred Heart of our Lord as a font of His love which gave birth to the Church and continues to nourish its members.
The devotion continued to grow during the Middles Ages, and in 1353 Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass honoring the mystery of the Sacred Heart. During the age of the Protestant movement, devotion to the Sacred Heart was practiced in hope of restoring peace to a world shattered by political and religious persecution.
Shortly thereafter, the devotion escalated due to the fervor surrounding the apparitions of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90). For example, on December 27, 1673, our Lord revealed, “My Divine Heart is so passionately inflamed with love… that, not being able any longer to contain within Itself the flames of Its ardent charity, It must let them spread abroad through your means, and manifest Itself to man, that they may be enriched with Its precious treasures which I unfold to you, and which contain the sanctifying and salutary graces that are necessary to hold them back from the abyss of ruin.” The four apparitions provided the catalyst for the promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart: a feast day in honor of the Sacred Heart, and the offering of our Lord’s saving grace and friendship if the individual attended Mass and received Holy Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, make us humble of heart, keep us from the sin of pride and heal the wounds of our hearts. Amen.
ad Jesum per Mariam