Rorate Caeli

Feast of the Sacred Heart and Devotion to the Sacred Heart

We are fast approaching the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and I wanted to share some reflections on this feast and the devotion associated with it in order to help us penetrate more deeply into the mystery it contains for us. I submit this essay, Sacred Heart of Jesus: A Scriptural and Liturgical Meditation, in the hopes that it will increase your love for the Heart of Jesus, and intensify your appreciation for what the Church has given us in this devotion and Feast.

An excerpt follows below:

So what is it, then, that we see in the image of the Sacred Heart? We see love. Given what was said above, does this not therefore mean that we the Holy Spirit? Indeed it does, and indeed we do. Consider the image of the Sacred Heart again, with new eyes, as it were: there is the Heart, wrapped with a Crown of Thorns; in the side of the Heart is the wound from the soldier's lance; atop the Heart sits the Holy Cross; and the whole of the image is surrounded by flames of fire. The thorns and the Cross direct us immediately to the Passion, and this is the first part of the image; the lance-wound directs us to the flow of blood and water, and this is the second image; finally, the flames of fire may be considered as a third image.

The Passion (the images of the thorns and Cross) speaks to us of the Love of God; on the Cross, He makes the full gift of Himself, the complete sacrifice which will transmit life to us. As we have already said, the "Love of God" is nothing less than the Holy Spirit, and thus we see in this first image a picture of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity - that reciprocal gift of Love Himself which is given by the Father to the Son, and back to the Father from the Son. Here, on the Cross, in the Passion, that continual transmission of Love/Spirit between the two Persons breaks out of its circular pattern, as it were, and flows outward towards us. The Love between Father and Son, which is the Spirit, is now extended to us in order to draw us upward into that "inner circle," to incorporate us into the life of the Blessed Trinity. This is the deeply mystical and profound meaning of what St. John says when he describes in words the moment of Our Lord's expiration:

When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (Jn. 19:30)

The Greek phrase here, "gave up his spirit," is charged with meaning: paredoken to pneuma means, on the literal level, that Jesus breathed His last breath (recall that "spirit" and "breath" are interchangeable in the Greek). But the verb paradidomi means "to give into the hands of another"; mystically, the phrase says that Jesus gave as gift His own Spirit. This foreshadows the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Thus we can see that in this "first image" of the Sacred Heart, the Passion that is portrayed by the thorns and the Cross, we contemplate the Spirit that is given as gift - the Love of God extended to Man.

The second image, that of the lance-wound, likewise communicates the dual portrait of Love/Spirit. We saw already that it was at this moment, when the spear pierced Our Lord's Heart, that the blood and water flowed out of Him. The Fathers rightly saw in this an image of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, but there is a third image that ties these two together: the Spirit.

The piercing of Christ's Heart and the subsequent flow of life from Him was foretold by Him in these words of the Gospel:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed:

"If any one thirst, let him come to me
and [let him] drink, he who believes in me.
As the scripture has said,
'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"

Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (Jn. 7:37-39)

Our Lord spoke of the "rivers of living water" which would "flow" forth "out of his heart," which was fulfilled in a literal way when His Heart was pierced on the Cross. But here St. John gives us an added insight into the meaning of this flow of water: "this he said about the Spirit." Primarily, then, we must see in the flow of blood and water from the Sacred Heart of Jesus a symbol of the outpouring of the Spirit - again, the Love of God in Person-form.

This is in complete harmony with the view of the Fathers, who saw the blood as a symbol of the Eucharist, and the water as a symbol of Baptism. If we understand the flow of blood and water as first and foremost a symbol of the Spirit, then under this over-arching umbrella the other two images fit in perfectly: the water of Baptism is what infuses (=pours out) into us the Spirit Himself - hence the words of Scripture, "Repent, and be baptized ... and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38), and "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13) Likewise, it is in the Holy Eucharist that we are made to drink deeply of the Holy Spirit, according to Scripture. This is why St. Paul says that "all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13), and explains why wine (as the liquid matter which is transformed into the Eucharistic substance of Christ, and thus, suitable to the image of "drinking") is so often set in contrast to the Spirit.

For example, at the great outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the crowds said of the Apostles, "They are filled with new wine" (Acts 2:13), but St. Peter insists, "these men are not drunk ... but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: '... will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh ...'" (Acts 2:15-17). Similarly, in Ephesians St. Paul says, "do not get drunk with wine ... but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18), and to St. Timothy, "Deacons likewise must ... not hold to much wine ... they must hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience" (1 Tim. 3:8-9), where "mystery of faith" is a synonym for the Eucharistic Cup (as I argue in my essay, A Note on the Origins of the Phrase Mysterium Fidei).

This relationship between the Eucharistic substance of Christ under the appearance of wine, the way in which wine stands as a symbol of the blood of Christ, the reception of the Eucharistic Christ by drinking the contents of the chalice ... all of this makes the blood of Christ which flowed from His Heart an appropriate symbol of the Eucharist in its liquid species. Since it is the Spirit/Life of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist, then, this image of the blood-as-Eucharist is easily taken up under the umbrella of water-and-blood-as-Spirit.

Thus we can understand this second image of the Sacred Heart, the wound of the lance, as yet another pointer to the Holy Spirit.

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