Sacred Heart, Devotion to

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Date: 2003
New Catholic Encyclopedia
From: New Catholic Encyclopedia(Vol. 12. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 3
Content Level: (Level 5)

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About this Person
Born: 4? BC in Bethlehem, Judaea
Died: 29? AD in Jerusalem, Judaea
Occupation: Religious leader
Other Names: Jesus of Nazareth; Christ; Jesus
Full Text: 
Page 490


A special form of devotion to the Word Incarnate that focuses attention on the physical heart of Jesus Christ as the symbol of His threefold redemptive love. In the devotion to the Sacred Heart the special object is Jesus' physical heart of flesh as the true natural symbol of His threefold love: the human love, sensible and spiritual (infused supernatural charity), and the divine love of the Word Incarnate. In and through adoration of the physical heart the threefold love is adored and ultimately the Person of the Word.

To the adoration of this redemptive love are added acts of interior and exterior devotion that spring from the character of this special object: imitation of the virtues of Christ's Heart, especially His redemptive love; consecration as dedication to Christ or the gift of self in response to Christ's love; and apostolic REPARATION for sin as sharing in Christ's redeeming sacrifice of atonement. Historically, the more popular forms of the devotion included celebration of the feast on the Friday following the Sunday after Trinity Sunday; observance of the monthly First Friday with HOLY HOUR or votive Mass of the Sacred Heart, consecration of families to the Sacred Heart, and enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the home (see SA CRED HEART, ENTHRONEMENT OF).

History. At one time it was customary to set the beginning of this devotion at about the year 1000, since the devotion as a distinctive form of cult to the Heart of the God-Man as symbol of His love appeared only in the early Middle Ages. Since 1928, however, as the result of scholarly studies and encouragement by Pius XII's encyclical Haurietis aquas, theologians are seeking out the Biblical, patristic, and liturgical sources of the devotion as the perennial worship rendered to the pierced Heart of Jesus, streaming forth living waters of grace upon the Church.

Scriptural Foundation. Pius XII stated that "no-where in the Sacred Scriptures is there clear mention of any veneration or love for the physical heart of the Word Incarnate, considered precisely as the symbol of His ardent charity." However, the basic elements of the ecclesiastical devotion are found there in the true humanity assumed by the Word in hypostatic union and in the unfolding history of salvation as the story of God's everlasting love for men, seen especially in the covenant, described by the Prophets (Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah) in terms of a father's love for his children or a husband's love for his wife, and prefiguring the Messiah's sacrificial love in the new covenant.

A remote foundation of the devotion may be seen in the Biblical use of "heart" and similar words (Heb. lēb, lēbāb, beten; Gr. κορδία, κοιλία, σπλάγχνα; Lat. cor, venter, viscera) as the seat of the whole inner life of man, both natural and supernatural: his rational, emotional, volitional, moral, and religious life. References to the human heart of the Messiah are thus found in the Psalms (15.9; 21.15; 39.7–9; 68.21) and in Jeremiah (30.21–24).

In the New Testament Christ Himself on the feast of Tabernacles, commemorating the miracle of the ExodusPage 491  |  Top of Article when Moses had saved the people by making water flow from a rock, promised a fountain of living waters from His heart (Jn 7.37–39), thus referring to the messianic promise of living waters (Is 12.3; Ez 47.1–12; Zec 13.1) that the new Moses would strike from the rock of His body. For John the living water is the Holy Spirit, whom the risen Christ will send upon His Church. This prediction was fulfilled at Christ's death, the hour of His glorification, in the piercing of His side (Jn 19.33–37). From the first Pentecost on, the waters of salvation (the Spirit) have flowed from the pierced heart of the Messiah (Jl 2.28; Is 44.3; Acts 2.17).

Patristic Teaching. The teaching of the Fathers begins with the interpretation of Jn 7.37–39, which has come down in two different textual versions and consequently in two different interpretations. The more widely known but less probable (Alexandrian) reading sees the streams of living water flowing from the heart of the believer (Origen, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine). The other (Ephesian) reading, the original punctuation and the interpretation of which were adopted by Pius XII, considers the living water streaming from the heart of Christ (Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Justin, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, Cyprian, Tertullian). This passage, joined to Jn 19.33–37, forms the early Christian picture of the Sacred Heart as the fountain that dispenses the Spirit from the Savior's wounded side. From this came the idea of the Church born from the pierced Heart of Christ as the new Eve from the new Adam.

The Middle Ages. Although much historical research remains to be done on the question, there seems to have been no sudden discovery of this devotion in the early Middle Ages (1100–1250), but rather a gradual transition from the patristic theology of the wound in Jesus' side as the source of grace to the medieval preaching of the Heart of Jesus as the express object of a particular, more personal devotion (St. Anselm, St. Bernard, and the Benedictine monks). In the period of the great mystics (1250–1350), the patristic heritage merged completely into the more subjective piety of the Middle Ages due to the strong emphasis on the Passion, special veneration of St. John, and numerous commentaries on the SONG OF SONGS. To this period belong the Franciscans, especially St. Bonaventure and the Vitis Mystica (long ascribed to him); the three Cistercians of Helfta: the two MECHTHILDS and St. GERTRUDE THE GREAT, for whom the devotion was a deeper penetration into the mystery of Christ living in His Church through the liturgy; and the Dominicans (St. Albert the Great and St. Catherine of Siena). In the last period (extending to 1700), following a period of decline, the devotion, preached chiefly by the Carthusians and supported by the Devotio Moderna, became widespread among the laity. Through the Benedictine Francis Louis BLOSIUS, the tradition passed to St. FRANCIS DE SALES (1567–1622), who imbued his Order of the Visitation with it. The newly founded Society of Jesus numbered ardent advocates of the devotion among its members and ascetical writers. These two orders were to work together to obtain a place for the devotion in the public life of the Church.

Official Public Cult. St. John EUDES (1601–80), although mainly concerned with veneration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, also worked zealously to promote devotion to the heart of Jesus, especially by the establishment of a Mass and Office, for which Pius X called him the initiator, teacher, and apostle of the liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart. But the last phase of the history of the devotion is dominated by the name of the Visitandine St. Margaret Mary ALACOQUE (1647–90). The private revelations made to her by Our Lord at Paray-le-Monial (1673–75), while not the source of the official public cult, gave a great impetus to publicizing the devotion and shaping its practices. Prominent features were the establishment of a universal liturgical feast and the offering of reparation for the outrages committed against divine Love, especially in the Blessed Sacrament. St. Margaret Mary was assisted in her task by three Jesuits: her spiritual director, Bl. Claude La Colombière, Jean Crosiet, author of the first theological treatise on the devotion, and Joseph François de GALLIFET, promoter of the cause in Rome.

Ecclesiastical Approbation. In his bull Auctorem fidei Pius VI had authoritatively vindicated the devotion against the objections of the Jansenists. But early efforts at introducing a liturgical feast met with failure in Rome, chiefly because the devotion was presented as based upon the heart as principle and organ of love. The petition of 1765, which omitted the objectionable explanation, was granted by Clement XIII to the bishops of Poland and the Roman Archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart. In 1856 Pius IX extended the feast to the universal Church; later Leo XIII raised its rank. During the second half of the 19th century, mainly through the efforts of Henri Ramière and the APOSTLESHIP OF PRAYER, first approved by Pius IX in 1854, groups, families, communities, and states consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart. In 1899 Leo XIII, by his encyclical Annum sacrum, decreed the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart, which Pius X ordered to be renewed annually and Pius XI, 25 years later, transferred to the newly established feast of Christ the King. In 1928 Pius XI issued his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor on reparation to the Sacred Heart, complemented in 1932 by the encyclical Caritate Christi compulsi. To commemorate the centenary of the extension of the Feast of the Sacred Heart to the entire world, Pius XII in 1956 published his encyclical HaurietisPage 492  |  Top of Article aquas on the nature of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Unlike the two earlier encyclicals, Leo XIII's Annum sacrum on consecration and Pius XI's Miserentissimus Redemptor on reparation, the approach in Haurietis aquas is strictly theological, showing the dogmatic foundation of the devotion in Scripture and tradition.

Theology. The scriptural and patristic sources of the devotion (outlined above) found concrete expression in the liturgy over the centuries preceding and during the Middle Ages. After a period of experimentation with many different Masses of the Sacred Heart, the definitive Mass prescribed by Pius XI represents a return to the more traditional sources of the devotion.

Controversies have arisen over the precise object of the officially approved devotion, whether "heart" was to be understood as physical, metaphorical, or symbolic, and whether the love was human or divine. It is now generally admitted, following Pius XII, that both the physical heart and the total love of Christ are included in the object of the cult. Without the physical heart the public devotion authoritatively approved and prescribed for all Catholics by the Church is not realized. Although every part of Christ's sacred humanity is worthy of the strict adoration due to God alone, the heart is singled out for a special devotion because of its inherent symbolism. Pius XII calls the physical heart of Christ a natural symbol of His threefold love. While neither Scripture nor the Fathers expressly refer to the physical heart as the symbol of Christ's love, they do explicitly declare that Christ has a true and integral human nature and hence a heart upon which His entire affective life exercises a real physical influence. This real connection between the physical heart and the affective life provides the basis for the natural symbolism of the heart in respect to love. The Heart of Christ is the symbol of the total love of His person, more directly of the sensible love and affections, but also of the twofold spiritual love, human and divine. Through and beyond the human heart one goes to the total love of the Word Incarnate and also to that love by which the Father and the Holy Spirit love sinful mankind. Since the love of Christ is redemptive on each of these three levels, the pierced Heart of Christ hanging on the cross perfectly epitomizes the whole paschal mystery of our Redemption.

Excellence. Leo XIII called devotion to the Sacred Heart the most excellent form of religion; Pius XI, the synthesis of our whole religion and the norm of a more perfect life; Pius XII, the most perfect expression of the Christian religion and of strict obligation for all the faithful. Although objections have been raised against the devotion in the course of its history, many of them stem from psychological forms and sentimental accretions that have obscured the true devotion based on Scripture, interpreted by the Fathers, expressed in the liturgy, and authoritatively explained by the magisterium. The genuine form of the devotion as the worship the Church renders to the pierced Heart of Jesus, streaming forth living waters of grace upon His Church, has been restored in the definitive Mass of Pius XI and in the magisterial exposition of Pius XII.

Bibliography: A. HAMON, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, M. VILLER et al.2.1:1023–46. J. STIERLI and A. VAN RIJEN, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. J. HOFER and K. RAHNER, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 5:289–294. E. AGOSTINI, Il Cuore di Gesù (Bologna 1950). J. BAINVEL, Devotion to the Sacred Heart, ed. G. O'NEILL, tr. E. LEAHY (London 1924). A. BEA et al., eds, Cor Jesu, 2 v. (Rome 1959). A. J. DACHAUER, The Sacred Heart (Milwaukee 1959). A. FEUILLET, "Le Nouveau Testament et le Coeur du Christ," Ami du Clergé 74 (1964) 321–333. A. HAMON, Histoire de la dévotion au Sacré-Coeur, 5 v. (Paris 1923–41). H. MARÍN, ed., El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Bilbao 1961), papal documents. J. STIERLI, ed., Heart of the Saviour, tr. P. ANDREWS (New York 1957).


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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3407709800