The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus goes back to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. While His dead body was on the cross, one of the soldiers pierced His side – His heart – with a spear, and blood and water gushed from the wound. St John pointed to the prophetic significance of this act, saying that it fulfilled the words of Zechariah, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Zc 12:10).
The implication of this act of the soldier is that it showed that the very last drops of Christ’s blood were shed for humankind, as a sign of His infinite love.
But even before this, during His public ministry, Christ had referred to this love of His for humankind, of His gentle and lowly heart, and invited all to share this love: “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).
While He was preaching, too, Christ had focused on the heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). He also spoke of how for those who believed in Him, His heart would become a fountain from which rivers of living water would flow (Jn 7:37-39). As St John goes on to point out, this was a reference to the Holy Spirit, who would be Christ’s gift to His followers once He had been glorified.
Why did Christ focus in this way on the heart, both His own and that of others? Surely because the heart is universally recognised as the seat of the emotions, of human love. Although Jesus is God He is also man, and since the Incarnation, since His taking human flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation, He has had a real human body and a real human heart.
The Sacred Heart devotion is really a reiteration of two thousand years of Christian teaching on the nature of Christ as both God and man. It is a refocusing on this fundamental point – that it was by the Incarnation and all that flowed from it, and particularly through the death and resurrection of Christ, that God has communicated His love to us in a most wonderful way, and that the gap between the infinity and holiness of God and the mortality and sinfulness of humankind has been bridged.
Because Christ had a truly human heart, He can sympathise with us and understands all our needs, worries and sufferings “from the inside”, because He too had a human nature capable of suffering.
This blog is adapted and extracted from our booklet Sacred Heart: Prayers and Devotions. Explaining the effects of devotion to the Sacred Heart over the centuries, the booklet is a practical and simple way for people to foster a devotional spirit and can be used individually or in parish groups.
Learn more about the devotion and the accompanying prayers by ordering your copy of Sacred Heart: Prayers and Devotions.