Friday, June 16, 2023

The Heart-Warming Orations of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Sacred Heart, by Lattanzio Querena (1768-1853); in the church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Venice. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Lost in Translation #80

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus takes its Biblical inspiration from the account of Our Lord’s crucifixion, and the piercing by the soldier’s lance of His heart, which yielded blood and water, signs of the Eucharist and Baptism, marking the birth of the Church, purveyors of those sacraments. (See John 19, 34) Devotion to the Sacred Heart existed privately in the early Church and among medieval doctors such as St. Bonaventure, but it was not until the seventeenth century that it became part of the Church’s public liturgy, when dour heresies such as Jansenism tended to deny God’s sweet and gentle love for all mankind. and when secular indifference threatened to ignore it entirely.

In response to these distortions, Divine Providence inspired St. John Eudes in 1672 to compose a Mass of the Sacred Heart for the religious order he had founded. But it was St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who is chiefly remembered for the spread of this devotion. In 1675 Our Lord appeared to her on the Friday following the octave of Corpus Christi, and asked her to work for a feast of the Sacred Heart on this day. It was fixed on the universal calendar in 1856, and in 1929 an Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart, with a plenary indulgence attached to its public recital, was added.

St Margaret Mary Alacoque’s Vision of the Sacred Heart, 1863, by Armand Cambon (1819-85); in the cathedral of Montauban, France. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Didiers Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0)
The feast of the Sacred Heart is an example of the principle of “liturgical recapitulation,” when a particular mystery is revisited later in the year, but viewed under a different aspect. [1] In a sense, the original feast honoring Jesus’ Sacred Heart is Good Friday, but our hearts are too filled with sorrow on that day to appreciate the joyful mercy of His own. A second feast is more than warranted for meditating on the mystery of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart in a more jubilant key.
The Collect for the feast is:
Deus, qui nobis in Corde Filii tui, nostris vulneráto peccátis, infinítos dilectiónis thesauros misericórditer largíri dignáris: concéde, quáesumus; ut, illi devótum pietátis nostrae praestantes obsequium, dignae quoque satisfactiónis exhibeámus officium. Per eundem Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who in the Heart of Thy Son, wounded by our sins, dost mercifully deign to bestow upon us the infinite treasures of Thy love: grant, we beseech Thee, that we who render to It the service of our devotion and piety may also fulfill our duty of worthy satisfaction. Through the same Our Lord...
This prayer teaches that God plans to give us the infinite treasures of His love not through His Son’s Heart, but in it. The Sacred Heart of Jesus contains us; we are not just close to His Heart or dear to His Heart but in His Heart, and it is there that God the Father will inundate us with love.
The Collect also has a subtle word play to boot. God deigns (dignare) to bless us with His treasures, and we pray that we may offer worthy (dignus) satisfaction through our devotion to His Son’s Sacred Heart, despite the fact that that Heart was wounded by our very sins. How merciful is God the Father, to reward us through our sins in such a way.
The Secret, which builds upon this theme, is:
Réspice, quáesumus, Dómine, ad ineffábilem Cordis dilecti Filii tui caritátem: ut quod offérimus sit tibi munus acceptum et nostrórum expiatio delictórum. Per eundem Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Look upon, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the inexpressible charity of the Heart of Thy beloved Son: so that what we are offering may be a gift acceptable to Thee and an expiation of our offenses. Through the same Our Lord...
Let us not forget that when God the Father looks at the Heart of His Son, He is looking at a Heart with an enormous gash in it. If forensic evidence from the Shroud of Turin is to be taken into account, the Roman soldier pierced Our Lord’s Heart with so much force that the spear point passed completely through and pierced the skin of His back. Nor did the Resurrection close this wound, which is why St. Thomas was told by Jesus to put his (entire) hand into His side. And so, when the Father gazes at His Son sitting at His right hand for all eternity, He sees in His Son’s Sacred Heart vivid proof of a love to which no words can do justice.
A photographic negative of the Shroud of Turin.
We want the Father to look at His Son’s Heart to remind Him not of what scoundrels we are for being complicit in His Son’s death, but of His Son’s great love for us and how much He suffered for our sake. “Christ shows without ceasing the marks of His wounds to His Father for us,” writes Blessed Columba Marmion. “He causes all His merits to be of avail to us: and because He is always worthy of being heard by His Father, His prayer is always granted.” [2]  We therefore approach the Father with hope that our petition will be granted, namely, that our offenses may be expiated (“purged by sacrifice”) by this Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Postcommunion is:
Práebeant nobis, Dómine Jesu, divínum tua sancta fervórem: quo dulcíssimi Cordis tui suavitáte percepta; discámus terréna despícere, et amáre caelestia: Qui vivis et regnas.
Which I translate as:
May Thy holy mysteries, O Lord Jesus, impart to us divine fervor: whereby having tasted the sweetness of Thy most loving Heart, we may learn to despise earthly things and to love what is heavenly: Who livest and reignest...
This is a powerful prayer. It boldly equates the act of Holy Communion with tasting the Heart of Jesus. The prayer is especially powerful when one recalls the Eucharistic miracles in which consecrated Hosts miraculously turned to flesh. Such miracles have taken place in Lanciano, Italy in the eighth century (where the Host-Flesh is intact to this day), Buenos Aires in 1996, Tixtla, Mexico in 2006, Sokolka, Poland in 2008, and Legnica, Poland in 2013. In each case, histopathological studies or related analyses have revealed that the flesh is the heart tissue of a living person with AB (the universal) blood-type suffering great trauma. [3]  Every time we receive Holy Communion, we are getting a Heart transplant and a Blood transfusion from Christ on the Cross. [4]
The Miraculous Eucharist at Lanciano
And should our hearts be one with Jesus’, and should His blood course through our veins, what kind of lover would we become? The petition of the Postcommunion answers: a lover who loves what is heavenly and looks down on what is earthly. It is a love that dare not speak its name in the new Missal, which has all but eliminated this reference to our Catholic patrimony. [5] Nevertheless, an essential component of being holy is being a lover whose subjective loves are perfectly aligned with the objective order of lovable things. [6] And as we will see in several of the Orations in this chapter, “despising the earthly” does not mean hating God’s creation or having a contempt for the people and things around us but simply assessing temporal goods accurately and not getting too attached to them. [7] Paradoxically, this reality-oriented approach makes one a better lover of those goods. It is to see with the eyes of God and to love with His Heart.
[1] For more on this topic, see Michael P. Foley, “Divine Do-Overs: The Secret of Recapitulation in the Traditional Calendar.” 
[2] Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ the Life of the Soul Angelico Press, 2012), 70, emphasis added.
[3] Franco Serafini, A Cardiologist Examines Jesus: The Stunning Science Behind Eucharistic Miracles (Sophia Institute Press, 2021).
[4] This line is from Fr. Leo Patalinghug.
[5] See Michael P. Foley, “Renewing Respect for Christian Despisal.”
[6] See Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 1.27.28.

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