By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
Pius IX expressed the belief that Christ selected Blessed Margaret Mary for the office of introducing the Devotion to the Sacred Heart. All the theologians agree that in consequence of her revelations the Devotion received an irresistible impetus, and they helped toward determining its material and its formal object. With this fact in our possession, we shall divide our historical treatise into three periods. In the first, we shall endeavor to point out some foreshadowings of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart from the early ages of Christianity, and the form in which it existed before the time of Blessed Margaret Mary. In the second period we shall mark the progress it made during her life, and in the third we shall dwell briefly on its growth after the death of the Beata.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart, as it is propagated in our time, consists of two distinct elements, viz., formal and material. The love of Christ is the formal, and His Heart the material element. For a long time these two elements, separated from each other, were objects of a special individual worship. At the end of the thirteenth century they became united, and as such, formed the earliest phase of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart. In the following paragraphs we shall make an attempt to trace them individually to the early ages. In the course of our investigation we shall endeavor to show how the faithful brought them into correlation, and finally united them as two objects of one devotion.
The formal element of this Devotion is older than Christianity. It is founded on the words of Moses directed to the Israelites: " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul and with thy whole strength" A further step in its development is heralded by St. John: " For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son." The faithful believing that " the Word was made flesh" and "confessing that Jesus Christ who is come in the flesh, is of God " began to pay a special tribute of love to Him.
Christ assured mankind of His love toward men. He proved this love by laying down His life for us. The consideration of this deep mystery brings to the lips of St. Paul the well-known protestation: "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? " The same Apostle in his characteristic way expresses the convictions of the Christians of his day: " He died for all, and if any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema."
We need not cite more passages of the Sacred Scripture to prove that the early Christians considered the love of Christ as the essence of their religious belief. The sufferings He underwent for our salvation and His death on the cross, are indicated as the motives which actuated this love of the appreciative redeemed believers toward the Person of the Redeemer. The piercing of the Heart, which, by anticipation, was to be a partial contributory cause of our redemption was the last scene of that awful drama which the Saviour of mankind enacted on the stage of the world in order to fulfill His divine mission.