By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
There are numerous sources which could be adduced in testimony that the sensible Heart of flesh is the material object of this Devotion. The few presented below will suffice to establish this proposition.
I. Father Croiset, the first exponent of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, is well qualified to instruct us on this point. " In the exercise of even the most spiritual devotions’' he says, "we stand in need of certain material and perceptible objects. It is for this reason that the Heart of Christ was selected, for, as a visible object, it is the worthiest of our respect, and the most appropriate to attain the end which this cult has in view. For what could be a more natural and better adapted symbol of love than the heart."
II. Bishop Languet, who familiarized himself with most of the writings of Blessed Margaret Mary, and thus was in & position to pronounce an authoritative judgment in this matter, confirms the same opinion. " In order to make known the object of this devotion," he says, " we make it perceptible by the representation of the Heart of Jesus Christ. The Heart being the most natural symbol of love, it ought consequently to serve as the proper symbolic representation of a devotion which consists entirely of love."
III. Father Galliffet, the indefatigable champion of this devotion, sets forth the same truth in words that permit of only one interpretation. " It is no less evident," he states, " that we have to do here with the Heart itself of Jesus Christ in its simple and natural sense, and not metaphorically. Jesus Christ speaks of His Heart actually; this is made clear by the action of uncovering his Heart and of showing it."
The subsequent investigation will disclose to what extent the decisions of the Church reflect the teaching of these three earliest exponents and pioneers in the field of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart. The reader will be made acquainted with those decrees only which concern themselves directly about the material object of this devotion.
IV. On January 26, 1765, the Polish Bishops requested Clement XIII to permit them to say a special Mass and Office in honour of the Sacred Heart. In this petition they make the following statement: " It is manifest that Christ referred to His Heart not in its metaphorical sense, but in the natural meaning of the word heart, as it is the most noble part of His body. Therefore, He proposes to our worship His sacrosanct Heart, not only inasmuch as it is the symbol of interior affections, but as it is in itself."
It is evident from the above petition that the Polish Bishops had a proper concept of the material object of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, and gave precise expression* to it. The Holy Father acceded to their wishes, and in His rescript dated on February 6,1765, he stated that with such a permission the Holy See intended to spread the already existing Devotion, and symbolically to commemorate the remembrance of that divine love by which the only begotten Son of God took upon Himself human nature, and being obedient unto death, offered Himself to men as an example, for He was meek and humble of heart.
The above named decree which extended the specified privilege to the Bishops of Poland and the Archconfraternity of Rome, finds its official interpretation in the Mass and Office approved by the same Pontiff on May 11, 1765.
On August 23, 1856, Pius IX raised the Feast of the Sacred Heart to the dignity of a duplex maior, and extended it to the universal Church. He approved the Mass Miserebitur, the prayer of which clearly sets forth the material object of the Devotion. " Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we who, glorying in the most Sacred Heart of thy beloved Son, celebrate the singular benefits of his love towards us, may rejoice equally in their action and their fruit."
In the sixth lesson for the Feast of the Sacred Heart it is stated that Clement XIII permitted the celebration of this Feast to certain Churches "in order that the faithful may so much more fervently and devoutly worship the charity of the suffering Christ under the symbol of the Sacred Heart."
V. In the pseudo-Synod of Pistoja the Jansenists proclaimed this devotion to be erroneous in the form in which it was approved by the Holy See. Pope Pius VI, in his bull, Auctorem Fidei, issued on August 28, 1794, brands their doctrine (prop. 62) as " false, temerarious, pernicious, offensive to pious ears and injurious to the Apostolic See, as if (prop. 63) the faithful adored the Heart of Jesus considered as separated or abstracted from the Divinity, whereas in reality they adore it as the Heart of Jesus,— the Heart, namely, of the Person of the Word with whom it is united inseparably in the same way in which the lifeless body of Christ during the three days of His death, without being separated or dissociated from the Divinity, was adored in the sepulchre. Hence their doctrine is captious, injurious to the faithful worshippers of the Heart of Christ."