By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
From these words it may be rightly concluded that the devotion was to be such as was inculcated by Blessed Margaret Mary. Her writings give ample evidence that the physical, corporal Heart of Christ was repeatedly presented to her eyes in a visible form. It is such apparitions that induced her to endeavor to pay a tribute of love to the Sacred Heart, and make an effort to stimulate others to follow in her footsteps.
VII. The Beata qualified the Heart of Christ as the seat of divine charity, and always considered it as a factor indissolubly united with the Devotion. The Iconography of the Sacred Heart, as approved by the Congregation of the Holy Rites, is in consonance with her view. The Congregation decreed on January 16, 1885, that the officially recognized picture or statue of this Devotion is one which represents the whole figure of Christ with His Heart visibly exhibited. The Heart being an auxiliary designedly chosen by Our Divine Lord has a just claim to such a prominence. As the material or sensible object it is an adjuvant through which the super-sensual, i. e., love, is to be reached.
The arguments thus far advanced, if weighed with due deliberation, ought to suffice to carry conviction to every theologian. In order not to leave room for even the slightest doubt about the material object of the Devotion in question, it will be well to quote a few select passages taken from more modern authors. This investigation will serve two purposes, viz., it will apprise us of the concept they entertained of the material object of this Devotion and show us in what sense they propagated it in their respective languages and countries.
(A.) In the middle of the eighteenth century St Alphonsus Liguori wrote a work entitled " Novena del Cuor di Gesu" The following words borrowed from it will be to the point. Its material or sensible object is the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, not indeed taken by itself, but as united to the Sacred Humanity, and consequently to the divine Person of the Word."
(B.) Muzzarelli, whose work was edited in 826, is very explicit when treating of the material object. " The Sacred Heart of Jesus'' he says, " is to be taken in its proper and natural signification, therefore, it means His fleshy Heart, but always viewed as united to His Humanity and the Person of the Word."
(C.) Nilles, in his work of 1869, presents a more authoritative exposition of the devotion than any previous writer. With characteristic clearness he thus expresses himself concerning the object of the Devotion. " The Holy See, while proposing to our worship the Heart of Jesus, inasmuch as it is the symbol of His infinite love, meant to exhibit the double object of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, viz., the real and physical Hear): of the Redeemer, and the infinite charity of Christ."
(D.) Father Noldin through his work of 1883 contributed not a little towards the spread of the devotion among the German-speaking people. In his estimation " the corporal Heart is of great importance, and of no slight significance for the practice of the devotion. Apart from the fact that Our Lord finds a special delight in seeing His love worshipped under the symbol of the physical Heart, it is the most appropriate and efficacious means of elevating man, who is a slave to the senses, to the knowledge and adoration of the charity of Christ.
(E.) It is in this sense that the devotion to the Sacred Heart has been propagated among the different nations of the world. In a very popular book, to which the cult to a large extent owes its dissemination in Hungary, we read that " it was the will of Christ to make His real, fleshy Heart the object of this devotion. It is from that Heart the Devotion receives its name."
These quotations, taken from the decisions of the Sacred Congregation as well as from divers authors of various nationalities living at different times, clearly indicate that, at present, no theologian may hold that the material object of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart is something not yet definitely determined. If, a few decades ago, certain devotional manuals failed to state this object with sufficient clearness and precision, the omission was due to the fact that they concerned themselves with the spiritual aspect of the devotion rather than with its material side. At present all nations have a uniform belief on this subject. It is generally admitted that the cause of the popularity of this Devotion lies in its material object, for it is this factor that appeals to the erudite as well as the illiterate. In view of this fact, the Church places on the lips of her clergy the inspiring invitatory for the Feast of the Sacred Heart: " Come, let us adore the Heart of Jesus, the Victim of love."
Christ, as to His Person, lived from all eternity, not so, however, as to His human nature. But He decreed that the body with which He reconciled us to His heavenly Father should remain inseparably united to His divinity. We distinguish three states of this corporal existence of the God-man, viz., His physical body, which He assumed and in which He suffered during His terrestrial sojourn, His natural body in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, and His glorified body in Heaven. All three states contain the identical Body which He assumed in the mystery of the Incarnation, and therefore His Heart plays an important role in each. Consequently, we worship His Sacred Heart correspondingly to the three states.
During His earthly sojourn the Heart of Christ was the paragon of all virtues which ought to excite our admiration and emulation. There is a deep meaning hidden in the words to which His sacred lips gave utterance: " Learn of Me because I am meek and humble of Heart." His Heart in this first state was sorrowful unto death. During the agony on the Mount of Olives His Heart's blood oozed through the pores of His Body. It was shed profusely while the bloody scenes of Redemption were enacted. Finally, His Heart was pierced with a lance and thus emptied of all its blood. His Heart was the co-principle of all His acts and affections, sharing and inspiring the love He had for humanity which ultimately made Him a Divine Holocaust for the sins of mankind.