By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
I. The autobiography of Blessed Margaret Mary records a revelation in which Christ appeared and said to her: " Behold the Heart which has loved men so much, that it spared nothing even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to manifest its love for them." We could point out other apparitions in which Christ declared that He desires our love in return for His.
II. Father de la Colombiere was among the first who consecrated themselves to the service of the Sacred Heart. His motives for this act were the tender sentiments Jesus Christ entertains towards us in the Sacrament of love, where His Sacred Heart is always burning for the love of men, ready to shower upon them graces and benedictions.
III. Father Croiset expresses the character of the formal object of this Devotion in words that admit only one meaning. " It consists," he says, " in nothing but a practice of love. Its object is love, its principal motive is love, love must needs be its end." Further on in the same chapter he states that "This divine Heart, considered as a part of the adorable body of Christ, is only the sensible object of the Devotion, its principal motive is the immense love Christ bears for men."
IV. Bishop Languet expresses himself to the same effect. " In order to reveal the object of this Devotion," he remarks, " we make it sensible by representing the Heart of Jesus Christ. The Heart being the most natural symbol of love, it ought consequently to be the symbol of a devotion which confines itself solely to love." 10 Explaining the nature of the love which forms the object of worship in this Devotion, he continues: " Its object is the immense love Jesus has for men, of which he gave them a precious token in the mystery of the Eucharist, and which actuated Him when He embraced death for their salvation."
V. Numerous passages can be gleaned from the work of Father Galliffet in confirmation of the foregoing statements. On account of his zeal and his knowledge of the various-phases of this Devotion, his contemporaries entrusted him with the office of pleading their cause as Postulator Causa, when they petitioned the Holy See for a special Mass and Office, in 1729. Therefore, his words ought to carry considerable weight. " In the devotion to the Sacred Heart," he says, " the essential motive for honoring it is the love with which it is inflamed, and the sufferings it endured through the ingratitude of men, which has relation to the divine heart, and to no other part of his body."
These five spiritual writers, adduced as authorities concerning the formal object of the Devotion in question, were the first exponents of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart. The Church, in spite of numerous entreaties on the part of the faithful, for a long time refused to take official cognizance of such a worship. Finally she yielded to the insistent demand and granted her approval.
Subsequent investigation will disclose that the Devotion has been approved as advocated by its early exponents.
VI. Pope Clement XIII, on February 6, 1765, in a special decree interpreted the motive for honoring the Sacred Heart thus: " It is to commemorate symbolically the memory 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, being meek and humble of Heart."
VII. On September 28, 1819, Pius VII permitted the Feast of the Sacred Heart to be celebrated as a double of the first class in the Holy Land, in order that the holy places of Palestine, sanctified by the presence of Our Saviour might be the theatre showing forth His vehement love for men, and that the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, diffused far and wide in those places, might grow from day to day.
VIII. On August 23, 1856, Pius IX issued a decree in which he established the Feast of the Sacred Heart for the universal Church. In this decree he states that " Clement XIII permitted some churches to celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart with an Office and a Mass, in order to commemorate the immeasurable love of His Heart."
IX. A clear presentation of this formal object is found in the Decree of Beatification issued August 19, 1864. It states that Jesus desired nothing else so much as by every means to stimulate in the souls of men that charity with which His Heart was consumed. . . . And in order the more to enkindle the fire of charity, He would have the adoration and worship of His most Sacred Heart established and propagated in the Church.
X. Pope Pius VI, in a letter to Scipio de Ricci, June 24, 1781, insists that "the substance of this Devotion, which is absolutely free from every superstition and materialism, seeks, by means of the symbolical representation of the Heart, to lead us on to the contemplation and veneration of the immense charity and excessive love of Our Divine Redeemer."
Without multiplying similar examples, it can be said without fear of contradiction that all modern theologians who have written on this subject have expressed themselves to the same effect.