By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
FORMAL OBJECT OF THE DEVOTION
(A.) Nilles maintains that the Apostolic See proposes to our veneration the Heart of Christ, inasmuch as it is the symbol of love, in order to exhibit the double object of the cult, viz., the symbol itself, i. e., the real physical Heart of the Saviour, and the thing symbolized, i. e., the infinite charity of Christ. Of these two, however, the more important is the thing symbolized, or the love of Christ.
(B.) The same truth is expressed by Father Vermeersch in striking and appealing words. "I adore'' he says, " the material Heart of Jesus, but, while doing so, I regard it as a living symbol which to me personifies all His love. I adore the love of Jesus, and by this act I contemplate it in its natural and sensible manifestation, where Jesus shows it to me, i. e., in the Heart of flesh."
(C) Father Noldin's view coincides with the foregoing. " Hence love is justly called the motive, and as such the formal object of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, exactly in the same way as the sufferings of Christ are said to be the motive and formal object of the Devotion to the Five Wounds."
(D.) It is in this sense that the Devotion was propagated among the different nations by writers who treated the question in the vernacular. Thus, it is stated, in a Hungarian devotional manual, that " Our Divine Lord made use of His real Heart of flesh in order to reveal its love, and, enkindling in us flames of love, might induce us to reciprocate it."
It would be an easy task to multiply similar examples. One may, however, content oneself with these here adduced. The formal object of this Devotion is so clearly defined by the decisions of the Sacred Congregation and the decrees issued by the different Pontiffs, that it ceased to be something indefinite, or optional, and no one is permitted to substitute for it something conjectural. The arguments advanced in confirmation of this contention are so convincing that they have been instrumental in bringing about absolute uniformity among the present day theologians and spiritual writers.
While the Heart and the love of Christ are two distinct elements of Devotion in the mind of the worshipper, they are to be considered as two partial objects forming a whole. The nobility of the heart depends on the dignity, majesty, and holiness of him whose organ it is. But the Heart of Christ, in consequence of the hypostatic union, shines with the brightness and brilliancy of the Godhead, for not only does His divine presence permeate it with its sanctity, but His divine Person entrusted it with a sacred function indispensable for the preservation of the life of His human nature. Therefore, if there were no other reasons, this alone would suffice to induce every Catholic to pay homage and adoration to the Sacred Heart. Such, however, is not the principal actuating motive. While the Divinity subsisting in it is always our primary incentive, it is the supersensual Heart, viz., Christ's love for mankind, that inspires our attitude towards it. We worship this love, for, when viewed as created and uncreated, it forms the very essence of the God-man. We adore it, for it was the actuating motive to which all the sufferings of Christ are traceable in their final analysis. Hence, it is the primal, immediate, and principal cause of our Redemption. We venerate the uncreated love, for it brought into being a human nature, and created a Heart which, embellished with human and divine sanctity, shed its last drop of blood for sinful humanity.
This Heart, once created and hypostatically united to the divine Person, was destined to be immortal. Therefore, since there are three principal states in which the Heart may be considered, we venerate its love for reasons that are proper to, and correspond with, the respective states.
The principal motive which ought to actuate us in worshipping the Sacred Heart as it dwelt in the bosom of Christ during His terrestrial sojourn, is the love with which He accomplished the redemption of mankind; the love which induced Him to found a Church with which those whom he had redeemed could affiliate themselves; the love which stimulated Him to institute the Sacraments as channels of grace, to serve as vitalizing and strength-giving means for all who strive to attain their glorious destiny.
The Eucharistic Heart symbolizes that love which induced Christ to be with the children of men to the consummation of the world, and also the love which influenced Him to conceal His divine majesty under the veil of sacramental species, thus to offer us an example of heroic humility and self-abasement. Finally, it symbolizes that love which con strained Him to renew, in an unbloody manner, the Sacrifice of the Cross by being daily immolated on our altars in order to implore mercy for transgressing humanity, from His Heavenly Father and, thus, to stay at least temporarily the hand of chastisement.