The recent slew of feasts – Pentecost, Ascension, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, Ss Peter and Paul – has been a pleasant reminder to me of the continuing fecundity of the Catholic tradition. And it comes to a climax – at least this will be the last solemnity of the Lord until we reach the end of the liturgical year with Christ the King – with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart today, the second Friday after Pentecost.
The Sacred Heart to me represents one of the most important feasts of the year from a theological perspective. It is the feast of the flesh that was taken up by the Son of God. It is thus the feast of love made incarnate for us in the person of Our Lord. It is our way of celebrating what made the people of the Holy Land so happy during the earthly ministry of Jesus, namely, the presence of our loving Saviour among us.
As for the iconography of the Sacred Heart, it is important to realise that all crucifixes, in that they show the wounded side of Our Lord, are images of His Sacred Heart laid bare out of love.
The liturgy of the solemnity is particularly theologically profound. Consider the Preface:
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give You thanks
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lifted high on the cross,
Christ gave His life for us,
so much did He love us.
From His wounded side flowed blood and water,
the fountain of sacramental life in the Church.
To His open heart the Saviour invites all men
to draw water in joy from the springs of salvation.
Now, with all the saints and angels,
we praise you for ever: Holy, holy, holy Lord…
This has the merit of brevity and profundity. The Preface taken from the Missal of 1962 is rather more florid, but perhaps even more arresting. Here is an English translation of it, from a hand missal:
It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, that we should in all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, and everlasting God; who didst will that Thine only begotten Son should be pierced by the soldier’s lance as He hung upon the Cross: that from His opened heart, as from a sanctuary of divine bounty, might be poured out upon us streams of mercy and grace; and that in His heart always burning with love for us, the devout may find a haven of rest, and the penitent a refuge of salvation. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing: Holy, Holy, Holy…
There is far too much talk of God in the abstract, I find, these days, especially from unbelievers. But God is never in the abstract. He is a Person. Knowledge of God is best gleaned through the flesh of Jesus. The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is a good reminder that we should not let the enemies of religion set the agenda. They might want to talk about a God whom they do not believe in, but who we do not recognise either. We need to reply by talking about the God who is love, the Incarnate Son. Interestingly the Catholics who have most resisted deChristianisation – the brave folk of the Vendée and the Cristeros in Mexico – all took the Sacred Heart as their rallying cry. So should we.