It was at the Last Supper that John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” reclined on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Jn. 13:23) Just hours later, at the foot of the Cross, it was John again who witnessed Jesus’ Sacred Heart being pierced by a lance. As he recorded, “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (Jn. 19:34) Modern medicine suggests that Jesus had likely suffered from hemorrhagic shock from the severe scourging and blood loss, which probably caused pericardial fluid to build around His heart. Thus, it is not surprising that when His heart is pierced that blood and water gushed forth. The early Church Fathers interpret this sacramentally, as symbols of the blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The sacraments and the Church sprung from the wound of Christ’s Heart. St. Augustine made the connection that just as Eve was drawn from the side of Adam during his “deep sleep” (Gen. 2:21), so too, was the Church, the bride of Christ, drawn from the side of Jesus in His death. It is in the waters of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist that the Church is born and sustained. The Church appropriately venerates the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which “He allowed to be pierced by our sins,” as the definitive symbol of divine love. (CCC 2669)
The 1956 encyclical Haurietis Aquas, on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, opens by quoting the prophet Isaiah, who writes about the life-giving waters of the suffering Messiah. Isaiah declares, “You shall draw waters with joy out of the savior’s fountains,” (Is. 12:3) and “every one who thirsts, come to the waters.” (Is. 55:1) The other prophets too, Joel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, speak of these life-giving waters of the Savior. Jesus Himself quotes the prophets saying that whoever believes in Him “rivers of living water will flow from within him.” (Jn. 7:38) What is this life-giving water? The early Church Fathers recognized the water that flows from His Sacred Heart as the sanctifying grace giving eternal life. It is a symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The living water is the sacramental water of Baptism, in which the Holy Spirit cleanses us of sin and comes to dwell within us. Jesus tells Nicodemus we must be born again of “water and spirit,” just as He tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “..the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14)
It is not a coincidence that the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus comes in the liturgical calendar just after Pentecost, commemorating the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the depths of Jesus’ Heart. The feast of the Sacred Heart is also the first Friday within the Octave of Corpus Christi, celebrating the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. This is fitting, as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is part of His physical body. In that sense, when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (H.A. 122) The blood that pours forth from His pierced heart at Calvary symbolizes the “blood of the new covenant” that Jesus offers up at the Last Supper, and which we partake in at every Mass.
One of the great Eucharistic miracles in the history of the Church is the miracle of Lanciano. This happened in the 700’s in Lanciano, Italy at a monastery, interestingly enough, under the patronage of St. Longinus, who is traditionally believed to be the Roman centurion that pierced Jesus’ side with his lance. In the miracle, a doubting monk was offering up the Sacrifice of the Mass, and at the consecration, the bread and wine turned visibly into real flesh and blood. Although centuries old, and never hermetically sealed or stored with preservatives, the specimens never deteriorated. In 1981, with the permission of the pope, a major scientific examination was done on the relics to determine their true nature. The results came back that the samples are real human blood and flesh. Moreover, the flesh was determined to be myocardium of a heart wall and endocardium tissue of a heart cavity. The Eucharistic miracle revealed true flesh and blood of a human heart.
Yet, in the 17th century Church, particularly in France, human hearts had grown cold and become stony hearts. The faith was in tumult, dealing exteriorly with the Protestant Revolution and interiorly with the Jansenist heresy. Jansenism denied the free will of man, advocating that only those predestined by God would receive sanctifying grace. They taught a moral rigorism, resulting in few people receiving Holy Communion due to their faults and sins. It was in this narrow worldview, constricting the sacraments of grace to only the few, that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque revealing, for all, His Sacred Heart, saying, “Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much, that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love.” Jesus shows that He offers Himself up for the love of all people, and desires them to receive Holy Communion frequently. He requested that a feast day be established in honor of His Sacred Heart, and that people should go to Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, as well as regularly keeping Holy Hour adoration. Jesus did, in fact, renew the life of the Church, enlivening the hearts of believers, with this devotion to His Sacred Heart.
Jesus also made a number of famous promises (more than the generally assumed twelve promises) to St. Margaret Mary regarding those who would have a devotion to His Sacred Heart. These included, among others, bringing peace to their families, consoling them in their troubles, granting them all the necessary graces in their lives, helping them become more fervent and perfect in their faith, and inscribing their names on His Heart forever. In a letter from May 1688, St. Margaret Mary wrote about “the Great Promise” that Jesus had spoken to her. He said, “I promise you that My all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance.” As wonderful as this promise is, we should remember this is not an automatic guarantee to heaven. We should discern away any superstition involved with this. As Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, writes this is “not magic but the natural consequence of a life lived in union with the Heart of Jesus.” We are not called to superstition, but to devotion.
We are called to devotion, and reparation, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As Jesus hung on the Cross, He cried out the first line from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He singles out this psalm specifically because it prophesied about His Crucifixion. Later in the psalm, David writes about Jesus’ heart saying, “I am poured out like water… my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.” (Ps. 22:14) Yet, as Psalm 22 opens with the affliction of the Messiah, it ends with His victory saying, “May your hearts live for ever!” Jesus also cried out from the Cross “I thirst.” In the context of Christianity, Jesus’ thirst is to save souls. We can in a very real way console the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His thirst to save souls, through our reparation and devotion to His Sacred Heart. (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 13)
This devotion is also related to the Divine Mercy devotion. The Divine Mercy image shows red and white light emanating from Jesus’ Heart. Many have linked this, again, to the blood and water from the piercing of Jesus’ Heart, and the grace from the blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The Divine Mercy prayer makes this link explicit to Jesus’ Heart: “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.” (Diary, 84) The devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Divine Mercy are very much related and similar, with difference only in emphasis.
The blood and water that flowed out of Jesus’ Sacred Heart at the Crucifixion remind us of the sacramental and sanctifying grace of the Church. With the blood of the Eucharist for redeeming and the water of Baptism for cleansing, we are brought into supernatural life through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Sacred Heart is the chief symbol of this divine love of the incarnated God and His Sacred Humanity. (H.A. 54) Properly understood, Baptism and Eucharist transform us, who partake in them, into the Body of Christ. This is a fulfillment of the great prophecy of Ezekiel. The scripture says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses… A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you..” (Ez. 36:25-27) Again, Ezekiel says, “And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.. and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ez. 11:19-20) Through the life-giving waters of Jesus we are made clean, and through His body and blood we are transformed. God gives us a new heart, and a new spirit. Our hearts of stone are transformed through the divine love of His Sacred Heart. The beloved disciple, St. John, is our example; we can rest our heads on the breast of Jesus, listening closely to the sublime beats of His Heart, making us anew.