The feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is a popular Catholic observance. It began with the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart from the apostolic times. The feast developed over many centuries. Jesus appeared to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in France in 1673 and requested a special devotion to his Sacred Heart. The feast got universal acceptance after this vision. It also relates to other devotions of Jesus like the First Friday Devotion, the feasts of Corpus Christi, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Divine Mercy. The symbols on the image of the Sacred Heart are worthy of reflection.
(John 19:30) Jesus took the wine and said, “It is now fulfilled.” Then he bowed his head and gave up the spirit. (31) As it was Preparation Day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross during the Sabbath, for this Sabbath was a very solemn day. They asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified broken, so they might take away the bodies. (32) The soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who had been crucified with Jesus. (33) When they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead; so they did not break his legs (34) Instead, one of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side and immediately there flowed out blood and water. (35) This testimony is given by one who saw it; his testimony is true and he knows that he is telling the truth. This man gives his witness so that you may believe as well. (36) All this happened to fulfill the words of Scripture, Not one of his bones shall be broken. (37) Another text says, They shall look on the one whom they have pierced.
We need to understand the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Biblical, historical, and symbolic perspective.
(30) Jesus took the wine and said, “It is now fulfilled.” Then he bowed his head and gave up the spirit
Jesus died on the cross after he completed the mission that his Father had entrusted to him.
(31) As it was Preparation Day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross during the Sabbath, for this Sabbath was a very solemn day. They asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified broken, so they might take away the bodies
John was the only apostle and evangelist present at the foot of the cross during Jesus’ crucifixion. Only he has recorded the piercing of Jesus’ heart. He gives the reason for the piercing. Though Romans let the dead body to hang on the cross overnight, the Jews could not do that. “If a man, guilty of any capital offence, has been put to death by hanging him on a tree, his body must not remain hanging there through the night. But, you shall make sure to bury him on the same day because the hanged man is accursed by God. So you shall not defile the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you as an inheritance” (Deut 21:22-23). Besides, the following day was a great Sabbath of the Passover feast. The soldiers broke the legs of the crucified using clubs to speed up the person’s death.
(32) The soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who had been crucified with Jesus. (33) When they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead; so they did not break his legs
Jesus was weak when the soldiers crucified him. So, out of the three crucified, Jesus died first and there was no need to break his legs.
(34) Instead, one of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side and immediately there flowed out blood and water
The purpose of piercing the side of Jesus with a spear was not to kill him because he was already dead. According to the non- canonical books, Centurion Longinus did this to confirm Jesus’ death. The water flowed from Jesus’ heart is the watery lymph from the pericardium. The blood that remained in the heart also came out.
Though the human heart is on the left side of the body, some artists make this wound on the right just below the ribs. The centurion might have pierced from below on the right side to bypass the ribs and to push the heart against the ribs on the left side. This, by divine providence, assured that Longinus did not break Jesus’ rib. “All this happened to fulfil the words of Scripture, not one of his bones shall be broken” (Jn 19:36). The piercing of the heart assures that Jesus was dead before his burial, proving beyond any doubt that he had died before the resurrection.
Theologians give a symbolic interpretation of the water and blood that came from the heart of Jesus. Water stands for baptism and blood for the Holy Eucharist. Sister Faustina who propagated the Divine Mercy devotion confirmed this interpretation based on her vision. Some believe that just as God opened Adam’s side to create Eve, God opened the side of Jesus to generate his bride, the church. Church uses water (baptism) and blood (Holy Eucharist) of Jesus to start the spiritual birth, which is the Christian life. Through the baptismal water, Jesus cleans the stains of original sins, and through his body and blood, he nourishes our souls for eternal life.
(35) This testimony is given by one who saw it; his testimony is true and he knows that he is telling the truth. This man gives his witness so that you may believe as well
John the Evangelist was an eyewitness to the events that happened at Jesus’ crucifixion because he was present there with Mary, the mother of Jesus. He assures that he saw what he has recorded. His purpose for this recording was to increase our faith in Jesus.
(36) All this happened to fulfil the words of Scripture, Not one of his bones shall be broken
John found the fulfilment of the scripture passage in keeping the bones of Jesus unbroken. According to Exodus 12:46, when the Israelites killed the Passover lamb, God commanded them not t break bones of the lamb. The Lord repeated the same instruction for the later observance of the Passover (Num 9:12). Psalm 34:21 prophesied on Jesus’ crucifixion: “He watches over all his bones; not one of them shall be broken.” So, John presents Jesus as the perfect lamb, fulfilling the prophecies and completing the Old Testament sacrifices.
(37) Another text says, they shall look on the one whom they have pierced
John here quotes Zechariah 12:10.
1. “My dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. This is how the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into this world that we might have life through him” (1 Jn 4:7-9). So, let us share the flame of God’s love with one another.
2. Jesus is the best model of “agape.” It is the unconditional love of God for humanity. It is the sacrificial love of Jesus who gave his life as a ransom to redeem us from Satan. People, including our family members, might hurt us. Following Jesus’ example, we must forgive them, love them, and pray for them.
3. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a devotion to an organ of Jesus, but the heartfelt love of Jesus for us. Love should be mutual, and we should express it in our dealing with God’s children who need our care.
4. According to a Christian tradition, Longinus who pierced the side of Jesus was a centurion and became a convert. Church venerates him as a saint and martyr. Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City has his marble statue for veneration. Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini completed that in 1638. Saint Longinus’ feast is on October 16th. This shows how Jesus had forgiven and favoured even those who persecuted him. Let us imitate Jesus in doing good, even to those who torture us.
5. Jesus himself has introduced different devotions to him, like the Sacred Heart devotion, Holy Face devotion and Divine Mercy devotion, (https://whitelilyoftrinity.com/catholic_ jesus_devotions.html), throughout the history of the church. Let us keep the devotion to the Sacred Heart by our active participation in the Holy Qurbana where he repeats his sacrifice with us and for us.