Devotion to the Heart of Jesus dates back even to the 2nd century with St. Justin Martyr who writes, “We the Christians are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of His Heart as from a rock.” In the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux emphasized the pierced side of Christ as the inexhaustible source from which all graces flow upon mankind. The Middle Ages saw a renewal of popular piety as the devotion to the humanity of Jesus Christ, His Sacred Passion, and the Holy Eucharist spread across Europe. This paved the way for the revelations Jesus Christ would give to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673. In one apparition, Christ said, “My Divine Heart is so passionately in love with humanity, and with you in particular, that it cannot keep back the pent-up flames of its burning charity any longer. They must burst out through you.” In these visions Jesus Christ repeatedly communicated the abiding, personal, and intimate love for us, the love that poured out from His pierced Heart on the Cross, in order to cleanse us from our sins and bring us to Himself.
Jesus promised, “I will bless every house in which an image of my Heart shall be exposed and honored.” When one contemplates the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the following symbols are seen:
Flames: The flames denote the infinite furnace of love that Christ has for each soul. They also call to mind the burnt offerings- which were the highest form of sacrifice in Ancient Israel (think of how Abraham brought wood in the sacrifice of his son, Isaac.) The one-time perfect sacrifice of Christ on the Cross puts an end to all other sacrifices! Fire also recalls Divinity- as in the fire on top of Mt. Sinai, the fire of the burning bush and the fire that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice.
Crown of Thorns: “And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe”. (John 19:2). Although Christ suffered the crown of thorns on His head, all that He suffered in the crucifixion He suffered in the depths of His Heart. St. Margaret Mary says, “I saw this Divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It had its adorable wound and was encircled with a crown of thorns, which signified the pricks our sins caused Him.”
Spear/Pierced Side: Some images of the Sacred Heart depict an arrow piercing it through, while others have the wound of the arrow. Scripture recounts this piercing of Christ’s Heart. “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” (John 19:34). The Church sees in this a symbol of the birth of the Church in the water of Baptism and the Blood of the Eucharist.
The Cross: The cross at the top of the Heart seems dwarfed by the Heart and almost implanted at the top. St. Margaret Mary said, “The entire reality of the crucifixion derives its meaning from and cannot be understood apart from the Heart of Jesus.” It is His Heart that supports the weight of the cross! This confirms what Saint Thomas said, “It’s not what Christ suffered that saved us, but the love with which He suffered.”