The Beating Heart of the Eucharist

By Joel Padgett

Connecting Faith and Life

As we celebrate this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the midst of a National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and on the threshold of the first National Eucharistic Congress in 83 years, I think that it is only fitting to explore the relationship between Christ’s Sacred Heart and His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. To do so, let us turn to Pope Pius XII’s 1956 encyclical letter on devotion to the Sacred Heart, “Haurietis Aquas.”

To start, let’s see what he first says about devotion to the Sacred Heart. It’s important to note that when we speak about “the heart,” we can do so in a literal, physical way, as well as in a symbolic way.

Regarding the former, we believe that Jesus, who is God, “took to Himself a true and perfect human nature, and made and fashioned for Himself a heart of flesh, which, no less than ours could suffer and be pierced” (n. 42). Pause on that. “Jesus Christ received a true body and had all the affections” (n. 41) proper to us. Jesus, the Son of God, had “a physical heart like ours; for without this noblest part of the body the ordinary emotions of human life are impossible” (ibid.), and yet he, true God, in becoming true man, chose to take on a human heart, so as to become capable of experiencing the ordinary emotions of human life that you and I both experience.

Jesus’ physical heart first began to beat “after the Virgin Mary generously pronounced her ‘Fiat’” (n. 63). And it continued to beat throughout his life, seeming “to measure the time of His sojourn on earth until that final moment” (n. 60) when he gave up his life for us on the cross. Only then was it that, “His heart ceased to beat and His sensible love was interrupted until the time when, triumphing over death, He rose from the tomb” (ibid.). However, after his resurrection and his human body had been glorified, and even after his ascension into heaven, his most Sacred Heart has “never ceased, and never will cease, to beat with calm and imperturbable pulsations” (n. 61).

However, we can’t stop there. Devotion to the Sacred Heart goes beyond expressions of piety, merely toward Jesus’ physical, human heart. For the heart is also a sign and symbol of love. Consequently, at its core, devotion to the Sacred Heart (Cor in Latin) is nothing less than devotion to the very love — both human and divine — of Jesus and to the boundless, providential love that the Blessed Trinity has for every human person (cf. n. 22, 89). So let us contemplate and honor this heart, “living and throbbing like our own with the power of feeling, and ever throbbing with the emotions and affections of his soul and the glowing charity of his twofold will” (n. 53). Let us meditate on how his emotions “moved His soul in various ways and like repeating waves touched His Sacred Heart and excited its beating” (ibid.).

Even today, Jesus’ Sacred Heart continues to be the “natural and expressive symbol of the abiding love with which the divine Redeemer is still on fire for mankind” (n. 85). His heart continues to live and beat for love of us, and one of the foremost ways in which he continues to abide with us and pour forth his love upon us is in the Eucharist — his very body, blood, soul and divinity. It can truly be said that the divine Eucharist is indeed a gift of his Sacred Heart (cf. 71).

“To the unbloody gift of Himself under the appearance of bread and wine our Savior Jesus Christ wished to join, as the chief proof of His deep and infinite love, the bloody sacrifice of the Cross” (n. 73). And it was while he was on the cross that his heart was pierced, and from it flowed blood and water (cf. n 76; John 19:34). In this blood and water, the Church has always seen a symbol of the sacraments of the Eucharist (blood) and of Baptism (water) (cf. n. 77).

As a result, devotion to the heart of Jesus cannot but help to foster “love for the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar” (n. 122). Vice-versa, it is by fostering special devotion to the “Eucharistic Heart of Jesus” that we will better understand “the strength of the love which moved Christ to give Himself to us as our spiritual food” (ibid.). For it was in instituting the Eucharist that our Lord poured forth “all the treasures of His Heart in order to remain with us till the end of time” (ibid.).