That is how I have heard the feast of the Sacred Heart spoken about – I think it was in a novel but I can’t remember which one. It might have been Morris West who wrote an almost prophetic novel about an Ukrainian bishop elected Pope and released from a Gulag prison camp in Siberia. Anyway…
Yesterday, seeing this feast in our ACC calendar, I celebrated yesterday the votive Mass of the Five Wounds, a devotion that was especially popular in pre-Reformation England and in some other places. Fr Hunwicke has most eloquently written on this topic many times. Most of us, at least those of us with a whit of empathy, relate to the sufferings of others – so it is as we consider the suffering and tortured body of Christ in his Passion. Just out of Paschal time, we find ourselves again contemplating the Passion.
My brother in the priesthood, Fr Jonathan Munn has written The Authenticity of the Sacred Heart. I am very much with him in his eschewing the habitually tawdry, cheap and vulgar representations one find in piety shops selling bondieuseries. Fr Munn draws out attention to another dimension of this part of western Catholic piety around Christ’s Passion and the parts of his body where he was afflicted the most, namely his hands, feet, heart and head. Of course, every other part of his body was horribly mutilated by the flagellum, which would have been much worse than even the British Navy’s cat o’ nine tails. The hands, feet, head and heart are all symbolic of a spiritual reality beyond wounded and dead flesh.
No iconography has ever perfectly portrayed the mystery of Christ and the Redemption. Our perception is limited. Perhaps our devotion will be that much more authentic with a Platonic-based notion of the body and parts thereof being mere signs of something spiritual but no less real.