The Guardian Angel: Devotion to the Holy Eucharist Advances Devotion to Jesus' Person
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Most Catholics take for granted the intimate relationship between the Eucharist and the Sacred Heart. They have come to associate the practice of the nine First Fridays, when Holy Communion is received, with the promises of our Savior to St. Margaret Mary for the grace of a happy death. They have also come to associate the liturgical feast of the Sacred Heart soon after the Eucharistic feast of Corpus Christi. Then, too, we have such expressions as the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, and the invocation of the Sacred Heart after Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
These and similar associations are commonplace in Catholic piety. So it is not surprising that, if a person were asked if there is any connection between the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist, he would spontaneously say, "Why, yes. I'm sure there must be." But he would most likely not be able to explain any more.
There are several ways we could approach this subject and prove, as it were, that the two mysteries are intimately related.
We might, for example, trace the historical relation of the apparitions of Christ to Margaret Mary with her own great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She would spend hours lost in adoration before the tabernacle, often rapt in ecstasy so that sometimes she had to be physically shaken to bring her back to secular consciousness, as we might say.
There is also the remarkable fact that all of Christ's appearances to His saint were when she knelt before the Eucharist. He would literally replace the Sacrament on the altar when He showed His physical heart to this devoted mystic, as much as to say, "When you see the Eucharist, you see me; and when you see me, you behold my Sacred Heart."
All of this and more could be pointed out and the observations would be very useful. Most noteworthy is the simple fact that the Sacred Heart, as we may identify the Savior, particularly urged Margaret Mary to promote devotion to the Holy Eucharist as the most effective way of advancing devotion to His Person.
My purpose here is more refined and, I hope, more immediately useful in the spiritual life. I wish to explain how, in the devotion to the Real Presence, we are paying homage to the Man, Christ Jesus, and specially honoring His physical, human heart.
The Eucharist as the Whole Christ
When we speak of the Holy Eucharist, we can mean the Eucharistic Liturgy or the Mass; we can mean Holy Communion as the sacrament of the Lord; or we can mean the Real Presence of Christ, present under the sacramental veils.
For our purpose, we concentrate on the third of these aspects, namely, the Eucharist as the abiding presence of Jesus Christ on our altars after the Sacrifice of the Mass is over and between receptions of Holy Communion.
What, or better who, is the reality of which we speak when we talk about the re al Presence? This reality, as the Church has solemnly defined the truth for the faithful, is the totus Christus, the whole Christ: body and blood, soul and divinity. This is not a rhetorical expression nor a verse of poetry. It is an article of the undivided Roman Catholic Faith.
There can be no doubt what the faithful are told when they are told to believe in this mystery. Once the words of consecration have been pronounced by a validly ordained priest, what used to be bread and wine are no longer bread and wine. Only the appearances or, rather, only the external physical properties of the former elements remain. There is now on the altar Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, full God and full Man.
Does this mean that Jesus is present in the Eucharist? Yes. Is it Jesus in His divine nature? Yes. Is it Jesus in His human nature? Yes. But if Jesus in the Eucharist is really and truly present, is He there with all that makes Him not only man, but makes Him this man? Yes. After all, when God assumed human nature, He assumed this nature as a particular single human being. The divine Person of the Son of God did not merely in some abstract sense become human. He became a definite, historically specific human being.
Thus in the Eucharist is present the Jesus of history: the one who was conceived of His Mother Mary at Nazareth; who was born in a stable at Bethlehem; who lived for thirty years in Palestine; and who walked and talked and wept and slept and ate and drank; who shed real red blood on the cross and who rose from the grave and after His resurrection had the incredulous disciples put their fingers into His pierced side.
The Sacred Heart in the Eucharist
Having said all of this, some marvelous corollaries follow. Since the Eucharist is simply and unequivocally Jesus Christ, then He is present in the Eucharist with the fullness of His humanity and this means also with His physical, human heart.
That is so. No less than any other living human being Jesus Christ is present under the Eucharistic species with all that makes Him a living human being, and that means with His human heart.
When, then, we speak of the Real Presence we imply that part of this reality, which is Christ, is the heart of flesh and blood that every human being has and also Christ has in the glorified body He now possesses since the resurrection.
Note what we are saying. We are affirming that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not only a historical memory, as recorded by St. John when he tells us that the sacred side of the Savior was pierced on Calvary. Nor are we saying merely that, rising from the dead, Christ is now at the right hand of His heavenly Father in body and soul and therefore also with His human heart.
Nor are we saying simply that in the Eucharist is some sort of abstract memorial of the real Christ, who is actually in heaven and no longer on earth. No; we profess on faith that Jesus is now simultaneously both in heaven and on earth; that He truly ascended into heaven and is truly still on earth; that although He left us visibly He is with us really.
This means that the heart of Christ is in our midst, because Jesus is in our midst. He is the same Jesus in heaven and on earth. So He must be present here with His Sacred Heart of flesh, living and beating in the bosom of a living human being.
We dare not, as Catholics, limit this identification of the Eucharistic Savior with the Savior of history, now gloriously reigning in heaven with the Trinity.
Thus we testify, and should have no doubt, that the Sacred Heart is here; that the Sacred Heart is here; that the Sacred Heart is here. Where is this "here"? It is wherever the elements of bread and wine have been transubstantiated into the living Christ. And as long as the species which contain Jesus Christ remain, so long is He present – not only with His sacred hands and feet, His sacred features with the eyes and ears and lips that constitute His humanity. He is present with His Sacred Heart, at once human and divine: human because He has a genuine human nature, like ours in all things but sin, and a truly divine nature, like that of the Father, with whom He is one God, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Significance of the Eucharistic Heart of Christ
But that is not all. We know that the heart of Christ is more than just a physical organ of His human body. It is also the symbol of God's love for the human race, and, indeed, of the eternal love (that obtains) within the Blessed Trinity.
There is one passage in the encyclical Haurietis Aquas of Pope Plus XII that has become classic in describing how and of what the physical heart of Christ is the symbol.
"The heart of the Incarnate Word," says the Pope, "is rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of the threefold love with which the divine Redeemer continuously loves the eternal Father and the whole human race.
"1. It is the symbol of that divine love which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but which in Him alone, in the Word, namely, that was made flesh, is it manifested to us through His mortal human body, since ‘in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’
"2. It is moreover the symbol of that most ardent love which, infused into His soul, sanctifies the human will of Christ. At the same time this love enlightens and directs the actions of His soul by a most perfect knowledge derived both from the beatific vision and from direct infusion.
"3. Finally, it is also a symbol of the sensible love of Jesus Christ, since His body, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, has a most perfect capacity for feeling and perception, much more than the body of anyone else.
What are we to conclude from all of this? We are to conclude that, in the Holy Eucharist, the physical heart of Christ is at once the symbol and effective sign of the Savior's love three times over: once of the infinite love He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Blessed Trinity; once again of the created love by which, in His human soul, He loves God and also loves us; and still again of the created affections by which even His bodily emotions are drawn to the Creator and to us unworthy creatures.
The important aspect of this is the fact that we have in the Holy Eucharist not only the physical Christ in His human and divine natures and therefore His heart of flesh substantially united to the Word of God. We have in the Eucharist the effective means by which we can show our love for God, since it is not just our own affections when we unite them with the heart of the Eucharistic Christ. It is His affections joined with ours. His love elevates ours, and ours as a consequence is raised to a participation in the divinity.
But more than that. By our use of the Eucharist, that is, by our celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy and by our reception of the heart of Christ in Holy Communion we receive an increase of the supernatural virtue of charity. We are thus empowered to love God more than we would ever be able to do otherwise, especially by loving the people whom He graciously – though often painfully – places into our lives.
Whatever else the heart symbolizes, it is the world's most expressive sign of outgoing charity.
Our language is filled with terms that try to say something of what this means. We speak of a person as being a warmhearted individual when we wish to say that he or she is affable and kindly in spirit. When we want to show our appreciation in a special way we say that we are heartily grateful or that we express our heartfelt gratitude. When something happens that raises our spirits, we speak of it as a heartwarming experience. It is almost a colloquialism to describe a generous person as big-hearted and a selfish person as cold-hearted.
So the vocabulary of all nations goes on, always implying that deep-felt affections are cordial and that union of hearts is concord.
Yet, while everyone in every culture of history commonly symbolizes selfless love for others as coming from the heart, everyone also realizes that truly selfless love is among the rarest commodities of human experience. Indeed, as our faith teaches us, it is not only a difficult virtue to practice but in its highest reaches is impossible for human nature unless inspired and sustained by extraordinary divine grace.
It is precisely here that the Holy Eucharist supplies for what we could never do by ourselves: love others with total self-sacrifice. We must be animated by the light and strength that comes from the heart of Jesus Christ. If, as He said, "without me you can do nothing," it is certainly impossible to give ourselves to others, tirelessly and patiently and continually, in a word, heartily, unless His grace gives us the power to do so.
And where does His grace come from? From the depths of His divine heart, present in the Eucharist, offered daily for us on the altar and available to us always in the sacrament of Communion.
Animated by His help and enlightened by His Word-made-flesh, we shall be able to love the loveless, to give to the ungrateful, to bear up with those whom God's Providence puts into our lives in order to prove to Him how much we love Him. After all, He loved and loves us in spite of our lovelessness and ingratitude and downright coldness to the Lord who made us for Himself and who leads us to our destiny by the path of self-immolation – which is another name for sacrifice. We surrender ourselves to Him as He surrendered Himself for us, and thus make the Eucharist what Christ wants it to be – a union of God's heart with ours as a prelude to His possession of us for all eternity.