Pope Pius XII begins his letter by stressing the fruits of the devotion to the Sacred Heart and responding to its opponents. He then unfolds the scriptural foundation of God’s love as well as the theological feature, i.e. the mystery of Redemption. Below is the Pope’s description of the physical Heart of Our Lord and its wondrous effects upon souls.
41. Hence, since there can be no doubt that Jesus Christ received a true body and had all the affections proper to the same, among which love surpassed all the rest, it is likewise beyond doubt that He was endowed with a physical heart like ours; for without this noblest part of the body the ordinary emotions of human life are impossible. Therefore the Heart of Jesus Christ, hypostatically united to the divine Person of the Word, certainly beat with love and with the other emotions. But these, joined to a human will full of divine charity and to the infinite love itself which the Son shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, were in such complete unity and agreement that never among these three loves was there any contradiction of or disharmony.1
42. However, even though the Word of 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, unless this fact is considered in the light of the hypostatic and substantial union and in the light of its complement, the fact of man’s redemption, it can be a stumbling block and foolishness to some, just as Jesus Christ, nailed to the Cross, actually was to the Jewish race and to the Gentiles.2
Incarnation and Redemption
50. But St. Augustine, in a special manner, notices the connections that exist between the sentiments of the Incarnate Word and their purpose, man’s redemption. “These affections of human infirmity, even as the human body itself and death, the Lord Jesus put on not out of necessity, but freely out of compassion so that He might transform in Himself His Body, which is the Church of which He deigned to be the Head, that is, His members who are among the faithful and the saints, so that if any of them in the trials of this life should be saddened and afflicted they should not therefore think that they are deprived of His grace. Nor should they consider this sorrow a sin, but a sign of human weakness. Like a choir singing in harmony with the note that has been sounded, so should His Body learn from its Head.”3
51. More briefly, but no less effectively, do the following passages from St. John Damascene set out the teaching of the Church: “Complete God assumed me completely and complete man is united to complete God so that He might bring salvation to complete man. For what was not assumed could not be healed.”4 “He therefore assumed all that He might sanctify all.”5
54. For these reasons, the Heart of the Incarnate Word is deservedly and rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that threefold love with which the divine Redeemer unceasingly loves His eternal Father and all mankind.
55. It is a symbol of that divine love which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit but which He, the Word made flesh, alone manifests through a weak and perishable body, since “in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”6
Symbol of Sensible Love
56. It is, besides, the symbol of that burning love which, infused into His soul, enriches the human will of Christ and enlightens and governs its acts by the most perfect knowledge derived both from the beatific vision and that which is directly infused.7
57. And finally—and this in a more natural and direct way—it is the symbol also of sensible love, since the body of Jesus Christ, formed by the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, possesses full powers of feelings and perception, in fact, more so than any other human body.8
58. Since, therefore, Sacred Scripture and the official teaching of the Catholic faith instruct us that all things find their complete harmony and order in the most holy soul of Jesus Christ, and that He has manifestly directed His threefold love for the securing of our redemption, it unquestionably follows that we can contemplate and honor the Heart of the divine Redeemer as a symbolic image of His love and a witness of our redemption and, at the same time, as a sort of mystical ladder by which we mount to the embrace of “God our Savior.”9
59. Hence His words, actions, commands, miracles, and especially those works which manifest more clearly His love for us—such as the divine institution of the Eucharist, His most bitter sufferings and death, the loving gift of His holy Mother to us, the founding of the Church for us, and finally, the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and upon us—all these, We say, ought to be looked upon as proofs of His threefold love.
60. Likewise we ought to meditate most lovingly on the beating of His Sacred Heart by which He seemed, as it were, to measure the time of His sojourn on earth until that final moment when, as the Evangelists testify, “crying out with a loud voice ‘It is finished.,’ and bowing His Head, He yielded up the ghost.”10 Then it was that His heart ceased to beat and His sensible love was interrupted until the time when, triumphing over death, He rose from the tomb.
Eternal Love for Man
61. But after His glorified body had been re-united to the soul of the divine Redeemer, conqueror of death, His most Sacred Heart never ceased, and never will cease, to beat with calm and imperturbable pulsations. Likewise, it will never cease to symbolize the threefold love with which He is bound to His heavenly Father and the entire human race, of which He has every claim to be the mystical Head.
66. But the Heart of Jesus Christ was moved by a more urgent charity when from His lips were drawn words breathing the most ardent love. Thus, to give examples: when He was gazing at the crowds weary and hungry, He exclaimed: “I have compassion upon the crowd”;11 and when He looked down on His beloved city of Jerusalem, blinded by its sins, and so destined for final ruin, He uttered this sentence: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that slayest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not!”12 And His Heart beat with love for His Father and with a holy anger when seeing the sacrilegious buying and selling taking place in the Temple, He rebuked the violators with these words: “It is written: My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.”13
77. Concerning the meaning of this symbol, which was known even to the earliest Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, St. Thomas Aquinas, echoing something of their words, writes as follows: “From the side of Christ, there flowed water for cleansing, blood for redeeming. Hence blood is associated with the sacrament of the Eucharist, water with the sacrament of Baptism, which has its cleansing power by virtue of the blood of Christ.”14
78. What is here written of the side of Christ, opened by the wound from the soldier, should also be said of the Heart which was certainly reached by the stab of the lance, since the soldier pierced it precisely to make certain that Jesus Christ crucified was really dead. Hence the wound of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, now that He has completed His mortal life, remains through the course of the ages a striking image of that spontaneous charity by which God gave His only begotten Son for the redemption of men and by which Christ expressed such passionate love for us that He offered Himself as a bleeding victim on Calvary for our sake: “Christ loved us and delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.”15
79. After our Lord had ascended into heaven with His body adorned with the splendors of eternal glory and took His place by the right hand of the Father, He did not cease to remain with His Spouse, the Church, by means of the burning love with which His Heart beats. For He bears in His hands, feet and side the glorious marks of the wounds which manifest the threefold victory won over the devil, sin, and death.
113. We therefore urge all Our children in Christ, both those who are already accustomed to drink the saving waters flowing from the Heart of the Redeemer and, more especially those who look on from a distance like hesitant spectators, to eagerly embrace this devotion. Let them carefully consider, as We have said, that it is a question of a devotion which has long been powerful in the Church and is solidly founded on the Gospel narrative. It received clear support from tradition and the sacred liturgy and has been frequently and generously praised by the Roman Pontiffs themselves. These were not satisfied with establishing a feast in honor of the most Sacred Heart of the Redeemer and extending it to the Universal Church; they were also responsible for the solemn acts of dedication which consecrated the whole human race to the same Sacred Heart.16
116. But although, venerable brethren, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has everywhere brought forth fruits of salvation for the Christian life, all are aware that the Church militant on earth, and especially civil society, has not yet attained in a real sense to its essential perfection which would correspond to the prayers and desires of Jesus Christ, the Mystical Spouse of the Church and Redeemer of the human race. Not a few children of the Church mar, by their too many sins and imperfections, the beauty of this Mother’s features which they reflect in themselves. Not all Christians are distinguished by that holiness of behavior to which God calls them; not all sinners have returned to the Father’s house, which they unfortunately abandoned, that they may be clothed once again with the “first robe”17 and worthily receive on their finger the ring, the pledge of loyalty to the spouse of their soul; not all the heathen peoples have yet been gathered into the membership of the Mystical Body of Christ.
1 Cfr. Sum. Theol. III, q. 15, a. 4; q. 18, a. 6: ed. Leon., vol. X(1) ,1903, pp.189, 237.
2 Cfr. I Cor. 1:23.
3 Enarr. in Ps. LXXXVII, 3: P. L. XXXVII, 1111.
4 “De Fide Orth.,” III, 6 P.G. XCIV, 1006.
5 Ibid. III, 20: P.G. XCIV, 1081.
6 Col. 2:9.
7 Cfr. Sum Theol. III, q. 9 aa. 1-3: ed. Leon., vol. XI, 1903, p. 142.
8 Cfr. Ibid. Ill, q. 33, a. 2, ad 3m; q. 46, a: ed. Leon., vol. XI, 1903, pp. 342, 433.
9 Tit. 3:4.
10 Mt. 27:50; Jn. 19:30.
11 Mt. 23:37.
12 Mt. 21:13.
13 Mt. 21:13.
14 Sum. Theol. III, q. 66, a. 3m: ed. Leon., vol XII, 1906, p. 65.
15 Eph. 5:2.
16 Cfr. Leo XIII, Encl. “Annum Sacrum: Acta Leonis,” vol. XIX, 1900, p. 71 sq; Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, 28th June, 1899, in Decr. Auth. III, n. 3712; Encl. Miserentissimus Redemptor: A.A.S. 1928, p. 177 sq.; Decr. S.C. Rit., 29 Jan. 1929: A.A.S. XXI, 1929, p. 77.
17 Lk. 15:22.