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
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
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,
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
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
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.
Taken from "Salvation and Sanctification" by
Fr. John A Hardon, S.J. published by St. Paul Editions.
Copyright © 1978 by the Daughters of St. Paul.
(Copyright © 2003 by Inter Mirifica)