Appeared in Vol. 12 No. 1  Download PDF here

Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Haurietis Aquas, On Devotion to the Sacred Heart, is one of the most beautiful and profound documents of the papal magisterium in the 20th century. It is the keystone or better still the summit and crown of a series of brilliant encyclicals written by this forgotten Pope: Mystici Corporis Christi and Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), Mediator Dei (1947), Humani Generis (1950), Sempiternus Rex (1951). Haurietis Aquas (1956) was the last of the great encyclicals written by this Pope who united a keen intellect with a deep spirituality.

Here in 1986, which is the 30th anniversary of the publication of this masterpiece, the encyclical with its profundity remain virtually unknown. Even the United States Catholic Conference, which publishes a variety of papal encyclicals going back to and including Leo XIII and Pius XI, does not list even one of the encyclicals of Pius XII in its catalogue.

By the middle of the 20th century one could say that the devotion had universally triumphed in the Church. The faithful flocked to attend first Friday masses on every continent; holy hours and eucharistic reparation to the wounded Heart of Christ were common elements in the life of the Church. These developments were not welcome by all in the Church. A number of theologians began to question the validity and importance of many of these practices associated with the devotion. It is because of these objections that were being raised and also because the Pope longed to see the devotion deepened and universally practiced that he wrote his encyclical.

The encyclical itself may be divided into four basic sections: 1) an introduction which provides an overall view of the devotion, recalling previous papal teachings and certain prevalent errors concerning the devotion; 2) a survey of the origin and foreshadowing of the devotion in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in the tradition of the Church; 3) a description of the development of the devotion within the life of the Church; and 4) a statement on the supreme importance of the devotion and an appeal for study, meditation and practice of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

The vital importance of this devotion in the life of the Church was powerfully set forth by the Pope:

Devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is so important that it may be considered so far as practice is concerned, the perfect profession of the Christian religion … it is no ordinary form of piety which anyone at his own whim may treat as of little consequence or set aside as inferior to others.

The Holy Father gave a primacy to this “devotion of devotions”. This primacy becomes apparent when we consider the object of the devotion. To quote again from Pius XII:

Devotion to the Sacred Heart by its very nature is a worship of the love with which God through Jesus loves us and at the same time an exercise of our love by which we are related to God and to other men.

From this understanding, we can see that genuine devotion to the Heart of our Divine Lord is not simply a set of pious practices (which are of great benefit) but an essential element of the Christian life. All the faithful are called to the comprehension of certain truths concerning God and to a response in love to them. In one’s effort to live a life in imitation of Christ, as found in the Gospels, and taught by the Church, the Christian should make use of all the spiritual aids offered to him by God. If one is growing in holiness, his life should be filled with an ever growing and deepening love for God and his fellow man. Every Christian will build his own unique spirituality upon this common foundation, which should include a response to the Heart of Christ that gives honor to the divine love and is offered for the sake of that love. Pope Pius XII was most emphatic on the obligation of the Christian to practice the devotion:

… is it possible that there is any service of God more obligatory and necessary and at the same time more excellent and attractive, than the one which is dedicated to love? … That form of piety then should be held in highest esteem by means of which man honors and loves God more and dedicated himself with greater ease and promptness to the divine charity; a form of which our Redeemer Himself deigned to propose and commend to Christians and which the Supreme Pontiffs in their turn defended and highly praised in memorable published documents. Consequently, to consider of little worth this signal benefit conferred on the Church by Jesus Christ would be to do something both rash and harmful and also deserving of God’s displeasure.

Powerful words indeed! Words worth reflecting upon. The question here is why has the devotion been forgotten or deliberately ignored by so many in the Church? (Fortunately, there are numerous signs pointing to a genuine renewal of interest in the devotion on the part of the laity, particularly in Africa, India and Latin America.)

There are a number of reasons why I believe many have neglected the encyclical and this “priceless gift which the Lord has given to His Church.” I would like to stress just three here. The first is dealt with as a central theme in John Paul II’s newest encyclical, Dominum et Vivificantem: The loss of the sense of sin.

In an age characterized by a denial of sin, a devotion which emphasizes loving reparation to the wounded Heart of the Savior will be clearly out of step with the times. The triumph of false psychology over genuine spirituality in the Church has taught us that we are not guilty but rather that we are suffering from a complex. This complex we are told by this pseudo-religious psychology must be reasoned away. Obviously, if there is no real guilt, there is no sin and if there is no sin there is no need for a savior or redeemer; and certainly no need for reparation.

The second reason is because devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has always been intimately tied to the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrament of love par excellance and the veneration of our Lord’s Heart is the devotion of love. In the words of Paul VI, “the Eucharist is the outstanding gift of the Heart of Jesus.” (Apostolic letter Investigabiles Divitias Christi). It is interesting to observe that as devotion to the Sacred Heart waned after the Vatican Council, eucharistic devotion declined also. Tabernacles were removed from their position of honor in parish churches and were often hidden, communion rails were removed by modern day iconoclasts, sacred vessels and vestments were made of common materials, Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament became a rare occurrence. I remember one seminarian who, on the day before his ordination, expressed the conviction that Benediction was a meaningless ritual because “Jesus was meant to be eaten not stared at.” One could go on and on but what we see here is a clear though possibly unconscious effort to de-emphasize the mysterium fidei.

Aware of the many abuses and even sacrileges that followed from a misunderstanding of the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter “On the Mystery and Worship of the Holy Eucharist” gave what struck many as a startling apology to the faithful:

As I bring these considerations to an end, I would like to ask forgiveness – in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear Brothers in the Episcopate – for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through the at times partial, one-sided and erroneous application of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great Sacrament. And I pray the Lord Jesus that in the future we may avoid in our manner of dealing with this sacred mystery anything which could weaken or disorient in any way the sense of reverence and love that exists in our faithful people.

Since the devotion of love and the sacrament of love are inseparably linked, both Paul VI and John Paul II have stressed the importance of the devotion in leading to that sound eucharistic piety so eagerly sought for by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

The third reason why I believe the devotion and encyclical have been forgotten is because we live in an age aptly described by St. Paul in his letter to St. Timothy:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

The encyclical presents an orthodox Christology which is not in vogue today, with christologies which present a Jesus who lived in a state of existential doubt concerning his identity or who reveals himself as a leader of Marxist revolutionary principles. The devotion itself, in its dogmatic foundations, protects the faithful by guarding all the central truths of the Incarnation. The reality of God made man in Christ Jesus is manifested in our veneration of our Lord’s heart, for we are lucidly taught that God truly became man. Jesus had a truly human body just like our own. His wounded physical heart tells us clearly that his appearance and bloody suffering and death was no illusion as the Docetists claimed. It is a great mystery well worth contemplating that in the very bosom of the Holy Trinity there beats a heart like our own! This is why Pius XII, re-echoing the teaching of so many great Christian mystics, speaks of devotion to the Sacred Heart as a mystical ladder which leads us into the mystery of the Triune love.

The Church’s insistence upon the adoration of the physical heart of Christ in virtue of the hypostatic union is a continuation of the teaching of the great Council of Chalcedon –

Jesus is truly God (against Arius)

Jesus is truly man (against Apollinaris) Jesus is One Person (against Nestorius)

Jesus has two distinct natures (against Eutyches)

In an age characterized by a lack or even disdain of orthodoxy, which has seen a revival of many ancient errors under new labels, one again can see how the devotion would not be popular in some circles. The current overemphasis upon “low christologies” or “christologies from below” can be balanced by the returning to and deeper penetration of the dogmatic foundation rooted in the devotion.

Here in the devotion to the Heart of Christ, Pope Pius XII tells the Christian that he can find “summa totius mysterii nostrae redemtionis,” (the summary of the entire mystery of the redemption.)

The one who appears not to have forgotten the encyclical or devotion is Pope John Paul II. He has constantly spoken of the importance and timeliness of this devotion in his encyclicals, Angelus talks and during his apostolic visits to numerous countries. Unfortunately, very few appear to be listening. It still surprises me, for example, that in every commentary I have read on his beautiful encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) there was not the slightest reference to the Heart of Christ. How is the Church to implement this profound teaching on the merciful love of God which is so central and necessary in her contemporary life? The Holy Father unequivocally states that this is accomplished by turning to the mystery of the Heart of Christ. The Heart of Christ is seen as the focal point which is central to the great revelation of merciful love:

He who has seen me has seen the Father. The church professes the mercy of God, the church lives by it in her wide experience of faith and also in her teaching, constantly contemplating Christ, concentrating on him, on his life and on his Gospel, on his cross and resurrection, on his whole mystery. Everything that forms the `vision of the Father’ in the holiness of his mercy. The church seems in a particular way to profess the mercy of God and to venerate it when she directs herself to the heart of Christ. In fact, it is precisely this drawing close to Christ in the mystery of his heart which enables us to dwell on this point- a point in a sense central and also most accessible on the human level – of the revelation which constituted the central content of the messianic mission of the Son of Man.

Heeding the call of the present Holy Father, let us turn our gaze once again to the Heart of the Incarnate Word through a devout reading of Pius XIPs masterpiece, Haurietis Aquas.

As the litany of the Sacred Heart tells us, our Lord’s Heart is a burning furnace of charity. Certainly a devotion which centers on love and aims at setting the world on fire is precisely what is needed to instaurare omnia in Christo.

I have come to cast fire upon the earth

and what will I but that it be enkindled?

Luke 13:49

Timothy T. O’Donnell, STD

Front Royal, VA

(Copies of the encyclical are still available from: the Daughters of St. Paul, 50 St. Pauls Avenue., Boston, MA 02130; Trinity Communications, PO Box 3610, Manassas, VA 22110; Men of the Sacred Heart, 6026 West Harwood Avenue., Orlando, FL 32811; International Institute of the Heart of Jesus, 7700 West Blue Mound Road, Milwaukee, WI 53213.) Cape et lege!