By Fr. Manuel Rivero, O.P.

The foundation stone of the Biblical School of Jerusalem was placed on June 5, 1891, on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The inauguration’s parchment pointed out that this School was destined to develop Biblical Studies under the patronage of Our Lady of the Rosary. Father Lagrange alerted that in the School’s foundations the excavators would find medals of the Sacred Heart, of Our Lady of Lourdes, of Our Lady of the Rosary, of Saint Benedict, of Saint Mary Magdalene and of Pope Leo XIII who reigned at that time.[1]

Pope Leo XIII thought that this consecration to the Sacred Heart harmonized with the place of the stoning of Saint Stephen, on which the Biblical School and Saint Stephens’s Basilica were built. Pope Leo XIII exhorted Father Lagrange and the Dominican Brothers in these terms: “Yes, consecrate all your work and the Church to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart cannot be better than there, because when Saint Stephen saw the Heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of His Father, Jesus showed Himself to him with his wounds, those of His feet and His hands, and that of His heart!”[2]

In his personal prayer, Brother Marie-Joseph, a student at Salamanca in 1881, entrusted himself to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, his “very sweet Queen,” asking her to lead him to Jesus: “Lead me to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”[3] In 1881, at the beginning of the same year, he chose the Sacred Heart of Jesus as patron of the year, quoting Saint Bernard: “Take away self will and there will no longer be hell.”[4]

In 1924, at the moment of writing his Forward to the translation and commentary on the Gospel according to Saint John, Father Lagrange dedicated his work to his fellow Dominicans, choosing the symbolic feast of the Sacred Heart, in communion with the love of Jesus so well transmitted by the beloved disciple: “I pray my collaborators of the Biblical School to accept the cordial and fraternal homage of this work, in memory of a common Dominican life that was always sweet to us. (. . . ) Let us simply ask the Lord for the grace to put into practice His commandment promulgated by Saint John: let us love one another. Jerusalem, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 27, 1924.”[5]

In that same Forward, the Founder of the Biblical School evoked the Heart of Jesus and John’s fraternal gesture who found there the rest of the love and intelligence of the mystery of Jesus at the Last Supper: “He benefits from being timid following Origen: “We dare to say: the Gospels are the chosen part of all the Scriptures, and John’s Gospel is the part chosen among the others: no one can acquire the spirit if he has not rested on Jesus’ breast, and if he has not received Mary from Jesus as his Mother. It is about knowledge in the love that passes by the senses of the body and not of a book study of Jesus’ teaching. It’s from the Heart of Jesus that the necessary spirit springs to interpret the Gospel from the letter as revelation of the Love of God.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart goes back to Jesus’ unjust condemnation and to the torture of the cross, carried out by the Roman army that occupied Israel. There is nothing sweetish in this image that expresses the pain of Jesus, the Son of God made man. The Roman soldier’s lance pierced the Heart of Jesus, who had just expired after an awful agony.

Numerous are those that have prayed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus during the War. It was the case of my own father who carried the image of the Sacred Heart in the pocket of his vest during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. The sick also turned to the Sacred Heart in their suffering and fear of death. The Mediterranean city of Marseilles was the first city to be consecrated to the Sacred Heart during the 1720 plague, which reduced by half the number of its inhabitants.

Many are the graces received in this devotion, which introduces believers in the mystery of the suffering body of Jesus who heals men by His holy wounds.

Far from being a morbid or macabre image of bad taste, the Sacred Heart of Jesus manifests the triumph of Jesus’ Love over the powers of death: jealousy, hatred, injustice, oppression, sickness, abandonment, death itself . . .

Water and Blood gushed from Jesus’ pierced side, symbols of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, which give the Life of God. A stained-glass window of the church of the former convent of Dominicans of Annecy, France, represents Christ on the cross. John, the beloved and faithful disciple at the foot of the cross, raises the chalice to the pierced Heart of Jesus. When the Water and Blood issue from the Sacred Heart fall into this chalice, the serpent, image of the devil, comes out vanquished. The Sacred Heart of Jesus deploys its power of exorcism on those that pray to Him with faith.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus proclaims to the world the humility of Jesus Christ, who despoiled Himself of the glory that was His before the foundation of the world up to dying on a cross, “God also exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”[6]

A disciple and good connoisseur of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Father Lagrange shared his theological vision of Jesus’ Heart as symbol of the Holy Scriptures exactly as the Angelic Doctor teaches in his commentary to the Psalms: “By the Heart of Christ one understands Sacred Scripture which reveals His Heart. But this Heart was closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been open since the Passion, since those that from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.”[7]

Jesus’ open Heart opens the disciples’ spirit to the intelligence of the Scriptures. It is why the Risen Jesus manifested himself to the disciples of Emmaus, opening their spirit with a long catechesis on the suffering Messiah, announced by the prophet Isaiah: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?”[8] The understanding of Jesus’ pierced Heart made the hearts of Cleopas and of the other disciple of Emmaus burn: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”[9]

To the incredulous Apostle Thomas, the resurrected Jesus proposed he approach and put his hand in His pierced side to become a believer. It is this pierced side, open wound of the Heart pierced by the lance on Holy Friday, that Thomas exclaim: “My Lord and my God.”[10] This phrase of the incredulous Thomas has entered the tradition of Christian prayer at the moment of the elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ, at the heart of the Eucharistic consecration. In the silence of their hearts, the faithful exclaim: “My Lord and my God.” Jesus’ Sacred Heart continues to open Christians’ spirit to the intelligence of the Paschal Mystery celebrated at each Mass: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

It’s important to stress the contribution of Saint Thomas Aquinas to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church was pleased to quote: “The Heart[11] of Christ designates Sacred Scripture, which makes known the heart of Christ. This Heart was closed before the Passion because the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been open since the Passion, since those that from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted”[12]

Thus the Sacred Heart of Jesus appears as the symbol that summarizes the revelation of God’s Love for men. We could us the word “logo” to describe in contemporary language the symbolic power of Jesus’ Heart. The Sacred Heart figures as the “logo” of Christianity. Christian artists were not mistaken in representing it often in paintings and stained-glass windows or in singing as the message of the humiliated and faithful love of God for humanity.

In his commentary on the Creed, Saint Thomas Aquinas connects the open Heart of Jesus to the opening of Paradise: “When Christ’s side was opened, so was the door of Paradise: and by the effusion of His Blood the defilement of the sinner was effaced, God was appeased, man’s weakness healed, his punishment expiated and the exiled recalled in the Kingdom. It is why the Christ declared immediately to the good thief who implored Him (Luke23:32): “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” This was not said before to anyone, not to Adam, or to Abraham, or to David; but “today,” namely, since the door of Paradise was opened, the good thief implored His pardon and obtained it.’[13]

The Sacred Heart of Jesus, symbol and “logo” of divine mercy, opens the spirit to the intelligence of the Scriptures and Paradise to sinners.

Saint-Denis (La Reunion, France_), June 9, 2020′

Father Manuel Rivero, O.P.

President of the Association of Friends of Father Lagrange.

[1] Cf. Father Lagrange at the Service of the Bible. Personal Souvenirs. Preface of Fr. Benoit, O.P., Paris, Cerf Publishers, 1967, p. 38.

[2] Lagrange, Marie-Joseph, of the Brother Preachers. Spiritual Journal 1879-1932. Forward by Fr. Manuel Rivero, O.P., Paris. Cerf Publishers, 2014. Journal of May 2, 1881, p. 140.

[3] Marie-Joseph Lagrange, of the Brother Preachers, Spiritual Journal 1879-1932. Forward by Fr. Manuel Rivero, O.P. Paris, Cerf Publishers, 2014, January 1, 1881, p. 118.

[4] Marie-Joseph Lagrange, of the Brother Preachers, Spiritual Journal 1879-1932. Forward by Fr. Manuel Rivero, O.P., Paris, Cerf Publishers, 2014, January 1, 1881, p. 118.

[5] Gospel According to Saint John, by Fr. M-J. Lagrange, of the Brother Preachers. Paris, J. Gabalda, Editor, 1927.

[6] Epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians 2:9-11.

[7] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Psalms. Introduction. Translation of the notes and tables by Jean-Eric Stroobant de Saint-Eloy, O.S.B., Cerf Publishers, 1996, p. 267. Commentary on Psalm, 21:15: “My heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.” Quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 112.

[8] Gospel according to Saint Luke 24:26.

[9] Gospel according to Saint Luke 24:32.

[10] Gospel according to Saint John 20:28.

[11] Cf. Psalm 22:15: “My heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.”

[12] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 112.

[13] Saint Thomas Aquinas, The Creed. Introduction, translation and notes by a monk of Fontgombault. Collection Docteur Commun. Nouvelles Lettres Latines, Paris, 1969, p. 101.

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