9 March 2010

The Sacred Heart and the Wounds of Christ

It is a commonplace to point out that in counter-Reformation Latin piety, the Sacred Heart occupies the place formerly enjoyed by the cult of the Five Wounds. Are there losses and/or gains in this?

Cardinal Ratzinger once pointed out that "In biblical language, the 'heart' indicates the centre of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge, where the person finds his unity and his interior orientation". And in The Pierced One he writes of all the Old Testament refences to the Heart of YHWH (e.g. Hosea: "My Heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender") and argues that in Christ "the anthopomorphisms of the Old Testament are radicalised and attain their ultimate depth of meaning". I think his paper is worth rereading; and I think in just those two brief quotations I have given from the Holy Father there is a great deal to stimulate thought.

And perhaps one great advantage of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart is that it is essentially a devotion to the Risen Lord.

But, in favour of the Five Wounds Devotion, it can be said that there is need for a real interior appropriation of the sufferings of Christ. And visiting imaginatively a single wound can move one more than can a generalised glance at unimaginable suffering which is outside one's own capacity for real empathy. I think it was while watching Dr Zhivago in the '60s that I was aware of the cinema audience freezing with horror - not when the Cossacks sabred a crowd; that was just History - but when one character, standing before a mirrior, steeled himself to pour iodine into the slash on his face. And the The Sacred made Real exhibition moved me most when I looked at the raw knees and damaged fingernails of the Dead Christ.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I much prefer devotion to the five wounds over devotion to the Sacred Heart. The five wounds are more Biblical, historical, and traditional.

Plus the Sacred Heart has inspired a lot of really tacky art. ;^)