Tomorrow we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The dating of the feast, “the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost,” is a bit obscure. But following the logic of last week’s meditation on the feast of Corpus Christi, we can see how profound this liturgical celebration is.
All of life radiates out from the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. Through the Easter season we celebrate the joy of Christ’s victory. Beginning at Ascension, the fortieth day, we enter into the novena of the Holy Spirit. Christ has gone to heaven only to radiate his presence, his Spirit, into his Church. The pair Ascension-Pentecost celebrates this fulfillment: he ascends precisely to make the Church itself his body, enlivened by his Spirit.
The octave of Pentecost, the pair Pentecost-Holy Trinity, leads us into the heart of our divinization. The Spirit we are given at Pentecost is the Spirit of the Trinity, the Spirit who is one with the Father and the Son, who is himself the oneness of the Father and the Son.
Holy Trinity is important as the completion of Pentecost, because the doctrine of the Trinity is precisely the teaching that the Christ who saves us and the Spirit he gives us are nothing less than one with the Father. The Father gives us nothing less than unity with himself.
Holy Trinity means the Spirit is one with Christ: nothing less than his own Spirit. And Holy Trinity means Christ and the Spirit are one with the Father – and so too our redemption is nothing less than being brought into full union with the Father. Anything less than this is less than the true Gospel: he gives us nothing less.
But we are still celebrating the Paschal mystery of his Cross and Resurrection. We are celebrating its radiating out, celebrating our being drawn into the Cross at Pentecost.
Immediately after the octave of Pentecost, we begin our celebration of Corpus Christi. As we said last week, Corpus Christi is the very first Thursday after we finish that celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit. As soon as we are able, we return to Holy Thursday, and we recall that the night before he died, Jesus gave us precisely the gift of union with himself, and particularly union with him on the Cross. This celebration continues the celebration of the radiance of Christ. He gives himself to us so that we can be united to him.
Corpus Christi, too, gets its octave, its full week – and then the very next opportunity we get, the Friday after that week-long meditation on Christ giving us union with himself through the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, immediately we celebrate the next aspect: the Friday of the Sacred Heart. The timing, “Friday after the second Sunday,” etc., is not so obscure after all. Except that we might call it, “the very first Friday after Corpus Christi, which is the very first Thursday after the octave of Pentecost.”
This Friday is the “next step” in two ways. First of all, we are walking again through Holy Week – though this time focusing on its most central results for us, instead of on Jesus’s own experience of it. Now that we have completed the celebration of Easter-Pentecost, we spend a week on Holy Thursday – and the very next day, we enter into Good Friday.
Just as Corpus Christi is on a Thursday to draw us into the unity between the Eucharist and the Last Supper, the Sacred Heart is on a Friday to show that this is all about Good Friday: Christ on the Cross. We enter into the wound in Christ’s side, the wound in his heart.
The Sacred Heart took off as a liturgical feast after the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century. But it rests on earlier medieval devotions. In the wondrous thirteenth century, St. Gertrude envisioned laying her head near the wounded heart of Jesus, as St. John had laid his head on the breast of Jesus the night before he died, and entering into the passion of his love.
In a second sense, this Friday is another step, not through Holy Week, but into our ordinary time. From the Eucharist, we enter into the love of Jesus. This is the culmination. This is what it’s all about: Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Eucharist. It all culminates in becoming one with his loving heart.
How could we spend some time near the heart of our loving Savior?