The symbolism of The Sacred Heart of Jesus

October 13, 2017

The Pastor's Page

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is brought to the forefront twice each liturgical year, first on the Feast of the Sacred Heart which is celebrated on the third Friday after Pentecost, and again on October 16, the memorial of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, one of the foremost saints to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart.

The Heart itself. The heart is the symbolic center of feeling and emotion, and it represents Jesus’ deep love and affection for us. It is sometimes shown by itself, but often with an image of Jesus, and then above his chest. Most frequently it is depicted as red, the color of blood, which Jesus poured out for us (Jn 19:34). Red signifies fervent love, and Jesus loves us so much that he laid down his life for us (Jn 15:13). Occasionally the heart is purple, yellow, or white.

The Crown of Thorns. The heart typically is encircled horizontally with a crown of thorns. The thorns represent the stings caused by our sins. During Jesus’ passion, the execution squad wove a crown of thorns and placed it on his head (Mt 27:29; Mk 15:17; Jn 19:2,5), and it represents all that Jesus suffered on our account.

The Wound. Often there is a gash shown on the lower left or lower center of the heart which recalls when the soldier thrust his lance into Jesus’ side (Jn 19:34). The lance not only cut through Jesus’ rib cage, it also cut through his heart. This incident not only proved that Jesus was dead (Jn 19:33) and had given his life for us (Phil 2:8), it also fulfilled an ancient Messianic prophecy: “They shall look on him whom they have thrust through” (Zech 12:10; Jn 19:37).

Droplets of Blood. Some artists show a few droplets flowing from the wound, and in a few instances they are caught by a chalice below. This recalls the Last Supper when Jesus offered a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Jesus taught, “My blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55); and “Whoever drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56) and “has eternal life” (Jn 6:54). The droplets also represent the new Covenant of Blood (Ex 24:8).

The Flames. A number of flames are usually shown above the upper, center of the heart, and they represent the intensity of the warmth of Jesus’ love.

The Cross. It is customary to display a Latin cross in the midst of the flames, because it is on the cross where Jesus most decisively demonstrated the love of his Sacred Heart.

The Rays of Light. It is also common to have an array of glistening gold, white, or red beams of light radiating from Jesus’ heart. Jesus is light (8:12; 12:46), and the love of his heart enlightens the world (Jn 1:9).

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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