DEVOTION: Veneration Of The Sacred Heart by Mary Jeremy Finnegan

Veneration Of The Sacred Heart by Mary Jeremy Finnegan

from The Women of Helfta

Veneration of the Sacred Heart, based on belief in the incarnation, is rooted in scripture, Christian tradition, and liturgy.  The theology of the first Christian millennium makes repeated mention of the fountain of living water from the wound in the side of Christ crucified.  In the torrent of sacramental grace the Latin Fathers saw a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah: “You shall draw waters with joy from the fountain of the Savior.”  The birth of the church ex aqua et sanguine from the wounded side of the new Adam asleep in death was, they affirmed, a parallel to the birth of Eve from the side of the sleeping Adam.  “Both dogmatically and historically, this vision of the church proceeding from the Heart of our Lord was a fundamental notion of the early Christians.”  The image of the wound in the side of Christ as an inexhaustible fountain of redemptive life through the church and the sacraments sums up the history of patristic thought on the subject.  It is an objective attitude which looks back to the time of the crucifixion.  Although in the Middle Ages it was supplemented by another concept, it was not supplanted, and this objective attitude remains basic to the theology and liturgy of the Sacred Heart.

Concomitant with the image of the wound in Christ’s side as a fountain of life was a particular devotion to the apostle John who, Augustine writes, “received from the Lord on whose breast he lay at the Last Supper (in order thereby to signify that he drew loftier mysteries from his inmost Heart) a special and peculiar gift, namely, the ability to communicate the spirit of Jesus.”  So too, Paulinus writes, “John, who rested blissfully on the breast of our Lord, was inebriated with the Holy Spirit; from the Heart of all-creating Wisdom he quaffed an understanding that transcends any creature’s.”  In the transition from patristic times to the Middle Ages, John is a key figure, uniting the earlier objective concept with an emerging deeply emotional and subjective veneration.

Meditation on the Song of Songs played a major part among the influences contributing to this synthesis.  As early as the sixth century, Gregory the Great had applied the words, “Come, my dove in the clefts of the rocks, in the hollow places of the wall,” to the wounded side of Christ as the refuge of the soul.  By the eleventh century the number of such reflections was considerable.  Anselm of Canterbury, meditating on the passion of Christ, exclaimed: “What sweetness in his pierced side!  That wound has given us a glimpse of the treasure house of his goodness, that is to say, of the love of his Heart for us.”  Bernard of Clairvaux likewise spoke of the mystery of the Sacred Heart: “The secret of his Heart lies visible through the clefts of his body; visible too the great mystery of his love.”

The influence of Bernard’s commentary on the Song of Songs gave new impetus to the concept of the heart of Christ as an immediate presence.  Gilbert of Hoyland, who continued Bernard’s unfinished treatise, found his greatest inspiration in the verse, “You have wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse.”  In a passage which recalls the fulfillment of Gertrude’s prayer, he writes: “Shall we not call that soul blessed which pierces with its fervent love the very Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ?  Do not cease wounding your spouse.  Use your ardent acts of love as darts to pierce him.”

Among Gertrude’s predecessors in the veneration of the Sacred Heart is Lutgard of Aywières, a Cistercian stigmatic of the early thirteenth century.  The Dominican, Thomas of Cantimpré, her confessor, has recorded her history.  At the age of fifteen she had a mystical encounter with Christ, who showed her his wounded side.  Thereafter she became deeply contemplative.  Thomas, who knew her for at least fifteen years, tells of a later experience.  She had prayed for an understanding of scripture, but after acquiring this ability, she felt that she was making no progress.  Her Vita records the following dialogue with Christ:

What am I doing, unlettered as I am, a rustic nun and layperson, acquainting myself with secrets of scripture?

The Lord replied: What do you wish?

She answered: I want your Heart.

The Lord said: Nay, rather it is I who want your heart.

And so from that moment there was an exchange of hearts between them, resulting from an overwhelming gift of grace.

Thomas adds: “This is what the apostle meant in saying that whoever adheres to God becomes one spirit with him.”

The names of Gertrude the Great and Mechtild of Hackeborn are linked in the history of veneration of the Sacred Heart.  Through their influence as well as that of the former Beguine, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Helfta became a center of this devotion.  It may even be maintained that Helfta provides the first instance of communal acceptance of the cult; Gertrude, its chief advocate, did not meet the opposition that was to assail Margaret Mary Alacoque four centuries later.

Gertrude regarded the apostle John as her chosen friend and patron.  His paramount role in the history of the objective devotion to the Sacred Heart has already been noted.  On a day in Advent she visualized him wearing a mantle adorned with golden eagles, and a breastplate inscribed: In principio erat Verbum.  Again, on his own feast, pointing reverently to the bosom of Christ, he seemed to say: “Behold, this is the Holy of Holies, drawing to itself all that is good in Heaven and on Earth.”  As Gertrude asked why he had not spoken of what he experienced when leaning against the heart of Christ at the Last Supper, she heard interiorly the words, “It was my task to present to the first age of the church the doctrine of the Word made flesh, which no human intellect can ever fully comprehend.  The eloquence of that loving pulsation of his Heart is reserved for the modern age so that the world grown old and torpid may be rekindled by the love of God.”  The first sentence of John’s reply recalls the patristic theology described earlier in this chapter.  His next conveys the subjective devotion which became dominant in the Middle Ages.  This juxtaposition of the two aspects of the veneration of the heart of Christ makes Gertrude’s vision unique.  As Jean Bainvel writes, “It forms an epoch in the history of the devotion of the Sacred Heart.”

Between the apostle John and Gertrude the Great as saints of the Sacred Heart are the others, such as Anselm, Bernard, and Francis of Assisi, whose meditations and mystical intuitions prepared the spiritual climate for the flowering of the devotion in Gertrude and Mechtild.  It is evident that the women of Helfta are not isolated from the devotional atmosphere of their era.  Nevertheless, the eminence of their convent, their personalities, and their outstanding gifts make them instrumental in communicating the warmly personal, immediate, and contemporary quality of their association with the Sacred Heart.

As shown by earlier quotations in this chapter, it was contemplation of the wound in Christ’s side that led directly to the image of the Sacred Heart.  It seems pointless, therefore, to speak of an “originator” of the devotion.  Without doubt, the mystics of Helfta are outstanding in their concentration on the divine heart, and Mechtild of Magdeburg certainly influenced the cult.  Like many mystics before her, she honored the wounds of Christ, and often spoke ardently of his “heart’s blood” as a sign of his love.  The pierced heart of Christ was for her the incarnation of his inner life.  In the first part of her work, Das fliessende Licht, the chapter, “Of the Presence at Court of the Soul to Whom God Shows Himself,” contains the lines: “He with great desire shows her his Divine Heart.  It glows like red gold in a great fire.  And God lays the soul in his glowing Heart so that he, the great God, and she, the humble maid, embrace and are one as water with wine.”  In the same section Mechtild represents Christ as saying, “How fiery my Heart!” and again, “Your heart’s desire you shall lay nowhere but in my own Divine Heart.”  A more characteristic sentence occurs in one of her prayers: “Together with all your creatures, I long here and now for your glory in all things and through all things, as they flowed spotless from your loving Heart.”  This is one of many examples of the dominant image in her book as expressed in the title, The Flowing Light of the Godhead.  

A comparison of her writing with that of her companions, Gertrude and Mechtild of Hackeborn, shows that her spiritual orientation is somewhat different.  As Evelyn Underhill asserts, Mechtild of Magdeburg is “a true Minnesinger of the Holy Ghost,” an “exquisite poet and visionary.”  If there is insufficient evidence for Ancelet-Hustache’s assertion that she originated the veneration of the Sacred Heart at Helfta, she is nevertheless a participant in this devotion and certainly one of the luminaries of medieval German mysticism.


Like Gertrude’s Legatus, Mechtild of Hackeborn’s Liber is permeated by expressions of devotion to the Sacred Heart.  Gertrude testified after her friend’s death: “This angelic maiden is most fittingly compared to the seraphim, for she was so directly united to God who is love itself, so ardently attached to his flaming heart that she was made one fiery spirit with him.”

Even more often than Gertrude, Mechtild visualized the Sacred Heart as a magnificent dwelling, a house of gold, the abode of four beautiful maidens – Humility, Patience, Mildness, and Charity.  As in spirit she entered the house, she perceived a great cross engraved on the pavement.  Prostrating herself upon it, she felt herself pierced to the soul by a golden dart from the center of the cross. The can be related to the transverberations of Gertrude and Teresa of Ávila, as indicating a relationship in their mystical states.  In her painful illnesses, Mechtild prayed that she might take refuge in the heart of Christ as in a house of repose.  She also visualized the Sacred Heart as the gate of Heaven, at which one might knock three times by praising the power of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, and the goodness of the Holy Spirit.

One image of the Sacred Heart is unique in its informality.  After receiving a special blessing – which she does not describe – Mechtild, overcome by a sense of her unworthiness, exclaimed: “O generous King!  So magnificent a gift is not suitable for me.  I am not worthy to serve in your kitchen and wash the vessels there.”  It seemed to her that Christ asked her kindly, “And what is my kitchen and what are the vessels you want to cleanse?”  As she did not know what to say, she felt that he himself was answering his question: “The kitchen is my divine heart.  As the kitchen is a place open to all, to slaves as well as to free men, so my heart is always open to all, and ready to fulfill everyone’s desires.  The ruler in the kitchen is the Holy Spirit whose inexpressible kindness fills my heart with overflowing generosity.  My vessels are the hearts of my saints and my chosen ones who continually share in the ravishing abundance of my divine heart.”

Once after receiving the eucharist, Mechtild experienced an interior communication: “Thou in me and I in thee.  Be submerged in my omnipotence like the fish in the ocean.”  “O Lord,” she answered, “fish are often caught in the net.  What if that should happen to me?”  She understood as an answer, “You cannot be drawn forth from me.  You will make your nest in my divine heart.  The nest is sincere humility, maintained among all the gifts and favors I have given you.”  The image of the soul as a fish submerged in God occurs frequently in the writings from Helfta.

Mechtild’s prayers give constant evidence of her veneration of the Sacred Heart.  Every morning she greeted Christ with the salutation, “Praise, benediction, glory, and salvation to the most gentle and benevolent heart of Jesus, my true lover.  I thank you for your faithful watch surrounding me this night in which you have offered to God the Father the thanksgiving and homage that I owe him.  And now I offer you my heart like a fresh rose that its fragrance may delight your divine heart.”  When any suffering came to her, she would say, “O love, the bearer to me of these pains from the heart of God, I offer this to you.”  She also advised others to make this offering.

Mechtild believed that the Virgin Mary inspired her to venerate the wounds of Christ, saying, “Come and greet the wound in the dear heart of my Son, for it is his heart that felt the suffering of all the wounds of his body.”  In a letter to a friend she wrote: “God gives his divine heart to the soul in order that it may give him its heart in return.  One ought carefully to keep the heart of God and consider well what most pleases him.”

Both Mechtild of Hackeborn and Gertrude frequently describe the Sacred Heart as sending forth streams of light or rivers of crystal clarity.  Mechtild represents the heart as producing three fragrant streams of allegorical significance: the first has the perfume of rosewater to represent the love distilled from “that most noble rose,” the Sacred Heart; the second has the fragrance of rich wine from the royal blood shed on the winepress of the cross; the third has the odor of sweet balm from the divine heart, “which even death cannot make bitter.”  In the odor of these three ointments the soul runs in love and desire, according to the text: “We will run to thee in the odor of thy ointments.”

Mechtild uses many other images for the Sacred Heart: a lyre or other instrument on which she plays in honor of God, a lamp, a vineyard, a furnace, a fountain.  Stringed instruments, in particular, the harp or lyre, are prominent images in the writings of both Gertrude and Mechtild.  In the latter, the harp becomes a symbol of the transcendent interplay of the human and divine intimacies.

Like Gertrude, Mechtild experienced by a spiritual intuition the pulsations of the heart of Christ.  On the feast of the Nativity it seemed to her that she embraced the Christ child, marveling as she did so at the strange beating of his infant heart – a strong triple pulsation followed by a lighter one.  Interiorly, she sensed the words: “My heart did not beat like those of other men; from my infancy to my death the pulsations were as you hear.  That is why I died so quickly on the cross.”  It seemed that the impetuosity of his love accounted for the three vehement pulsations; the fourth represented his mildness and gentleness toward human beings, giving them an example that they could imitate.  At another time, Mechtild seemed to hear in the vigorous beating of the divine heart a repeated invitation: “Come and repent, come and be reconciled, come and be consoled, come and be blessed.  Come, my sister, to possess the eternal inheritance that I obtained for you by my blood.  Come, my spouse, to rejoice in my divinity.”  Again, after communion, the three pulsations of the heart of Christ were interpreted as three words addressed to her: “Come; that is to say, separate yourself from all creature; Enter, with confidence, as a spouse; Into the bridal chamber, that is, the divine heart.”  Another interpretation of the pulsations of the Heart of Christ occurs in the encyclical, “Haurietis Aquas,” of Pius XII.  He writes: “We must lovingly meditate on the pulsations of his most Sacred Heart by which, so to say, he himself kept on measuring the time of his sojourn on Earth up to the last minute.”

The gift of the Sacred Heart as a pledge of love is recorded in both Gertrude’s Legatus and Mechtild’s Liber.  It is apparently one of Mechtild’s first mystical experiences.  During Easter week as she intoned the antiphon, Venite, benedicti (Come, you blessed), she felt a sudden extraordinary joy and exclaimed, “Oh, if only I could be one of the blessed ones to hear that gracious word.”  It seemed to her that she received an answer: “Be assured of that.  I shall give you my heart as pledge.  You will always have it with you, and on the day when your desire is to be granted, you will restore it to me.  I give you my heart also to be your refuge so that at the hour of death, no other road will open to you but my heart where you will rest forever.”

This image of the Sacred Heart as a door or portal through which the dying may enter occurs in several other passages.  The elaborate description relating the stages of Christ’s passion to the parts of a dance ends, “After this, I opened my heart for you to enter.”  Mechtild’s Liber reports that when her sister, the Abbess Gertrude, was dying, Mechtild saw her enter into the Sacred Heart as into an open sanctuary.  Later, when the bereaved community sang the line, “You who repose in the shadow of the Beloved,” the voice of the dead abbess seemed to answer,” It would not be enough for me to be in his shadow; it is in the heart of the Well-Beloved that I rest in sweetness, serenity, and peace.”  It was Mechtild also who visualized a great concourse of the members of the congregation gathering in a festal dance around the abbess on the anniversary of her death.  Their song, O Mater nostra, entered into the heart of Christ form which it emerged as a single melody of marvelous beauty.

During Mechtild’s last days it seemed to her friend Gertrude that after her anointing she lived in an aura of spiritual light sent forth from the heart of Christ.  Moreover, her acts of love appeared to elicit a torrent of blessings on the whole church.  At the moment of her death on the feast of Elizabeth of Hungary, 19 November, Gertrude believed that Christ reminded Mechtild of the gift of his heart and gently asked, “Where is my pledge?”  At these words it seemed to Gertrude that Mechtild offered her own heart to Christ and breathed her last as he received it.


One of Gertrude’s first references to the heart of Christ occurs seven years after the account of her “conversion.”  It was after Mechtild of Hackeborn had invoked the Sacred Heart on her behalf that Gertrude experienced the mystical wounding of her own heart by the “arrow of love.”  Two variant accounts of this event witness to her fervent gratitude.

Her seventh exercise contains a series of invocations: “O Heart abounding in loving kindness!  O Heart filled with compassion!  O Heart supremely dear, I implore you, absorb my heart totally.”  On a night preceding the vigil of Christmas, she envisioned a light issuing from the Sacred Heart and forming a path leading to him.  On another occasion when she had been left alone in her illness because the other sisters were engaged in their occupations, she visualized Christ showing her the wound in her side.  From it issued a pure stream, solid as crystal, which formed on his breast a precious ornament alternating in color between gold and rose.  She heard interiorly the words, “This illness has so sanctified you that whenever you seem to go away from me to serve your neighbor by thought, word, or deed, you will be no more separated from me than this stream is separated from my heart.  As the gold and rose shine together with the crystal, so my divinity symbolized by the gold, and the patience of my humanity symbolized by the rose, will make all your actions pleasing to me.”

When she prayed that she might banish the thoughts distracting her as she prepared for communion, she felt that Christ was saying to her, “If anyone who is tempted takes refuge with me, I can say of that person: ‘One is my dove, chosen among thousands; with one glance she has pierced my divine heart.  The glance of my beloved which pierces my heart is her serene confidence, that I can and will help her faithfully in everything.'”  As she prayed for someone recommended to her, she saw a crystal-clear stream from the Sacred Heart flowing into the person.  At another time she sensed that a golden channel poured the virtue and beauty of the divine perfections into her own soul.  During a rapture she seemed to be mysteriously drawn into the heart of Christ which she had chosen for her temple.  She remembered the example of Saint Dominic as she heard the words, “Have you not read of some of my saints, such as my servant Dominic, who did not leave my temple but even ate and slept there?”

Gertrude believed that she received from the Sacred Heart everything that she needed, including physical strength.  When she had passed a sleepless night, she prayed: “By the tranquility in which you reposed for endless ages in the bosom of the Father, by the nine months in the womb of the Virgin Mary; by the joys that you experience in dwelling with a loving soul; I beseech you, O merciful God, grant me a little rest, not for my own satisfaction, but for your eternal praise so that my exhausted strength may be restored.”  She felt that her prayer was answered by an inspiration to rest in the divine heart and by an interior admonition: “Anyone who is worn out by long wakefulness should say this prayer that you have just offered in order to regain the strength to sing my praises.  If I do not grant his prayer and he endures weariness with patience and humility, my divine kindness will receive him with great joy.”

When Gertrude was grieving over the behavior of a friend who had repaid her kindness with contempt, she felt consoled by sensing that Christ was offering her his heart and saying: “Consider, my well-beloved, the secrets of my heart.  See now, whether you can ever reproach me for the slightest infidelity.”  After she had prayed for someone who had sought her intercession, Gertrude gave her this instruction as from Christ: “Let her make her nest in the crevice of the rock, that is to say, in the Sacred Heart, that she may rest in the depths of that cavern and taste the honey of the rock – namely, the aspirations of the divine heart.”  These images are clearly a development of those in the meditations of Gregory and Anselm quoted earlier.

On one occasion Gertrude visualized the consolations of the Holy Spirit under the figure of a stream of honey flowing from the Sacred Heart; at another time she was surprised that the stream had become bitter.  As she wondered about the meaning of this change, she seemed to hear the words: “When someone gives money to a friend, the one who receives it is free to buy whatever he wishes.  If he can buy either sweet or sour apples for the same price, he may prefer to buy the sour ones because they will keep better.  Likewise, when I hear the prayers of my chosen ones, I send the grace which will be of most benefit.  For example, it is better for some persons to have trials rather than consolations in this life, therefore when I pour out my blessings on them, they will have more bitter sorrows and tribulations, whereby they will receive ever more graces according to my pleasure.  The consolation stored up for them is hidden from them at present so that they may labor the more faithfully, bearing their adversities patiently for the love of my name.”

As she offered her heart to Christ, it seemed to Gertrude that it was united to his under the form of a chalice.  “Grant, O loving God,” she prayed, “that my heart may be always before you like those flasks that are carried to the master’s table, that you may have it filled or emptied whenever and for whomever you wish.”  She believed that Christ, pleased with this prayer, said to his Father: “O holy Father, for your eternal praise may this heart pour forth over the world all that my human heart contained.”  That the offering of her heart to God appeared to add to the joy of the saints in Heaven and to the advancement of the just on Earth convinced Gertrude that it was God’s will for her to help many persons by her writings.

Some paintings depict Gertrude the Great with seven rings on her right hand.  A seventeenth-century work in the style of Lazaro Pardo de Lagos of Cuzco shows this detail.  The painting, now at Potosi in the Casa de la Moneda, commemorates an episode told in the Legatus.  One day as Gertrude was thinking of all that Christ had done for her, “I was so audacious,” she says, “as to reproach him with not having sealed his promise by putting his hand in mine as it customary with those who make a contract.”  Thereupon, she says, opening his heart, he enclosed her right hand within it, solemnly promising to confirm in her all the graces he had given.  WHen she withdrew her hand, it seemed to her that the fingers were encircled by seven gold rings symbolizing her privileges.  An antiphon in honor of Gertrude recalls this favor by the words annulis septem.  Later, however, it seemed to her that she had acted perversely by demanding “signs and wonders.”  This event recalls Mechtild’s similar request which was answered by the mystical bestowal of a ring set with seven gems – a ring of cosmic dimensions, enclosing both Christ and Mechtild.

Remembering the many special favors she had received and wondering which of them would be most useful to others, Gertrude experienced a spiritual locution in which Christ instructed her: “The greatest advantage for human beings is to remember always that I, son of a virgin, stand before God the Father to plead the cause of the human race.  If they defile their hearts through human frailty, I offer my Sacred Heart in reparation.  If they sin with their mouths, I offer my innocent mouth for them.  If they offend him by their actions, I offer my pierced hands for them.  I wish, therefore, that after they have so easily obtained my forgiveness, they would thank me for it.”

Even in her preparation for the feast of the Nativity, Gertrude venerated the wounds of Christ, concluding her prayer with an act of homage to the wound in his side.  She greeted the Sacred Heart with profound love, honoring it as containing all the mysteries of the divinity.  A few days after this feast, when she was reflecting on the graces John the Evangelist had received at the Last Supper, she envisioned his beatitude in Heaven: Within the bosom of Christ there was an immense ocean, and in it the beloved apostle in the form of a bee floated “like a fish” in perfect joy and freedom.  As noted earlier, this image is frequent in the literature of mysticism.  Mechtild uses it at least four times – e.g., “to her intimate confidant” (probably Gertrude): she said, “My spirit swims in the divinity like a fish in the ocean.”  Likewise, Catherine of Siena longed for communion “for then the soul is in God and God in the soul just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish.”

Gertrude’s prayers for others were frequently associated with the liturgical seasons.  During the days of Carnival before Lent, she was inspired to say the Laudate Dominum while offering to Christ all the weariness and labors of his Sacred Heart for the salvation of the human race.  When she prayed for others, it seemed to her that for each person she had enkindled a flame of love in the heart of Christ.  As she wished to know how she could enkindle this flame for everyone in the church, she felt that Christ was responding: “In four ways: first, by praising me for creating all in my image; second, by thanking me for all the benefits I have already given them and those I shall yet give; third, by sorrowing over the obstacles they put in the way of my grace; fourth, by praying for all who, according to my providence strive for perfection for the sake of my honor and glory.”

Gertrude visualized the unceasing efficacy of the Sacred Heart for the salvation of the world under the figure of two pulsations: one brought about the salvation of sinners, the other the sanctification of the just.  She considered that as no human activity, such as seeing, hearing, or working can interrupt the movement of the human heart, so the interceding pulsation of the Sacred Heart will continue until the end of time.  As she meditated on the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, she thought of Christ as saying to her, “If you wish to receive him, you must touch my side and my hands as the disciples did.”  She understood these words to mean that “to touch the side of Christ is to acknowledge thankfully the love of the Sacred Heart notwithstanding human ingratitude.”

The feast of the Dedication of the Church was the occasion for many spiritual insights regarding the Sacred Heart.  It was then that Gertrude visualized it as a mansion of delight which she was permitted to enter.  “My Lord,” she exclaimed, “it would have been enough for me to stand where your feet had stood, but how can I thank you for this overwhelming privilege?”  It seemed to her that Christ responded, “Since you so often give me your noblest possession, your heart, it is only just that you should find your delight in mine.  I am your God, all in all to you – strength, life, knowledge, nourishment, clothing – all that you can desire.”

Like Mechtild, Gertrude felt that she had been remiss in honoring the Virgin Mary.  Having appealed to Christ to offer his mother the homage she deserved, it seemed to her that as she changed the antiphon Tota pulchra es on the feast of the Assumption, she saw a shower of stars passing from the Sacred Heart to adorn her.  They were so numerous that many fell to the ground and the saints joyfully gathered them.  This signified that all the blessed share in the merits of the Virgin Mary.

As recorded in the Legatus, Gertrude’s mystical experiences are closely associated with the veneration of the Sacred Heart.  In recapitulating all that she has received, she says, “You have granted me the priceless grace of your familiar friendship by giving me to my great joy the noble ark of your divinity, namely, your divine heart.  You have even – most precious sign of our intimacy – exchanged it for mine.  How often through this divine heart have you revealed your secret judgments and your joys, overwhelming me with your tenderness.  If I did not know your inexhaustible goodness I could scarcely comprehend the unique dignity you have accorded to your blessed mother who reigns with you in Heaven.”

All three of the mystics of Helfta had assimilated the patristic, objective attitude toward the Sacred Heart as described at the beginning of this chapter.  Their personal relations with Christ did not supersede, but rather reinforced the traditional veneration.  In their astonishing familiarity with the Sacred Heart each of the three mystics has a distinct personality.  Mechthild of Magdeburg has been called “the poet of a transfigured, glorified sorrow, most acceptable offering to the divine Heart of Jesus.”  Mechtild of Hackeborn, on the other hand, is captivated by the glorified heart of the triumphant Christ.  For Gertrude, the association of the passion and the Eucharist with the Sacred Heart inspires a multitude of images, striking in their range and richness.  She perceives it, as does Mechtild of Hackeborn, under the aspect of an instrument played on by the Holy Spirit; as an organ, source of delight for the Trinity; as a chalice from which the elect drink; as a censer through which the prayers of the faithful mount to God in fragrance; as a burning lamp; a treasure house of the divinity; a golden altar; a portal of salvation; a stream flowing with honey; a marvelous palace.

Most notable, however, is the atmosphere of mystical love, unwavering confidence, and simple intimacy pervading the Legatus divinae pietatis which makes it a central document in the theological and devotional literature of the Sacred Heart.

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