There were natives in our New World when the missionaries came, who thought it a good idea to eat the heart and drink the blood of the enemy they killed, if that enemy showed exemplary courage. Like other pagans — e.g., the Germanic tribes and the Norsemen — the American natives put courage at the top of their hierarchy of virtues; whereas we Christians put charity in the first place. For the Indians, if a man could look them in the eye, show no fear, and go down fighting, be he enemy or not, he was admirable; thus the gross heathen ceremony of masticating and swallowing his heart and blood.
Father Feeney used to say that superstition is the “dawn of faith.” It is not faith, mind you; but it is, or can be, for certain people, the dawn of that first theological virtue. The savage sacrament of eating another man’s heart might be a crude precursor to a genuine mystery of the faith that God revealed.
When the Iroquois ate the heart and drank the blood of Saint Jean de Brebeuf, they did it to partake of his bravery. Had they listened to his doctrine with good will and tried to imitate just a fraction of his holiness, they would have learned with great pleasure from their Jesuit apostle that a far braver Heart and much more Precious Blood could be consumed with considerably less effort on their part and much more by way of grace and glory for their immortal souls.
In the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano (ca. 700 AD, but still there to see), the accidents of bread and wine gave way to the Reality they shrouded. Jesus’ Flesh appeared as true flesh and His Blood appeared as true blood. In 1970, this miraculous Host and Blood were subjected to detailed scientific testing. (Whether this scrutiny was well- or ill-advised is not the issue here; what interests us is simply that it happened and what were its results.) The tests concluded, among other things, that the tissue of the Host was striated muscle tissue of the myocardium (the heart wall) — that is, flesh from the heart.
It was also discovered that the blood type of the solid globules was AB, the same as the Shroud’s blood type. AB is the universal recipient. Now, some might suspect that Jesus’ blood type would be that of the “universal donor,” O-negative, since He shed His Precious Blood for us and gives it to us. But let us recall the doctrine of Saint Augustine and other Church Fathers, which Father Leonard Feeney so faithfully echoed, namely, that, in the Eucharist, Jesus assimilates us, not we Him. In “The Great Gift of God,” Father Feeney put it this way: “All other foods which we eat, we assimilate — we absorb into ourselves — because we are greater than they are. This Food, however, assimilates us, because we are less than It — infinitely less than It. The Food assimilates the eater, in this sublime performance, because the Food is greater than the eater.” It stands to reason, therefore, that the Precious Blood would be the universal recipient.
Let us get back to the Host and its heart tissue. The dogmatic teaching of the Church on the sacramental presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is this: “Christ whole and entire is under the species of bread, and under any part whatsoever of that species; likewise the whole (Christ) is under the species of wine, and under the parts thereof” (Council of Trent, Session 13, Chapter 3). Trent backs this up with an anathema: “If any one denieth, that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated; let him be anathema” (Canon 1 on the Holy Eucharist). Hence the care that ought to be observed in handling every particle of the sacred species. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ is a Living Victim; He is not subject to death or dismemberment, but is present “whole” and “entire.”
That said, there must be some reason that God lifted the sacramental veils from the Host in Lanciano in such a way as to expose His Heart.
I believe it is for the same reason that he gave us the Sacred Heart devotion in the first place — the same reality superstitiously intuited by the murderers of St. Jean. The Heart is variously interpreted among cultures ancient and modern, occidental and oriental, as the seat of the emotions (especially of love), of the will, of the intellect, of the virtues (e.g., courage — as in “Braveheart,” or Richard the “Lionhearted”), and suchlike. (See here, here, and here for discussions of this.) The Heart is also a vulnerable organ, which much of the world’s literature portrays as wounded whenever we are betrayed, or when love — especially romantic love — is unrequited.
The Byzantine Christians call Our Lord the “Lover of Mankind,” and so He is. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the physical locus of that intense love for man. Either that, or the complaint of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary is meaningless:
“Behold this Heart which has so loved men that It has spared nothing, even going so far as to exhaust and consume Itself to prove Its love to them. And in return, I receive from the majority of men only ingratitude, by their irreverence, sacrileges, and by the coldness and contempt with which they treat Me in this Sacrament of love [the Holy Eucharist].” (Notice the association of the Sacred Heart with the Eucharist, and recall Lanciano.)
Of the five wounds of the sacred Stigmata, the only one that was not inflicted while Our Lord was alive was the one in His side. His Heart was opened by the lance of Saint Longinus after He gave up the ghost, and blood and water came out. Accordingly, this particular wound of the Stigmata was not meritorious for our salvation, since Jesus’ death marked the terminus of His time for merit, as our own death will mark the end of our time for conversion and merit. Jesus’ Heart had suffered much during his public life and Passion, but the physical wound was not a principle of merit; it was, rather, the beginning of the application of that merit. Why? Because it was the birth of the Church in the water of Baptism and the Precious Blood of the Eucharist. It was, as Saint Augustine notes, the “opening” of Jesus’ side out of which, as out of the side of Adam, His spouse would be taken, for the Church that came out of Jesus’ pierced side is His Spouse.
When Our Lord comes to us in Holy Communion, He comes in His entirety, as I have said, but He comes not only with His entire Body and Blood — but with his human Soul, endowed with every virtue, and His divinity, which is inseparable from His sacred Humanity. During the time that we are concorporeal with Him (while the accidents of bread yet remain in our bodies after receiving Holy Communion), we might ask Him for His virtues — his courage, yes (it is the cardinal virtue of fortitude, by the way), and especially His charity. We can ask the brave and loving Heart of our God to make our hearts brave and loving — and meek and humble, and otherwise virtuous in every way. His Heart is, as the Litany says, an “abyss of all virtues.”
I do not want to leave our American natives in a bad light. There were those who accepted the preaching of the North American Martyrs, like the recently canonized Lily of the Mohawks, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, and the “Forgotten Martyr,” Joseph Chihwatenha. Aside from them, there are many other success stories of our Catholic American natives. Here in New Hampshire (and other New England states), were the Abenaki tribe, evangelized by one of those Jesuits who came soon after the North American Martyrs — their fellow Frenchman, Father Sébastien Rale. The tribe is known to be predominantly Catholic thanks to his ministrations.
Little testimonies to the Jesuit mission to the Abenakis have been found in our New Hampshire woods. They are Catholic medals dating back to the Seventeenth Century — medals of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, God’s Braveheart.