11 April 2010
15.20-21 Acts 5.27-32
The wounds of Christ
Jesus said to
Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands and put out your hand and place
it in my side; do not be faithless but believing.’
Thomas answered him ‘My Lord and my God.’
Fr Dominic told me
recently that many years ago he knew a devout, old African women in Sophiatown
who came to Mass every day. When she made
her confession she began by saying in her own words a prayer to the wounds of
the risen Jesus. In a manual of
prayers called The Treasury of the Holy Spirit, which I sometimes use, there are
examples of devotion to the Five Sacred Wounds. One
of them goes like this:
Christ, we honour the five wounds, which in your love you endured for us your
servants, whom you have redeemed with your precious blood.
Grant that our devotion to them may console us with the thought that one
day, through the power of your resurrection, we will be with you in paradise.
We make this prayer to the Father who with you and the Holy Spirit lives
and reigns God for ever and ever.
Caravaggio, at the
beginning of the seventeenth century, painted a picture entitled Doubting
Thomas. Christ in this painting is
extremely handsome, as is appropriate in the depiction of the risen Lord.
By contrast, Jesus in the Betrayal in the Garden and in other scenes from
the Passion is pale and weak in appearance. In
Doubting Thomas the artist seems to have been personally touched by this drama
of disbelief. The picture is physically
shocking – his Thomas pushes curiosity to its limits before he will say, ‘My
Lord and my God’. Jesus pulls aside his
robe to bare his side. He looks down and
holds Thomas’s arm as the doubter thrusts forward his finger right into the
wound made by the soldier’s lance. Thomas
frowns as he peers intently at the open wound. Two
disciples lean over Thomas as they gaze at the sacred wound, which is the focus
of the drama in this painting.
A careful study of
the Gospel story reveals that Caravaggio has gone further than the evangelist,
who says that when Jesus came to the disciples on the Sunday after his
resurrection he told Thomas to put his finger in his hands and side but
we are not told that the apostle
did so. His wonderful confession of faith
follows immediately as soon as he heard and saw the Lord.
Thomas did not need to touch. He knew it was not someone who looked like
Jesus. The wounds confirmed that it was
indeed the Lord who was crucified and was now truly risen.
these wounds when he was crucified. He
come to see that when we sin it is as if we are driving the nails into the body
of Christ. As the Epistle to the Hebrews 6.6 says ‘if they then commit
apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up
Yet they are
glorious wounds, as the priest says when he blesses the Paschal candle at the
Easter Vigil. He presses the incense
grains like nails, like a spear, into the wax of the candle while he says,
‘By his holy and glorious wounds Christ our Lord
guard us and defend us. Amen’.
By his wounds we
are healed: that is why they are glorious. Christ
the Victor has won glory through his sufferings and death for us.
They are holy wounds for they are inflicted on the Holy One, the Lord God
incarnate, the Word made flesh.
In conclusion I
invite you to say with me the prayer, Anima Christi:
Soul of Christ
sanctify me, Body of Christ save me, Blood of Christ fill me, Water from the
side of Christ wash me, Passion of Christ strengthen me, O good Jesus hear me,
Within your wounds hide me, Suffer me not to be separated from thee, From the
malicious enemy defend me, In the hour of my death call me, And bid me come unto
you, that with your saints I may praise you for ever and ever. Amen
Crispin Harrison CR