Low Sunday  11 April 2010

Ex 14.10-31, 15.20-21   Acts 5.27-32    John 20.19-31

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:

Lord Jesus 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.

Jesus received these wounds when he was crucified. He went to Calvary like a lamb led to the slaughter. He allowed the soldiers to fling him to the ground and grasp his hands and feet to nail them to the cross. His only utterance was a prayer; Father, forgive them they know not what they do.   

Christians have 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 to contempt’ .

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