of the soldiers, with a spear, opened His side, and immediately there
came out Blood and water (Jn. xix, 34).
AFTER three hours the sacrifice of the Cross neared its end towards three o'clock in the afternoon. We assisted at the celebration of this sacrifice during this morning's services. The plaints and lamentations of Holy Church, the unveiling and adoration of the Cross, the interrupted Mass---all this made vividly present to us the bloody service on the altar of the Cross.
Now comes the loud cry from the mouth of the Crucified Saviour: "It is consummated!" This is the "Ite, missa est" of the bloody sacrifice of the Mass, and all creation replies, "Deo gratias." As a tired child at eventide bids its mother goodnight and rests its head on her bosom, so the Son of God, wearied unto death, commends Himself to His Heavenly Father with the greeting: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." A slight quiver passes through the sacred body and silently the soul passes from it. Christ lowers His head. The Great Sacrifice is consummated.
Consummated is the greatest work of love and mercy, and also the greatest work of cruelty and malice. But no! Neither human cruelty nor Divine love cease with the death of Christ. Cruelty strikes a last blow at His inanimate Body and pierces the heart. Love responds with the last drop of Blood yet remaining. This St. John relates with the words: "Then the Jews (because it was the Parasceve), that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the sabbath-day (for that was a great sabbath-day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came; and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with Him. But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers, with a spear, opened His side, and immediately there came out
Blood and water" (Jn. xix, 31 ff.). Let us make this occurrence and what followed it the subject of today's meditation.
While the penalty of crucifixion was unspeakably painful, it nevertheless was one of the slower methods of execution, and, according to ancient accounts, crucified criminals frequently hung for days on the cross until finally relieved by death. The Jewish high priests---as true Pharisees who did not quail before the gravest crimes, though they scrupulously avoided minor infractions of the law, straining gnats but swallowing camels---feared death might so delay in coming to the three men crucified on Golgotha that they might hang on the crosses till the Sabbath; in which case it would not have been possible to remove the bodies and bury them immediately, as the law commanded. Therefore they sent messengers to Pilate and besought him to allow the usual means to be applied to hasten death, namely to break the legs of the crucified men and to have the bodies taken down from the cross.
This final brutality was no doubt chiefly intended for the hated Galilean. But precisely He is spared it by higher dispensation. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves with heavy clubs, but one of them (presumably the centurion, to whom tradition gives the name Longinus, and who later gave such splendid testimony to Jesus) thrust a spear into the right side of Christ's body---either in order to ascertain whether death had set in or to make sure that His condition was not one of mere unconsciousness or apparent death. The spear was thrust with such force that its point pierced the heart of Jesus and drew a flood of water and Blood from it.
Hence, a fifth wound inflicted on the body of Christ---the gaping wound in His side. The Roman spear was sharply pointed, but widened towards the head of the shaft. As a result a wound made by it was so deep and wide that one could place one's hand in it. The Saviour Himself distinguished between the marks of the wounds in His hands and feet and the open wound in His side, when He said to Thomas: "Put in thy finger hither, and see My hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into My side." While He did not suffer pain from the wound in His side, since His soul had already departed from the body, "the thrust into the heart of Jesus pierced the soul of the Mother, who witnessed this wounding and whose soul could not tear itself from the heart of the Son" (St. Bernard, Serm. de Stellis, 12). Thus the cruel thrust also pierces the compassionate Christian heart and it asks: Why? Is the number of wounds not yet great enough?
There is nothing accidental in the Passion of our Lord, least of all so significant an occurrence as the piercing of His side. The Evangelist, therefore, at once points out that the hand and the spear of the pagan soldier were but an instrument of a higher power, employed for the purpose of fulfilling two prophecies pertaining to the Messias---that of the Psalmist: "They shall not break a bone of Him," and that of the Prophet Zacharias: "They shall look upon Him Whom they have pierced" (xx, 10).
It is the hand of Divine Providence which turns the executioner's club away from the Body of the Saviour and with the head of the Roman soldier's spear points to Him Who was crucified as the true Messias. Stringent regulations forbade the breaking of a limb of the paschal lamb which was sacrificed each year in commemoration of that lamb, which the chosen people slaughtered and ate for the first time in Egypt and whose blood kept the Angel of death away from their dwellings. The Messias had often been prefigured by the Prophets in the image of the Sacrificial Lamb. The last of the Prophets, John the Baptist, introduced Him to the world as the Lamb of GOd. Of this Lamb too, the Paschal Lamb of the New Testament, not a bone was to be broken. The sacred sacrificial Body, formed by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the purest of virgins, should not be mutilated, but should be adorned with the fifth Messianic seal, the wound of the side, which was to sparkle like a glowing ruby in the glory of the Resurrection.
This is the seal which draws unto itself the eyes and hearts of humankind. "They shall look upon Him Whom they have pierced." The opening of His side gives a new view of the mystery of His being and is an additional proof of His Divinity. The piercing of His heart was the surest proof of His death: the thrust of the spear would surely have killed Him if He had been still alive. But the certainty of His death removes all doubt of the reality of His Resurrection. The point of the spear refuted in advance the objection of unbelievers that the death of Jesus was apparent, not real, and that therefore His Resurrection was a sham, merely an awakening from a state of deathlike coma. The wound in the side is another bloody seal impressed on the charter of our faith; it is to strengthen our faith in Jesus, the Risen Saviour, just as it cured Thomas of his doubts.
The prophecy has been fulfilled: "They shall look upon Him Whom they have pierced." That portion of humanity which believes looks at the wound in Christ's side, puts its hand into it, falls down with Thomas and professes: "My Lord and my God!" It swears by this wound: Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God. Thou art the Conqueror over death and Hell, risen from the dead. Thus the believing Christian gazes upon the Crucified Saviour and prays to Him during life; how his eyes will be captivated when an undimmed ray of glory from the wound in the side strikes them in the great beyond!
But the unbelieving, too, will raise their eyes unto Him; they who, like the chief priests and Pharisees, failed to understand even this sign of the Messias; who breathed their revilement even into this wound; who attacked Him with spears of poisoned speech, with the points of poisoned pens; who passed before the Cross, saucily reviling Him and crying up at Him: A man like any other man; a good-natured dreamer, but by no means a god; a good man, a wise man, but nothing more: The Son of God? Well, one might say that, since we are all children of God! Ah, how the eyes of these idle gossipers will open when they see Him in His Divine Majesty!
A flash of light from His open side will then disclose their folly, rashness, and audacity, force them to their knees, and exhort from them the confession: After all, He is the Son of God! After all, He is God! But this delayed profession of faith will no longer bring salvation to those who would not believe in Him here on earth.
We do not wish to share their fate. Let this sign of the Messias strengthen our faith in the Divinity of Christ. Let us put our hand, with Thomas, into the wound in the side of our Saviour and confess: Thou art the true Son of God, the Holy Paschal Lamb, of Which no bone might be broken; Thou art our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ, Who died for us on the Cross; by the sacred wound in Thy side, have mercy on us!
"He that saw this hath given testimony; and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true; that you also may believe" (Jn. xix, 35). The Evangelist does not insist so strongly on having been an eye-witness merely to establish the piercing of Christ's side with a spear, but rather to stress what follows: "One of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out Blood and water." John watched closely and observed how a stream from the pierced heart followed the withdrawal of the spear---first of Blood, then of water. The significance John attaches to this circumstance is evident from the fact that he reverts to it in his First Epistle, when he says of Jesus: "This is He that came by water and Blood, Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and Blood" (1 Jn. v, 6).
Why does he emphasize this so strongly? He sees in this flow of water and Blood a mysterious sign, a symbol of salvation. We can imagine the reason. Water and Blood have a special significance in the earthly life of Jesus. Water signifies the starting-point, Blood the end of His public Messianic activity: the water of Baptism which flowed over His sacred body in the Jordan, the Blood which flowed from His sacred Body on the Cross. Thus the flow of water and Blood from the soulless Body appears as a summary of His entire Messianic career.
But water and Blood are also the two principal elements with which the Saviour continues His work of Redemption on earth, and by which souls come to partake of the graces and merits of His labors and His suffering. The water of Baptism, taking its power of redemption from the wound in Jesus' side, makes of the soul a member of the body of Christ. In the most marvelous Sacrament of the Eucharist the Blood of Christ becomes a drink of salvation, our life-blood, as it were, the life-blood of the individual soul and of the entire Church. Therefore, we find this beautiful thought in the writings of the early Fathers: Holy Church had come forth from the pierced side of the Crucified Redeemer. As erstwhile in paradise God caused a deep sleep to come over Adam, and Eve, the mother of the living, to proceed from his side, so too the Church, the new Eve, the true mother of life, came forth from the pierced side of the second Adam, asleep in the slumber of death; Holy Church was baptized by the water and given a soul by the Blood of His Most Sacred Heart; and this living fountain sustains her life and imparts immortality and perpetual life to her.
This spring, then, which the point of a spear opened in the Heart of Jesus, is a true fountain of grace. The stream of Blood and water flowing from the wound is a wonderful revelation of the redeeming love of the Saviour and a glorious prophecy for the future. The stream gushing from the Cross, now crystal-clear as spring water, now dark-red as blood, is the fountain of life of the second paradise, the paradise of Redemption. The fountain in the earthly paradise, whose waters ran towards the four parts of the earth, was dried up the moment sin desecrated and destroyed that paradise. But the font of the Cross will never cease to flow; its waters continue to flow over all the earth; it flows on in the water of Baptism, industriously employed day by day to make of new-born infants children of God; it flows on in the floods of the Sacred Blood which day by day are gathered in innumerable chalices; it flows on in the Sacrament of Penance, in which this Blood is unceasingly active in cleansing souls, in all the other Sacraments, and in the organism of the Church, in which this water and Blood circulate as the life-giving fluid, the life-blood.
This is the stream of life which causes the City of God to rejoice with its mysterious surging: "The stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful" (Ps. xlv, 5). This is the stream of salvation, mingling its pure waves with the murky stream of time, constantly struggling against the putrid flood of sin and vice, against the turbulent currents of infidelity, which throw the spume of apostasy and blasphemy towards Heaven. It is led in Baptism into the life of the Christian as a stream of blessing and grace, and if the channel uniting the human heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not obstructed, this stream of life carries fruitfulness and grace into every thought, word, deed, and suffering of the Christian believer.
I say: If the channel is not obstructed. But what can obstruct it? Sin, grievous sin. If there be a person here present, with a mortal sin on his soul, not yet moved by contrition nor prepared to mend his ways, not yet willing to obey the sacred commandment of the Church to present himself at the tribunal of Penance during this Easter season;---if there be such a one here present, I charge him with sinning grievously against the Saviour and against his own soul. It is he who ruthlessly plunges the spear into the loving Heart of the Saviour and despises and tramples upon the flood of salvation pouring forth from it. Woe to him if he continues to abuse and despise love in this manner; the time will come when he will look upon Him Whom he has pierced with dread and trembling.
Following an ancient and beautiful custom, we shall now go on a pilgrimage to the holy sepulchres displayed in our churches. Let us gaze particularly upon the opened side, into the pierced heart of our Saviour; let us place into this wound a sincere contrition for our sins, a promise to do penance, good intentions for the future, prayers for the grace of conversion, for strengthening the will, and for the preservation of the grace of Easter.
Let us practice the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Longinus the centurion gave the first impetus to it and a pious legend has it that he was the first to receive its blessings. He is said to have been blind in one eye; a drop from the heart of Jesus fell into it and immediately he was made seeing in body and soul, a believing Christian, Baptized with the water and blood from the side of Jesus. The devotion of the Sacred Heart lays a silver tube, leading from the heart of Jesus, into our heart, and drains into it the sacred flood of water and Blood. A cleansing bath for our blinded heart, a purifying bath for our unclean heart, a strengthening bath for our weak heart. Christ Jesus, Who didst die for us on the Cross, by the sacred wound of Thy side, have mercy on us! Amen.