Reprinted from Fr. Z’s Blog. Make sure to visit Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s site and read the whole series.
The Piercing of the Side of Jesus, and His Deposition. (John 19:31-42)
The Jews had to get Christ off that Cross fast. It’s the day of preparation for the sabbath within the festive time after Passover. They have to get those bodies taken care of with haste so that the ritual purity of the Jews who come into contact with them, see them, is not compromised. Pilate has had enough problems, so the Roman’s are ready to take care of business. They smash the knees of the two who are still alive so they’ll die quickly. To make sure that Christ is dead, a solider drives a logche (in Greek, pronounced longche, the gamma giving the rough Scottish “loch” sounding chi a nasal quality). This is an iron-tipped javelin, the pilum, 6 feet long, standard gear of the Roman troops.
Eve came from Adam’s side. The New Eve was at the side of the New Adam who came from the New Eve’s.
There she stands. But the glorious horror show isn’t over. Now she must endure the savage aftermath.
Sometimes we think of these moments as they are enshrined in great paintings from masters of every epoch. They are, of course, devotional. Hence, they are to a degree spiritualized. They don’t capture the smell, the meat, the racket.
Let’s try to provide context, so that we can search after the sense of this 6th Sorrow. It had it’s own particular sting.
Mary stands near to the Cross with John. We can suppose that most of the crowds there, if there were crowds, were there to see the famous guy die, rather than the two petty criminals. Seeing that final heave of chest and droop of head, I imagined they would have mostly quieted down. I’ll bet some of them cheered.
John and Mary are standing. The others, who knows. They probably have to contemplate Him, dead, for some time before the Romans get into action to make sure they are all dead and get their bodies down.
How Mary’s mind and memory must have been rushing, reviewing everything she could remember that Christ ever said or hinted at or taught or suggested as He grew up or in His public utterances that she knew. She knew something was going to happen next. She is now probably thinking about what they will do with His lifeless body. But what? She more than likely had along the way, if she was in the group that ministered to the Lord and Apostles, met some of the well-to-do who had been generous to them.
Again, she takes it all in and ponders in tremendous maternal grief layered through with perfect, confident discipleship.
Both the Shroud of Turin and the Shroud of Oviedo have signs that the side of the man – let’s just say Christ and get it over with? – had been pierced. One researcher concluded that the man was upright when stabbed in the side. Furthermore, the Shroud of Oviedo, probably also used to wrap Christ, when examined under infra-red revealed that its stains are from blood and fluid from after death had occurred. Some of this fluid was under the nose and mouth. The researcher said that the force of the blow from underneath, and up through the intraparenchymal airways created intrathoracic pressure that drove the fluids, water and blood, that had gathered lungs during Christ’s agony and then pooled by gravity, up and out through His mouth and nose, thus staining the Shroud of Oviedo.
So, even with a measure of crowd noise, or sounds of agony from Gesmas and Dismas the thieves, the sound of the pilum smashing through the meat and lungs would have been followed by a gruesome expulsion of blood and fluid from the Lord’s nose and mouth. A final humiliation.
This is what His Mother sees and hears.
“Haven’t you done enough? Heavenly Father, what part could this cruelty possibly play in Your plan?”
The sword with which Christ as executioner pierced Mary’s heart had already passed through His own Heart and back again, linking them so closely that, as St. Alphonsus wrote in Glories of Mary, “The lance that opened Christ’s side passed through the soul of the Blessed Virgin, which could never leave her Son’s heart.”
“Cleave”. This is an interesting word and it fits perfectly with this moment. “Cleave” is an autonym, a word that can mean exactly opposite things. On the one hand, “cleave” means to sunder, to split, to cut in two. On the other hand, it means “to join, unite”, as in a husband cleaving to his wife.
That blow of the lance did cleave their Hearts in twain.
She see’s that wound, flowing with blood and water from His tormented lungs. “What part could THIS cruelty play in Your plan?!?”
At that moment, there is an earthquake.
I like to think that this moment, rather than the Lord’s last breath, is when the ground tremors began, just as the lance tore Jesus’ Heart in half, as St. Bridget described. Matthew says the quake split stones and tore the curtain of the Holy of Holy’s in half in the Temple. So with His Heart, so too all material creation shudders at the Creator’s piercing. I also believe, as I wrote elsewhere, certain calculations which plot that this Passover and Good Friday coincided with the rising of a full Moon in the full stage of total eclipse: blood Moon. That means that the eclipse would have started around 3 PM when Christ was breathing His last. It rose in the constellation of The Virgin.
The earthquake shakes Mary from the cruelty shown to her Son’s Body back to the unfathomable plan of God. She knows that this isn’t over. What will happen next, she didn’t know. But she knew that it wasn’t over.
Then came the tender ministrations of the soldiers or their slaves to take down the Body of the Lord. They may or may not have bothered fully to remove the spikes as they wrestled with the dead weight. They were under pressure and they were scared. It would have been heavy and handling a full-grown man is not easy. So, as practiced as they were, they wouldn’t have been terribly sentimental, in spite of the Centurion who said, “Surely this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54), which will always be for me in John Wayne’s voice.
The lance tore Jesus Heart in half, as St. Bridget described. The earthquake stuck. The Body was lowered to the ground, unceremoniously dumped on the ground, left to be claimed. “Alacriter! Movete! C’mon.. HURRY IT UP. Tollite eum et festinate!” They have orders and they are terrified, especially after the earthquake.
She comes to Him with John and the others. Moving a dead body isn’t easy, so John and the others help her.
She could at last touch Him, touch His wounded hands and feet, his side. Perhaps with tears she tried to clean His swollen face.
Did you know that the hearts of mothers and their unborn babies tend to beat with synchronization? Imagine the heartbeats of Mother and Son, synchronized literally and physically. Imagine now the heaving of her broken Heart as she watched and heard the spear gouge in and rip back out, with gouts of water and blood bursting from His bruise face and battered side. See in your heart’s eye, Mary with the freshly killed Body of the one she knows is Messiah King Priest, her God made flesh of her flesh, forever her baby.
Mother’s heart and baby’s heart.
How many times did Mary listen to His tiny baby’s Heart, ear to soft breast. Mothers and their babies’ hearts will often synchronize when they smile at each other. Imagine, for a moment, the smiles of Mary and Jesus. Try to picture that. Now the daughter of her Son, as Dante names her so perfectly, places her ear to His ripped up breast and receives heart-stopping silence.
She tries gently to close the wound in His side with her hand.
“Dear Father in Heaven, what part could THIS cruelty play in Your plan?”
Was there ever a moment when, as He was growing up and studying and talking about the prophecies with Joseph in the home or at the workbench, have commented on the Prophet Zechariah? They had plenty of time! Might Mary remember such a prophecy? Her mind would not have been as clouded with emotions as ours would be, preserved as she was from the stain of Original Sin.
The prophet Zechariah 13:1 foretold:
“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”
Of this verse, Benedict XVI wrote in his Jesus of Nazareth Part Two, Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection:
Blood and water flowed from the pierced heart of Jesus. True to Zechariah’s prophecy, the Church in every century has looked upon this pierced heart and recognized therein the source of the blessings that are symbolized in blood and water. The prophecy prompts a search for a deeper understanding of what really happened there. An initial step toward this understanding can be found in the First Letter of Saint John, which emphatically takes up the theme of the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side….
In this double outpouring of blood and water, the Fathers saw an image of the two fundamental sacraments—Eucharist and Baptism—which spring forth from the Lord’s pierced side, from his heart. This is the new outpouring that creates the Church and renews mankind. Moreover, the opened side of the Lord asleep on the Cross prompted the Fathers to point to the creation of Eve from the side of the sleeping Adam, and so in this outpouring of the sacraments they also recognized the birth of the Church: the creation of the new woman from the side of the new Adam.
The New Eve touches the side of the New Adam, contemplates the wounds and batterings. “Why so cruel? Why this last humiliation?”, as her fingers light upon his flowing side.
Perhaps the newly ordained Father John, her new charge and baby boy, then told her, “This is part of the plan. ‘Destroy THIS Temple’, he said – at the Temple, I heard Him say it – ‘and I will raise it in the three days.’ Think of the Temple! The water course of the Temple, Mother, and all those lambs!”
A water course ran beneath the great altar of the Temple and out the side of the Temple Mount. A quarter of a million lambs – yes, a quarter of million according to Josephus – were slaughtered at Passover and their blood was thrown on the altar, to run down into the water course and then out from the side of the Mount. When the lambs were sacrificed in commemoration of the salvation of the People, from the side of the Temple there flowed a stream of blood and water.
And, as with her other Sorrows, joy flowed from His halved Heart to heal her own.
“Something else is going to happen. Three days, He said. Three days.”
The Secret from the Traditional Roman Mass for Our Lady of Sorrows:
O Lord Jesus Christ, we offer You prayers and sacrificial gifts, humbly beseeching You that, as we prayerfully recall the piercing of the most sweet soul of Your blessed Mother Mary, so through the merits of Your death and the manifold intercession of her and her holy friends at the foot of the Cross, we may have our reward with the blessed. Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.
On the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows