We see crosses everywhere — a charm on a necklace, printed on a T-shirt, on the Altar, hanging on a wall…etc. Such a commonplace “item” today, it all too often has lost the impact of what Christ really bore for our sins. However today presents a beautiful opportunity. To remember, to meditate, to mourn, to be grateful. For this is the day, this is the day when Christ laid down his life for ours.
May we too enter into the Lord’s passion, so that we can experience the glory of His Resurrection. I pray that these gathered reflections will bring you deeper into the mystery of Good Friday and the knowledge of the ransom paid for our sins. (Word of Caution: Some of this material is intensely descriptive of the violent acts Christ endured. Not for the faint of heart.)
By this point in time, our Lord has already been betrayed by his friend, arrested, deserted by all his followers, examined by the Roman Governor, wrongly condemned to death on a Cross, and denied by Peter. The first part of His suffering, the agony, was extreme mental suffering. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that we cannot compare how we experience suffering to that of Christ, since in addition to having human intelligence, He also had Divine intelligence. Also, His “physical organism” was as perfect as any could be, so “it was much more sensitive to pain than our human nature, which has been calloused by crude emotions and evil experiences.” Now we come to the second part of His suffering – the torture of both His body and soul, which ended with His death. Combined, these sufferings constituted the “baptism wherewith I am to be baptized” (Lk 12:50).
Flagrum, like what was used during the Scourging
“Pilate, then, took Jesus and had him scourged.” – Jn 19:1 The gruesome details of the scourging were left out in John’s Gospel. Another physician, Dr. Pierre Barbet, also a devout Catholic, wrote a riveting book called A Doctor at Calvary. In it, he “relied heavily on his close analysis of the Holy Shroud of Turin to recreate every stage of the Passion with heart-rending precision and detail.” On the scourging, this is what the Dr. Barbet relays: Jesus was bound to a column, probably with his hands above his head. They used a crude instrument, the flagrum, which was comprised of a short handle with several long, thick thongs attached. Near the end of each thong, ‘tali’ were inserted, which were balls of lead or small sheep bones. This tortuous device was designed to not only cut the skin with the thongs, but also dig deep wounds with the tali. Not one, but two executioners – one on each side – carried out the scourging. On the Shroud of Turin, there are more then 100, perhaps 120, marks from the shoulders to the lower parts of the legs. If there were two thongs, this means that Jesus received about 60 strokes apart from those which have no mark.
The Crowning of Thorns
St. Alphonsus de Liguori wrote The Passion of Jesus Christ. In it, he described the sufferings derived from the crown of thorns placed upon Jesus’ head. The Shroud of Turin shows evidence that it covered the whole head, shaped as a helmet rather then a wreath. This would have been driven against His head by blows with a stick. Considering the head is the most sensitive part of the body – with all the nerves and sensations of the body diverging from it – our Lord suffered extreme pain in this torture that lasted up until his death. What else of the Crown of Thorns has been revealed to other Saints?
- To St. Lawrence Giustiniani & St. Peter Damian, that the thorns were so long that they penetrated even to the brain.
- To Blessed Agatha of the Cross, “He very often closed His eyes, and uttered piercing sighs, like those of a person about to die.”
- To St. Bridget, “So many streams of blood rushed down over His face and filled His hair and eyes and beard that he seemed to be nothing but one mass of blood.”
- To St. Vincent of Lerins, the affirmation that Our Lord’s head received 70 wounds
Carrying of the Cross
When presented with the Cross, what reaction did Our Lord have? St. Thomas of Villanova said:
But Jesus did not wait for the executioner to place the cross on his shoulders. Of his own accord he stretched out his hands and eagerly laid hold of it and placed it on his wounded shoulders. Come, he says, come, beloved cross! It is now 33 years that I have been sighing and searching for you. I embrace you, I clasp you to my heart, for you are the altar on which I shall sacrifice my life out of love for my flock.
Dr. Barbet filled in what it meant when “Jesus carried his cross.” He carried the horizontal part of the cross, the patibulum, which weighed approximately 125 lbs for 600 yards from the Pretorium to Golgotha. It was carried against the nape of the neck, with arms stretched out and bound to it so that He could give no resistance. The marks on the Shroud can only be explained by the scraping of the beam against the back, which was more poignant during each of His falls.
Nailing to the Cross
The cloth Jesus had worn was stripped away, also tearing open the wounds that had firmly been stuck to it. Although the Scripture’s literal translation were that his hands were nailed to the cross, the dragging of the body would have probably torn the skin. So the 1/3″ thick, long, square yet pointed nails were likely driven in the middle of each wrist. There was only one hole from the nail wound in the feet. It must have been driven in through the back of the feet, a much easier passage.
Words from the Cross
Our Lord spoke only seven times from the Cross, so they are appropriately called His Seven Last Words. The one that had caused me to be perplexed was what he cried out in the 9th hour. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” – Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34. I used to wonder, “How could the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, have felt abandoned by His Father?” It was more then just repeating the Psalm of David, written a thousand years before, prophetically referring to Him (Psalm 21:13-19). Archbishop Sheen explained:
Sin has spiritual effects such as a sense of abandonment, separation from God, loneliness. This particular moment He willed to take upon Himself that principle effect of sin which was abandonment. It was not that His human nature was separated from His Divine nature; that was impossible…in taking upon Himself the sins of the world He willed a kind of withdrawal of His Father’s face and all Divine consolation. …the moment when leaning on nails He stood at the brink of hell in the name of all sinners. Christ’s cry was of abandonment which He felt in standing in a sinner’s place, but it was not of despair. The soul that despairs never cries to God…The greatest mental agony in the world, and the cause of many psychic disorders, is that minds and hearts are without God. Such emptiness would never have a consolation, if He had not felt all of this as His own. There is hope (the end of that Psalm is one of victory).
Piercing of the Side
“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” – Jn 19:34. “The blow of the lance which was given to the right side reached the right auricle of the heart, perforating the pericardium – it was therefore not just a wound to the side, but one in his heart,” Dr. Barbet described. The blood came from the heart, the what appeared as water was the pericardial fluid.
Death on the Cross
The specific cause of Christ’s death was asphyxia, or suffocation. The positioning of the body on the cross made it hardly possible to breathe: The whole weight of the body dragged on his hands above him, and with his arms raised, it created a relative immobility of the sides which greatly hindered exhaling. Dr. Barbet likened what happened within His body — the contracting of the muscles to rigidity and the lungs filling with air which could not escape — to strangulation. The only way He could have escaped for a few moments from the battle for air was to try and lift His body upwards, using His feet for support.
In God’s mercy, the story does not end here. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” – Is 53:5. As we await the celebration of His Resurrection still, I will leave you to continue to meditate on the price He paid for you. A blessed Good Friday to you, friend.