“By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us. Amen.”
With these words, the priest completes the consecration of the Easter candle. Why, at this crucial point in our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, does this prayer seem to take us back to Good Friday instead of forward to the dawn of Easter day?
The answer lies in that single adjective ‘glorious’. Although Jesus’ five wounds – His pierced hands, feet and side – were inflicted during His Passion, we call them ‘glorious’ because they now belong to His Resurrection.
Both St John’s Gospel and the Gospel of St Luke verify that Jesus bore the marks of His crucifixion on His glorified body when He appeared to the Apostles on Easter day. And the Apocalypse suggests that these wounds will still be visible when Jesus returns at the Last Judgement (cf Rev 1:7).
Yet still we may ask “Why?” If Jesus’ body at the Resurrection should have been so glorified that He was difficult to recognise at first, why would these marks of His suffering remain so clearly visible?
St Thomas Aquinas, in his characteristic style, gave five reasons why Christ retained His wounds in glory:
Because they proclaim the glory and the victory of Christ. In order to confirm the disciples in their faith and hope of the Resurrection, and so give them courage to suffer for His name. So that He might constantly present them to the Father in heaven supplicating on our behalf. To impress upon those whom He has redeemed by His death, how mercifully He came to their aid by placing His wounds before their eyes. So that at the Last Judgement it might be apparent to all, even to the damned, how just their condemnation really is, in that they spurned so great a redemption.
I wish to add another thought at this point – an expansion on St Thomas’ second reason: Jesus retained the wounds of Good Friday in His glorious Resurrection in order to show us that our future hope of glory is firmly attached to our present reality.
We have all heard the expression ‘pie in the sky when you die by and by’. It is a parody of the Christian hope of resurrection, suggesting that our hope of heaven is unattached to reality.
The glorious wounds of Jesus disprove that. On the contrary, “fixing the gaze of our spirit on the glorious wounds of His transfigured body, we can understand the meaning and value of suffering, (and) we can tend the many wounds that continue to disfigure humanity in our day” (Pope Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi address, Easter 2008).
The wounds we receive in this life are real. Suffering and pain are not, as some spiritual traditions suggest, simply states of mind or figments of the imagination. The injustices that we receive – and the injustices that we inflict on others – have eternal consequences.
And yet, in the hope of Jesus’ Resurrection, our wounds, our suffering, our pain and our injustice have a real and healing answer. Paradoxically, St Peter wrote that “by His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). In the wounds of Jesus, there is healing for even the most grievous of injustices, the deepest pain, the most serious of suffering that human sin can inflict upon another human being.
In fact, whenever any of Jesus’ ‘little ones’ are wounded (cf Mark 9:42), the wound is inflicted upon Christ’s own body. The destructive power of these wounds, which would otherwise break us and drive us to despair, is deflected onto Christ and His body. He is infinitely able to absorb our pain and suffering in the wide expanse of His love. This is true redemption.
As Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote: “Christ’s own wounds, transformed by His redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of His self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning” (Letter to the Catholics of Ireland).
We may think of the wounds of Christ in glory as a ‘lifeline’ connecting our life here to the future life of Resurrection, a lifeline which cannot be severed even by the darkest forces. St Paul draws the line directly in his Letter to the Philippians, when he writes that he desires that he “may know (Jesus) and the power of His Resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11).
This is the meaning of that beautiful prayer which many of us learned to pray after each communion: the
“Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with
Thy saints and with Thy angels
Forever and ever. Amen.”
“Within thy wounds hide me”. This is another common image for the glorious wounds of Christ. His wounds are a refuge, like the cleft in the rock in which God hid Moses (Exodus 33:20).
St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: “Where is a safe stronghold for the weak to find rest, if not in the wounds of the Saviour? There, safety is measured by His power to save. The world rages, the body weighs me down, the devil sets his snares, but I do not fall for I am founded on the solid rock. I have sinned grievously, my conscience will be troubled – but not in despair for I will recall the wounds of the Lord” (Office of Readings, Wednesday, Week 3).
It is therefore to the wounds of the Risen Christ that we all flee for mercy and for healing. This is why the Easter candle is consecrated with a reminder of His wounds, for the wounds of His suffering are now made glorious by His Resurrection.
I make the following prayer my own for you, as I wish each and every one of you a happy and blessed Easter!
“Lord Jesus Christ, Your hands, feet and side were pierced and flowed with blood for the world’s salvation. The wounds in Your risen body strengthened the faith of the Apostles in Your glorious Resurrection. Deepen our devotion to these proofs of Your love and unite us more closely to Your passion, so that we may rise with You to newness of life, for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” (Passionist Prayer for the Feast of the Glorious Wounds).
[Kairos Magazine, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, Vol. 21 N0 5.]