February 23, 2018: HOLY LANCE & THE NAILS OF OUR LORD
February 23, 2018: THE HOLY LANCE & THE NAILS OF OUR LORD
[Friday after I Sunday of Lent]
“They have dug my hands and feet. They have numbered all my bones.”
(Ps, xxi. 17, 18)
shall look upon me, whom they have pierced”
(Zach, xii. 10)
O God, who in the infirmity of the flesh which thou didst assume wast pleased to be pierced with nails, and to be wounded with a lance for the salvation of the world; mercifully grant that we who venerate on earth the same nails and lance, may rejoice in heaven at the glorious triumph of thy victory. Who liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
For meditation, the below narrations are taken from The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Revelations of Anna Catherine Emmerich. With Ecclesiastical Approbation. Imprimatur. 1914.
Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross.
And now the lacerated Victim was thrown down upon the Cross. He yielded willingly to His executioners, and they jerked Him into position on His back, seized His right arm, drew His right hand over the hole prepared in the beam, and bound the arm first to the Cross. One of them planted his knee in Our Lord's breast, a second kept His hand from closing, the third fixed the sharp point of a long thick nail against the thick part of that blessed hand, and began to strick furiously with his iron hammer. Sweet and clear rang out the tones of pain from Our Lord's lips, while His blood leaped forth to redden the arms of His crucifiers. The tendons of His hands were torn loose, and carried by the three-edged nail on through the narrow hole into the cross-beam behind… Our Lady's tones of compassion were soft and low, outwardly she seemed unconscious, while Magdalen was beside herself with grief.
Jesus had shuddered at sight of the nails. They were long enough to extend an inch out on each side of a hand which grasped them in the center, and the round cap-shaped head felt, when grasped by the hand, about as broad as a half-dollar piece. The body of the three-edged nail tapered from the size of an ordinary thumb above to that of a little finger below, and ended in a sharp-filed point. When driven through it projected a little distance out from the beam of the Cross.
After nailing fast the right hand, they found that the hole bored for the left hand was too far out, about two inches beyond the finger-tips. So they unloosed His left arm from the beam, tied their ropes tight round the arm, braced their feet against the main beam of the Cross, and pulled violently till the hand was even with the place prepared for it. Jesus moaned while His arms were thus torn from their sockets. His shoulder-blades flattened out, His elbow joints visibly pulled asunder, His breast-bones forcibly expanded and elevated, and His knees drawn convulsively upwards. Again they planted their knees on his breast, tied His arms tight round the beams, and drove the second cruel nail through His left hand, while His sweet clear tones of pain mingled with the heavy blows of the hammer. His arms were drawn so tight and high that they no longer covered the upwards slanting cross-beams, and I could see between His arm-pits and the beams.
All His agony was shared by Our Lady, she was pale as a corpse, and tones of pain fell softly from her lips. The Pharisees spouted their mockeries and curses out over the wall where she stood, and those around her led her back a little way to the second group of holy women, where Magdalen, with bloodshot eyes and insane with grief, was tearing her face till it bled.
At about one third of the way up there was fastened to the Cross a projecting block of wood, held in place by a very large nail. This block was meant to serve as support for the feet of Jesus, so He might rather stand than hang. Otherwise His hands would tear through the nails, and His feet could not be nailed fast without breaking. Into this block was bored a hole to receive the nail through His feet, and a little hollow made for His heels. Elsewhere too along the main beam of the Cross were hollowed out some little cavities, in order to let Our Lord suffer longer, to prevent the hands from tearing through and the body from being dragged down by its own weight.
The violent straining of His arms had caused His knees to contract and had drawn His whole body higher than first intended. The executioners tied knots round His knees and forced them back to the beam, but even so His sacred feet would not by far reach the standing block. How the crucifiers cursed! Some were for making new holes for the arms, as it was too difficult to raise the block higher. Others shouted in awful mockery that He did not want to stretch out but they would show Him how. They tied cords to His right leg and dragged it with agonizing violence till His foot reached the block, whereupon they tied His leg tightly to the beam. Under this awful distension of His body His chest-bones cracked and He moaned aloud: “My God, My God.” As chest and arms were fast bound to the Cross in order to keep the hands from tearing through, the whole lower body seemed to tear loose from the upper, and His ribs to snap off from His breast-bone. O God, what a shuddering spectacle! In the same fearful manner the left foot was dragged down upon the right. They bound it down as tightly as they could, but as it could not be brought to rest firm enough for driving the nail, they took a borer, smaller and more flat-headed than the nails for the hands, and drove it into His instep, somewhat as a shoemaker uses the awl to make way for the needle. This done, they seized the most fearful of the nails, much longer than the others, and drove it with cracking grinding force through the opened instep, of His left foot, down through the right foot into the hole in the block and on into the beam of the Cross. I was looking on from the side of the Cross and saw the one nail go through both feet.
The distension of His body made this nailing of His feet more awful than any suffering He had yet endured. I counted about six and thirty hammer strokes, and mingling with them I heard constantly the moans of my poor Savior. Sweet, clear and pure came His tones of pain, while the mockeries of His furious tormentors sounded dull and cloudy.
The Death of our Lord and the piercing of His Side with a Lance.
Our Savior's hour was now come. He began to wrestle with death and a cold sweat broke out over His whole body. John stood below in front, drying his Maker's feet with his handkerchief. Magdalen was crouched against the back of the Cross, lost in agonizing sorrow. Our Lady stood between the Cross of Jesus and that of the good thief, supported in the arms of Mary of Cleophas and Salome, her eyes riveted to the face of her dying Son. Jesus said: “It is consummated,” then raised His head and cried with a loud voice: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” ’Twas a sweet powerful cry, that penetrated and filled Heaven and earth. When the words were ended, He bowed His head and gave up the ghost, and like a luminous shadow I saw His soul sink down near the Cross into the ground and pass on into Limbo. John and the holy women fell face downward to the ground.
Abenadar, the captain, an Arabian by birth, later as disciple known by the name Ctesiphon, was sitting on his horse in the same position he had held since he had given Jesus vinegar to drink, so close that his horse's fore-feet rested on the hillock of crucifixion. He was deeply moved, and gazed long and earnestly, and uninterruptedly into that dying Face under its crown of thorns. The horse's head was sunk in sickening fear, and the rider, his pride broken, tightened not the slackened rein. Then Our Lord spoke those last words so loudly and powerfully, and gave up His spirit with that penetrating cry that resounded through earth, and hell, and Heaven.
Immediately the earth round about trembled, and the rocks burst and yawned wide between Our Lord and the thief on the left. God's testimony to His Son came sweeping through the depths of nature, and nature shuddered in horror. It was consummated—Our Lord's soul had passed from the body. And while all that vast multitude trembled with the reverent and trembling earth, while the keen sword of bereavement transfixed the hearts of friends — at this moment grace fell upon Abenadar. He felt his hard proud soul tremble like the rocks of Calvary—and in that feeling he threw from him his spear, struck with mighty hand his penitent heart, and cried out aloud with the voice of a new-born man: “Blessed be God, the Almighty, the God of Abraham and Jacob! This was a just man, truly He is the Son of God!” Swept away by his words many of the soldiers followed his example.
But now that he was a new man, a redeemed man, after rendering public homage to the Son of God, Abenadar would no longer be servant to Our Lord's enemies. He turned his horse's head to his subordinate officer, then called Cassius, and spoke a few words to the soldiers, as also to Cassius, who now bestrode Abenadar's horse and took his place as commander. Abenadar himself hurried down from Calvary and on through the Valley of Gihon till he reached the disciples hiding in the Valley of Hinnom. To them he announced the death of Jesus, and hurried onwards to report to Pilate.
The terror which fell upon those present at the death-cry of Jesus, when the earth shook and Calvary burst open, this terror spread out over entire nature: the veil of the Temple was rent asunder and some of its walls sank, many dead rose from their graves, and mountains and buildings collapsed in many parts of the world.
When Abenadar and many of the soldiers with him cried out in testimony of Our Lord's Divinity, many of the multitude were converted, and even many of the latest to arrive among the Pharisees. Many began to strike their breads and lament, and wandered down from the mountain and through the valley to their homes. Others rent their garments and sprinkled dust on their heads. All were filled with terror and consternation.
John rose up from where he lay, and several of the holy women, who so far had stood at a distance, now pushed their way into the enclosure, raised from the ground Our Lady and her friends, and led them out of the enclosure in order to console them.
Can we wonder that in sight of this awful spectacle Our Lady’s hands seemed paralyzed with agony, that her eyes darkened and her ears refused to hear, that a deathly pallor mantled her face, that her feet broke under her and let her sink to the ground? And when she was raised by gentle hands, when again she lifted her eyes to the Cross, what a vision met her eyes? That most pure and beautiful body, conceived in her by the Holy Ghost, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone, the costly shrine formed in her Divinely overshadowed womb—how forlorn and desecrated is it now! Robbed of all its beautiful symmetry, robbed of its indwelling holy soul, thrown on the mercy of material laws which He had created and man had outraged! That, then, is the end of all: Men whom He came to call to life had put Him to death! His slaughtered body hangs ruined and disfigured upon the tree, the once beauteous shrine of charity and truth is shorn of all its loveliness, the noblest of the sons of men swings lifeless between two murderers! O Mother of Jesus, Queen of martyrs, who shall sound the depths of thy agony!
Spite of its awful disfigurement there was about Our Lord's body an air of soul-touching holiness. The two thieves were silent, and Dismas was praying, but their bodies hung down in fearful drunken distortions. Our Lord's friends and relatives sat or stood within the circle of the Cross, sorrowing and lamenting. Many of the holy women had returned into the city. —City and Hill were wrapped in a mantle of sadness, stillness and loneliness.
Meanwhile sadness and stillness reigned out there on Golgatha. The terrified multitude had dispersed. Our Lady, John, Magdalen, Mary of Cleophas and Salome sat or stood with heads muffled for sorrow in front of the Cross. Some soldiers were sitting on the low earthen wall, their spears lying near them. While Cassius rode back and forth, the soldiers on the summit talked down to their companions who were farther away. The sky was still overcast, and all nature was in mourning.
Six executioners now appeared, with ladders, shovels and ropes, and three-edged heavy clubs, intended to break the legs of those crucified. When they entered the enclosure. Our Lord's friends drew back a little way. Our Lady's soul was rent with new fear, lest these wretches maltreat even His dead body. And in fact they planted their ladders against the Cross, climbed up, and struck that sacred body, affirming that He merely pretended to be dead. But finding Him all cold and stiff, and seeing John at the request of the holy women appeal to the soldiers, they went no further at present, yet did not seem convinced of his death.
They turned from Our Lord to the two thieves, climbed up on the ladders, and began to break their bones. One broke the right arm above and below the elbow, a second did the same on the left arm, and a third, on the legs, both above and below the knee. Gesmas broke into fearful howls and they shattered his breast with three blows of their clubs. Dismas gave a last moan of agony, and died, the first mortal to follow Our Lord to Limbo.
The executioners still seemed in doubt as to Our Lord's death. Their shuddering barbarities towards the thieves made Our Savior's friends still more apprehensive of their return. But Cassius, afterwards called Longinus, whose weak squinting eyes had often called forth the contempt of his companions, was at this moment struck with a sudden impulse of grace. The vile-minded cruelties of the executioners and the anguish of the holy women combined with this sudden impulse of zeal to make him the fulfiller of a prophecy. He lengthened out his spear, which had been shortened by pushing its various parts one back into the other, and fastened the iron point upon it. I saw him turn his horse's head and drive the animal violently up the hillock of crucifixion, taking care to avoid the chasm in the rock. There was scarce room for his horse on top, but he paused between the Cross of Jesus and that of the good thief, to the right of Our Lord's body, seized his spear with both hands, and forced it violently into the hollow distended side and on through entrails and heart till the point came forth and opened a slight wound on the left side of Our Savior's breast. As with equal violence the now holy lance was dragged back out of the perforated body, it was followed by a full-flowing stream of blood and water that poured a flood of grace and salvation down into his uplifted face. He sprang from his horse, fell upon his knees, beat his breast, and in sight of all present loudly proclaimed his faith in Jesus.
Our Lady and her companions, their eyes turned constantly towards Jesus, watched with anxiety the sudden procedure of Cassius. When his lance passed into the sacred body, they gave a cry of woe and sprang forward to the Cross. Our Lady felt the blow in every fibre of her being, and sank as if the lance had pierced her own heart, into the supporting arms of her friends, while Cassius fell on his knees, his soul illumined by faith and light, his lips confessing the Lord and proclaiming thanks, while even his blear-eyed bodily vision grew bright and clear.
And now all gathered, with reverential tenderness, round the blood of the Redeemer, which was collecting in a depression in the rock beneath the Cross. It was mixed with water and covered with bubbling foam. By means of some kind of saucers which they had with them, Our Lady, Cassius, John and the holy women dipped most of this precious liquid into flasks, and absorbed what remained into pieces of cloth.
Cassius was completely transformed. His eyes both of soul and of body had been opened wide and clear, his heart was deeply moved and humbled. Struck by the miraculous change in their captain, the soldiers present likewise fell on their knees, beat their breasts and confessed Jesus. ’Twas touching to see the blood and water poured in an abundant stream out from the wide-open right side of Jesus, to see it fall foaming upon a pure clean stone, to see the holy company gather it up so tenderly, while into its sacred foam trickled tears from the eyes of Magdalen and Our Lady. The executioners did not return. They had meanwhile got word from Pilate not to touch the body of Jesus, since he had confided it to Joseph of Arimathea for burial.
Taken from: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Revelations of Anna Catherine Emmerich.
Translated from the German by a Priest of the Order of St. Benedict. With Ecclesiastical Approbation. Imprimatur. 1914; and
The Missal for the Laity according to the use of the Holy Roman Church, 1846.
Glory be to thy patience, O Lord!