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Abiding by the Open Side of Christ
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One of the soldiers, with a spear, opened His side, and immediately there came out Blood and water (Jn. 19, 34). Now comes the loud cry from the mouth of the Crucified Savior: “It is consummated!” This is the “Ite, missa est” of the bloody sacrifice of the Mass, and all creation replies, “Deo gratias…commends Himself to His Heavenly Father with the greeting: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”
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. “The soldiers therefore came; and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with Him. But after they came 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. 19, 31 ff.).
Hence, a fifth wound inflicted on the body of Christ---the gaping wound in His side. “Put in your finger here, and see my hands; and bring your hand here, and put it into my side.” While He did not suffer pain from the wound in His side, since He was dead, “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, Sermon. de Stellis, 12). Mary and, therefore, The Church feel the thrust of the sword.
The prophecy has been fulfilled: “They shall look upon Him Whom they have pierced.” (Jn 19:37; Zech 12)
Why does John’s Gospel and Letter emphasize so strongly the lance opening Christ’s side? He sees in this flow of water and Blood a mysterious sign, a symbol of salvation. 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: HE GAVE ALL TO THE BRIDE.
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 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 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 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; 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 makes the city of God joyful” (Ps. 14, 5). This is the stream of salvation if the channel is not obstructed by grievous sin.
Let us gaze particularly upon the opened side, into the pierced heart of our Savior; 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. …A cleansing bath for our blinded heart, a purifying bath for our unclean heart, a strengthening bath for our weak heart. Christ Jesus, Who did die for us on the Cross, by the sacred wound of Thy side, has mercy on us! Amen.” --Bishop Wilhelm Keppler 1929
Reflections written by Deacon James Keating