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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bloody Crucifix

Cathy has a great series of interesting posts on the Cross, and as a result I find that I must offer some thoughts on this subject as well.

Lent is the perfect time to regard the Cross, with or without a corpus, whether we are following the Carmelite tradition of placing ourselves upon that cross to unite ourselves with the suffering of Christ, or whether we need to be faced with His extreme suffering on our behalf. (Please note: I mentioned the Carmelite tradition as they follow a very austere life and thus their cross is not representative of the Resurrection, but rather is its own spirituality of suffering taken on by each soul. Thus their "corpus" is still present.) As Cathy points out in her posts, for the rest of us, we as Catholics need to see the corpus of Christ on the cross, for there is no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday. I would like to take this theme a little further, however.

When I lived in Mexico, although I never attended Mass there (which I will forever regret as long as I live), I went to a lot of churches. And in many of them one can find Jesus laid out as though in a tomb, but covered by glass. There were prie-dieus (kneelers) so that the faithful could kneel and meditate upon their Savior, focusing on His terrible wounds. He was bloody, he was bruised, and He was a horror to behold.

I was fascinated, of course, although not at the spiritual level that this was meant to prompt. Thankfully, though, part of our education there, through a Catholic college, involved understanding these images and models of Christ. Why do they exist in Mexico and not the United States?

Our professor explained that it went back to colonial times, when the missionaries were trying to convert the Aztecs and other native communities. The wise missionaries realized that simple catechesis was not sufficient; they had to find a point of identification with the people. The native peoples of Mexico had no problem with the idea of the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection; in fact, these ideas existed in their own pantheon of deities. Thus, they were points of identification. But there was something else the people understood, and had always understood; bloody sacrificial death. Chosen sacrifices. Fasting.

I'm not sure how it happened, but I believe the missionary (or missionaries)with the proper intelligence commissioned an artist to create Jesus in as bloody and realistic a fashion as possible, and lay Him out in his mask of death. They did this also with the crucifix.

And of course, centuries later, there I happened along to witness this image, and it has never left me. I can't "unsee" Jesus in that condition. It struck me to the core, although I didn't really understand it at the time. And while some of my classmates shied away, I was drawn in, seeing something that maybe I hadn't before, although I couldn't have told you what it was.

To this day, I LOVE the bloody crucifix, and the more I learn about theology, the more I love it, and the more meaningful is every element.

The Suffering of Jesus Christ

Several years ago, I was suddenly hit with carpal tunnel in both hands. It appeared one night while I was sick with a viral thing, so at first the pain running up my arms and the numbness in my hands was misdiagnosed as related to the virus. Then the next night was quite sleepless as first my hands went numb, and then a piercing pain ran up my arms, through my elbows, and up to my shoulders. It was horrible. The only thing that stopped me from going to the ER at 3 am was the fact that I could find a pulse in both wrists...so I knew it was the nerve. But it was like fire in my arms.

I don't remember when I learned it, but a couple years ago someone on the radio was giving a description of the suffering of Christ from the nails in his hands, or wrists. The speaker described the horrible, torturous pain of the weight of Jesus' body rubbing on the sensitive nerves in his arms, and the exquisite sensations it sent up his arms and throughout his entire body.

I know similar pain. The very thought makes me tear up, because I know the pain I experienced with the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome can't COMPARE to the suffering of Christ...from the nails in his hands alone. When I consider this horrible sensation, and take time to meditate on it, I cringe, I cry, I flinch, knowing, to some degree, what it was. And it was such a small pain in comparison to the rest of His wounds. So I have to admit, I don't think about it a lot, because it's very difficult, and at times, I can actually FEEL that pain again.

So it seems I NEED that bloody crucifix to make me understand the pain I have caused Christ through my sin.

But it doesn't stop there, for recently, I became aware of some of the symbolism of blood, from the beginning of time.

The Significance of Blood

You've read the passages in Genesis; when Cain killed Abel, God confronted Cain and cited the blood of Abel crying out to him from the ground. You've read the passages about the sacrifices offered to God on altars, in which the blood of the chosen animal was let to fall to the ground, so that the sacrifice would be offered in the proper way. You have read about the Mosaic dietary laws, the proscriptions as to how animals should be killed, for to consume the blood was abhorrent. For blood belongs to God alone; it is symbolic of life.

In Exodus, the Israelites were instructed to mark their lintels with the blood of the unblemished male lamb they were to slaughter that night; thus it was by the blood of the sacrificial lamb that they were saved.

We understand that same meaning; it is by the blood of Christ that we are saved. It is by His very blood, shed for us, that the ransom for sin has been paid. Jesus has answered to the Justice commanded by the Fall.

Thus, although some people say that they don't need to see the bloody crucifix, they don't need to see the blood Christ shed for us all, I respond that if they do not accept the blood, how can they understand Christ?

Our society has a great fear of blood, and perhaps this is part of the tactic of the evil one, for our abhorrence is not through respect as it was for the Israelites, but rather, out of irrational fear. In our world today, blood carries atrocious diseases, and those of us who may come into contact with blood or other body fluids that may contain blood are bound to protect ourselves with masks and goggles and gloves and even condoms. (I give you myself...just don't expose me to your blood.)

We are a culture of barriers. Even as we beg people to "Give Blood!", we close our eyes so as not to see the fluid passing through the tube. Even as we know that blood saves lives, for indeed, life is impossible without blood, we are squeamish and we flinch back from it. Those who are fascinated by blood are attracted to the terrible facets of symbolism found in horror flicks...this is unnatural. This latter, I would argue, is indicative of the fallen state of humanity. For even as we realize the importance of blood, we either shy away from it or we bathe ourselves in it inappropriately.

I would so argue that those who suggest we don't NEED to see the blood on the crucifix need a little more understanding as to the spiritual and real properties of blood; for it is the very blood of Christ that gives us life. And had not God breathed life into Adam, that life that coursed through him, bound to his blood, had not God become Incarnate and spilled His own blood for us in His Passion, and if we did not consume the flesh and blood of Christ at each Mass, we would have no life in us.

Blood is akin to life, and it is the gateway to Eternal Life.

I completely understand those who say they prefer a more sterile representation of Christ from the perspective of art or propriety for children. And I understand that some people are incredibly sensitive and such images are difficult for them for various reasons. However, barring such obvious scenarios, I honestly believe that mature Christians at least need an appreciation of the significance of blood, especially in relation to the Passion and Crucifixion in order to have a proper spiritual orientation to the suffering of Jesus for our salvation.

So for those who previously thought that you don't "need" to see a bloody crucifix...please reconsider, and spend some time meditating upon the importance of the blood that has set you free.

Litany of the Precious Blood of Jesus

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit,
have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God,
have mercy on us.

R. Save Us

Blood of Christ, Incarnate Word of God...
Blood of Christ, of the New and Eternal Testament...
Blood of Christ, falling upon the earth in the Agony...
Blood of Christ, shed profusely in the Scourging...
Blood of Christ, flowing forth in the Crowning with Thorns...
Blood of Christ, poured out on the Cross...
Blood of Christ, Price of our Salvation...
Blood of Christ, without which there is no salvation...
Blood of Christ, Eucharistic drink and refreshment of souls...
Blood of Christ, river of Mercy...
Blood of Christ, Victor over demons...
Blood of Christ, Courage of Martyrs...
Blood of Christ, Strength of Confessors...
Blood of Christ, bringing forth Virgins...
Blood of Christ, Help of those in peril...
Blood of Christ, Relief of the burdened...
Blood of Christ, Solace in sorrow...
Blood of Christ, Hope of the penitent...
Blood of Christ, Consolation of the dying...
Blood of Christ, Peace and Tenderness of hearts...
Blood of Christ, Pledge of Eternal Life...
Blood of Christ, freeing souls from Purgatory...
Blood of Christ, most worthy of all glory and honor...

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
graciously hear us, O Lord
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.

Thou has redeemed us, O Lord, in Thy Blood,
And made of us a kingdom for our God.

Let Us Pray

Almighty and Eternal God, Thou hast appointed Thine Only-Begotten Son the Redeemer of the world, and willed to be appeased by His Blood. Grant, we beseech Thee, that we may worthily adore this Price of our Salvation, and through Its Power be safeguarded from the evils of this present life, so that we may rejoice in Its Fruits forever in Heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

6 comments:

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Moving meditation..

Terry Nelson said...

I love the bloody, wounded crucifix as well. I have a long standing devotion to the Holy Wounds.

Fr. V said...

Wow!

You made me stop and think today.

Great post,

Fr. V

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: This is a good post. I like the Precious Blood tie-in. I'm not faulting anyone who prefers the bloody Corpus over a plainer Corpus. I, personally, don't feel like I need to see that much. But, I think a Corpus should be present on the Cross to help us recall the Sacrifice.

I'm going to link to your post.

Adoro te Devote said...

Thanks for your comments, all.

Cathy, I want to be very clear in that I'm not picking on you. But you said something that triggered a memory for me, going back to the year the Passion of the Christ came out, and things people said. That's also why I have the "disclaimer" at the end. And I agree with you on the corpus...it IS needed, and we as Catholics that reminder always before us; that there is no Easter without Good Friday. Although I have no problem with the Carmelit tradition with the cross without the corpus...they are very tied in with the theology of suffering, so in their case, it isn't the Protestant cross.

Adoro te Devote said...

Fr. V. ~ Well, maybe it runs in the "family", Cyber-bro. You make me stop and think all the time!