The Five Wounds and Our Spirituality

I had been called to go to the emergency room to give Last Rites. When I arrived, the nurse came out of the room and warned me; it was a very bad car accident and he was in very bad shape. The doctors had done what they could but he was not going to live long and the family was not going to make it to the hospital before he passed. She was right; it was hard to see. No words can sufficiently describe a serious injury. By the grace of God I was able to enter the room, give him Last Rites and commend his soul to God. Still today, I remember that feeling when I touched his forehead with the holy oil–he was about to leave this world.

Seeing a bad wound makes some people get queasy. I personally have a hard time with needles, but can handle wounds a bit more. Yet, seeing a serious wound always strikes me deeply. The damaging of one’s flesh and bone is a clear reminder of our mortality. “Memento mori”, remember, you are mortal. The same is true of Christ’s wounds. Although none of us can actually see them today (unless granted the wonderful grace of a miraculous vision), seeing them portrayed in art (or cinema, like “The Passion of the Christ”) and pondering each of them for what they are is of great spiritual value. It leads us to a deeper appreciation of what Our Lord went through for our sakes. It was John the Apostle who saw Jesus as a lamb Who looked like He had been slain (cf. Rev 5:6). That is how Jesus showed Himself on His throne. In other words, He was saying to John, “look at my wounds and do not forget them, for they will be visible forever”.

Most especially should we consider the medieval devotion to the “five wounds” of Christ (both hands, both feet and His side). Pope Francis recently encouraged a revival of this same devotion. What a humbling encouragement that he gives (do go and read it). Look at them in silence and reflect upon each of them, he says. Do not look away from it; take it in and let it transform you. This is another reason why I do not greatly appreciate the so-called “resurrection crucifixes”. Yes, we want to remember the resurrection, of course. We do not, however, want to have the resurrection make us forget the suffering of our Lord. Jesus did not die peacefully, in His sleep, hidden away in the ICU of a hospital; it was public for all in Jerusalem to see (and for us to remember). This was not an accident of history.

Certainly I am not trying to draw attention to us in anything of a prideful manner, but here in the Ordinariates I am glad to say “Yes, we’ve got that”. In the Votive Masses of the Divine Worship Missal there is included (or maybe it should be said, restored”) the Mass of the Five Wounds. This is one of those devotions that cannot be done in a merely “speculative” manner. We have to get to the “brass tacks” and consider the suffering of our Lord in a somewhat direct manner. The Jerusalem Cross is often pointed out as a symbol of the Five Wounds. Our own Canterbury Cross on the cover of the Divine Worship Missal carries the same symbolism; what a beautiful reminder for a priest every time he opens the book to say the Mass. As much as I enjoy Church history, I cannot call myself an historian in the strict sense. I believe Fr. Hunwicke has commented (more than once) on the Mass of the Five Wounds, and its appearance in the Sarum form of the Mass. You may want to seek out his information for more specifics on that aspect.

Remarkably, there is a strange issue with how modern society (at least here in Northern America) tends to view (or maybe I should say “wants to avoid viewing”) those brutal aspects of Christ’s sufferings. Without getting into a diatribe regarding how so many people do not want to see “bad stuff”, we must acknowledge that seeing blood shakes us and wakes us. The wounds of Christ get our attention. After the recent bridge collapse in Florida, I recall hearing a number of people comment on a photo that showed a red puddle next to a crushed car (“oh my, look at all the blood!”). Turns out, the “red” was actually pink–it was transmission fluid and not blood. Yet, seeing the puddle of red catches our attention–does it not?–and that makes us think of our own mortality; something many today refuse to do.

I believe it was St. Theresa of Avila who said “begin every day by saying, ‘I may die today’, and then decide what to do”. The five wounds of Christ help us to do that. Thinking of the specific points of suffering that our precious Lord experienced in His crucifixion says two things at once. First, He suffered and died (pay attention to it and do not try to exclude it from your thoughts); second, you too will die someday (pay attention to it and do not try to exclude it from your thoughts either). Remember the Five Wounds.


4 thoughts on “The Five Wounds and Our Spirituality

  1. Several decades ago, I assisted at a funeral at the Benedictine abbey where I habitually go for mass. The monk who died was perhaps about thirty years old, one of the earlier victims of AIDS (contracted elsewhere; he had left the abbey soon after making his first profession and subsequently returned there to die after contracting the disease, for which no treatment existed at that time). At the end of the service of commendation at the awaiting grave, they lowered the casket into the ground and invited each of us to toss a shovelful of dirt onto it — a very real participation in the burial of the dead. As the casket started descend, the young monk’s mother burst out in tears of sorrow. The hollow ka-thunk as each of the multitude of rocks in our New England soil impinged on the casket is indescribable, but it fit the moment in a very uncanny way. The hollow sound reminded us all that something was missing — the gentle presence of a beloved son and brother in the Lord.

    The lowering of the casket and the act of covering it with dirt remains the final element of the service of commendation in the Roman burial rite, yet it is often omitted — ostensibly to spare the pain of watching it for the family. Unfortunately, this really deprives those who mourn the death of a much-needed emotional release that the direct confrontation with the reality brings to bear. Those who suffer this loss then carry the emotional baggage surrounding the loss for years to come, or even for the rest of their lives.

    Here, the Paschal Triduum is instructive. We cannot get to the eternal bliss of the resurrection without first going through the anguish and suffering of the passion and the desolation of the empty tomb.



  2. Fr. Hunwicke’s comments on the Five Wounds today are very interesting.
    The Banner of the Five Wounds was the emblem of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the populist Catholic uprising against the Protestant revolution of Cranmer and others. So it is apropos for the Ordinariate Missal to reincorporate the Mass of the Five Wounds into its liturgy, as a symbol of bringing the disparate parts of the English Catholic tradition back together.


    • “The Banner of the Five Wounds was the emblem of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the populist Catholic uprising against the Protestant revolution of Cranmer and others.”

      A similar, if not identical, banner was the emblem of the “Prayer-Book Rebellion” (that is, rebellion against Cranmer’s PB) of 1549, and the very same banner that was used in the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) and hidden away after it, was taken from hiding by Richard Norton, a Yorkshire gentleman who had been involved in the earlier rising, and used again as the emblem of the “Revolt of the Northern Earls” in favor of Catholicism and against Protestantism in 1569.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s