The Piercing of the Side of Our Lord – Day of Gratitude
“The stream of the river maketh the city of God joyful. The Most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle” [Ps. 45:5].
The Blessed Virgin remained standing at the foot of the cross, supported by her sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, by the Magdalen, and the beloved disciple. There they stood in speechless woe, while darkness covered the whole earth and all nature seemed convulsed with grief. No sooner had our Lord spoken His expiring word, that at once an earthquake shook the whole city, sending terror into every heart and opening the graves of many of the elder saints. A funeral pall was spread over the nation that had shed the blood of its God. The centurion who kept guard, when he saw all these portents, exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Yet no sympathy came to the afflicted Mother. Her sorrow was too deep for human consolation. She stood riveted to the cross, brokenhearted and desolate. At last, in the distance is heard the sound of a multitude. They are groping their way in the darkness, to see if their victims are already dead. The morrow was the great day of the Passover, and these bodies must be removed before the dawn. The two thieves are not yet dead; they are writhing in their last agonies. So with violence they draw near, and the soldiers take great mallets to break their legs. They soon dispatch these poor victims, and coming to the cross of our Lord, they find Him already departed. There was no need to break His legs, but a Roman soldier mounted, comes up with a long spear and pierces His heart. At once there flows from that sacred heart a mingled tide of water and blood. It was a miraculous torrent gushing from the sacred body full of love for the guilty sons of men, and of power to wash away every stain and defilement. St. John, who saw it, bears witness to it, as to one of the great facts of revelation. “And he that saw it gave testimony, and he knoweth that his testimony is true.” If mothers watch with jealous care the remains of their children, lingering in fond affection over the last that is left to them, much more did Mary burn with love and zeal for the honor of that torn and mangled body. It was the body of her Child, dearer to her than her own flesh and blood. It was the body of her God, from which, in all its ignominy, the deity never for a moment departed. Ten thousand angels were veiling their faces before its bleeding wounds, and Mary, purer, dearer than all, sent up every moment her supremest adoration. What horror must then have seized her to witness this new insult! It was a new and needless aggravation of her woe. Yet it was the accomplishment of a great prophecy, the manifestation of God’s great love for sinners, and the opening of the fountain for sin and uncleanness. It was the gushing of the stream of the river which makes glad the city of God. The sacred heart had overflown with mercy for a guilty world, and had broken with man’s ingratitude. Now by the rude hand of violence its pulsations were stilled, and yet in death it yearned to give some new token of its pity for the fallen. The Roman spear comes to its aid, and the saving, cleansing stream flows out. Here is the beginning of all life and salvation. For the sinner can never draw nigh to God covered with the defilement of his sins. He must first be purified, and there is no earthly power which can wash him clean. The blood of Christ alone can cleanse him. This mingled tide of water and blood from the side of our Lord can purge the deepest stains, and this alone is the sinner’s hope. The sacred heart was the place of Mary’s rest, and into its depths of love she looked and found consolation. That last wound had well-nigh drawn with its bloody spear the current of her life. Two hearts were lacerated with that fearful blow. Still conscious of man’s great joy, Mary looks on in the future to the choir of saints who should wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. She sees the Church of God coming like our mother Eve, from that open side, and living in its fountain of sanctifying grace. The spouse of the second Adam is born upon the cross, while He is wrapped in His sleep of death. And she too looked up with gratitude for that crimson flood, though it cost the sacrifice of her own heart.
And now the shades of evening began to thicken around Mount Calvary, and the holy women gather closer to the cross. Joseph of Arimathea, a just man and a counselor, goes to Pilate, and begs in his own name and in Mary’s behalf, for the body of Jesus. Pilate consents and gives the order. So another Joseph takes the place of the holy spouse of the Virgin, and comes with some of the disciples to prepare our Lord for burial. With reverence and awe they make ready to take the body from the cross. First they place long ladders against the cross, and draw out the long nails from the hands and feet. Then with care they gently bear the body in their arms and lift it to the ground. The Mother of sorrows waits to receive it, and they place the pale and bloodless head upon her bosom. She takes once more her Beloved into her arms, and the disciples kneel around her to adore the Word made flesh. Magdalen embraces His feet and again washes them with her tears, while the holy Virgin kisses each wound and wipes away the clotted blood. She closes His eyes and composes His sacred features. All was obedient to her touch, save the outstretched arms which could not be closed, but remained open to welcome to His embrace the sinners for whom He died. Here for some moments in silence they waited, not daring to intrude upon Mary’s grief. But what a sight for men and angels! The Mother of God sits at the foot of the cross, and holds in her arms the body of her dead Son, while tears stream down from her face, mingling with the blood still issuing from His wounds. To this sight, before which the angelic army is mute with grief, let the sinner turn. It is the day of his recovery. Let him bring his sorrows and his miseries here. Though his sins be like crimson, they shall be white as wool. Here is the Jordan in which the unclean and leprous may put off their defilements, and regain the flesh and the heart of an innocent child.