One of the last events we were able to hold before the country locked-down in 2020 was an exhibition devoted to the Holy Shroud of Turin. It was a most moving and compelling display of research, artefacts, photographs and expert testimony culminating in a highly detailed replica of the shroud. It has always been a fascinating relic and witness to the passion, death and resurrection of our Saviour, guarded and kept with great reverence. Even our own Bl. Sebastian Valfrè of the Oratory in Turin is said to have been called upon to mend it under the direction of skilled nuns — so sacred is that shroud, soaked in the precious blood, that only priestly hands could touch it.
There was one piece missing from the puzzle, the sudarium, or veil that covered the Lord’s head and was found “not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” (John 20:7) This brings us to Oviedo in Spain where this object, blood-stained and of the same material as the shroud, is preserved. We might even look to another Italian town, Manipello, where a veil made of sea-silk is thought to be the veil of St Veronica, imprinted with the countenance of the Saviour, an image that maps exactly onto that of the shroud.
These mysterious objects are images of the suffering of Christ, and they are evidence of his resurrection — he did not remain in that tomb, and the image miraculously imprinted on those cloths remind us of that. They should spark in us a devotion to his passion. It should feature in our contemplation and our prayers, our spiritual reading and our devotions. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the passion of the Lord is a model for the spiritual pilgrimage of life. Our life is marked by the sufferings of Christ who died for us, each blow and bruise a mark of love felt with a perfect keenness and out of a perfect compassion. But this was, of course, not the end for him, rather this way of suffering led to light, to glory. And so for us, in Christ, we can find strength in his suffering and consolation in the light of his glory. His mysteries are our mysteries and so to encounter him more closely, to experience this strength and consolation, it can be helpful to meditate on his sufferings in these days, mindful of the love that motivated them.
Veils of another kind come into play at the end of this week. By the weekend, all the images of devotion, the crucifixes and the statues in our church will be veiled. Just as he was in his passion and his body in the tomb were veiled with ignominy, scars and bruises, and linen cloths, so we screen the beautiful images of our church from our eyes. Christ’s glory was veiled in suffering, and so our Lenten penance takes on another kind of abstinence in order to call this to mind and to make the light of Easter all the more splendid.
Our contemplation of the passion in the weeks to come surely must remind us of the reason for all this — the compassion of our God, the mercy he extends to us so freely as to enter into the depths of our suffering so as to bring us to the heights of his glory.
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