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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 27:57. Mark 15:42. Luke 23:50. John 19:38]

IN order that the bodies of those who were crucified might not remain on the Cross during the Sabbath, the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two thieves, but coming to Jesus, they found Him already dead. Hence there was no need to break His legs. Fearing, however, that some vestige of life might still remain in Him, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came forth.

There was among the secret disciples of Jesus a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council. He went to Pilate and asked for the Body of Jesus, that he might bury it. Pilate granted his request. Then Joseph, together with Nicodemus, took down the Sacred Body from the Cross, and wrapped it up, with costly aromatic spices, in a linen shroud.

It so happened that Joseph had a garden near the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new sepulchre, hewn from the rock, wherein no one had yet been buried. In this they laid the Body of Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre (Fig. 92).

 

Fig. 92. Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. (Phot. Dr. Trenkler & Co., Leipzig.)

On the following day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate and said: “Sir, we have remembered that that seducer said, while He was yet alive: ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Command, therefore, the sepulchre to be guarded until the third day, lest His disciples come and steal Him away, and say to the people: ‘He is risen from the dead’.” Pilate gave them guards to watch the sepulchre, and they moreover sealed the stone.

The Soul of Jesus Christ, immediately after His Death, went to Limbo, to announce to the spirits of the just the glad tidings that the work of Redemption was accomplished, and that they would soon ascend with Him to heaven. It was for this reason that our Lord said to the penitent thief: “This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” Our Lord’s Divinity was inseparably joined to His Soul.

Our Paschal Lamb. Our Divine Saviour, crucified on the Jewish paschal feast, is the true Paschal Lamb; and therefore St. Paul says: “Christ, our Pasch, is sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). No bone of the typical lamb might be broken (Old Test. XXXIII), and this law was meant to typify that no bone would be broken of the true Paschal Lamb, our Redeemer. This, as you have read, came to pass.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus. God did not suffer the bones of His crucified Son to be broken; and in order that no one might attribute this fact to chance, He announced, fifteen hundred years before, by the type of the paschal lamb, that it would be so. Why, then, did God permit the Sacred Body of His Only-Begotten Son to be pierced with a lance, and His Sacred Heart to be laid open? The Crucifixion being such an all-important event to the whole world, each circumstance of it, however small, must have a meaning, and have been provided for in the plan of Redemption; so that the lance-thrust which transfixed the Sacred Heart must in the wisdom of God have been meant to serve some special end. The end was this: a) to confirm our faith; b) to kindle our love.

a) The wound inflicted by the lance was, by its nature, absolutely mortal, and left no possible room for doubt that our Lord really did die on the Cross, and that, consequently, His Resurrection was really and truly an awakening from death to life.

b) When the lance pierced the Heart of Jesus, Blood and Water flowed out. Our Blessed Saviour, therefore, shed His Heart’s Blood for us, thereby giving us the greatest proof of His love. It was the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which impelled Him to suffer all the pain and shame that He endured, and to die for us on the Cross; so now, after His Body was completely covered with wounds, and had been tortured to death, He willed further to give His very Heart’s Blood for us, and permitted it to be pierced, so that it might pour out its last drops of Blood for us. The Church speaks thus in her Office for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “For this was His Heart pierced, that we by means of this visible wound might perceive the invisible wound of His love. How could this love be better proved than by allowing His Heart to be wounded by the lance? Who could help loving this Heart thus wounded?” “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I implore grace to love Thee more and more.”

The Blood and the Water which flowed from the opened Side of Jesus are figures of the holiest and the most indispensable of the Sacraments, namely the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and of Baptism. These two Sacraments (and with these two greatest, the other five also) proceeded from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for it was the love of His Sacred Heart which moved Him to institute these Sacraments for our salvation. In this sense, therefore, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the source of all sacramental grace.

The sorrowful Mother of God. The grief of Mary at the Crucifixion of her Son was immeasurably great. She felt in her own heart all the torments which He suffered, without being able either to help or relieve Him. And now He was dead! Her beloved Son was taken from her, and even His Body belonged to His enemies. She could not tear herself away from the scene of His Death, but remained by the Cross to keep guard over His Body, and, if possible, to assist at its Burial. Full of anxious suspense as to what would be done with that Sacred Body, she implored the help of the heavenly Father. The executioners were already making their preparations to take It down from the Cross and cast It into the pit with the bodies of the two thieves, when Joseph of Arimathea came up, and showed to her Pilate’s order that the Sacred Body should be given to him. And when he had taken down the beloved Body from the Cross, he gave It to the holy Mother, and laid It in her arms where It had so often rested in childhood. The faithful friends helped her with loving hands to wash the Body of the Most Holy, so disfigured, torn, and blood-stained; and now for the first time the sorrowful Mother was able to examine the number of His wounds and bruises, and to picture to herself the extent of the horrible torments which Jesus had endured. His wounds bled afresh in her own heart, and her grief was deep as the sea. But while we contemplate this sorrowful picture, let us not forget that sin alone is responsible for the torments of Jesus, and the sorrow of His Mother. Let us awaken within us a deep sense of contrition, and a heartfelt horror of our own sins; and let us make a firm resolution never again to commit a wilful sin!

The courage of Joseph of Arimathea is expressly mentioned in Scripture. “He went in boldly to Pilate and begged the Body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43). He feared neither the hatred of the Scribes and Pharisees, nor the scorn and ridicule which, as a member of the Sanhedrim, he would draw on himself by taking down One Crucified from the Cross with his own hands, and by laying Him in his own sepulchre. Moreover he shewed Pilate, by his very petition, that he considered Jesus to have been unjustly put to death; and he openly confessed himself to be an adherent and disciple of the Crucified One.

The generosity of Nicodemus also deserves praise. He brought with him a hundred pounds’ weight of very precious spices, to lay on the Body of our Lord. He considered nothing too precious for Jesus. Love made him generous.

The sins of our Lord’s enemies. The chief priests and Pharisees sinned by falsely suspecting the disciples of intending to steal the Body of their Master. They also committed the sin of calumny by imparting their unfounded suspicions to Pilate, representing to him the disciples of Jesus as deceivers and thieves. They also sinned by blasphemy, in calling our Lord a seducer.

The devices to which the enemies of Jesus resorted to keep His Body in the grave, and to destroy all belief in Him, tended against their will to His glory, and manifested to the whole world that it was by His own power alone that Jesus came forth from the sealed and guarded grave. Thus, by God’s wisdom, good can be made to come out of evil.

The poverty of Jesus was extreme. Neither in life nor in death had Jesus a place where to lay His Head; and after He died, His Body did not belong to those who loved Him, but to His executioners and tormentors; and was given away by them to the first asker as a thing of no value. Jesus renounced everything in the world, even His Body, made of the earth; He only kept for Himself the sins of the world, to make satisfaction for them. He had no grave of His own in which His Body might lie: it was buried in the grave of a stranger, by the charity of him who owned it.

Patience in suffering. Our Divine Saviour remained hanging on the Cross till men came to take Him down. Ought we, then, to consider it too much to remain hanging on the cross (of suffering) till it pleases God to take us down?

The opening of the Side of Jesus, sleeping the sleep of death on the Cross, was, according to the Fathers of the Church, a fulfilment of the type presented by the creation of the first woman from the side of the sleeping Adam. From the Side of Jesus Christ, the second Adam and our spiritual Father, there proceeded the Church, which is the second Eve, the true mother of the living.

Preparation for Holy Communion. Even as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped the Sacred Body of Jesus in clean linen, and laid it in a tomb fragrant with sweet spices, so ought we to receive the Body of our Lord in Holy Communion with hearts cleansed from sin, and fragrant with devotion and the perfume of virtues.

The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was visited by many pilgrims even in the first centuries of the Christian era. In the year 325, St. Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great, discovered the True Cross, together with the Nails and Title. But as the crosses of the two thieves were found together with and in the same place as the Cross of Jesus, it was a matter of uncertainty which of the three crosses was that of our Lord. St. Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, caused a poor woman, afflicted with a mortal complaint, to touch the three crosses in turn. The touch of the first two had no effect on her; but as soon as she had touched the third, she arose perfectly cured. This miracle made it plain which was the true Cross of Jesus. Fragments of the Holy Cross have been distributed among the faithful in almost every Catholic country. Constantine built a large church on Calvary over the Holy Sepulchre.

APPLICATION. Would you not consider yourself very happy, if you could go to Jerusalem and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and pray on the two spots where your Saviour was crucified and buried? Your heart would glow with devotion and grateful love, and tears of emotion would flow from your eyes. But in the tabernacle on the altar your Divine Saviour is present with His divine and human natures, under the appearances of bread; and every morning at the holy Mass the Sacrifice on the Cross is renewed in an unbloody manner; and yet you behave so thoughtlessly and indevoutly in church, and are so unwilling to hear Mass!








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