Friday, April 22, 2011

Lord, Make Me Your Shroud

The eyelids closed, the lips together, the composed features of the face—more than making us think of a dead person, it makes us think of a man immersed in profound and silent meditation. It seems to be a translated image of an ancient antiphon for Holy Saturday: Caro mea requiescet in spe, “my body rests in hope.” The ancient homily for Holy Saturday in the Office of Readings also acquires a particular power when it is read in front of the shroud:

“Something strange is happening—there is great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.”

Theology tells us that at his death, Christ’s soul was separated from his body as is the case for any person who dies, but his divinity remained united both to his soul and to his body. The shroud is the most perfect representation of this christological mystery. That body is separated from the soul, but not from divinity. Something divine hovers over the face, tortured but full of the majesty, of the Christ of the shroud.

In order to perceive this, we only need to compare the shroud with other representations of the dead Christ by human artists, for example, the dead Christ of Andrea Mantegna and even more that of Holbein the Younger, in the art museum in Basel, Switzerland, which represents the body of Christ in all the rigidity of death and the incipient decomposition of its members. Dostoevsky, who had long contemplated this painting on one of his trips, said that one could easily lose one’s faith before this image. Before the shroud, on the contrary, one can find faith or find it again if it has been lost.

The face of Christ on the shroud is like a boundary, a wall that separates two worlds: the world of people full of anxiety, violence, and sin, and the world of God that is inaccessible to evil. It is a shore on which all the waves break. It is as if, in Christ, God said to the force of evil what he said to the ocean in the book of Job: Thus far shall you come, and no farther.

And here shall your proud waves be stayed. (Job 38:11) Before the shroud we can pray, “Lord, make me your shroud. When you are deposed from the cross again and come to me in the sacrament of your body and blood, let me enshroud you with the burial garments of my faith and my love in such a way that your features imprint themselves on my soul and leave on it an indelible trace. Lord, make the rough, coarse cloth of my humanity your shroud.”

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