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Good Friday: The Church is Born from the Wounded Side of the Crucified Christ

By Deacon Keith Fournier
April 22nd, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Christ has flooded the universe with divine and sanctifying waves. For the thirsty he sends a spring of living water from the wound which the spear opened in His Side. From the wound in Christ's side has come forth the Church, and He has made her His Bride.

CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - "But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water"  (John 19:33) This is the Friday we call Good in the Christian Church, when the whole world stands still to recall the great oblation of love offered on the second tree on Golgotha's Hill. There, the New Adam (1 Cor.15), in the perfect obedience of love, did for us  what we could not do on our own. Heaven was wed to earth in the holy humanity of the Body of Christ.

The mystery of the passion and crucifixion of the Lord has birthed some of the most profound reflections in Christian history. In Churches throughout the world, during the hours of 12:00 - 3: 00 p.m., devotions such as the stations or way of the cross and reflections on the last seven words of Jesus will draw the faithful more deeply into the meaning of this self emptying of Love Incarnate on the Altar of the Cross. 

This evening, I will join our beloved priest in the starkly beautiful liturgy of the Lord's Passion and the Veneration of the Cross, crying out "This is the wood of the Cross on which hung the Savior of the World" to which the faithful respond, "Come, Let us Worship." Of course, worship is the only fitting response in the face of such an act of Love.

The older I get the more profound this experience becomes. We, priests and deacons, walk into a sanctuary stripped of all altar cloths, the tabernacle emptied of the consecrated Eucharist and, upon reaching the altar in silence; we lay prostrate on the floor in an act that is both a sign of surrendered love and an expression of holy fear and awe in the face of the mystery.

Each year, as I feel the cold floor through my vestments, I am drawn back to the moment in my ordination to the diaconate in Christ where I similarly lay prostrate, and I am compelled to give once again my "Fiat" (yes) , my "totus tuus" (totally yours) to the Crucified One who climbed that tree out of Love for the whole human race.

As I reflect on the  mystery of this moment on this Friday we call Good, I am drawn to one of the profound insights from the early fathers which has been carried forward in the sacred tradition. It is based on that one line from the passion narrative with which I began "one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water."

Origen wrote "Christ has flooded the universe with divine and sanctifying waves. For the thirsty he sends a spring of living water from the wound which the spear opened in His Side. From the wound in Christ's side has come forth the Church, and He has made her His Bride." 

The great golden mouth Bishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom  in his catechetical instructions to the early Christians taught , "The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy Eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord's side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. .

"There flowed from his side water and blood." Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, "the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit," and from the holy Eucharist.

"Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: "Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!" As God then took a rib from Adam's side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

"Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life."

This beautiful insight is woven throughout the sacred tradition. The great Western Bishop, St Augustine wrote "There it was that the gate of life was opened, from there the sacraments of the Church flow; without these one does not enter true life." The Fathers of the last great ecumenical council, Vatican II, in their Constitution on the Church, Light to the Nations, explained "The Church grows visibly through the power of God in the world. The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus." 

Today as we commemorate the Passion we are invited to plumb the mystery and meaning of the Church and our membership within her. She was born from the wounded side of the Savior. He betroths her in His great self emptying on the Altar of the Cross, this Holy Oblation. Through the Sacraments, Jesus, the head of the Body, continues to feed us all with the divine life we need to enter more fully into the new communion which is ours through this saving Paschal mystery.

As the solemn commemoration of the Lord's Passion continues  we have an extended time of intercessory prayer, joining the needs of the whole world - which is being reconstituted in the new world of the Church - to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who offered Himself on that second tree to begin a new creation. We come forward to venerate His feet with our kiss. Then silently, we receive Him in His Eucharistic gift, receiving the consecrated host from yesterday's Mass. Silently, we then leave to wait by the Tomb...

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