Good Friday 2022
St Mary’s Chapel of St Ignatius
Robert Chiesa, SJ
The Passion of Jesus according to the Gospel of John gives us a number of scenes not found in the other gospels—like the repeated questioning by Pilate, the soldiers casting lots to see who gets Jesus’ cloak, and the new mother/son relationship which Jesus established between his mother and the beloved disciple.
But today I would like to focus on another incident unique to this gospel—the piercing of Jesus’ side. But when they came to Jesus, they found that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and at once there was a flow of blood and water (Jn 19:33-34).
First of all, the fact that his legs were not broken symbolizes the paschal lamb eaten on the night of Israel’s escape from their slavery in Egypt. And you shall not break a single bone of it (Ex 12:46), they were told. John presents Jesus as the true Lamb of God, thanks to whose death we are delivered from our slavery to sin.
With the piercing of Jesus’ side, the flow of blood and water gives proof that he has actually died. We need not go into any medical explanation of this. The more important thing is the symbolism contained in this event. As the Preface for the Mass of the Sacred Heart puts it: “Lifted high on the cross, Christ gave his life for us, so much did he love us. From his wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life in the Church. To his open heart the Savior invites all to draw water in joy from the springs of salvation.”
The blood and water are the fountain of sacramental life—the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist. As the traditional prayer Anima Christi (Soul of Christ) says: Water from the side of Christ, wash me—a reality accomplished in our baptism and renewed every time we repeat our baptismal confession and renunciation of sin. That prayer also says: Blood of Christ, inebriate me—an obvious reference to the sacred wine of the Eucharist, of which Jesus said, Take and drink of this, for this is my Blood (Mt 26:28).
In the Gospel of John, water is also a symbol of the Spirit which Jesus promised to pour out on us. Anyone who is thirsty, come to me and drink. As Scripture says, ‘Streams of living water shall flow out from him.’ To which John adds: He was speaking of the Spirit which believers in him would receive later (Jn 7:37-38).
So here we have a vocabulary to enrich our Christian life. The water of baptism washes us clean. The abundant outpouring of the Spirit slakes our spiritual thirst. And the Eucharistic wine “inebriates” us. It’s a pity that we cannot all share in a taste of the wine containing Christ’s blood. We have to be satisfied with our faith in that mystery as we repeat the Anima Christi prayer:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me / Body of Christ, save me / Blood of Christ, inebriate me / Water from the side of Christ, wash me / / Passion of Christ, strengthen me / O good Jesus, hear me / Hide me within your wounds / Never permit me to be separated from you / From the evil enemy defend me / In the hour of my death call me / and bid me come to you / that with your saints I may praise you / For ever and ever. Amen