Friday, March 16, 2007

a thought for a lenten friday

Back in the 80's, we published two very detailed studies on the Shroud of Turin. One of these was a version of the Way of the Cross, using the Shroud to gain insights into the various stations. The paper gave us so much trouble in the pressroom and bindery that we ended up with a few hundred defective copies, so any of the sisters who wanted one could have it. And so a copy, without the "real" cover, came into my possession, and yesterday I was re-reading it.
The "study" part of the book especially focuses on the "geometry" of the wounds revealed on the Shroud--the angle of the blood flow, stuff like that. But it also interlaces that with the Gospel accounts. And for the 12th Station, the death of Jesus, the book studies what the Shroud shows as a narrow wound in the side, about an inch and a half long, with a wide bloodstain emerging from it, and a surrounding patch of pale discoloration. In other words, the mark of the spear and the "blood and water" John spoke of as coming from the side of Christ, dead on the cross.
The author cites several medical experts who say that John's account of Jesus' death corresponds to death by cardiac rupture--more specifically, a myocardial infarction. Patients who have undergone life-threatening stress may die this way--often with a loud cry, followed by death in one or two minutes. It is typical of this death that the fluid in the pericardium separates from the other components of the blood, which filter down, so that an hour or so after death, if the area is cut, the two elements flow out distinctly. Evidently, there is no other medical condition that would cause that to happen. Under ordinary circumstances, you would simply see a flow of blood. One doctor who was consulted about this denied that Jesus could have died of myocardial infarction, because such patients die within a few hours of the onset of the problem. He must not have realized that Jesus' death did come more quickly than was typical in crucifixion--as evidenced by Pilate's surprise. It is also significant that Jesus was fully conscious, whereas generally people who are crucified black out (due to asphyxiation) and then die after a period of unconsiousness.
But, as they say in the infomercials, "that's not all!" The diagnosis of "myocardial infarction" reminded me of the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, in which the consecrated host visibly (but only partially) began to reveal itself as flesh. In 1975, Pope Paul VI allowed doctors to do an analysis of a bit of the miraculous Eucharist reserved there for centuries. And the results indicated that the "flesh" of the Eucharist at Lanciano was the myocardium, the muscular tissue of the heart.
This would mean that Jesus died, literally, of a broken heart. And then, at Lanciano, he gave us a sign of that "love unto death."
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Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,

Thank you so much for your insight into the Death of Jesus. Have a great St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day!

A Chicago friend

Anonymous said...

I do not ever recall hearing that Jesus died of a broken heart, how very poignant.