>> Saturday, April 23, 2011
On May 2, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Shroud of Turin, the traditional cloths which Joseph of Arimathea used to wrap Jesus body before laying it in the tomb. During this visit, the Holy Father gave an address which included a reflection on Holy Saturday. Besides his Address to Artists in 2009, to me this speech is one of the most profound things that Pope Benedict has ever said. Please take a few minutes to slowly read the text below (with my emphasis in bold).
This is a moment that I have been waiting for for quite some time. I have found myself before the sacred Shroud on another occasion but this time I am experiencing this pilgrimage and this pause with particular intensity: perhaps because the years make me more sensitive to the message of this extraordinary icon; perhaps, and I would say above all, because I am here as Successor of Peter, and I carry in my heart the whole Church, indeed, all of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this pilgrimage, and also for the opportunity to share with you a brief meditation, which was suggested to me by the title of this solemn exhibition: “The Mystery of Holy Saturday.” One could say that the Shroud is the icon of this mystery, the icon of Holy Saturday. It is in fact a winding sheet, which covered the corpse of a man who was crucified, corresponding to everything that the Gospels say of Jesus, who was crucified about noon and died at about 3 in the afternoon.
Once evening came, since it was Parasceve, the eve of the solemn Sabbath of Passover, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and influential member of the Sanhedrin, courageously asked Pontius Pilate to be able to bury Jesus in his new tomb, that he had made in the rock not far from Golgotha. Having received the permission, he bought linen and, taking the body of Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the linen and put him in that tomb (cf. Mark 15:42-46). This is what is related by the Gospel of St. Matthew and the other evangelists. From that moment, Jesus remained in the sepulcher until the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, and the Shroud of Turin offers us the image of how his body was stretched out in the tomb during that time, which was brief chronologically (about a day and a half), but was immense, infinite in its value and its meaning.
Holy Saturday is the day of God’s concealment, as one reads in an ancient homily: “What happened? Today there is great silence upon the earth, great silence and solitude. Great silence because the King sleeps … God died in the flesh and descended to make the kingdom of hell (‘gli inferi’) tremble” (“Homily on Holy Saturday,” PG 43, 439). In the Creed we confess that Jesus Christ “was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried; he descended into hell (‘negli inferi’), and the third day he rose again from the dead.”
Dear brothers and sisters, in our time, especially after having passed through the last century, humanity has become especially sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday. God’s concealment is part of the spirituality of contemporary man, in an existential manner, almost unconscious, as an emptiness that continues to expand in the heart. At the end of the 18th century, Nietzsche wrote: “God is dead! And we have killed him!” This celebrated expression, if we consider it carefully, is taken almost word for word from the Christian tradition, we often repeat it in the Via Crucis, perhaps not fully realizing what we are saying. After the two World Wars, the concentration camps, the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our epoch has become in ever great measure a Holy Saturday: the darkness of this day questions all those who ask about life, it questions us believers in a special way. We too have something to do with this darkness.
And nevertheless, the death of the Son of God, of Jesus of Nazareth, has an opposite aspect, totally positive; it is a font of consolation and hope. And this makes me think that the sacred Shroud acts as a “photographic” document, with a “positive” and a “negative.” And in effect, this is exactly how it is: The most obscure mystery of faith is at the same time the most luminous sign of a hope without limits. Holy Saturday is the “no man’s land” between death and resurrection, but into this “no man’s land” has entered the One, the Only One, who has crossed it with the signs of his passion for man: “Passio Christi. Passio hominis” ["Passion of Christ. Passion of man"]. And the Shroud speaks to us precisely of that moment; it witnesses precisely to the unique and unrepeatable interval in the history of humanity and the universe, in which God, in Jesus Christ, shared not only our dying, but also our remaining in death. The most radical solidarity. In that “time-beyond-time” Jesus Christ “descended into hell” (“agli inferi”) What does this expression mean? It means that God, made man, went to the point of entering into the extreme and absolute solitude of man, where no ray of love enters, where there is total abandonment without any word of comfort: “hell” (“gli inferi”). Jesus Christ, remaining in death, has gone beyond the gates of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to go beyond it with him.
We have all at times felt a frightening sensation of abandonment, and that which makes us most afraid of death is precisely this [abandonment]; just as when as children we were afraid to be alone in the dark and only the presence of a person who loves us could reassure us. So, it is exactly this that happened in Holy Saturday: In the kingdom of death there resounded the voice of God. The unthinkable happened: that Love penetrated “into hell” (“negli inferi”): that in the most extreme darkness of the most absolute human solitude we can hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes us and leads us out. The human being lives by the fact that he is loved and can love; and if love even has penetrated into the realm of death, then life has also arrived there. In the hour of extreme solitude we will never be alone: “Passio Christi. Passio hominis.”
This is the mystery of Holy Saturday! It is from there, from the darkness of the death of the Son of God, that the light of a new hope has shone: the light of the Resurrection. And it seems to me that looking upon this cloth with the eyes of faith one perceives something of this light. In effect, the Shroud was immersed in that profound darkness, but it is luminous at the same time; and I think that if thousands and thousands of people come to see it -- without counting those who contemplate copies of it -- it is because in it they do not see only darkness, but also light; not so much the defeat of life and love but rather victory, victory of life over death, of love over hatred; they indeed see the death of Jesus, but glimpse his resurrection [too]; in the heart of death there now beats life, inasmuch as love lives there. This is the power of the Shroud: from the countenance of this “Man of sorrows,” who takes upon himself man’s passion of every time and every place, even our passion, our suffering, our difficulties, our sins -- “Passio Christi. Passio hominis” -- from this moment there emanates a solemn majesty, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks, it is itself a word that we can hear in silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an icon written in blood; the blood of a man who has been scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and wounded in his right side. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that large mark near the side, made by blood and water that poured copiously from a great wound caused by a Roman spear, that blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that speaks in silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it, in the silence of Holy Saturday.
Dear friends, let us praise the Lord always for his faithful and merciful love. Departing from this holy place, we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, we carry in our heart this word of love, and we praise God with a life full of faith, of love and of charity.