We adore Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, and bless Thee.
R. Because by Thy holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.
JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS
IMAGE FROM MOVIE: "THE PASSION OF THE CHRST"
The Descent from the Cross
AT the time when every one had left the neighbourhood of the Cross, and a few guards alone stood around it, I saw five persons, who I think were disciples, and who had come by the valley from Bethania, draw nigh to Calvary, gaze for a few moments upon the Cross, and then steal away. Three times I met in the vicinity two men who were making examinations and anxiously consulting together. These men were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The first time was during the Crucifixion (perhaps when they caused the clothes of Jesus to be brought back from the soldiers), and they were then at no great distance from Calvary. The second was when, after standing to look whether the crowd was dispersing, they went to the tomb to make some preparations. The third was on their return from the tomb to the Cross, when they were looking around in every direction, as if waiting for a favourable moment, and then concerted together as to the manner in which they should take the body of our Lord down from the Cross, after which they returned to the town.
Their next care was to make arrangements for carrying with them the necessary articles for embalming the body, and their servants took some tools with which to detach it from the Cross, as well as two ladders which they found in a barn close to Nicodemuss house. Each of these ladders consisted of a single pole, crossed at regular intervals by pieces of wood, which formed the steps. There were hooks which could be fastened on any part of the pole, and by means of which the ladder could be steadied, or on which, perhaps, anything required for the work could also be hung.
The woman from whom they had bought their spices had packed the whole neatly together. Nicodemus had bought a hundred pounds weight of roots, which quantity is equal to about thirty-seven pounds of our measure, as has been explained to me. They carried these spices in little barrels made of bark, which were hung round their necks, and rested on their breasts. One of these barrels contained some sort of powder. They had also some bundles of herbs in bags made of parchment or leather, and Joseph carried a box of ointment; but I do not know what this box was made of. The servants were to carry vases, leathern bottles, sponges, and tools, on a species of litter, and they likewise took fire with them in a closed lantern. They left the town before their master, and by a different gate (perhaps that of Bethania), and then turned their steps towards Mount Calvary. As they walked through the town they passed by the house where the Blessed Virgin, St. John, and the holy women had gone to seek different things required for embalming the body of Jesus, and John and the holy women followed the servants at a certain distance. The women were about five in number, and some of them carried large bundles of linen under their mantles. It was the custom for women, when they went out in the evening, or if intending to perform some work of piety secretly, to wrap their persons carefully in a long sheet at least a yard wide. They began by one arm, and then wound the linen so closely round their body that they could not walk without difficulty. I have seen them wrapped up in this manner, and the sheet not only extended to both arms, but likewise veiled the head. On the present occasion, the appearance of this dress was most striking in my eyes, for it was a real mourning garment. Joseph and Nicodemus were also in mourning attire, and wore black sleeves and wide sashes. Their cloaks, which they had drawn over their heads, were both wide and long, of a common grey colour, and served to conceal everything that they were carrying.
They turned their steps in the direction of the gate leading to Mount Calvary. The streets were deserted and quiet, for terror kept every one at home. The greatest number were beginning to repent, and but few were keeping the festival. When Joseph and Nicodemus reached the gate they found it closed, and the road, streets, and every corner lined with soldiers. These were the soldiers whom the Pharisees had asked for at about two oclock, and whom they had kept under arms and on guard, as they still feared a tumult among the people. Joseph showed an order, signed by Pilate, to let them pass freely, and the soldiers were most willing that they should do so, but explained to him that they had endeavoured several times to open the gate, without being able to move it; that apparently the gate had received a shock, and been strained in some part; and that on this account the archers sent to break the legs of the thieves had been obliged to return to the city by another gate. But when Joseph and Nicodemus seized hold of the bolt, the gate opened as if of itself, to the great astonishment of all the bystanders.
It was still dark and the sky cloudy when they reached Mount Calvary, where they found the servants who had been sent on already arrived, and the holy women sitting weeping in front of the Cross. Cassius and several soldiers who were converted remained at a certain distance, and their demeanour was respectful and reserved. Joseph and Nicodemus described to the Blessed Virgin and John all they had done to save Jesus from an ignominious death, and learned from them how they had succeeded in preventing the bones of our Lord from being broken, and how the prophecy had been fulfilled. They spoke also of the wound which Cassius had made with his lance. No sooner was the centurion Abenadar arrived than they began, with the deepest recollection of spirit, their mournful and sacred labour of taking down from the Cross and embalming the adorable body of our Lord.
The Blessed Virgin and Magdalen were seated at the foot of the Cross; while, on the right-hand side, between the cross of Dismas and that of Jesus, the other women were engaged in preparing the linen, spices, water, sponges, and vases. Cassius also came forward, and related to Abenadar the miraculous cure of his dyes. All were deeply affected, and their hearts overflowing with sorrow and love; but, at the same time, they preserved a solemn silence, and their every movement was full of gravity and reverence. Nothing broke the stillness save an occasional smothered word of lamentation, or a stifled groan, which escaped from one or other of these holy personages, in spite of their earnest eagerness and deep attention to their pious labour. Magdalen gave way unrestrainedly to her sorrow, and neither the presence of so many different persons, nor any other consideration, appeared to distract her from it.
Nicodemus and Joseph placed the ladders behind the Cross, and mounted them, holding in their hands a large sheet, to which three long straps were fastened. They tied the body of Jesus, below the arms and knees, to the tree of the Cross, and secured the arms by pieces of linen placed underneath the hands. Then they drew Out the nails, by pushing them from behind with strong pins pressed upon the points. The sacred hands of Jesus were thus not much shaken, and the nails fell easily out of the wounds; for the latter had been made wider by the weight of the body, which, being now supported by the cloth, no longer hung on the nails. The lower part of the body, which since our Lords death had sunk down on the knees, now rested in a natural position, supported by a sheet fastened above to the arms of the Cross. Whilst Joseph was taking out the nail from the left hand, and then allowing the left arm, supported by its cloth, to fall gently down upon the body, Nicodemus was fastening the right arm of Jesus to that of the Cross, as also the sacred crowned head, which had sunk on the right shoulder. Then he took out the right nail, and having surrounded the arm with its supporting sheet, let it fall gently on to the body. At the same time, the centurion Abenadar, with great difficulty, drew out the large nail which transfixed the feet. Cassius devoutly received the nails, and laid them at the feet of the Blessed Virgin.
Then Joseph and Nicodemus, having placed ladders against the front of the Cross, in a very upright position, and close to the body, untied the upper strap, and fastened it to one of the hooks on the ladder; they did the same with the two other straps, and passing them all on from hook to hook, caused the sacred body to descend gently towards the centurion, who having mounted upon a stool received it in his arms, holding it below the knees; while Joseph and Nicodemus, supporting the upper part of the body, came gently down the ladder, stopping at every step, and taking every imaginable precaution, as would be done by men bearing the body of some beloved friend who had been grievously wounded. Thus did the bruised body of our Divine Saviour reach the ground.
It was a most touching sight. They all took the same precautions, the same care, as if they had feared to cause Jesus some suffering. They seemed to have concentrated on the sacred body all the love and veneration which they had felt for their Saviour during his life. The eyes of each were fixed upon the adorable body, and followed all its movements; and they were continually uplifting their hands towards Heaven, shedding tears, and expressing in every possible way the excess of their grief and anguish. Yet they all remained perfectly calm, and even those who were so busily occupied about the sacred body broke silence but seldom, and, when obliged to make some necessary remark, did so in a low voice. During the time that the nails were being forcibly removed by blows of the hammer, the Blessed Virgin, Magdalen, and all those who had been present at the Crucifixion, felt each blow transfix their hearts. The sound recalled to their minds all the sufferings of Jesus, and they could not control their trembling fear, lest they should again hear his piercing cry of suffering; although, at the same time, they grieved at the silence of his blessed lips, which proved, alas too surely, that he was really dead. When the body was taken down it was wrapped in linen from the knees to the waist, and then placed in the arms of the Blessed Virgin, who, overwhelmed with sorrow and love, stretched them forth to receive their precious burden.
The Embalming of the Body of Jesus
THE Blessed Virgin seated herself upon a large cloth spread on the ground, with her right knee, which was slightly raised, and her back resting against some mantles, rolled together so as to form a species of cushion. No precaution had been neglected which could in any way facilitate to herthe Mother of Sorrowsin her deep affliction of soul, the mournful but most sacred duty which she was about to fulfil in regard to the body of her beloved Son. The adorable head of Jesus rested upon Marys knee, and his body was stretched upon a sheet. The Blessed Virgin was overwhelmed with sorrow and love. Once more, and for the last time, did she hold in her arms the body of her most beloved Son, to whom she had been unable to give any testimony of love during the long hours of his martyrdom. And she gazed upon his wounds and fondly embraced his blood-stained cheeks, whilst Magdalen pressed her face upon his feet.
The men withdrew into a little cave, situated on the south-west side of Calvary, there to prepare the different things needful for the embalming; but Cassius, with a few other soldiers who had been converted, remained at a respectful distance. All ill-disposed persons were gone back to the city, and the soldiers who were present served merely to form a guard to prevent any interruption in the last honours which were being rendered to the body of Jesus. Some of these soldiers even gave assistance when desired. The holy women held the vases, sponges, linen, unction, and spices, according as required; but when not thus employed, they remained at a respectful distance, attentively gazing upon the Blessed Virgin as she proceeded in her mournful task, Magdalen did not leave the body of Jesus; but John gave continual assistance to the Blessed Virgin, and went to and fro from the men to the women, lending aid to both parties. The women had with them some large leathern bottles and a vase filled with water standing upon a coal fire. They gave the Blessed Virgin and Magdalen, according as they required, vases filled with clear water, and sponges, which they afterwards squeezed in the leathern bottles.
The courage and firmness of Mary remained unshaken even in the midst of her inexpressible anguish.* It was absolutely impossible for her to leave the body of her Son in the awful state to which it had been reduced by his sufferings, and therefore she began with indefatigable earnestness to wash and purify it from the traces of the outrages to which it had been exposed. With the utmost care she drew off the crown of thorns, opening it behind, and then cutting off one by one the thorns which had sunk deep into the head of Jesus, in order that she might not widen the wounds. The crown was placed by the side of the nails, and then Mary drew out the thorns which had remained in the skin with a species of rounded pincers,** and sorrowfully showed them to her friends. These thorns were placed with the crown, but still some of them must have been preserved separately.
* On Good Friday, March 30th, 1820, as Sister Emmerich was contemplating the descent from the Cross she suddenly fainted .in the presence of the writer of these lines, and appeared to be really dead. But after a time she recovered her senses and gave the following explanation, although still in a state of great suffering: 'As I was contemplating the body of Jesus lying on the knees of the Blessed Virgin I said to myself: "How great is her strength! She has not fainted even once!" My guide reproached me for this thoughtin which there was more astonishment than compassionand said to me, "Suffer then what she has suffered!" And at the same moment a sensation of the sharpest anguish transfixed me like a sword, so that I believed I must have died from it. She had to endure this suffering for a long time, and, in consequence of it had an illness which reduced her almost to the brink of the grave.
** Sister Emmerich said that the shape of these pincers reminded her of the scissors with which Samsons hair was cut off. In her visions of the third year of the public life of Jesus she had seen our Lord keep the Sabbath-day at Misael—a town belonging to the Levites of the tribe of Aserand as a portion of the Book of Judges was read in the synagogue, Sister Emmerich beheld upon that occasion the life of Samson.
The divine face of our Saviour was scarcely recognisable, so disfigured was it by the wounds with which it was covered. The beard and hair were matted together with blood. Mary washed the head and face, and passed damp sponges over the hair to remove the congealed blood, As she proceeded in her pious office, the extent of the awful cruelty which had been exercised upon Jesus became more and more apparent, and caused in her soul emotions of compassion and tenderness which increased as she passed from one wound to another. She washed the wounds of the head, the eyes filled with blood, the nostrils, and the ears, with a sponge and a small piece of linen spread over the fingers of her right hand; and then she purified, in the same manner, the half-opened mouth, the tongue, the teeth, and the lips. She divided what remained of our Lords hair into three parts,* a part falling over each temple, and the third over the back of his head; and when she had disentangled the front hair and smoothed it, she passed it behind his ears. When the head was thoroughly cleansed and purified, the Blessed Virgin covered it with a veil, after having kissed the sacred cheeks of her dear Son. She then turned her attention to the neck, shoulders, chest, back, arms, and pierced hands. All the bones of the breast and the joints were dislocated, and could not be bent. There was a frightful wound on the shoulder which had borne the weight of the Cross, and all the upper part of the body was covered with bruises and deeply marked with the blows of the scourges. On the left breast there was a small wound where the point of Cassiuss lance had come out, and on the right side was the large wound made by the same lance, and which had pierced the heart through and through. Mary washed all these wounds, and Magdalen, on her knees, helped her from time to time; but without leaving the sacred feet of Jesus, which she bathed with tears and wiped with her hair.
* Sister Emmerich was accustomed, when speaking of persons of historical importance, to explain how they divided their hair. 'Eve,' she said, divided her hair in two parts, but Mary into three. And she appeared to attach importance to these words. No opportunity presented itself for her to give any explanation upon the subject, which probably would have shown what was done with the hair in sacrifices, funerals, consecrations, or vows, &c. She once said of Samson: His fair hair, which was long and thick, was gathered up on his head in seven tresses, like a helmet, and the ends of these tresses were fastened upon his forehead and temples. His hair was not in itself the source of his strength, but only as the witness to the vow which he had made to let it grow in Gods honour. The powers which depended upon these seven stresses were the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. He must have already broken his vows and lost many graces, when he allowed this sign of being a Nazarene to be cut off. I did not see Dalila cut off all his hair, and I think one lock remained on his forehead. He retained the grace to do penance and of that repentance by which he recovered strength sufficient to destroy his enemies. The life of Samson is figurative and prophetic.
The head, bosom, and feet of our Lord were now washed, and the sacred body, which was covered with brown stains and red marks in those places where the skin had been torn off, and of a bluish-white colour, like flesh that has been drained of blood, was resting on the knees of Mary, who covered the parts which she had washed with a veil, and then proceeded to embalm all the wounds. The holy women knelt by her side, and in turn presented to her a box, out of which she took some precious ointment, and with it filled and covered the wounds. She also anointed the hair, and then, taking the sacred hands of Jesus in her left hand, respectfully kissed them, and filled the large wounds made by the nails with this ointment or sweet spice. She likewise filled the ears, nostrils, and wound in the side with the same precious mixture. Meanwhile Magdalen wiped and embalmed our Lords feet, and then again washed them with her tears, and often pressed her face upon them.
The water which had been used was not thrown away, but poured into the leathern bottles in which the sponges had been squeezed. I saw Cassius or some other soldier go several times to fetch fresh water from the fountain of Gihon, which was at no great distance off. When the Blessed Virgin had filled all the wounds with ointment, she wrapped the head up in linen cloths, but she did not as yet cover the face. She closed the half-open eyes of Jesus, and kept her hand upon them for some time. She also closed the mouth, and then embraced the sacred body of her beloved Son, pressing her face fondly and reverently upon his. Joseph and Nicodemus had been waiting for some time, when John drew near to the Blessed Virgin, and besought her to permit the body of her Son to be taken from her, that the embalming might be completed, because the Sabbath was close at hand. Once more did Mary embrace the sacred body of Jesus, and utter her farewells in the most touching language, and then the men lifted it from her arms on the sheet, and carried it to some distance. The deep sorrow of Mary had been for the time assuaged by the feelings of love and reverence with which she had accomplished her sacred task; but now it once more overwhelmed her, and she fell, her head covered with her veil, into the arms of the holy women. Magdalen felt almost as though her Beloved were being forcibly carried away from her, and hastily ran forward a few steps, with her arms stretched forth; but then, after a moment, returned to the Blessed Virgin.
The sacred body was carried to a spot beneath the level of the top of Golgotha, where the smooth surface of a rock afforded a convenient platform on which to embalm the body. I first saw a piece of open-worked linen, looking very much like lace, and which made me think of the large embroidered curtain hung between the choir and nave during Lent.* It was probably worked in that open stitch for the water to run through. I also saw another large sheet unfolded. The body of our Saviour was placed on the open-worked piece of linen, and some of the other men held the other sheet spread above it. Nicodemus and Joseph then knelt down, and underneath this covering took off the linen which they had fastened round the loins of our Saviour, when they took his body down from the Cross. They then passed sponges under this sheet and washed the lower parts of the body; after which they lifted it up by the help of pieces of linen crossed beneath the loins and knees, and washed the back without turning it over. They continued washing until nothing but clear water came from the sponges when pressed. Next they poured water of myrrh over the whole body, and then, handling it with respect, stretched it out full length, for it was still in the position in which our Divine Lord had died the loins and knees bent. They then placed beneath his hips a sheet which was a yard in width and three in length, laid upon his lap bundles of sweet-scented herbs, and shook over the whole body a powder which Nicodemus had brought. Next they wrapped up the lower part of the body, and fastened the cloth which they had placed underneath round it strongly. After this they anointed the wounds of the thighs, placed bundles of herbs between the legs, which were stretched out to their full length, and wrapped them up entirely in these sweet spices.
* This refers to a custom of the Diocese of Munster. During Lent there was hung up in the churches a curtain, embroidered in open work, representing the Five Wounds, the instruments of the Passion, &c.
Then John conducted the Blessed Virgin and the other holy women once more to the side of the body. Mary knelt down by the head of Jesus, and placed beneath it a piece of very fine linen which had been given her by Pilates wife, and which she had worn round her neck under her cloak; next, assisted by the holy women, she placed from the shoulders to the cheeks bundles of herbs, spices, and sweet-scented powder, and then strongly bound this piece of linen round the head and shoulders. Magdalen poured besides a small bottle of balm into the wound of the side, and the holy women placed some more herbs into those of the hands and feet. Then the men put sweet spices around all the remainder of the body, crossed the sacred stiffened arms on the chest, and bound the large white sheet round the body as high as the chest, in the same manner as if they had been swaddling a child. Then, having fastened the end of a large band beneath the armpits, they rolled it round the head and the whole body. Finally, they placed our Divine Lord on the large sheet, six yards in length, which Joseph of Arimathea had bought, and wrapped him in it. He was lying diagonally upon it, and one corner of the sheet was raised from the feet to the chest, the other drawn over the head and shoulders, while the remaining two ends were doubled round the body.
The Blessed Virgin, the holy women, the menall were kneeling round the body of Jesus to take their farewell of it, when a most touching miracle took place before them. The sacred body of Jesus, with all its Wounds, appeared imprinted upon the cloth which covered it, as though he had been pleased to reward their their love, and leave them a portrait of himself through all the veils with which he was enwrapped. With tears they embraced the adorable body, and then reverently kissed the wonderful impression which it had left. Their astonishment increased when, on lifting up the sheet, they saw that all the binds which surrounded the body had remained white as before, and that the upper cloth alone had been marked in this wonderful manner. It was not a mark made by the bleeding wounds, since the whole body was wrapped up and covered with Sweet spices, but it was a supernatural portrait, bearing testimony to the divine creative power ever abiding in the body of Jesus. I have seen many things relative to the subsequent history of this piece of linen, but I could not describe them coherently. After the resurrection it remained in the possession of the friends of Jesus, but fell twice in the hands of the Jews, and later was honoured in several different places. I have seen it in a city of Asia, in the possession of some Christians Who were hot Catholics. I have forgotten the name of the town, which is situated in a province near the country of the Three Kings.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.
V. Lord Jesus, dying on the cross to save mankind,
R. Have mercy on us.
NEXT STATION: STATION FOURTEEN
|STATIONS OF THE CROSS INDEX|
|STATION ONE||JESUS IS CONDEMNED TO DEATH|
|STATION TWO||JESUS ACCEPTS HIS CROSS|
|STATION THREE||JESUS FALLS FOR THE FIRST TIME|
|STATION FOUR||JESUS MEETS HIS SORROWFUL MOTHER|
|STATION FIVE||SIMON OF CYRENE HELPS JESUS CARRY THE CROSS|
|STATION SIX||VERONICA WIPES THE BLOODY FACE OF JESUS|
|STATION SEVEN||JESUS FALLS FOR THE SECOND TIME|
|STATION EIGHT||JESUS SPEAKS TO THE WOMEN OF JERUSALEM|
|STATION NINE||JESUS FALLS FOR THE THIRD TIME|
|STATION TEN||JESUS IS STRIPPED OF HIS GARMENTS|
|STATION ELEVEN||JESUS IS NAILED TO THE CROSS|
|STATION TWELVE||JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS|
|STATION THIRTEEN||JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS|
|STATION FOURTEEN||JESUS IS LAID IN THE TOMB|