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By His Wounds we are Healed

A Meditation for the Women's Day of Recollection

by Sr Tamsin Geach o.p.

This afternoon I am going to lead you in a meditation on the wounds of Christ and the instruments of the Passion, looking at how Christ suffered and what this means for us in our own lives. 


So the first instruments of the Passion were the Scourge and the Crown of Thorns.

The Scourging

Before the scourging at the pillar Our Lord had already been roughed up by the Jewish authorities:

And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows. (Mark 14.65)

After this He is taken to Pilate and Pilate initially attempts to have the scourging as an alternative to a sentence of death:Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him;  I will therefore chastise him and release him.”(Luke 23 15-16)

This Roman beating however was another order of event from the earlier beating: A Roman scourge was an instrument of torture, with multiple lashes that were enhanced with small pieces of iron, bone or the like.

Scourging was a common precursor to crucifixion, as we learn from the historian Livy who writes ‘Manius Acilius Glabrio, the praetor…was sent with one of the two city legions to investigate and suppress[an insurrection]… some, who had been the instigators of the revolt, he scourged and crucified’.  It was a punishment was laid upon non-citizens, usually slaves.  In a Roman scourging the victim was tied to a post while two soldiers alternately struck the prisoner.   So hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and sometimes died under it.  

The Gospel accounts are of the briefest: ‘So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barab′bas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.’  (Matt.27.26)  Most pictures of the Crucified Christ gloss over the full horror of what happened here, but you do get some idea of it from such images as this:


‘Sorely have they afflicted me from my youth,
    yet they have not prevailed against me.
The ploughers ploughed upon my back;
    they made long their furrows.”(Ps. 129.2-3)

How can we apply this suffering of Christ in our own lives? All of us suffer daily small slights and sometimes grievous spiritual or mental wounds. We should reflect that in the scourging Christ heals the pain of these wounds, takes on the smaller and larger sufferings that we inflict upon each other.  As Isaiah says:

He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole,

and with His stripes we are healed. (Isa. 53.5)


St John Chrysostom comments: ‘Considering then all these things, control yourself. For what do you suffer like what your Lord suffered? Were you publicly insulted? But not like these things. Are you mocked? Yet not your whole body, not being thus scourged, and stripped. And even if you were buffeted, yet not like this.’

Prayer: O Jesus, Who wast bruised and derided for us at the scourging, heal our wounds by Thy wounds, and help us to bear meekly the trials that Thou permittest us to suffer Amen.

Hymn verse

By the blood that flow'd from Thee
In Thy bitter agony,
By the scourge so meekly borne,
By thy purple robe of scorn,—

Jesu, Saviour, hear our cry!
Thou wert suffering once as we;
Hear the loving Litany
We, Thy children, sing to Thee.


Crown of Thorns

The next wounds inflicted upon Our Saviour were from the Crown of Thorns

In Matthew’s account we read:

 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.(Matt. 20.27 ff)

Near to the place where traditionally it is understood that Pilate tried Jesus, a scratched out carving has been found below the ‘Ecce Homo’ Convent of sisters of Zion in Jerusalem, where traditionally it was believed that Christ was shown to the crowds: Here is the Man.


These somewhat indecipherable scratches are the remains of a board game played by Roman soldiers, known as ‘Basileus’ or the King’s game.  This involved casting lots for to get to choose which humiliation to inflict on a prisoner, prior to his execution.  Jesus being mocked was standard issue for bored soldiers before bringing a criminal to justice.

The Crowning with thorns, accompanied by the false homage of the soldiers, the reed, the spitting and the robe, represent the only time in His earthly life when Jesus was crowned as King.  The soldiers’ mockery, however, reveals Jesus to us, the King of Glory, Who, ‘’though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.’ (Phil.20.6 ff) The solitary crown He received on earth was a crown of mockery and pain.

So how can we relate this to our own lives?  As Christians we should desire the virtue of humility –but as a spiritual director of mine was wont to say, to desire humility one must accept humiliation.  The crown of thorns comes to each of us in the spiritual life when we get the grace to face humiliation, or where we have a position of responsibility given to us that is, or becomes a crown of thorns, and accept it with courage.   St John Chrysostom comments: ‘What plea shall we have after this for being moved by injuries, after Christ suffered these things? For what was done was the utmost limit of insolence. For not one member, but the whole entire body throughout was made an object of insolence; the head through the crown, and the reed, and the buffeting; the face, being spit upon; the cheeks, being smitten with the palms of the hands; the whole body by the stripes, by being wrapped in the robe, and by the pretended worship; the hand by the reed, which they gave him to hold instead of a sceptre…What could be more grievous than these things? What more insulting?...when you see Him, both by gestures and by deeds, mocked and worshipped with so much derision, and beaten and suffering the utmost insults, though you be very stone, you will become softer than any wax, and will cast out of your soul all haughtiness.’

Prayer:  Dear Lord, mindful of Thy Crown of thorns, Let us not be puffed up with pride, but learn from Thee that meekness and strength with which Thou endurest the Passion.


O sacred head, sore wounded,

Defiled and put to scorn:

O kingly head, surrounded

With mocking crown of thorn;

What sorrow mars thy grandeur?

Can death thy bloom deflower?

O countenance whose splendour

The hosts of heaven adore!


The Cross

The pre-eminent instrument of the Passion is of course the Cross, which as an instrument represents a three-act drama.  The first part, the carrying, is described in St John’s Gospel in this way. So they took Jesus, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha.’

Already exhausted and partially flayed, Our Saviour was brutally forced to undergo the pain of carrying His cross in the heat of the day to Calvary.  The description in the Gospel is sparse and short on detail.  The Gospel of John does not even include Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross behind Jesus, nor Jesus’ encounter with the women of Jerusalem. 

The pain of the wounds of Christ in carrying His Cross has always been a subject for meditation.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux in prayer asked which was Our Lord’s greatest unrecorded suffering and He answered: "I had on My Shoulder, while I bore My Cross on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound, which was more painful than the others and which is not recorded by men. Honour this Wound with thy devotion and I will grant thee whatsoever thou dost ask through Its virtue and merit. And in regard to all those who shall venerate this Wound, I will remit to them all their venial sins and will no longer remember their mortal sins."

What does this suffering and wound of Christ say about our spiritual lives?  Christ says to us “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Each of us individually has a cross to bear.  We have to courageously take hold of that burden and follow Christ.  So what is our cross?  It is to accept each moment whatever comes our way as the will of God for us, to trust Him entirely, and to co-operate with His grace in it.

Prayer of St Bernard of Clairvaux

O Loving Jesus, meek Lamb of God, I a miserable sinner, salute and worship the most Sacred Wound of Thy Shoulder on which Thou didst bear Thy heavy Cross, which so tore Thy Flesh and laid bare Thy Bones as to inflict on Thee an anguish greater than any other Wound of Thy Most Blessed Body. I adore Thee, O Jesus most sorrowful; I praise and glorify Thee and give Thee thanks for this most sacred and painful Wound, beseeching Thee by that exceeding pain and by the crushing burden of Thy heavy Cross to be merciful to me, a sinner, to forgive me all my mortal and venial sins, and to lead me on towards Heaven along the Way of Thy Cross. Amen. 




Hymn:  By the thorns that crown'd Thy head,
By Thy sceptre of a reed.
By Thy footstep faint and slow,
Weigh'd beneath Thy cross of woe,—

Jesu, Saviour, hear our cry!
Thou wert suffering once as we;
Hear the loving Litany
We, Thy children, sing to Thee.


Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

The second part of the three act drama of the crucifixion is the nailing of Jesus to the Cross.  In the Gospel accounts of the actual Crucifixion the use of nails is not mentioned – It is only when Thomas is expressing his unwillingness to believe that this detail is made clear ‘“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”(John 20.25).  The other place in the New Testament where nailing is mentioned is in St Paul’s letter to the Colossians: ‘And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross.’ (Col 2.13-14).  There is also the prophecy: In Psalm 22 ( the psalm that begins with Our Lord’s words from the Cross ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me’) in verses14-18 we hear:

 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax,
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
    thou dost lay me in the dust of death.

16 Yea, dogs are round about me;
    a company of evildoers encircle me;
    they have pierced[b] my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
    they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my raiment they cast lots.

In Isaiah we read the tender promise of God to His people:

 Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 “Can a woman forget her sucking child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands (Isa. 49 14-16)


The wounds of the nails on the hands and feet of Jesus point to His enduring love and fidelity to His people.  The self-emptying of our Saviour extends to the depth of humiliation, to nakedness, helplessness and torture.  Our head, hands and feet are the most sensitive parts of our body – if the number of nerve endings were proportionate to the size of each body part, the hands and face would be disproportionately huge, a.  Even a tiny injury to our hand, like a hang-nail, can keep us awake at night. 







In these parts Our Lord was wounded and pierced for our sake.  St Paul directly links the forgiveness we receive in Christ to the nails of the crucifixion.  The strength of iron is great, but as St Catherine of Siena says  " Nails would not have held God-and-Man fast to the cross had love not held them there." 


Prayer: O Jesus Who wast pierced in hands and feet for my sake, help me to believe ever more deeply in Thy Love for me, and to hold fast to Thee even as Thou Lord heldest fast to the Cross for my sake. Amen.

Thy beauty, long desired,

Hath vanished from our sight:

Thy pow'r is all expired,

And quenched the light of light.

Ah me! for whom thou diest,

Hide not so far thy grace:

Show me, O Love most highest,

The brightness of thy face.




The Spear

The final act in the tripartite action of the Cross as instrument of our Salvation is the deat on the Cross itself.  Christ’s exodus to Calvary and the Nailing to the Cross are precursors to the agonising death when Our Lord is ‘Lifted up’ and suffers through three slow hours of continuous agony.  The evangelists, unlike most subsequent Christian writers and thinkers do not stress the agony but focus on what He did and said while there – the seven last words on the Cross:

The seven sayings are gathered from all four Gospels. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus cries out to God ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ In Luke, he forgives his killers, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’  He reassures the penitent thief ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’ and commends his spirit to the Father. ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’

In John, he speaks to his Mother and St John: ‘Woman, behold, thy son! Son, Behold thy Mother.’  He says ‘I thirst’ and declares the end of His earthly ministry ‘It is accomplished’.   

The seven words point to the first act of Creation in Genesis: Fr Timothy Radcliffe writes that as God created the world in seven days, "these seven words belong to God's completion of that creation".[1] These words of forgiveness, salvation, relationship, distress, abandonment, triumph and reunion with His Heavenly Father need to be seen in the context of a punishment so painful that the word is borrowed in both Latin and English for an extremity of torture – the word excruciating is borrowed from the root word ‘crux’ for Cross.  Jesus in this extremity of pain continues the work of the Word for us.  With His dying breath He commends Himself – and us – to His heavenly Father. 

It is here, at the foot of the Cross that Mary gives birth in anguish, and becomes the Mother of the Church -  She gave birth to the Innocent One painlessly, but she gives birth to sinners with sorrow and anguish. We shall be convinced of this truth if we consider attentively the price she paid to purchase them. What they cost her was her only Son; she could be the mother of Christians only by giving her beloved up to death: O sorrowful fruitfulness! Who can remain unmoved at such a sight?(Jaques-Benigne Bossuet)

The final wound is post mortem.

The bystanders, who had not wanted to be polluted by entering into Pilate’s house now continue to manifest their religious zeal – they do not want the bodies to profane the Sabbath, 

The Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; 33 but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. ‘(John 19.31-34)

So at last we come to the last instrument of the Passion, the last wound in the Body of our Saviour: The spear.  Like Adam asleep in the garden of Eden, the side of Christ is wounded, and from His side, like Eve, the new Eve, the Church is drawn forth.  An ancient sermon for Holy Saturday puts these words in the mouth of Jesus as He descends into Hell to bring forth the souls of the just, addressing Adam: ‘See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.’  A later author, Blessed Basil Moreau, in the same mode has Jesus address us all: ‘See how much I love you; see what I have suffered for your sake.  What are you doing for me?  What more must I do to soften your hearts and draw you up to myself, if my wounds and the blood flowing from them cannot soften them and bring me your gratitude?’  Contemplation of the wounds of Christ should bring us to understand the depth of His love for us, to be willing to suffer for His sake, and to show compassion. 

Final Prayer: Lord, gazing on thy sacred wounds, let me lovingly take refuge in them in all my temptations.  By Thy wounds heal me and let my heart be pierced like Thine with a love that endureth unto death.  Amen.


 By the nails and pointed spear,
By Thy people's cruel jeer,
By Thy dying prayer which rose
Begging mercy for Thy foes,—
Jesu, Saviour, hear our cry!
Thou wert suffering once as we;
Hear the loving Litany
We, Thy children, sing to Thee.



By the darkness thick as night,
Blotting out the sun from sight;
By the cry with which in death
Thou didst yield Thy parting breath,—
⁠⁠Jesu, Saviour, hear our cry!
Thou wert suffering once as we;
Hear the loving Litany
We, Thy children, sing to Thee.



[1]  Radcliffe, Timothy (2005). Seven Last Words. Burns & Oates. p. 11. ISBN 0-86012-397-9.