Devotion to the Five Holy Wounds of Jesus
Isaias liii.3-5: “Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and His look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by His bruises we are healed.”
John xx.27-28: “Then He saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see My Hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into My side; and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered, and said to Him: My Lord, and my God.”
Because of His Wounds, because His Sacred, Precious Blood was spilt, you have the opportunity to see the Face of God. That’s Christianity in a nutshell, something that every Christian knows, but too few truly ponder enough. Of course, we Catholics have always meditated on Christ’s Passion — each Mass is a re-presentation of His Sacrifice, and, in addition, the Stations of the Cross is a standard Lenten devotion, and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary remind us of what He went through for us. But we also have another devotion available to us, one that helps us meditate more concretely on His sufferings: devotion to His Five Sacred Wounds.
Private revelation to St. Bridget of Sweden indicated that all the wounds Our Lord suffered added up to 5,480 1. She began to pray 15 prayers each day in honor of each of these wounds, their total after a year being 5,475; these “Fifteen Prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden” are still prayed today. Likewise, in Southern Germany, it became the practice to pray 15 Our Fathers a day in honor of Christ’s wounds so that by the end of a year, 5,475 Paters were prayed.
The five main wounds He suffered, though — the wound in each Foot, the wound in each Hand, and the wound in His side caused by St. Longinus’s lance — are symbolic of all the wounds, and special devotion to them arose very early on. St. John is said to have appeared to Pope Boniface II (d. A.D. 532) and revealed a special Mass — the “Golden Mass” — in honor of Christ’s Five Wounds, and it is the effect of these Five Wounds that are most often produced in the bodies of the men and women who imitate Him best — the stigmatics. St. Francis being the first of these, his spiritual daughter, St. Clare, developed a strong devotion to the Five Wounds, as did the Benedictine St. Gertrude the Great, and others.
Christ bore these Five Wounds after the Resurrection, when He allowed St. Thomas to cure his doubts by touching the wound in His side, and He bears these wounds even now, in Heaven. Aquinas gives five reasons why this is so:
In the first place, for Christ’s own glory. For Bede says on Luke xxiv.40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.” Hence Augustine says: “Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body.”
Secondly, to confirm the hearts of the disciples as to “the faith in His Resurrection.”
Thirdly, “that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us.” .
Fourthly, “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death.”
Lastly, “that in the Judgment day He may upbraid them with their just condemnation.” Hence, as Augustine says: “Christ knew why He kept the scars in His body. For, as He showed them to Thomas who would not believe except he handled and saw them, so will He show His wounds to His enemies, so that He who is the Truth may convict them, saying: ‘Behold the man whom you crucified; see the wounds you inflicted; recognize the side you pierced, since it was opened by you and for you, yet you would not enter.
Honor is shown to these Sacred Wounds in many ways — from the 5 grains of incense inserted into the Paschal Candle, to the custom of dedicating each Pater said in the body of the Dominican Rosary to one of the Five Wounds. They are symbolized in art by the Jerusalem Cross, 5 circles on a Cross, 5 roses, the 5-pointed star. They’re also depicted in art quite explicitly: here, for example, is one of many such medieval illustrations of the wound He received in His side, from Longinus’s spear.
The 5 wounds are seen as symbolized by many things in nature, too — from the stamens of the Passion Flower, to the Sand Dollar, to the 5 seeds found in the almost perfect 5-pointed star in a cross-sectioned apple.