Friday, March 21, 2008

Wrists or Hands - an odd Good Friday meditation


Today, March 21, is Good Friday. The TV is tuned to EWTN and there is a cartoon version of the Sorrowful Mysteries on. The crucifixion scene shows Jesus with the nails through his wrists. Some children's books I have in my store also show Jesus with the nails through his wrists.

I don't have the time to research when this "nails through the wrist thing" got started, but I remember hearing about it in college. Seems to have started from some observation that a nail through the hand could not have supported a man's weight therefore it must have been through the wrist.

There are two problems with this:

1. There is a lack of evidence in sacred art. I don't claim to have done exhaustive research but as one who has traveled the world and visited many churches and prayed before many crucifixes and pictures of the crucifixion, I don't recall a single one (pre-1960's anyway) that shows the nails through the wrist. The same would be true of all the pictures in books (pre-1960).

2. Jesus doesn't say to Thomas (in John 20:27) "see my wrists". He says "see my hands".

The shroud seems to show that the nails were through the wrist, but the holes are actually through the bottom of the hand. I'll do more work on this later, as there are several scientific investigations of the shroud that positively identify the position of the nail holds and the effect on the position of the hand in death.

So, who cares? Wrist, hand, so what? He was crucified and that's all that matters. Right? Hmmm.

For anyone who has grown up with the traditional images of the crucifixion, the sight of a crucifix with the nails through the wrists can be quite jarring. I was personally "jarred", irritated actually, irritated to the point of being made curious as to the cause of my own irritation.

It occured to me that I've lived through a generation of "shocks" as regards the expression of the Catholic Faith, from the music, to the architecture, to the location of the tabernacle, to the vestments and vessels, the position of the altar, the ever evolving theatrics of what happens in what used to be the sanctuary, and now to sacred art and to the very image of the crucifixion, the central fact, the nucleic image, the ultimate icon of the Christian Faith, and the focus of all that is worship.

I don't pronounce these good or bad. For some this "fiddling" with the "stuff" of Faith may have provided some benefit to those who need a warmer, more welcoming, more factual, more scientific expression of the Faith, an expression that is supposedly more relatable to the modern mind.

Wonderful. "Shock" is only my personal and immediate, non-agenda driven gut reaction to such things. Luckily though these new "crucifixes" are so cartoonish (even the ones that are not in cartoons) that the crucifix itself evokes no meditation and thus the poor believer will not be forced long to wonder at the nails in the wrists.


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