Easter Sunday Day Mass
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; 1Cor 5:6b-8; Jn 20:1-9
Today is Easter Sunday and Christians throughout the world are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus. This past week we commemorated Holy Thursday and Good Friday. But did these things really happen? Are we just engaging in make-believe? I saw on the internet in the past week that some new survey shows only 27% of Catholics believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist. I think that’s indicative of our current mentality of skepticism. Raymond Brown was one of the most respected Catholic biblical scholars in the last hundred years. Before he died he wanted to write two major books – one in support of the Virgin-birth of Jesus and one supporting his Resurrection. He saw that many Christian scholars in the field of biblical studies did not believe in either. He wanted to demonstrate that these two beliefs are compatible with reason and not contrary to it. These two works of his demonstrated that it was possible to approach these two tenets of our faith in a scholarly way without being simplistic or superstitious.
I believe God is never going to completely remove our need for faith, but he will give us plenty of hints along the way to buttress our faith. A case in point are the burial cloths that we heard about in today’s gospel. That portion of John’s Gospel says that when Peter went into the empty tomb he “saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” It makes sense that his disciples would have preserved those cloths as precious mementos, and that these relics could have been passed down through the centuries.
Faith will never contradict reason, but it may transcend it. Science is always evolving, so something we are not able to explain right now might become easier to explain with further technology in the future. Concerning those burial cloths mentioned in John’s Gospel, it is believed by many that the Shroud of Turin in Italy is the very cloth that was wrapped under and over Jesus’ body, and that the Sudarium of Oviedo in Spain is the cloth that covered his head. The blood stains seem to match each other, and both have AB type blood. The Sudarium is about two feet by three feet, and the Shroud is about 14 feet by three. They are both linen.
It is said that the Shroud is the most studied artifact in human history. It has been subjected to numerous scientific tests. One of the best publicized was the carbon dating test in 1988. It put the date between 1260 and 1390. But subsequent evidence shows that it was not reliable. It was taken from a very contaminated portion of the Shroud, and some of it was part of a later repair. It had cotton fibers in it and the rest of the Shroud is linen.
In 1978, 24 scientists from the United States were given permission to subject the Shroud to the most modern technology for 120 hours. They gathered all the data they could during that short time, working around the clock, and then spent many months studying that data after they got back home. They called themselves STRP (Shroud of Turin Research Project). Their aim was to explain how the image got there on the cloth, but they were only able to determine what it wasn’t, and not what it was. In the summary they published it is stated: “. . . No paints, pigments, or dyes have been found on the fibrils . . . It is not the work of an artist. . . . There are no chemical or physical methods known which can account for the totality of the image.” These were well-respected experts from NASA and other well-known institutes, and most of them not believers. Barrie Schwortz was a photographer on that team and to this day is still Jewish. He has the oldest and largest website concerning the Shroud (Shroud.com) and there are many interesting YouTube videos with him.
To say that the carbon dating test was correct is to say that the Shroud is a forgery dating back to the 1300s in Europe. But there is just way too much other evidence that doesn’t support this. For one thing, the image is very faint and you can’t really make it out till you’re ten feet back. How could an artist create it up close? There is no image under the blood stains. That means the blood stains were first and the image came later. How would the forger know where to put the blood stains if the image wasn’t there yet? The image is a perfect negative. Photography wasn’t invented until about 500 years later. Secondo Pia took the first photo of it in 1898 and almost dropped the plate when he was developing it and saw the negative of the face for the first time, which was actually a positive image. Is it likely that the forger went to all the trouble to create a negative in the hope that 500 years later someone might invent a process that would unlock it? The image has three-dimensional properties. The STRP team discovered this when they put it through a very sophisticated VP8 machine. Paintings and photographs do not have these 3D qualities.
The blood stains on the Shroud are both fresh blood and post-mortem blood. Forensic experts can tell the difference under the microscope. The fresh blood would have still been on his body from earlier, and the other oozed out after his death. The blood has very high levels of bilirubin, which is consistent with someone who was tortured to death. The serum stains around the blood only show up with a special type of light that wasn’t invented until centuries after the supposed forgery. How could the supposed artist foresee that? The blood flow patterns are consistent with gravity. And the blood on his arms flowed at two different angles, consistent with the two positions in crucifixion. The victim would hang from is hands until he was near asphyxiation, and then would painfully push himself up with his feet so he could get a breath. As already mentioned, the blood type is AB. It is sometimes referred to as the “universal donor”. It is rare, about 5% of the population. It is much more common in Palestine than it is in Europe. Incidentally, when the Eucharistic miracles are analyzed they always show AB type blood. Experts were able to get DNA from the blood on the Shroud. Oddly enough, it showed XX chromosomes. You would have expected XY in a male. About 1 in 20,000 males show up with XX chromosomes. I ran out of time in researching this area so I’m a little weak in the evidence. Christians have found that it lends itself to our belief in the virgin-birth. Does it prove it? No, but it is a nice little coincidence.
There are pollen particles on the Shroud that are specific to Jerusalem and only bloom during the Passover. These are very minute, can only be seen by a microscope, and are a recent tool in forensics. Could the forger really have gone to such great lengths when the microscope wasn’t invented until centuries later? There are dust particles around the feet and knees and on the back of the cloth that are from a rare calcite limestone that is found only in Jerusalem. If this is a forgery, that guy was really good.
Experts in the field of forensics study evidence at crime scenes and murder cases, etc. All the evidence on the Shroud supports the accounts we have in the Bible. And it all points to Jesus of Nazareth and not just any random victim of crucifixion. There is no other record of the crown of thorns on a crucified person. Scourging and crucifixion did not ordinarily go together – they were two separate penalties. There are so many scourge marks all up and down the front and back of the body that Jesus should have died from so much loss of blood. With all he went through before getting to the cross, that’s why he only lasted three hours. Ordinarily, they can last for days and they break their legs so they can’t push themselves up and they suffocate. The man of the Shroud does not have broken legs. The nail marks in the hands and feet are in the correct positions to support the weight of his body and they are from big spikes. The thumbs are folded in because the medial nerve in the wrist was ruptured – something that is extremely painful. The dimensions of the lance wound are correct. The face was heavily beaten. The knees show evidence of falling. You can see bruises on his shoulders where he carried the patibulum, or cross-piece. There is no evidence of decomposition on the Shroud. One of the STRP members said he marveled at how serene and peaceful the face looked in such stark contrast to how mangled the body was.
The image is thermally stable and nondifusible. At one point in its history the church it was in caught fire. It was hot enough to melt the silver lining of the case it was in and a drop of it went through the cloth. The extreme heat inside the case didn’t disturb the image except where it was charred from the drop of silver. They put water on that area and the image there didn’t soak down into the fibers. The image is on the very, very surface of the fibrils and stays there. People who try to duplicate the process which formed the image on the Shroud are able to cover some of the unique qualities but never all of them.
The image was probably formed by some kind of energy like an atomic bomb. There are similar images at Hiroshima. But, obviously, Jerusalem wasn’t blown to pieces. Does this prove the Resurrection? No, but it certainly leaves science baffled.
The good Lord realized that we would need helps for our faith in this age of skepticism. Let me close with a testimonial from a grateful mother after an exhibit on the Shroud in Ottawa, Canada this past Holy Week. “My daughter came yesterday with her Grade 6 class,” the mother wrote. “In the past weeks she had been expressing that she did not want to be confirmed in May/17. After yesterday, she was fully on board for her Confirmation this spring. Praise our Lord!”