Visit To Shroud Brought To Light Power Of Holy Pictures And Also Sacramentals
[adapted from Michael H. Brown's Secrets of the Eucharist]
With Christ, there are many hidden powers. I remember how, after my conversion, I would roam around a church and wonder at the many obscure images -- in stained glass, on altar carvings, or statues -- that I'd never really noticed.
Such images of saints and other holy figures are to invoke the spirit of heaven and the atmosphere of celestial existence.
They can be crucial in placing us in a prayerful mood, although many Protestants misunderstand their value. They think statues represent "idolatry" when in reality the Bible speaks of idols as snakes and man-beasts -- not angels or saints.
We have statues for the same reason that we have family photographs: to remind us, to create a reflective atmosphere.
According to tradition, holy images were painted long ago, long before the Protestant rebellion, by the likes of St. Luke. The earliest miracles associated with a statue date at least as far back as the fourth century. Then we have sacramentals such as Holy Water that ward off evil spirits. I often suggest that people use Holy Water daily and also blessed salt. Holy salt is a forgotten sacramental that's especially powerful against the devil. It can be mixed with water or sprinkled by itself.
The same power can come with holy images. Take the Shroud of Turin. One has to visit the vault to appreciate its power. It's kept at the Cathedral of the Holy Shroud in Turin, Italy. The history of this primitive cathedral hearkens back to the third century, when Christian martyrs laid down their lives for Christ during the persecution unleashed by a tyrant named Decius. The first bishop of Turin was St. Maximus, who was determined to put down rising heresies and pagan superstitions.
I'm not sure when the first cathedral was built. It was actually formed by joining three churches. One was dedicated to St. Mary Major, one to John the Baptist, and the third to the Holy Savior. Those churches were demolished in 1490, and the cornerstone for a new cathedral was laid in 1491. Obviously, there have been many additions and renovations since that time. But I describe all this because the essence of Mass is to be found in this old cathedral, this stone monument that is now in the heart of a bustling Italian city. Over the entrance is a huge reproduction of DaVinci's "Last Supper," depicting the very origin of Mass. There are beautiful chapels dedicated to the Madonna and the Archangel Michael, along with breathtaking candelabra and marble statuary. In one side chapel is a most authentic crucifix, surrounded by figurines and sweeping statues -- of St. Teresa and St. Christina. At the main alter are towering candles and a transcending Crucifix on the tabernacle.
And above that, behind tall and fortified glass, in an upper chapel reached by august and mysterious marble stairs, was the chapel of the Shroud and a monumental altar -- a truly awe-inspiring altar -- in which the cloth is kept.
It was like the Fort Knox of Catholicism.
And what better symbolism than the image of Christ above and behind the tabernacle!
There were splendid gold-plated angels around the iron grill of the Shroud's vault. In that was an asbestos-covered casket holding a silver chest containing the actual cloth. While the very sight of this chapel is enough to inspire the deepest reverence, it's nothing next to the spiritual feeling. As I stepped up to the encasement on short marble steps I suddenly felt a force bring me to my knees and the most comprehensive prayer imaginable flowed through my whispering lips -- the best prayer I had ever prayed, covering all my needs and the direction of my life. I was as close as you can get, within a few feet of the actual Shroud.
While certain disbelieving scientists claimed, during the late 1980s, that carbon dating indicated the Shroud is only 600 years old -- which means it can't be the actual burial cloth -- more recent studies indicate that such dating could have been off and that the cloth may indeed be nearly 2,000 years old. More recently researchers have debunked that study (the dating has proven to be in error) and raise the point that pollen found in the threads of the Shroud could only have come from certain plants found in the vicinity of Jerusalem and he claimed that one type of pollen has been extinct for 1,500 years, meaning the cloth is at least that old and comes from Israel.
To me the most important fact is not the age but the fact that no one can explain how such a detailed image got onto a piece of cloth. Even today we don't have such technology. The image was done in negative and only noticed for its extraordinary details in the 1800s, when the Shroud was first photographed and to the shock of the photographer, displayed a far more elaborate image than previously noticed with the naked eye. The details were hidden because the Shroud is actually like a film negative, and the details emerged only as film was being developed. It's inconceivable to me that a hoaxer could have anticipated photography centuries before it was invented and staged such a technological hoax.
I've seen much other evidence. But I don't really need any more. I know only this: when I approached the vault above the main altar, behind the tabernacle, I felt the Holy Spirit as I had rarely felt Him before. I'll never forget the wonderful feeling, which for me symbolized the essence of the Eucharist. The peace. The strength of God. Pope John Paul II once said that "the Holy Shroud is a unique and truly providential sign of our times," and it gives us an image for the essence of the Eucharist. It reflects both Jesus and God. The very placement of a supernatural image of Christ in a city of spiritual warfare (there are many witches in Turin), and right above the altar, just over the tabernacle, is a sign of our times and tells us that when we partake of Communion, when we swallow the wafer or drink of consecrated wine, we're touching the most powerful force in heaven. We're touching Jesus. We're touching His death. We're ingesting His very power!
They speculate that an unknown force comparable to the energy of an atomic blast left the image. That's what we're in touch with. And there are signs of blood flow in the Shroud, reminding us of what's in the chalice and the fact that Christ's Blood, like the lamb's blood at Passover, protects us from the avenging angel.
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