In the older Roman Missal in the section of Missae pro Aliquibus Locis, there are texts of a Mass of the Holy Shroud of Our Lord, to be said on the Friday after the second Sunday of Lent. In the Collect, we thank God for leaving us the vestigia or vestiges of the passion of Christ. We have such vestiges in the holy shroud itself preserved at Turin. Despite the amazing photograph-like image for which there is no evidence of forgery, it is still doubted. Were it any human discovery with evidence of this sort, there would be general public agreement about its authenticity. It is only because people do not want to believe in a miracle that they have to doubt it. We need not ourselves have any scruple in treating it as a genuine relic of Christ.
The Latin word vestigium means first of all a track or footprint. The shroud is a “footprint” left on earth, of Christ, crucified for our sins to win us heaven. Our part is to follow in the footsteps of Our Lord by our penance and prayer.
During Lent, we especially venerate the passion of Our Lord. We should love to repeat on our knees the liturgical response that is used when we do the Stations,
“We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee. Because by Thy Holy Cross, Thou hast redeemed the world.”
When Aaron went into the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies where God was present, he had to vest carefully with a linen tunic, linen breeches (or underwear), a linen cincture and a linen mitre.
In the letter to the Hebrews, St Paul said,
Jesus is not entered into the holies made with hands, the patterns of the true: but into heaven itself, that he may appear now in the presence of God for us. (Heb 9:24)
Before He entered this sanctuary, Our Lord was clothed in the linen vestments of His burial shroud. The priest celebrating Mass in the forma antiquior places the sacred host directly upon the corporal which itself acts as a kind of linen shroud for the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Blessed Lord.
The holy shroud also suggests to us some ways in which we may respond to the telling of the Passion of Jesus.
Theophylact of Ohrid, the 11th century Byzantine writer who is quoted by St Thomas Aquinas in his Catena Aurea , said that when we receive Christ in our soul, we should wrap Him in pure linen, that is, in a chaste body. St Paul tells us that we must not dare to receive Holy Communion unworthily (1 Cor 11:27-30), and the Church explains to us that we must not receive if we have committed a mortal sin.
But this is not sufficient for one who wants to live a truly devout life. We must try to make sure that we not only refrain from clothing Our Lord in linen that is not filthy: we want it to be as clean and bright as possible.
Therefore, we try to prepare well, reject here and now any attachment to venial sins or faults, and offer Our Lord heartfelt acts of love, adoration, and thanksgiving. As St Joseph of Arimathea cared for the body of Our Lord by procuring the finest linen to show the greatest respect for Him, so should be make every effort to offer ourselves as a worthy vessel for Him and treasure His presence within us.
PICTURE CREDIT: Wikimedia. Full length negatives of the Shroud of Turin. Public Domain.