The first one proclaims that all time belongs to the risen Lord: 'Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to Him; and all the ages. To Him be glory and power through every age and for ever. Amen.' As this prayer is said, we focus on the iconography of the candle. In the middle is a cross representing Jesus Christ. Above it is an Alpha, below it is an Omega. This visually shows the power of the Cross spanning all time from the first moment until the last one. Then in the four quadrants of the Cross are the four numerals of the year (2, 0, 1, 5), visually proclaiming that this year, too, is under the Lordship of Jesus.
Whenever we look upon a paschal candle then, we are visually reminded that God is in control, that He has the ultimate victory, and consequently we can increase our trust in Him.
The second short prayer is no less powerful: 'By His holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us. Amen.' While this prayer is prayed five grains of incense (usually covered in red wax) are pressed into the centre and outer edges of the Cross to represent the nail wounds in the two hands, two feet and heart of Jesus.
Whenever we look upon a paschal candle then, we are visually reminded of these five great and glorious wounds of Jesus through which our salvation was accomplished.
If Holy Mother Church has drawn our attention to these Holy Wounds so vividly at the solemn beginning of the Easter Vigil, then they must be extraordinarily important for our lives as Christians.
So when was the last time you deliberately thought about the Wounds of Jesus? And what are we missing if we don't ponder them regularly?
When we pray the Chaplet of Mercy we generally think more about the sorrows of Jesus. When we pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary we more frequently ponder the broad sweep of action going on than the minor details. Some other chaplets start with the Sign of the Cross five times in honour of the five great and glorious wounds Jesus received for us on the wood of the Cross. But by and large pondering His Wounds isn't the regular part of our prayer lives that it should be.
Especially when driving, as I am praying the Chaplet of Mercy to mentally keep count of each decade I will either use the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary or the 5 Holy Wounds.
Sometimes if in Confession I am given a penance of 2 Hail Marys or 2 Our Fathers, I will multiply them by 3 and do one each in honour of the Crowning with Thorns and the 5 Holy Wounds.
Let us ponder the Wounds of Jesus and see what treasures we find:
The Agony in the Garden: We know that 'In His anguish Jesus prayed more earnestly, and His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.' Luke 22:44. Blood only comes from wounds, and these wounds were at skin cell size, incredibly small and yet extraordinarily numerous. Can you see in them redemption and reparation for all of our everyday sins that we try to convince ourselves don't matter? The angry word; the slammed door; the white lie; the stolen coin; the cold shoulder; the swear word; the taunt; the salacious joke. Each and every one of those small failures to love, Jesus paid for.
The Scourging at the Pillar: These wounds were many and received under official orders with many complicit bystanders. Each lash was on vulnerable uncovered skin, and like the paw swipe of an enraged lion. Can you see in them redemption and reparation for the brutality of those in power towards those who have none, of the crimes of domestic violence, the atrocities committed in war time, the acts of revenge of one person against another, the violence meted out to those in protective custody? And then the majority of those wounds get covered up and hidden under the regular clothes of Jesus. How would we cope if we experienced just one lash from the scourge? And yet Jesus endured this multiple times for us.
The Crowning with Thorns: These wounds didn't have official sanction, and were received in a more private setting where a gang mistreated a single victim. These wounds were smaller than the scourges, but sometimes deeper. From another angle they are wounds that went beyond the bounds of official orders, and were completely unjustified. Because they are wounds upon the head, they are attacks against the mind and the ability to reason. Can you see in them redemption and reparation for bullying, extortion, works of terror, propaganda, rebellion and mockery of the truth? Unlike the scourges which are inflicted multiple times over a longer period and systematically, the thorns are inflicted quickly but with ongoing consequences when the gang is no longer around. Jesus understands our pain, our fear and out terror, that's one of the things these thorn-caused wounds teach us.
The Carrying of the Cross: The wound we usually focus on here is the shoulder (or shoulders) of Jesus upon which the Cross was carried. But there are additional wounds to think of because each fall under the Cross would have added wounds to His knees, hips, hands and face. Any fall results in grazes and torn skin, especially if the fall is onto a rough surface. At public executions like this, projectiles like small stones and garbage would have been thrown as well. Some of them would have hit Jesus and drawn blood. They represent the sharp words and weapons we hurl at each other. The wound in the shoulder reminds us of those wounds that only get bigger over time. Jesus suffered it to redeem and reparate for the ways we destroy our souls through increasing jealousy, resentment, rage, bitterness, and self-pity until the original cause of our hurt is indecipherable.
The Stripping of His Garments: Any wound is bad, but a re-opened wound is worse. A wound received in private is one thing, but the humiliation of a wound exposed to hostile public gaze is more painful. These are like the wounds of a victim that has to relive his or her ordeal before a courtroom, and have all credibility called into question. Jesus went through this stripping of his garments for us, to redeem and reparate our sins. He went through this re-opening of his wounds especially for all those sins committed when we are unclothed; for the multiplicity of sexual sins as well as the sins we tempt others too when we are immodestly dressed.
The Nailing of Jesus to the Cross: These wounds in the hands and feet of Jesus caused by the nails redeem and repair for all the sins we commit with our hands and our feet. Stealing is an obvious one, as is desertion of duty. These wounds also obtain forgiveness for our failures, our failures to help those in need, our failures to visit the sick and suffering. When we look at these wounds, we are amazed that Jesus would permit His hands and feet to be pierced through in order to permanently remind us of His love for us. We ask the age old question, 'Lord, is my soul worth this much?' And these wounds of His answer, 'Yes!' every time.
The Piercing of His Heart: 'Any wound rather than a wound of the heart!' Ecclesiasticus 25:13. Physical wounds heal with time, but wounds of the heart linger. Betrayals, infidelities, adultery, rejection; how they hurt more sharply than any lance. How difficult they are to forgive! But with God such forgiveness and freedom from the burden of hurt is possible. Of all His Wounds, this one is the most eloquent. All of us are guilty of lack of love towards the God who with infinite love created us, redeemed us through the Cross and wants to sanctify us. This wound in His Sacred Heart makes visible the ardent desire with which He wants all sin removed from our lives so that we can enjoy the fullness of His love. However much we have wounded His Heart with our sins, He is willing to forgive us and to renew our relationship with Him. The best way to seek that forgiveness and renewal is in the sacrament of penance (a.k.a. confession to a priest).
Pondering the Holy Wounds of Jesus a) dispels the loneliness of our own sufferings because He has already experienced the same sufferings, b) weans us from our attachment to sin, c) allows us to hope for mercy and d) increases our love and appreciation for Jesus.
Let us ponder His Holy Wounds more often and more regularly.
You may find these PDFs about the Chaplet of the Holy Wounds helpful. The first is a single A4 sheet that folds into a ¼ size booklet. The second single A4 sheet has three panels.