When Our Savior breathed His last, the bones of the thieves were crushed to hasten their death. The Law had commanded that the body of one who was crucified, and therefore accursed of God, should not remain on the cross during the night. Furthermore, with the Sabbath of Paschal week nigh, it was urgent upon the followers of the Law to kill the thieves and bury all who were crucified. But there was a prophecy yet to be fulfilled concerning the Messias. The fulfillment came when: “One of the soldiers opened His Side with a spear; And immediately blood and water flowed out.” (Jn. 19:13)
The Divine Miser had hoarded up a few precious drops of His Blood to pour forth after He gave up His spirit, to show that His love was stronger than death. Blood and water came forth; Blood, the price of Redemption and the symbol of the Eucharist; water, the symbol of regeneration and baptism. St. John, who witnessed the scene of the soldier piercing the Heart of Christ, wrote about it later: “He it is, Jesus Christ, Whose coming Has been made known to us by water and blood; Water and blood as well, not water only.” (1 Jn. 5:6)
There was something more than a natural phenomenon here inasmuch as John gave it a mysterious and sacramental significance. Water stood at the beginning of Our Lord’s ministry when He was baptized, Blood stood at the close of it when He offered Himself as a spotless oblation. Both became the ground of faith, for at the baptism, the Father declared Him to be His Son, and the Resurrection witnessed again to His Divinity.
The messenger from the Father was impaled with the message of love written on His Own Heart. The thrust of the lance was the last profanation of God’s Good Shepherd. Though He was spared the brutality that was arbitrary, such as the breaking of His legs, nevertheless, there was some mysterious Divine purpose in the opening of the Sacred Heart of God. John, who leaned on His breast the night of the Last Supper, fittingly recorded the opening of the Heart.
At the Deluge Noah made a door in the side of the ark, by which the animals entered, that they might escape the flood; now a new door is opened into the heart of God into which men might escape the flood of sin. When Adam slept, Eve was taken from his side and was called the mother of all living. Now as the second Adam inclined His head and slept on the Cross, under the figure of Blood and water there came from His side His bride, the Church. The open heart fulfilled His words: “I am the door; a man will find salvation If he makes his way in through Me.” (Jn. 10:9)
St. Augustine and other early Christian writers wrote that Longinus, the soldier who opened the treasures of His Sacred Heart, was cured of an affliction of blindness; later Longinus died as a bishop and a martyr of the Church, his feast being kept on the fifteenth of March. When John saw the action, his mind went back to the prophecy of Zacharias, six centuries before: “They will look upon the Man Whom they have pierced.”(Jn. 19:37)
Sorrow does not come first, then the look at the Cross; rather sorrow for sins springs from a vision of the Cross. All excuses are cast aside when the vileness of sin is most poignantly revealed. But the arrow of sin that wounds and crucifies brings the balm of forgiveness that heals. Peter saw the Master, and then went out and wept bitterly. As those who looked on the brazen serpent were healed of the poison bite; now the figure passes into reality, and those who looked at One Who seemed like a sinner, but was not, were healed of sin.
All must look whether they like it or not. The pierced Christ stands emblazoned at the crossroads of the world. Some look and are softened to penitence; others look and go away regretfully but not sorrowfully, as did that mob on Calvary “who went home beating their breasts.” The beating of the breasts here was a sign of impenitence; it was their refusal to look on Him Whom they had pierced. The mea culpa is the beating of the breast that saves.
Though the executioners pierced His side, they did not break a bone of His Body as was also prophesied. Exodus had said that the Paschal Lamb was not to have a bone of its body broken. This lamb was only a type of the literal fulfillment of the Lamb of God: “This was so ordained to fulfill what is written, You shall not break a single bone of His.” (Jn. 19:36) This prophecy was accomplished in spite of His enemies, who asked for the contrary. As the physical Body of Christ had external wounds, bruises, and scars, and yet the inner structure was left untouched, so there seemed to be a foretelling that though His Mystical Body, the Church, would have its moral wounds and scars of scandals and disloyalties, nevertheless, not a bone of its body would ever be broken.