Saint Ignatius High School

United by Faith and Reason

As we conclude what must be seen as the most unique Lent in history it is good for us to keep in mind that even in the most ordinary of years Lent is the penitential season that prepares us to celebrate the greatest and most singular event of all time. Today, Mr. Healey reflects on an artifact from this wondrous event.

The Resurrection of the Lord: The Mass of Easter Day

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 10:34, 37-43

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:1-4 or 5:6-8

Sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes

Gospel: According to St. John 20:1-9

As we conclude what must be seen as the most unique Lent in history it is good for us to keep in mind that even in the most ordinary of years Lent is the penitential season that prepares us to celebrate the greatest and most singular event of all time.

Despite our inability to physically experience the liturgical events of the Triduum, technology provides us with the means whereby we can be a spiritual community.  Each of us has the ability to watch, and thus be a part of, liturgies being celebrated across the country and across the world.

This is a gift of, as Pope Saint John Paul might remind us, the union of fides et ratio – faith and reason.  This is not the first instance of the use of reason in the service of faith, and we certainly hope that it will not be the last.  Nor is it the most earth-shattering.  That prize must be awarded to a use of technology at the end of the 19th Century that has forced the modern world to re-examine not only a piece of ancient cloth, but also, and more importantly, its conclusions about the most powerful moment in history.

Secondo Pia is not a name that provides instant recognition among most crowds.  But to the researchers and scholars associated with the academic discipline known as sindonology he is revered as their patron saint.

In 1898 Pia was asked to photograph some works that would be on display at an art exhibit associated with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Cathedral of Turin in Italy.  This early modern attempt at marketing gave the world one of the great moments in the history of photography, and sparked a worldwide interest in a piece of cloth whose origins will be debated until the end of time.

The piece of cloth is commonly referred to as the Shroud of Turin and those who study it, like those researchers and scholars at STURP (the Shroud of Turin Research Project) are involved in sindonology, the study of the “sindon” (the Greek word used in the Gospel According to St. Mark to indicate the cloth).  This cloth is believed by many to be the actual burial shroud of Jesus.

The photograph itself is not all that impressive, and most people who are interested in the Shroud either have never seen it or have seen it and now ignore it.  The focus of people’s interest is the photo’s negative.  On the negative one can see fairly clearly the face of a deceased male who had been brutalized prior to his death.  To see the negative of the full body, front and back, is to witness a man who had been crowned with thorns, scourged, and crucified.

The accusations of forgery go back centuries, including that of John Calvin, one of the founders of the Reformation, but those who do not believe in the Shroud’s authenticity can’t account for the source of the image nor can they explain why it exhibits characteristics that would not be known to the pre-modern world.  For example, the nail marks are in the man’s wrists and not through his palms.  The science behind crucifixion is fairly recent and up until this past century everyone believed that the nails went through a crucified man’s palms – just look at every painting of the Crucifixion and every Crucifix in every Catholic home or church building or school in the world.

Those associated with STURP are not a collection of pious and gullible Catholics who will believe things because they want them to be true.  The team of scientists, researchers and scholars are leaders in their fields, including several from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena that is under the care of the California Institute of Technology.

Photographer Barrie Schwortz spoke for the entire group when he commented that he thought that the team would show up in Turin in 1978, take note of the paint on the cloth, and be finished.  Instead he and others have spent the last four decades studying the Shroud and trying to determine how the image was placed on the cloth.

What has been discovered in the past four decades, besides the lack of paint, is the presence of real human blood (male, AB), pollen from the Holy Land, and, among other things, the presence of first century Roman coins on the eyes of the man in the image.  One of the most stunning discoveries was determined through the use of a VP-8 Image Analyzer.  When analyzed, the image on the Shroud appeared to be three-dimensional, whereas things like photographs appear distorted.

What can be concluded then about what put the image on the cloth?  According to STURP it was a brief, intense transfer of energy – akin to a small nuclear explosion, and as one of the researchers said, “It’s hard to get that kind of energy out of a corpse.”  So we are left to answer the question: What could have caused the type of energy that placed the image on the Shroud?  For me, and for a number of the scientists in STURP, the answer is quite obvious, and we – separated and quarantined as we are – celebrate together that event today.

Christ Is Risen! He Is Truly Risen!
May you and all those you love have a very safe and blessed Easter.


You can celebrate Holy Week services with the Jesuits. Click HERE to access the live streams, as well as downloadable worship aids.