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Holy Saturday Shroud display may help contemplate Christ’s triumph

Ten years ago, I had the great privilege to experience two once-in-a-lifetime events, all in less than a week and a half. The Catholic Review led a pilgrimage with then-Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien and Monsignor Carl Cummings to see the Shroud of Turin and the Passion Play in Oberammergau.

Rarely do these events intersect. The Shroud is normally on public display every 25 years. Pope Benedict made the unusual gesture to ask for the Shroud to be publicly displayed in 2010, instead of waiting until 2025.

The Passion Play is performed only every 10 years. The tradition was started in 1634, after the residents of Oberammergau, a town along the Ammer River in Bavaria, Germany, vowed that if God spared them from the bubonic plague coursing through the region, they would produce a play commemorating the Passion of the Lord every 10 years.

The monthlong special display of the Shroud in Turin, Italy, ended in mid-May 2010. The Passion Play ran from May to October, and the two events overlapped for only eight days. We were fortunate to schedule our pilgrimage to catch the Shroud at the beginning of the trip and the play at the end, passing through Austria in between.

This year, Catholic Review Media had scheduled two pilgrimages to visit Austria and Germany to include the Passion Play, one in June and one in September. As the coronavirus began sweeping across the world, I contacted our representative at the tour company and noted that it would be ironic if the play went on as scheduled, in the midst of a global pandemic, since it was instituted in thanks for saving the town from an epidemic in the 1600s. A few days later, we received word that the Passion Play organizers had decided to cancel all performances this year, and move the play to 2022.

[ Related Story: Turin Archdiocese to livestream display Shroud of Turin on Holy Saturday ]

We hope to be able to move our pilgrimages to 2022, and that will provide a special time to pray for those whose lives have been lost to COVID-19, as well as to thank God for those who were spared. We won’t know the details on that until we get word from the planners and our tour partners.

But in the meantime, along comes a new opportunity to experience the Passion of Christ this Holy Week and Easter.

The archbishop of Turin has announced a special online exposition of the Shroud to help people contemplate the mysteries of Easter and the Resurrection.

On Holy Saturday, April 11, as Christians contemplate Jesus lying in the tomb, Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin will lead a liturgy of prayer and contemplation before the shroud at 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. EDT).

The prayer service will be livestreamed along with live images of the 14-foot-by-4-foot shroud, which has a full-length photo-negative image of a man, front and back, bearing signs of wounds that correspond to the Gospel accounts of the torture Jesus endured in his passion and death.

A sculpture depicts the man whose image is represented on the Shroud of Turin in a 2010 exhibit at the Cathedral of St. John in Turin, Italy. The Shroud will be featured in an online prayer service and exposition Holy Saturday, April 11. (Christopher Gunty / CR Staff)

In the 2010 visit to Turin, the Maryland group was able to visit the Cathedral of St. John in Turin that houses the holy relic and spend a few minutes in prayer in front of the cloth that many believe to be the burial cloth of Christ. It’s theorized that the negative image of a man crucified in accord with the Scripture accounts of Christ’s death was created as the burst of life returned to Jesus’ human body.

“The sense of awe and reverence was remarkable,” Archbishop O’Brien, now a cardinal, said at the time. “The closer the people got to the Shroud, you could feel it in the air. It will remain in our minds for years to come. It had to make a deep impression.”

After first seeing a video to help pilgrims decipher the markings on the Shroud, visitors were able to pass near the case that holds the relic to reflect and pray.

“When you see the bloodstains, the whiplash and the serene face of death, it certainly took a divine act to want to endure it for our sake and obedience to his Father,” Archbishop O’Brien said in 2010. “The pain and the suffering had to be immense, especially for one who is perfect. To have wanted to want to do that for love of us – it’s one thing to read about it, it’s another thing to see it in the relics of the Shroud.”

[ Related Story: Shroud of Turin visit inspires archbishop, pilgrims ]

Announcing the special display, Archbishop Nosiglia said April 4 that he had received “thousands and thousands” of messages “asking me if, in this time of grave difficulty we are going through, it would be possible to pray this Holy Week before the shroud” and ask God for “the grace to defeat evil as he did, trusting in the goodness and mercy of God.”

He said that the online viewing might be better even than seeing the Shroud in person, because multiple camera angles will allow viewers to see it up close, and people can remain at length with the image. When the Shroud is publicly exposed as it was in 2010, so many people wish to see it that the line must keep moving, allowing only for a quick prayer and reflection.

So, while the Passion Play in Oberammergau is postponed, there is still a chance to delve deeply into the salvific nature of the cross of Christ and his triumph over death, thanks to the online exposition of the Shroud of Turin.

During this difficult and painful time for our world, when we cannot attend services in our local churches, contemplating Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection virtually may be just the spark of life we need.

The Archdiocese of Turin said April 9 the livestream could be viewed directly on the official website for the shroud — www.sindone.org — as well as on the official Facebook page of the archdiocese (@diocesitorino) and the Facebook page of its youth ministry office (@upgtorino) and the youth ministry office’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/upgtorino).

Email Christopher Gunty at cgunty@catholicreview.org


Catholic News Service contributed to this story.