INITIALLY ADDRESSED TO THE SHROUD SCIENCE GROUP.
Rebecca and I just returned from Turin where we participated in a special Mass in which replicas of the Shroud and the Tilma of Guadalupe were spiritually associated with one another. We attended this event, not as researchers, but as Catholic Christians believing that the formal association of what the images on both cloths depict is meaningful and important for today’s world.
Upon our return, Rebecca called to my attention some discussion on the Shroud Science Group regarding this event and I wish to offer some of my own reflections. It seems that the discussion was precipitated by comments made by Dan Porter on his “Shroud of Turin Blog” where he writes about the event in Turin, “What kind of signal does this send? Confusion. Keep the story tiny and buried.” With respect for Mr. Porter, I could not disagree more with this summation; I think the signal sent is, to the contrary, Spiritually valuable and that the story should be widely disseminated and definitely not buried.
The ceremony was held last Sunday on December 12th (The main feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico) in the context of a special Mass that was presided over by a Bishop and about a half-dozen con-celebrating priests. The Mass was held in a special Shroud Chapel which is part of the Shroud Museum in Turin. Those who have visited this chapel may recall that the full-length Shroud image is placed above and behind the altar where Mass is celebrated. Off to the right, not in the Sanctuary but right in front of it, was a Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
During the Mass, the Bishop came down from the altar and first incensed the Guadalupe image and then blessed it. The image was positioned so that the face of the Virgin was oriented towards the image of her son as depicted on the Shroud. An operatic soprano from Mexico sang beautiful hymns as did a chorus of seminarians from Italy. Special readings from Scripture were delivered by representatives of both Turin and Mexico. Following the Mass, the group from Turin and Mexico were treated to a nice luncheon provided by a community of Sisters. Following this everyone said good-bye in a spirit of Christian charity.
It is important to understand that the purpose of the ceremony was not to stimulate scientific discussions about the physical nature of the two images, for that would miss the entire point of the event which was spiritual in essence. The theological essence represented by the intimate association of the two images is often misunderstood in today’s world. Catholic theology understands that the Shroud image, if authentic, is that of the human nature taken by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who is God, for the purpose of our salvation. This human nature was taken voluntarily from the Virgin Mary by the action of God, the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from God, the Father. Since the Virgin Mary is who is depicted in the Tilma of Guadalupe, the association of the two images, Shroud and Guadalupe, should be obvious.
The Catholic Church further believes that the human nature taken from Mary was not contaminated by Original Sin, as we are, because of a special favor granted to Mary by virtue of the Redemption of Christ of which she played a unique and necessary role by allowing the Incarnation of the Son of God to enter into our world order. Therefore, Mary was conceived without sin so as to be a fitting vessel for the Holy Incarnation of God into our world.
She was also assumed body and soul into heaven because of this spiritual favor granted to her (Note that there is no burial site attributed anywhere in the Christian world to Mary where her earthy remains would be located, whereas we have many burial sites of saints such as Mark, James, and even Peter). Anyone who wishes to read more of these theological matters can find them readily explained in the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is available in many bookstores and in many languages.
I should also emphasize that the theological validity of the Tilma of Guadalupe should not rest on certain physical attributes of it that might be acquired by science. Rebecca and I, for one believe in the apparitions of Guadalupe, not because of some scientific result, but rather because of the testimony provided by Juan Diego to whom the apparitions occurred (incidentally one year before the Chambrey fire on the Shroud. Juan Diego was recently declared to be a saint by Pope John Paul II and Rebecca and I had the privilege of attending his canonization Mass in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The apparitions so moved Juan Diego that he spent the rest of his life talking to whoever was interested and this led directly to the fact that Mexico is today Christian (Catholic).
The magnitude of such a faith response comprising some millions of people is for us good testimony to the validity and spiritual fruit of the apparitions themselves. The content of these apparitions are completely in line with the Gospel message, with the Tilma image being an intimate reflection of those apparitions, the composition of which (in a theological and spiritual sense) we believe must have been guided in some way by Divine Providence.
Hopefully, these comments might be helpful to anyone who finds what happened in Turin last Sunday confusing or inappropriate. I would offer that becoming overly focused on the physical or scientific aspects of the Tilma, whatever may have been their physical origin, misses the spiritual and theological aspects that are considerably more important. As perhaps a crude analogy, it would be like becoming fixated on the chemical and physical aspects of the ink that records the words of Scripture in a given Bible to the point of not being able to discern that these words are the words of God in the words of men, inspired by the Divine Providence, something that can only be illuminated by the grace of faith and not merely through our limited capabilities of science.