Thursday, June 25, 2015

Scientific Secrets of the Shroud of Turin

credit L'Osservatore Romano

Recently Pope Francis journeyed to Turin to see the famous Shroud, believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. The Shroud, when displayed, draws over thirty-thousand pilgrims. It is one of the most popular physical artifacts in the Christian world outside the Holy Land and Rome.

Not only is the Shroud an object of religious devotion, it is also the most studied scientific object in the world, with over 600,000 hours of peer reviewed scientific evidence gathered on it from Christian, atheist, Jewish, and agnostic scientists.

Everyone is talking about Pope Francis and Shroud. Let’s take a quick review of some of the amazing facts about this extraordinary piece of cloth.
What is the Shroud of Turin?
The Shroud of Turin is a a very fine, very high quality, very expensive linen cloth with an image of a bearded man, almost six feet tall on one side. The man wears his hair in a pigtail, the common hairstyle of a Jewish rabbi in the first century, is aged somewhere in his early thirties, and weights about 175 pounds. He is certainly Jewish, as he is wearing a phylactery, a small leather box containing the Shema prayer, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. 

The man suffered scourging, crucifixion, and was crowned with a cap of thorns. It has long been held to be the burial Shroud of Jesus, mentioned in all four gospels, and perhaps was also the table cloth used at the Last Supper (it features drip patterns consistent with first century Jewish dining practices on the other side of the cloth).

Didn’t Carbon Dating Prove the Shroud is a Fake?
The authenticity of the Shroud has been an issue of considerable debate, with many people thinking it was proven to be a medieval forgery in the 1980s by carbon testing. Unfortunately, the carbon dating test was done incorrectly and thus led to highly untrustworthy results. Some of the problems with the test included:

  • Poor Sampling. The test was supposed to be performed by three different labs, each studying a postage stamp sized piece of the Shroud taken from a different area of the Shroud. Instead, the three samples were taken all from one area on the very edge of the Shroud. 
  • Contaminated Samples. The area from which all three samples were taken was from a part of the Shroud which had been heavily handled and even rewoven with fresh linen through the centuries. 
  • Bad Science. This breach of scientific protocol was serious enough to result in the famous carbon dating results being published not in a respected, peer reviewed, scientific journal, but in Nature Magazine
Further, the Shroud had been in several documented fires during the course of its history, including one hot enough to melt the silver urn it was stored in (this fire has left its mark on the Shroud with burn holes which can be seen today). 

Scientists, wondering what such intense heat would do to carbon dating results decided to replicate the fire. They took a linen, carbon dated to 2,000 years old, and simulated the great fire. Removing the linen, they retested it and got a carbon date 700 years younger than before the fire.
Meanwhile other scientists were looking into what effect the micro-organisms found living on the Shroud would have on its carbon date. After running several tests, they determined these organisms could give a false date off by at least 300 years from the known age of a similar linen object. Some have offered this as a possible reason why mummies typically carbon date 300 to 600 years older than the linens they are wrapped in. Obviously the linens must be at least as old as the mummies!
On top of all that, the “pray codex,” made in 1191, shows the burn marks in the Shroud from a medieval fire. These marks match up with those found on the Shroud. The “pray codex” is nearly a century older than the earliest carbon date of the Shroud, thus proving the Shroud is older than the carbon dating suggests.  
Could the Shroud Have Been the Work of a Skilled Artist?
If the Shroud was created by an artist, we would expect to find the telltale signs of an artist’s handiwork. We don’t. For example,

  • No outline surrounds the image, no trace of brushstrokes or any directionality is found in the image, and no underdrawing of any kind is present. 
  • No trace of any pigment or paint is on the Shroud. The image is scorched onto the very top fibrons of the linen (it is only on the top six microns of the fiber, less thickness than a human hair). 
  • The image is entirely unaffected by intense heat and water, both of which would ruin a human artwork. The great fire of 1532, the one which burned so hot it melted the silver urn containing the Shroud, burned at over 1,600 degrees! This fire was put out by drowning the Shroud in water, which also left the image intact. Try doing that to a painting and see what result you are left with!

Follow the Blood.
The Shroud has blood serum stains surrounding each of over 120 scourge marks left on the man from being brutally whipped. These stains cannot be seen with the naked eye and were discovered only when scientists examined the image under ultraviolet light. 

The image did not transfer under these stains, meaning the stains were left on the Shroud before the image was. The blood and serum stains from the scourging, the cap of thorns, the nail wounds in the hands and feet, and the puncture wound in the side are also consistent with both the Gospel accounts of what happened to Jesus (the only man in recorded history to have been crucified, flogged, pierced in the side, and crowned with thorns) and with what modern (although not medieval) science knows about how blood would flow from the various wounds, including the different bleed patterns from veins and arteries, something that wasn’t discovered until the eighteenth century (i.e. well after any plausible creation date for the Shroud).

Could the Shroud Have Been Made with a Dead Body?
The image couldn’t have been made by laying a crucified body in the Shroud to pass it off as Jesus’ burial cloth. If it was made merely via contact with a body, the image wouldn’t show the parts of the body that the cloth would not have been in contact with, certain parts of the face around the nose for example. The Shroud image, however, does show the full image of the man. 

Further, laying a bleeding corpse on the linen and, by some unexplained process, transferring the image onto the cloth, then removing the dead man, would have resulted in blood smearing all over the Shroud, which we do not see. 

The body of the man must have disappeared from the Shroud, leaving behind the scorched image and nothing else.
Accentuate the Negative.
When photographed the image of the Shroud on the photographic plates (the “negatives”) is a positive image. This, of course, wasn’t discovered until the first picture was taken of Shroud by an amateur Italian photographer, Secondo Pia, in 1898. Secondo, and everyone else, was shocked that the Shroud, when viewed by the naked eye, is a negative image

Later, the same effect was discovered to occur in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the heat and radiation were so intense that the bodies of people were vaporized, leaving behind only an image where their shadow had fallen on the building or street behind them. These painful images are all photographic negatives. 

The Shroud image seems to have been created by a sudden burst of light, heat, and radiation not unlike that created by a nuclear explosion.

The Third Dimension.
The Shroud image has 3-D information stored within the 2-D image. Like the blood serum and the negative qualities of the image, this was unobservable for the vast majority of the history of the Shroud only becoming known after a 2-D photo of the Shroud was placed under a 3-D image analyizer. To the amazement of everyone involved the 2-D image of the Shroud, unlike every other 2-D picture in the world, shows a perfect 3-D image of the man buried in the Shroud under the 3-D analyizer. All other 2-D images, show up distorted.

The 3-D image also has provided researchers with some other important clues about the age of the Shroud: 

  • The man in the image’s eyes are closed by two coins. To help determine the age of the image, scientists used polarized image displays to match various coins with the images left on the Shroud, much like criminologists use to match fingerprints found at a crime scene. The coin covering the left eye left behind a less clear image, but the coin on the right eye was able to be matched to a Greek coin minted in the first century AD under the emperor Tiberius Caesar. This coin is the lepton, called the “widow’s mite” in the Gospels. This strongly suggests the man was buried when these coins were in heavy circulation, sometime in the first century. 

  • The image also has features similar to a modern x-ray image. The man’s mouth is closed tight, but the teeth can, under magnification, be seen through the skin. Likewise, the bones in the hand can clearly be seen under the skin. Even the thumbs, which are pulled back under the palms, consistent with crucifixion through the wrists, can be seen under the palms of the hand. Of course, popular images of Jesus crucified show him with the nails driven straight through the palms. Not on the Shroud, where see an accurate nailing through the wrists, severing the median nerve. Such depictions are not typical of medieval paintings of Christ crucified. 

The Holy Lance.
Analysis of the wound in the side also points to a first century date of execution and burial. The side wound measures 1.5” wide by .75” high, the exact dimensions of a first century Roman lance. The wound also shows no signs of swelling meaning the man was already dead when the lance was driven into his side. This evidence also accords with the eyewitness testimony left in the first century accounts of Christ’s death.

Flower pollen has been found on the Shroud, including eighteen different species that are only found in the area surrounding Jerusalem. Many of these are spring pollens, suggesting the man was wrapped in the Shroud in Jerusalem during the spring when Jesus was crucified. If it was a medieval forgery, it is hard to imagine an artist traveling to the Holy Land to cover the Shroud in Middle Eastern pollen in the hopes of fooling twentieth century scientists!

“You will not Allow Your Faithful One to See Decay” (Ps. 16:10)
The man in the Shroud is dead, but not for more than three or four days before the blast of light, heat, and radiation left the image on the Shroud. Scientists determined this because the man in the image is in a state of rigamortis, but his body hasn’t begun to decompose. 

Once dead, a body goes into rigamortis for a few days and then begins to decompose. The man in the Shroud shows no sign of decomposition. The gospels relate that Jesus was raised about 40 hours after death, enough time for rigamortis to set in, but not enough time for his body to begin to decompose.

For these reasons and because of the moving accounts of those who have beheld the Shroud in faith, St. Pope John Paul II called the Shroud “the greatest relic in Christendom.”


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pray the Mass Like the Saints: 5 Prayers to Get the Most Out of Sunday Mass

The Mass is the supreme event of the week. It is, as the Second Vatican Council assures us, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11). Unimagined graces pour forth from this supreme act of worship, from the re-presentation of the once-for-all-sacrifice of Christ (cf. Heb 10). These graces are enough to utterly transform your life and mine, to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), perfect as God Himself is perfect (cf. Matt 5:48). At Mass we encounter everything necessary to become great saints. Thus, the Second Vatican Council declared,
for well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy… sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments… draw their power. (Sacrosanctum Concilium ,61, emphasis added)

Yet, we often leave this font of all graces uninspired and untransformed. Why?

One primary cause is a lack of interior participation. All too often we, especially in the US, focus on exterior participation as if busyness were a sign of holiness. We can easily fall into the trap of being present at Mass “only in a ‘bodily’ manner and not ‘in… heart.’ (Lumen Gentium, 14). When we attend Mass in a mechanical way, parroting memorized responses without contemplating the meaning of the words we are annunciating, the objective graces we receive can be bound within us and bear limited or no fruit.

Some are tempted to blame bad homilies, worse music, and liturgical abuse and innovation for uninspiring Masses and there is certainly something to be said for this critique. No less an authority than Pope Benedict pointed out,
“that ‘the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well.’” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 64, emphasis added)
However, when we come face-to-face with Christ the Just Judge at life’s end, a weak defense will it be to claim “I’m not a saint because father didn’t preach good homilies and the music director played Lord of the Dance and Gather Us In each week.” 

“I never knew you, depart from me” (Matt 7:3), may come the fearsome reply. 

As all of us will be under judgement and few of us are priests or music directors, we lay Catholics must worry less about how the Mass is being celebrated and more about how we are participating.  We must make the best of what is available to us, take charge of our own quest for holiness (cf. Lk 13:24), and delve into the riches of the Mass regardless of the external distractions we might be forced to deal with or of the interior distractions which might plague us.

One way of deepening our appreciation of the Mass is to focus on the Heavenly realities the Earthly actions are conveying. This is interior participation without which all the fussiness and motion in the world cannot bring you one step closer to God. Indeed, without true interior participation all the chant and incense in the world can’t make you holy either.

There are many ways to increase our interior participation at Mass. One way is to pray the Mass with the saints. As the Mass is designed to make us saints (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 59), praying the Mass with those who have already attained sanctity is a proven method for growing closer to God, to living in harmony with “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, XXXIII: 145).

The Prayers

With this lofty goal in mind, when I feel I need to deepen and renew my subjective experience of the objectively perfect worship offered God in the Holy Mass, I turn to trusted prayers from some of the greatest saints in Church history. I hope these will inspire you as well.

1) Before Mass Begins
I will go unto the altar of God.  It is not myself and my tiny little affairs that matter here, but the great sacrifice of atonement.  I surrender myself entirely to Your divine will, O Lord.  Make my heart grow greater and wider, out of itself into the Divine Life. Amen.
St Teresa Benedicta

This short prayer perfectly sets the stage for a fruitful experience of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. St. Teresa, in a few short lines, places our focus squarely on the “the altar of God” (not on “we the people,” father, or anything else), forces us to dismiss as trivial the things that so occupy us during the week, and calls us to surrender our wills to His Will - the key task in becoming a saint. With this little prayer on our lips and in our minds, we are better prepared to get the most out of the sacred mysteries we are about to behold.

2) At the Consecration

At the holiest moment of the Mass, St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us that what we are witnessing, as mundane as it might seem to a causal viewer, is in fact the most powerful “weapon” on the face of the Earth. The ancients knew well that life was impossible without worship and that worship was impossible without sacrifice. One need only think of the pagan cults or the rites preformed at the Jerusalem Temple to see how worship demanded, from the time of Cain and Abel, a sacrificial offering. The idea that songs and readings were enough was unfathomable to pre-modern man. Most of this has long since died out, except in Catholicism. Though our Sacrifice is unbloody, the Mass is still a sacrifice offered to God. This point can sometimes be missed by modern congregations, where we have a tendency to see ourselves as the primary actors and where we tend to demand “to be fed” by our worship. The Little Flower corrects this for us right at the moment the Sacrifice to end all Sacrifices is in our midst,
O Jesus, my whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice; these are my invincible weapons, and experience has taught me that the heart is won by them… Amen.
3) After Receiving Communion

After consuming the precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Blessed Lord, St. Thomas Aquinas focuses our minds on what Communion really is. This isn’t just a “communal meal” with “inclusivity” as its highest goal. No. Here we trod, with Moses, on “holy ground (Ex 3:5).” Here we encounter God, not in the raging tempest or the quaking Earth, but in “a small still voice” (1 Kings 19:12). And, like the Wise Men who were forced to return “to their own country by another way” (Matt 2:12), we too are called to leave this meeting with Christ with a change in course. St. Thomas’ words remind us of the effects, both immediate and eternal, that Holy Communion is designed to have on those happy souls “called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

I give Thee thanks, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, Who hast vouchsafed, not for any merits of mine, but solely out of the condescension of Thy mercy, to satisfy me a sinner, Thine unworthy servant, with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
I pray that this holy Communion be not to me a condemnation unto punishment, but a saving plea unto forgiveness. May it be unto me the armor of faith and the shield of good will. May it be the emptying out of my vices, the extinction of all concupiscence and lust, the increase of charity and patience, of humility and obedience, and of all virtues; a strong defense against the snares of all enemies, visible and invisible; the perfect quieting of all my evil impulses, both fleshy and ghostly; a firm cleaving unto Thee, the one true God; and a pledge of a blessed destiny.
And I beesech Thee, that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to bring me, a sinner, to that ineffable banquet, where Thou, with Thy Son and the Holy Ghost, art to Thy saints true light, fullness of content, eternal joy, gladness without alloy and perfect bliss. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

4) At the End of Mass

This one isn’t technically by a saint, but it is by one of my favorite popes and I pray it with my sons all the time after Mass. This prayer was universally said after every low Mass before the liturgical changes in the later 1960s. Pope Leo XIII composed this short invocation to St. Michael after witnessing a horrifying vision of Satan’s plans to destroy the Church. The evil visited upon the world following the Pope’s vision (the world wars, the depression, the Holocaust, abortion, the destruction of marriage, apostasy in what was Christendom, etc) proves the acuity of his premonition. As evil is no less a threat today than it was when Pope Leo asked the faithful to pray this, it is time, on a grassroots level, to bring this prayer back into universal use.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.Be our protection against the snares and wickedness of the devil, May God rebuke him we humbly pray,And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,By the Divine Power of God, Cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spiritsWho roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

5) On the Way Home
Almighty God, you have generously made known to human beings the mysteries of your life through Jesus Christ your Son in the Holy Spirit.Enlighten my mind to know these mysteries which your Church treasures and teaches.Move my heart to love them and my will to live in accord with them. Amen.
These last words, from the pen of St. Charles Borromeo, build perfectly upon the final words of the Mass, “Ite, Missa est, the Mass is ended, go in peace.” The Mass might be ended, but the effects of the Mass are meant to persist. St. Charles’ prayer reminds us to think with the mind of the Church (sentire cum ecclesia) and to live our lives in accord with those thoughts rather than in accord with the “spirit of the age.” We’ve encountered the Living God in the most intimate of manners, now we must allow the grace we’ve gained to transform our lives so that we may bring our little corner of the world under the sway of Christ the King. 

Print these prayers out, put them in your missal, purse, or pocket and get ready to pray the Mass with the saints. These holy men and women are with you at Mass. They are now forever worshipping God and yearn to aid you to eventually join them.

Do you have a favorite prayer from the saints that you pray before, during, or after Mass? Please share it in the comments below!