Recently, after watching a video about the life of Padre Pio, my husband and I wondered why
the wounds appeared in the hands rather than the wrists. The hand sites are found depicted
in many traditional paintings, while the wrists are the accepted actual site of the piercing.
Could this anomaly be proof of a less-than-miraculous reason for the stigmata?
A: Two reference books shed light
on your question. The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, edited by Richard
P. McBrien, states, "On very rare occasions the Catholic Church has accepted an occurrence
of the stigmata as authentic, but has never defined their origin or nature, thus allowing
physical, psychological and preternatural explanations for these phenomena."
Ian Wilson, in Stigmata (Harper & Row, San Francisco), declares, "They [stigmata]
are one of the most baffling and intriguing of medical and scientific mysteries."
Obviously, there are few sure answers we can give or find regarding the stigmata. We are
not even certain how the stigmata—wounds of the Passion—looked on Christ’s body. We can only
speculate. But we do know that the stigmata do not appear the same in all who are believed
to have had them.
One stigmatic, for instance, had only the wounds that would have been made by the crown
of thorns. Two possessed only the wound in the side. Some had the lance wound in the left
side (Padre Pio), another in the right side (St. Francis of Assisi). One had the hand wounds
in the wrists, others in the palms of the hands.
Is it significant that more women than men have had the stigmata? What can we conclude from
the fact that most stigmatics came from the Dominican and Franciscan Orders? And what does
it say that some saints were stigmatics but not all stigmatics were saints?
As I read Wilson, he searches for a natural explanation of the stigmata. Among the possibilities
he suggests is some inner mechanism comparable to that which under stress produces evolutionary
adaptations in species.
In his study, Wilson notes some stigmatics seem to have identified with earlier stigmatics—ultimately
with Jesus. Finally, Wilson notes, "A really riveting feature is the extraordinary precision
of the mechanism’s conformity to the visualization that triggered it. Stigmata have been
precisely positioned to conform with the wounds of a stigmatic’s favorite crucifix. Or a
wound may have taken on the exact shape, such as a cross."
That seems to imply that the stigmata may occur according to the way the subject pictures
or imagines them.
For books on the stigmata besides Wilson’s, see: Voices, Visions and Apparitions and They
Bore the Wounds of Christ: The Mystery of the Sacred Stigmata, both by Michael Freeze,
S.F.O. (Our Sunday Visitor).
Return to AmericanCatholic.org Home Page
Where Is Veronica’s Veil?
In the May 1998 issue, there is an excellent article on the Shroud of Turin. I would like
to ask where is the veil that Veronica used to wipe the face of Jesus, and why isn’t it more
I read somewhere that the veil is stored in a church in Europe, but I cannot remember where.
It seems that something as important as Veronica’s veil should also be on display. After
all, this is the imprint of the face of Jesus, painted by Jesus himself. It would be a great
service to believers and nonbelievers alike if the veil were displayed.
A: In discussing Veronica and the
veil on which Jesus is said to have imprinted the image of his face, it is im-portant to
remember neither Veronica nor her veil is mentioned in the Scriptures. Are Veronica and her
story a creation of Christian piety and devotion? Or was her story preserved and handed down
in tradition by the early Christians? No one can really answer those questions.
We do know that Veronica’s name seems derived from the veil. It seems to come from the Latin
words vera ("true") and icon ("image"). We do know from Our
Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints that in the apocryphal Acts of Pilate Veronica
is identified with the woman suffering from an issue of blood in the Gospel of Matthew.
We are told that by legend Veronica carried the image from the Holy Land to cure the Emperor
Tiberius of an illness. And, according to the encyclopedia, the veil was seen in Rome in
the eighth century. In 1297, by the order of Pope Boniface VIII, the image was brought to
Joan Carroll Cruz has several pages about the veil and its story in her book Relics from
Our Sunday Visitor. She informs us the veil is still kept in St. Peter’s and from time to
time has been offered for display.
Mary, Joseph and Divorce
I have been told that St. Joseph was willing to divorce the Blessed Mother upon hearing she
was pregnant. I never heard this before. Please explain.
A: Verses describing the events
before Jesus’ birth are read in the Gospels for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (A Cycle), the
Vigil of Christmas and the feast of Joseph, Husband of Mary (March 19). St. Matthew tells
us in Chapter One of his Gospel that while they were betrothed but before they lived together
Mary was "found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was
a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly."
A person needs some awareness of Old Testament law to understand the situation of Joseph
in discovering the pregnancy of Mary. By law he was considered the husband of Mary as the
result of their betrothal, even though he had yet to take her into his home.
Deuteronomy directs what is to be done if a betrothed woman has relations with another man.
She is to be stoned unless she was raped.
The Book of Numbers allows a trial by ordeal if a husband suspects adultery but cannot prove
it. If after drinking a mixture of holy water and dust from the floor of the dwelling, the
woman miscarried or became sterile she was guilty. If she remained able to bear children,
she was innocent. Whatever happened, it would be tremendously embarrassing for the woman.
In The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Sheed and Ward), Alexander Jones says that
at the time of Joseph and Mary it cannot be proven there was a legal duty of denunciation
or that Joseph was sacrificing legal scruples in making the choice he did.
Joseph was a just, righteous man. He was concerned with doing the right thing. Mary was
obviously with child. Knowing Mary, he could not believe her blameworthy. He could think,
says Jones, only of some unknown, perhaps supernatural cause.
He would not subject Mary to some procedure before a village court. He would divorce her
quietly—perhaps without offering any specific reason as far as the public was concerned.
Henry Wansbrough, O.S.B., in the Nelson Commentary on Matthew proposes that the word righteous means
Joseph knew Mary to be guiltless. The motive for divorce was his own sense of unworthiness
and wondering how he could fit into God’s plan for Mary.
Who May Celebrate Benediction?
May anyone other than an ordained priest celebrate Benediction? May a nun?
A: According to Canon #943, the
minister of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the eucharistic blessing is a priest
In special circumstances an acolyte, extraordinary minister of Communion or another person
deputed by the local ordinary in accordance with the regulations of the diocesan bishop may
expose the Blessed Sacrament for adoration. At the end of the period of veneration, that
person may return the Sacrament to the tabernacle.
Only the priest or deacon, however, may bless those present with the Blessed Sacrament.
A religious sister could be one of those deputed to expose the Blessed Sacrament.
A Reader’s Opinion:
In responding to a letter about the forehead-lips-heart crossing before the reading of the
Gospel, you missed a great opportunity to show that child the intimate connection between
our Mass and God’s Word, the Bible!
My Bible tells me that the crossing is representative of the cleansing Isaiah received with
the burning coal as provided by one of the seraphim, during his vision of God. The notation
in my Bible regarding Isaiah 6:7 says: "In the Roman liturgy, the celebrant at Mass
makes reference to this incident just before he reads the Gospel."
In addition, that chapter also holds the most wonderful explanation of why we sing, or say, "Holy,
holy, holy Lord" before the consecration. The celebrant says that we will now "join
the choirs of angels in singing...." It’s such a joy to realize that we are actually
singing with the angels surrounding God’s throne!
Cynthia is the feminine of Synesius—a third-century Roman lector and martyr. Also called
Cynthia was Blessed Diana of Andola, a 13th-century Dominican sister.