Ostentatio Vulnerum

By Fr. Kevin Fife


Unknown artist, Perth Museum of Art, Scotland

The Latin phrase ostentatio vulnerum means "display of the wounds." Christ the Risen Lord "displaying" or showing the Five Wounds that remained in his Body became a motif in devotional artwork during the Middle Ages. Jesus the Wounded Healer looks at us and says, “Peace be unto you. Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (St. Luke xxiv, 36, 38-39). In the Gospel lesson appointed for Easter Tuesday (similar to the Gospel for the first Sunday after Easter) we, with the "affrighted" disciples, are "shown" Christ's wounds - the very Wounds he willingly received on the Tree, the Wounds that he will bring into Heaven to the Father at his Ascension Day.


Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.

The Easter sequence hymn Victimae paschali laudes sings, "A Lamb the sheep redeemeth. Christ who only is sinless reconcileth sinners to the Father." This is the peace that Christ bestows on the disciples, that peace which passeth all understanding. For he who bore our sins in his own Body on the Tree (I St. Peter ii, 24) has risen from the dead, and is the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead (I Corinthians xv, 21). Jesus suffered, died, and rose in a real human body. All our suffering, weakness, and death has been sanctified and dignified in Christ, into whose likeness we shall be changed (I Corinthians xv, 51-57). Jesus our Brother (for he shares our humanity) has taken all that it means to be human through the grave and gate of death and into Heaven. And he means for us to follow him.


And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who alone can break the Seven Seals on the Book. Like at the Feeding of the Multitudes, Christ breaks open the Five Loaves of the Five Books of the Law and places that Law of Love directly into our mouths - he writes it on our hearts. His Five Wounds are therefore the price of our disobedience. Only because of his infinite Love it behooved the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life to suffer and be broken in order that we might be fed.


The breaking of bread and pouring of wine that happens at every Holy Communion is an ostentatio vulnerum, a display of Christ's Five Wounds to us and to the Father, Christ being our only Mediator and Advocate. His wounds are our healing, his death is our life to God, his rising to life is our death to sin and the world. Alleluia, alleluia.


Fr. Kevin Fife is Curate of All Saints in Wilmington, NC.