Sunday of Divine Mercy
But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water. (John 19:33-34)
This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ: not by water only but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit which testifieth that Christ is the truth. (1 John 5:6)
The image of the Divine Mercy recalls the blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us. It was after his death, as his lifeless and inanimate body hung upon the Cross, that his holy side and Sacred Heart were opened by a lance, which released upon the earth the flood of God’s mercy.
We may ask: What really happened when the blood and water flowed? Was it natural or miraculous? Just how much blood and how much water came forth? Finally, we do well to consider what was the significance of this blood and water?
Hypovolemic shock and pericardial effusion
There is some biblical evidence to suggest that our Savior had entered into hypovolemic shock after his scourging. Due to the great brutality of the scourging, in which the sacred flesh of our Savior was so torn that his skeletal muscles, veins, sinews, and even his bowels were exposed, our Lord had literally begun to run out of blood in his body. This extreme blood-loss may well have set him into a state of hypovolemic shock which would be occasioned by low blood pressure.
Those in this state of shock will experience dizziness and fainting (and our Lord fell several times as he carried his Cross) as well as extreme thirst and a desire to drink liquids to replenish all the lost fluids (and Jesus said I thirst).
What is particularly pertinent to our discussion is that hypovolemic shock causes a rapid heart-rate which in turn causes a great deal of fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and the lungs. Thus, some suggest that the “blood and water” which came forth could have been this pericardial effusion of fluid.
If such were the case, the blood and water would be mixed together, flowing out as one. Further, the event would not be a miracle, but would be a medically and scientifically explainable phenomenon – something natural.
However, St. John refers to the blood and water coming forth not merely as a natural phenomenon which demonstrates our Lord’s bodily death, but even further (especially in 1 John 5:6), as a proof of our Savior’s divinity. Pericardial effusion and hypovolemic shock do very little to prove the divinity of Jesus, thus the “scientific” and “medical” explanation seems contrary to the plain sense of the holy and inerrant Scriptures.
Furthermore, a pericardial effusion does not pertain to the flowing of blood and water, but rather to the pouring forth of various fluids which had built up around the heart. However, St. John does not say that “fluids” poured forth, but that there came out blood and water.
And we are to understand that the blood and water came out separately, not mingled. For, if they had come forth mingled, then the Beloved would not be able to say blood and water, but only blood or fluid – just as we do not say that there is “wine and water” consecrated at the Mass, but only “wine”, since the water is mingled with the wine.
Now, St. John states that there came out blood and water, and this must needs be miraculous for it was not serum, but rather pure blood and pure water which came forth so as to be distinguished one from the other.
It is well worth noting that our Savior himself confirms this interpretation through his Image of Divine Mercy, in which the blue and the red rays are clearly distinct.
A total gift
It is further worth noting that this miraculous pouring forth of blood and water was total and complete. Indeed, the tradition is that our Savior gave forth in this miraculous deluge all the blood and all the water which was in his body. There is no reason why this could not be accomplished by a miracle.
Further, this total gift of blood and water symbolized the total gift of himself, and also the abundance and infinite depths of divine mercy.
The water, the blood, and the Spirit
In his first Epistle, St. John states that the three – the water, the blood, and the Spirit – give testimony. The Fathers and Doctors recognize a spiritual meaning to these three.
First, the literal sense. The “water” and “blood” refer, of course, to the blood and water which poured forth from his sacred side. The “spirit” may refer to the Holy Spirit, but perhaps more likely refers to the Savior’s breath/spirit which he gave up on the Cross.
Just as it was by a miracle that all the blood and water of our Lord’s body immediately gushed forth with great force and yet remained unmingled and most pure, so too it was by a miraculous last breath that our Savior cried out in a loud voice as he gave forth his spirit. For, indeed, those who are dying (especially those dying upon the Cross, which is a quasi-suffocation) are not naturally able to cry out in such a loud voice.
The spiritual sense follows. The water symbolizes baptism. The blood, the Eucharist. And the spirit, the sacrament of Penance – for it was this spirit which Jesus breathed upon his disciples after his resurrection when he gave them the power to absolve sin.
Oh Blood and Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you!