Here is something that I wrote a while back. Since today in the Vetus Ordo calendar is the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, I figured that it might be good to share for those who haven’t seen it.
Christ showed [the Apostles in the locked room] His hands and feet and side, to demonstrate that He had a real body and that it was also is His Body. He didn’t pick up some unwounded, perfect Body that He was now inhabiting. We are our bodies, as we are our rites. The fact that the wounds remained in His Body’s hands, feet and side provided continuity with His Body before and during His Passion. He isn’t a mere shade of the Lord. Nor has he exchanged Himself for an unwounded version. In this way Christ began to show them the traits of the risen Body, traits which we, too, will share in the Resurrection: clarity (reflecting God’s glory), impassibility (incapable of suffering), agility (ease and speed of movement), subtlety (unhindered by barriers).
We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t with the other ten Apostles in the room for that first appearance of the Lord. I like to imagine that it was his turn to get the “take out” for the rest of them.
Thomas, who had doubted, put his trust in the Lord at this point. In fact, he literally handed his trust to Him where the point of the lance had left its mark on the Lord’s glorious Risen Body, a wound from a Roman lance large enough to insert his hand. The Lord told Thomas to “thrust” (Greek bále) his hand “eis ten pleurán… into (His) side”. If we want to be picky, we might note that the Greek word “cheír”, insofar as our anatomy is concerned, can mean “hand”, but it can also mean “finger” or “hand and arm”, the later so much so that in some contexts additional words are added to denote “hand” as distinct from the arm (cf. Liddell-Scott-Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon aka LSJ – “χείρ , ἡ”).
This is significant for depictions in art, as in the famous painting by Caravaggio, wherein Thomas puts his finger into Christ’s side and peers into it, which smacks of the spirituality of St. Bonaventure who wrote about how Thomas the Apostle looked through the Lord’s visible wounds and saw His invisible wound of love. It also affects depictions of the crucifixion of the Lord and of His risen Body, with the holes of the nails in the hands. Some maintain that Christ would have been crucified with nails through the wrists so that the ulna and radius bones would sustain His Body’s weight rather than tearing through the flesh of His hands.
Christ tells Thomas to explore with his finger (dáktylos) the spike holes of His “hands/wrists”, which would be more or less the size of a large finger. However, he tells Thomas to use his hand for the wound in His side. The Greek suggests to me that the Lord instructed Thomas to push, thrust His hand into the wound channel left by the Roman lance, which had gone so far as to lacerate the Lord’s Sacred Heart.
We don’t have in the Gospel account of this stunning moment, to which John was eyewitness, a precise statement by John that Thomas physically did it. All it says is that Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” Christ responded with a “beatitude” (v. 29): “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Was Thomas so overwhelmed that He could not touch the Lord in that way? All He could utter was that amazing witness to belief in the divinity of Christ? The clearest and most exultant of any in the Gospels?
Christ refers to Thomas seeing Him, but He did not say, “because you have touched me”. Nevertheless, it seems to me that if the Risen Christ tells you to do something, you do it. Furthermore, John immediately concludes this chapter with something so definitive that it feels like the end of the whole work (vv. 30-31):
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
There follows chapter 21 and the account of the reconciliation of Peter at the Sea of Galilee. We moderns count that as chapter 21. Remember, the Gospels were not written with chapters and verses and not even word breaks. Those were imposed centuries later. Yet, one has the sense that what happened between Christ and Thomas was so amazing that John penned something like a conclusion to his Gospel after Thomas’s cry of faith, arguably the climax of John’s account.
Given the various meanings of “hand” in Greek, and that word “thrust”, and the fact that the wound from the lance remained, therefore remained all the way to His Heart, perhaps Our Lord required Thomas not merely to touch His side but even to feel the breath, the ruach, in His torn lung. Did Thomas, while feeling the ruach on his wrist, touch with his hand the physical, risen, subtle, impassible, agile, blazing bright Heart of Jesus?
By the way, in art, statues and painting, the Apostles are usually depicted with the instruments of their martyrdom. St. Thomas is often depicted with a lance.
On this Sunday we emphasize the mercy of God and the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, perhaps the greatest encounter we have with incarnate Mercy, Holy Communion notwithstanding.
Christ told Thomas to do what He did before witnesses so that they too would understand about the traits of His risen Body and that it was truly His own. Knowing full well that we would one day read this, He inspired the disciple He most loved to write his Gospel account, an account that connects Thomas to the inspiration of the Spirit and the mercy of Christ’s Heart in a way that other Apostles didn’t experience on that first Easter evening appearance.
When we go to confession, we enter into Mercy in order to be breathed upon by the Spirit and to feel the beating, living, healing, Heart of Love.