Message of the Sorrowful Mysteries – The Scourging

Pilate was fully convinced of the innocence of Jesus, but politician and coward that he was, he did not have the courage of his conviction, and so he rather preferred expediency to justice. In order to appease the Jews, he had Jesus scourged. Pilate may have believed that after this the Jews would desist from asking for the death penalty. The sacred writers do not enter into the details of the scourging, since these were known to their readers; they simply record the order of Pilate, “that Jesus be scourged.” (Matthew 27:26).

Jesus most probably suffered the Roman scourging. This punishment was administered with a whip which looked much like the British cat-o’-nine-tails and usually little iron balls or hooks were tied into the leather thongs. Moreover, the Roman scourging was not limited to any number of blows; that was left to the judges, or more often to the soldiers who carried out the sentence and as a rule were men of a cruel and inhuman type. So Jesus is stripped of His garments, His wrists are tied to the top of the column of flagellation, so that His feet barely reach the ground, and the terrible scourging begins.

We shudder as we think of the Most Holy subjected to the indignities of a public whipping. The blows rain down on His innocent body, bluish streaks appear, the flesh is lifted in horrid welts; soon the skin breaks and shreds of skin and flesh are hurled all around by the swishing lashes; the blood runs down in streams. The victim is writhing in pain and half-suppressed moans escape from His lips. At last, the torture is over; the hands of Jesus are loosed and utterly exhausted He drops to the ground and there lies in His own blood. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of old, “I have become even as a worm and no man, the outcast of humanity and the castaway of the people.” (Psalm 21:7 in the Vulgate. It is Psalm 22:6 in the Hebrew.) And the prophet Isaiah says of Him, “There is no beauty in Him nor comeliness, despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity. Surely, He has borne our infirmities, and we have thought Him as it were a leper and as one struck by God and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:2-4).

Why did Jesus submit to such a dreadful suffering? “He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins.” By this terrible scourging, He wished to atone above all for the sins of the flesh. As our Blessed Lady of Fatima revealed, more souls are in hell because of impurity than because of any other sin. The same has always been the opinion of spiritual writers. The mystery of the scourging, therefore, has a special message for our times. As in the days of the deluge, when God destroyed the human race because of the sins of the flesh, so now man has become flesh. The sins of the flesh are glorified in the press, on the screen, over the radio; they are represented no longer as sins, but as the lawful gratification of nature, the romance of youth, the zest of adult age. And so the flesh rules the world and ruins souls. But neither the fact that millions of men have become the slaves of this vice, nor the fact that the world glorifies it, can change its sinful, wicked nature. The impure shall not enter into the Kingdom of God.

The sins of the flesh are so grievous because they poison the very fountains of life and desecrate the noble and wonderful faculty given to man for the procreation of the human race, for the establishment of family and home. Men take the pleasures and refuse to pay the price; sins of the flesh are nothing but selfishness and cowardice parading under the mask of love.

In the case of the Christian, who through Baptism has been made a temple of God, these sins moreover constitute a desecration of that temple. Saint Paul impresses this idea upon the early Christians; converts from Judaism as well as those from paganism well understood that a temple is a holy place and a desecration of it a terrible sacrilege. To the present day Holy Church reminds the faithful of the same truth when in the ceremonies of Baptism (in the ritual of Saint Pius V) she directs the priest to say to the person to be baptized, “Receive the sign of the cross upon your forehead and upon your heart; take unto you the faith in the heavenly commandments, and be you such in your ways that you may be fit henceforth to be a temple of God.” More holy than the temple of stone is the living temple of man. The conclusion then drawn by Saint Paul is clear, “If any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17). The believing Catholic is filled with horror when he sees or reads about the desecration of churches, when altars and tabernacles are demolished, the holy vessels broken, the holy Species thrown upon the floor and trampled upon. So do the sins of the flesh desecrate the living temple of God, making it the dwelling place of the devil. How great the sin of impurity must be we can gather from the terrors of the scourging which God suffered in order to atone for it.

Our Lady of Fatima, emphatically insists upon the necessity of penance, that is, doing things that are painful, thus to atone for the unlawful pleasure derived from sin. Holy Church obliges the faithful, particularly during the holy season of Lent, to the performance of penitential works, especially fasting. However, fasting in the wider sense comprises all works of mortification. There are many works that are painful and cause considerable hardship. To get up early in the morning in order to assist at the Eucharistic Sacrifice of atonement, to continue patiently and faithfully at a monotonous duty, to perform the one or the other work of mercy when this is inconvenient, to bear with patience, sickness, privation, heat, cold, the faults and failings of others are all such penitential works. If performed in the spirit of humility and contrition, God will accept them as reparation for sins committed. At the same time, they strengthen the will and merit abundant grace, so that in future, we may be stronger in temptation and the more surely keep holy the temple of God in our souls.

It is not only atonement for the sins of impurity that this mystery calls for, but it also reminds the Christian of his positive duty to be pure. If we desire to live up to the ideal of Christian perfection, we must sublimate our thoughts; lift them up to pure and holy things. As the Apostle says, we must mind the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father; we must resist evil thoughts as soon as we become aware of them, for the longer they are allowed to linger on, the stronger they grow. The more we reflect on ourselves as the sacred temples of God, the more the very thought of impurity will horrify us, and the more we shall be inflamed with love for purity. A pure life does not make a man sad and gloomy, but rather fills him with heavenly peace; it gives a foretaste of the bliss of the saints in heaven, who in the temple not made by the hands of men, not only delight in the thought of God as in this life, but see Him, face to face. And will not love between the married as well as between young people contemplating marriage be immeasurably nobler and more soul-satisfying, if the lover sees in the beloved not only the physical charms of the body, but the spiritual beauty of the soul resplendent with the splendour of God’s grace? Such love will be reflected in conduct above all, that carefully keeps from the beloved whatever might be harmful, and that is above the greatest of all misfortunes, sin.

This is the message of the mystery of the scourging for our times. From the spirit of fornication, deliver us, O Lord. Mother most pure, pray for us.

– from Message of the Rosary – Sorrowful Mysteries, by Father Aloysius Biskupek, S.V.D.