By Chiara Santomiero
TURIN, JUNE 2, 2010 (Zenit.org).- After an intense 44 days, the Shroud of Turin has returned to hiding in its reliquary. The first exposition in a decade of this cloth believed to have covered Christ’s dead body concluded Sunday.
Cardinal Severino Poletto, the archbishop of Turin and thus the papal custodian of the Shroud, concelebrated the closing Mass with bishops of the region.
ZENIT spoke with Paolo Tomatis, director of the liturgical office of the Archdiocese of Turin, about the expo, the Shroud and some deeper messages the famous linen cloth can give to the Church.
ZENIT: In what sense can one speak of a relationship between the holy Shroud and the liturgy?
Tomatis: The Shroud — a particular sacred image that has the features of an icon but that is also a relic — has been the object of veneration since its discovery.
The official veneration began around 1500 and spread to the lands of Savoy with appropriate texts that recall the Passion of Christ and with a liturgical day of commemoration, May 4.
More interesting, beyond the historical question, is to ask oneself what it means to celebrate [Mass] before the Shroud.
There has been much talk about an object that is only temporarily and periodically displayed — and that is why there is not much emphasis on the link between the liturgy, an act of ordinary life, and the holy Shroud which is guarded, hidden in its reliquary.
One certainly wonders what type of reverence one must make before the Shroud, and if the Shroud can be given the same honor that is given to the cross with the gesture of adoration, not just veneration.
As an image, we give the Shroud veneration, but, because what is represented is Christ crucified, we adore him who is represented on the Shroud.
From here stem the gestures of prayer, of kneeling or the celebration of Mass before the Shroud.
The Shroud has an affinity with the mystery of the liturgy to the degree that it is a mystery that refers to the cross, and the liturgy is the celebration of Easter and of the passion of Christ.
The holy Shroud, however, is also a mystery of light, given that it does not only refer to the death of Jesus but, at the same time, to the cloth left aside by the Risen One.
In the chiaroscuro of the Shroud’s image, we can contemplate not only the mystery of the cross, but also the light of Easter because in the Gospels we have news of the Shroud when the body is no longer there. It reminds us of the resurrected body of Christ.
ZENIT: How weighty is the issue of authenticity?
Tomatis: In fact the liturgy, because of certain aspects, frees us to venerate the Shroud beyond [the question of] its authenticity.
The liturgy, in fact, has refined a theology of the sacred image — which is the theology of the icon, and of others — which does not rely on historical authenticity, but theological truth.
When we carry a statue in procession with the relics of a saint, it isn’t so decisive that the relics be authentic; the devotion remains intact in its truth, which passes from the sign to the one signified by the sign and in the sign.
In this connection, the liturgy treats the holy Shroud as an icon and as a relic.
In fact, the text of the hymn composed for this exposition, by Anna Maria Galliano, speaks of the Shroud as “noble icon” and as “mystical trace” where the allusion which is typical of signs — that is, the symbolic element of the icon and of the mysterious trace — makes the worship possible, accessible and also true, beyond historical authenticity.
Theological truth does not need historical authenticity.
The Orthodox have an even stronger understanding thanks to a theology that distinguishes less the subject of historical authenticity and of theological truth, but speaks of truth tout court.
The holy Shroud is much more familiar to the Orthodox liturgical world than it is to us because, for example, the corporal, that is, the cloth where the sacrament of the Lord’s body is placed — has designed in it, in fact, a Shroud.
The scene of the descent of the Lord’s body on the corporal explains a symbolic reference between the cloth that receives the consecrated host — the Lord’s body — and the cloth that received the body of the Lord.
In this connection, the Shroud belongs to the ordinary in the liturgy of the Orthodox world and that is why the faithful are very fond of it.
ZENIT: Were there particular signs in the exposition’s closing Eucharistic celebration?
Tomatis: Two particular signs: during the penitential act, the assembly looked at the Shroud.
Moreover, at the moment of the offertory — between the offering of the intentions contained in the prayer of the faithful and the offering of the Eucharistic gifts — a basket was taken to the altar with the intercessions, photographs and prayers left during the exposition by pilgrims from all over the world.
In the Eucharistic liturgy, the challenge is to see in the sign itself of the Eucharist the sacrament of the body that was submitted, which is represented in the Holy Shroud.
We have worked much together with a group of architects of Turin and designers of Vicenza to elaborate a chalice and paten for this exposition, used in all the Eucharistic celebrations.
The design of the chalice suggests in a thought-provoking way the cloth that wrapped the body of the Lord, just as the chalice itself envelops the sacrament of Jesus’ blood.
A fine silver sheet envelops the chalice allowing one to see the gold that is below, just as we are invited to see through the chiaroscuro of Christ’s cross the gold of the Resurrection.
We have sought to work on great symbols of the liturgy more than on extra signs, convinced that the liturgy speaks to us of the holy Shroud.
ZENIT: During the Way of the Cross of the period of the exposition, a dialogue was sought in particular with the languages of contemporary art.
Tomatis: Every Friday there was a Via Crucis that went from the Royal Square to the atrium of the cathedral and then inside the church, which had as its guiding thread and symbol the linen that is the image of Jesus and also of the empty sepulcher.
At the beginning [the image] was a linen that dries the tears of Jesus’ passion, a linen of consolation, evoked through the abstract representations made by dance.
What was sought in the atrium was to activate those languages that can speak to everyone, believers and non-believers.
The idea was that everyone be drawn to the interior of the history of Jesus’ passion through professional actors acting, a choreography and musical elements.
Little by little, the linen becomes the body of Jesus on the cross and the body of Jesus in the arms of the Virgin, whose desolation was represented in the atrium of the cathedral.
Thus the Via Crucis brought together the contemporary languages with the characteristics of the sacred popular representations.
The conclusion was to go to the holy Shroud as to a last station — which refers to the empty sepulcher — just like John and Peter who entered but, it is said of the beloved disciple, “saw only the bandages and the shroud and believed.”
We have also entered into the cathedral at the end of the Via Crucis to contemplate the holy Shroud and to see and believe, with a parallelism between the church that guards the Shroud and the sepulcher that received Jesus’ linen.
Bringing out the languages of contemporary art was the objective, which discovered in dance, particularly in contemporary dance, the capacity to create figures and to express sentiments through the body that moves, though maintaining a necessary restraint for the space of prayer.
ZENIT: Can the exposition have an educational function in regard to prayer and the liturgy?
o look at the Shroud also means to let oneself be looked at by the Lord, just as in the language of the icon, to look at it is to let oneself be looked at by the One who is represented.
The gift of the Shroud is the spiritual event of being able to be before the Lord and the image that draws in every level of faith and the different situations.
Pilgrimages have always been able to gather the elderly, little ones, tourists, neighbors, persons from distant places, believers, non-believers: It is truly catholic in the sense of universality.
However, I think there can also be another objective: to recover the importance of prayer before an image.
Just as we are marked by the image in movement, faith can rediscover in its DNA the image as something innate to prayer.
Images aren’t indispensable — we can celebrate a Mass in an empty space because the only image necessary is that of man who is the image of God — but it is innate, to the degree that the Son of God is image of the Father.
And, as Patriarch Athenagoras said, Christianity is the religion of faces; hence, it seeks the face, it seeks the image.
Today a change of imagery is necessary in the liturgical realm, in the imagery of faith: We need significant images that not only are devotional and didactic, but epiphanic, which show us the One who has shown himself to us.