Fr. Scott A. Haynes
As June is the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, July is the month in which we honor the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. The Church observes the Feast of the Most Precious Blood on the first of July. On July 2, the Church commemorates Our Blessed Mother’s Visitation. The two feasts, Precious Blood and Visitation are linked both historically and liturgically in some interesting ways.
On November 24, 1848, Blessed Pius IX was forced to flee the Vatican by the triumphant surge of the Masonic-backed revolution in Italy. His Holiness fled to Gaeta disguised as a simple priest, but on June 29, 1849, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul and for the subsequent days, French forces came to his aid, restoring order on July 2, 1849, Our Lady’s feast of the Visitation. It was while the Holy Father was in exile in Gaeta that he proclaimed the feast of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus, on the first Sunday in July.
Blessed Pius IX upon his triumphant return to Rome, honored Mary, help of Christians for her assistance, since the papal victory had been secured on the feast day of her Visitation, July 2. He then raised her feast day from a double major to that of second class, throughout the universal Church. This was actually the prelude to the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception which is recalled in the Gospel of the Visitation.
St. Pius X assigned the feast to its present date during his reform of the Roman Breviary. The pope’s intentions were clear. The feast was established as an act of gratitude for the recovery of the Papal States, thanks to the intervention of the French forces liberating the city of Rome, and also to indicate his intention to perpetuate the memory of these events in the sacred liturgy. Addressing himself to the invisible Head of the Church and entrusting her to His divine care, he reminded our Divine Savior that it was for His Church that He had willed to shed all His Precious Blood.
The feast however, had been celebrated in Spain in the 16th century and was later introduced into Italy by St. Gaspar del Bufalo (1786-1837), founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. The feast was removed from the Roman calendar in the 1969 reform and placed among the votive Masses.
The sacred liturgy itself is very eloquent in its expression of the meaning of the Precious Blood. The subject matter is ranged under three important headings:
Firstly, types or figures from the Old Testament; for, as St Augustine writes, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the new.”
Secondly, historical scenes from the life of Jesus.
Thirdly, various symbols.
Figures from the Old Testament
As regards the first division, we have the offering of Cain and Abel; the sacrifice of Abel is pleasing to God, whereas that of Cain does not find favor. This opposition brings forth the crime of hatred, and the only solution Cain finds is in the murder of his brother. The parched earth soaks up the blood as it screams to Heaven for revenge. This prefigures the scene at Golgotha where the Blood of Christ cried to Heaven for the redemption of mankind.
During the exile in Egypt, when the Jewish people were oppressed, the great event of the Passover took place. A one-year-old lamb, by divine command, is slain; the blood is then sprinkled on the door posts enabling the people within the home to escape the avenging angel. Houses thus reddened with blood are spared from the angel of death. The blood on the door posts was a type of the Blood of Christ. Can the blood of an animal save a man? No, it cannot, but as a type of the Savior’s Blood it most certainly can. As Pius Parsch writes,
“When the destroyer sees the threshold of a human heart marked with Christ’s Sacred Blood, he must pass by. And another soul is saved” (Volume IV, page 225, The Year of Grace).
Secondly, in the vision of the prophet Isaias a man is seen treading upon the grapes. The prophet asks,
“Why are your garments so red?”
“The wine press I have trodden alone because from the nations there is no one with Me.”
The man trampling the grapes is our Divine Lord, His garments crimson by the Blood of the Redemption. In the holy Gospel, so many references are made to the shedding of His Blood, from the moment of the Circumcision to the sweating of Blood in the Agony in the Garden of Olives, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns and the Blood-spattered way to the Place of the Skull where Jesus was Crucified, and finally to the Piercing with the Lance.
Thirdly, we have the symbol of Adam and Eve. In the book of Genesis, God opens the side of Adam, removes a rib, and forms the body of Eve, infusing also the human soul. Eve becomes the mother of all the living. The Church in her wisdom goes beyond the mere event and in spirit beholds the Second Adam, the divine Christ. Asleep in death and from His open side on the Cross flows the Blood and water, symbols of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, symbols of blessed Mary the Second Eve, and the Church, the mother of all the living. Through the effusion of Blood and water Christ willed to redeem God’s many children and bring them to their eternal abode.
Life of Jesus
In this feast of Our Lord the predominant image is one of blood offered in sacrifice. The separation of His Blood from His Body caused the separation of His human soul from His body, which brought about His death. He willed to die. In His own words,
“I lay down My life for My sheep. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again.” (John 10: 18)
Now the bloody death of Christ on the Cross is not an automatic redemption of the world, both crushed by and addicted to sin. It demands that we appropriate the merits won for us on the Cross; we are to cooperate voluntarily with the graces won by the shedding of Blood. At Mass the same identical Jesus Christ, now glorified, is present on the altar as He was present in His mortal humanity on the Cross. It is the same Jesus who continues, prolongs in the Mass what He did once and for all on Calvary, except that now in the Mass He is no longer mortal, capable of suffering in His physical person. On Calvary He was, by His own volition, capable of enduring pain, suffering unto death.
What He did then was to gain the blessings of our Redemption. What He does now in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is apply these blessings to the constant spiritual needs of a sinful, even suffering humanity. In the Mass Jesus continues no less than on the Cross, to offer Himself to the Heavenly Father.
Now the highest form of honoring God is sacrifice. The Mass is a continuation of the Sacrifice of Christ, it is a re-presentation of Calvary. It is a sacrifice of praise and gratitude to the Eternal Father. But whereas on Calvary this sacrificial adoration was bloody, causing physical death by crucifixion, in the Mass the same Jesus is now sacrificing Himself in an unbloody manner because now He is glorified, immortal and incapable of suffering or dying in His own physical person.
The Mass is a true sacrifice because the same Jesus Christ who immolated Himself on Calvary now offers Himself on the altar. The priest is the same, the victim is the same and the end or purpose is the same identical purpose as on the Cross. The priest is the same Jesus Christ whose sacred Person the ordained priest represents and in whose Person he offers the sacrifice and that is why He says:
“This is My Body, this is the chalice of My Blood.”
The victim is the same, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind in His human nature, with His true Body and Blood and His human free will, only the manner in which the sacrifice is offered is different.
On the Cross it was a bloody sacrifice, in the Mass an unbloody one because of the glorified state of Jesus in Heaven. But the essence of the sacrifice is voluntary, the total offering of oneself to God. Christ makes this voluntary offering in every Mass, signified by the separate consecration of bread and wine transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of the Redeemer. The purpose is the same, to give glory to God, to thank Him, to obtain His mercy and ask Him for our needs. The feast of the Precious Blood is in itself a recapitulation of the treatise of sacrifice in Eucharistic theology.