The Precious Blood of Jesus

jesus-precious-bloodOne of the goals of the liturgical reform after Vatican II was to simplify the calendar so that we could enter more deeply into the liturgical seasons themselves. This past Sunday is an example of the challenge: Peter and Paul is a really big, important feast, one they decided to keep; but this year it overran a Sunday, when we’d like to be doing our orderly/”ordinary” reading through the Gospel.

This is always a balancing act – they did the same thing after the Council of Trent, because there’s always a temptation to keep adding more and more things. Perhaps you’ve experienced this with the end of the rosary? You add the Litany of Loretto, then the Prayer to St. Michael, then invocations to the Sacred Heart, and then prayers for the Pope, and while you’re at it you add your ever-longer list of people to pray for, and maybe a spiritual communion . . . and eventually it gets out of control, and you have to pare things back.

It’s not that any of these things aren’t good. It’s just that there are only so many hours in the day, and when we add too many things, we end up rushing through all of them.

Like a hair cut, it always takes a little growing back after these prunings to get everything right again. But no one intended the 1970 Missal to remain unchanged forever.

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One of the casualties of this paring back of the liturgical year was the feast of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus, which used to fall on July 1. (Of course, that also used to be the Feast of the Octave of the Birth of John the Baptist – you see how crowded things can become.)

We now celebrate Corpus Christi as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood, but that used to be divided into two feasts. No matter when Pentecost falls, July 1 is after the great Thursday celebration of Corpus Christi – I think June 29 is the latest Sacred Heart can fall. And July 1 starts a new month, which is traditionally associated with meditation on the Blood of Christ.

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In Scripture, both blood and wine have an interesting dual association: both life and death. Blood is the very stuff of life, even the word for kinship: those who share your blood (e.g. Prov 1:18). The Israelites are prohibited from eating blood precisely because it is like eating something still alive: “You shall eat blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof” (e.g. Lev 17:14; 17:11).

But when blood is seen, it’s a bad sign, and most of the uses of “blood” in the Bible are for “bloodshed.” There’s something very visceral here. Even my little children know that when they see blood, it’s like death is near.

Imagine the drama of the Last Supper. Jesus says, “This is my body.” And thus far the Apostles might have said, “strange, but okay.” But then he says, “This is my blood, which will be shed.” Oh no! The blood is the sign of death – precisely because it is life, separated from the body.

It is in fact central to the traditional reading of Eucharistic symbolism that the distinction of Body and Blood manifests Christ dead. His Blood in the chalice means it is not in his Body.

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The Old Testament actually uses “blood” (the Hebrew word dam) as a word for wine: “you drank the pure blood of the grape.” And wine too has this double association.

On the one hand, it is “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps 104:15; cf. Eccl 9:7, 10:19, Song 1:2, 1:4, 4:10, 5:1, etc.). But it is also “the wine of astonishment” (Ps 60:3) and “the wine of violence” (Prov 4:17). “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging” (Prov 20:1) – in fact, often the line is “wine with mixture,” which refers to a stronger, more alcoholic beverage.

A little brings joy; a lot brings stumbling. It is, perhaps, like having too much life in you, more spirit than we can handle.

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Jesus gives us his blood as wine. He pours out his life. And it is his own death, his own loss of blood, that is our life. We come to life by entering into his death, drinking from his death. We enter the inebriation of death, and discover the joy of Jesus.

And all of this flows, of course, from the wound in his Sacred Heart.

How could you practice devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus this July?

eric.m.johnston

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