I’ve known a time when my blood pressure ‘shot through the roof;’ another time when I was in dire need of eight pints of blood. There was about these moments a ‘life or death’ urgency.’ The Book of Leviticus (17.11) tells us, ‘The life of the creature is in the blood.’
Since all of us human beings are made ‘in the image and likeness of God’ it must be that each of us is more precious than gold. To take our own lives or the lives of other people is an abuse of God’s precious gift. Suicide and murder can never be acceptable to God.
Therefore, the closest we can come to expressing our recognition of God the Creator’s sovereignty over all life is to offer Him the life, the blood, of an unblemished animal – lamb, goat, calf. This is what God wanted in Old Testament times.
This slaughtering in obedience to God took the form of a public act of worship, a sacrifice, a ‘sacred activity,’ by the slaughtering of the animal with the shedding of its blood on the altar. Such liturgy was most persuasive to God when His People needed forgiveness for their sins or some exceptional blessing. However, these sacrifices were only acceptable to God when offered by people of integrity, those with pure hearts.
When the Son of God became man, one of us, this was the most wonderful, the most beautiful divine activity within creation. Every action of Jesus, the Son God, the Son of Man, was divinely, infinitely empowered…loaded with infinite merciful love…more than sufficient to make amends for the mountains of sins already committed and those yet to be committed by the sum total of human beings ever to tread this earth.
God decided that the seriousness of our sins against Him and the seriousness of His merciful love for us had to be expressed to us openly, convincingly. Hence Jesus declared, ‘No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you,’ (Jn. 15.13).
On the surface if might well appear that Jesus was the helpless victim of treacherous, scheming, powerful men. It is vital to our understanding of Jesus shedding His blood for our redemption that we have Jesus Himself stating, ‘No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father,’ (Jn. 10.18).
As early as about 96 A.D, Pope St. Clement I wrote, ‘Let us fix our gaze on the Blood of Christ and realize how truly precious It is, seeing that it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of conversion to the whole world.’
These words should convince us that devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus is central to our Catholic Faith and Practice. In the Mass the Words of Consecration makes this clear, ‘This Is The Chalice Of My Blood, The Blood Of The New And Eternal Covenant, Which Will Be Poured Out For You And For Many For The Forgiveness Of Sins.’
In 1849, Pope Pius IX extended the Feast of the Precious Blood to the whole Church, assigning to it the first Sunday in July, changed by Pope St. Pius X in 1914 to July 1. Since the Second Vatican Council the feast has been merged with that of Corpus Christi, so that the new Feast is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.
All the same I recommend to you and to myself that during the month of July we draw upon the rich devotional prayers in honour of the Precious Blood of Jesus. Why not give some serious reflection on the hymn that asks the question, ‘Are you washed blood of the Lamb?’
Peter Clarke, OP