The Feast of the Precious Blood
“Converse in fear during the time of your sojourning here; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled.”
— Pet. 1: 18.
On this day, the Church celebrates the feast of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. This feast, which had been celebrated in some dioceses since the fifteenth century, on Monday after Trinity Sunday, was extended by Pope Pius IX. over the whole Christian world, and its celebration prescribed for the first Sunday of July. The time of persecution and suffering had already begun for the Sovereign Pontiff. Compelled by a revolution to leave Rome, he repaired to Gaeta, in the kingdom of Naples, where he lived in exile for seventeen months, till April, 1850. Here it was that on the tenth day of August, 1849, he instituted the feast of the Precious Blood. That most sacred blood is the price of our Redemption, and is poured out daily in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, whence it flows into the channels of the seven Sacraments, as an atonement for our sins and for our sanctification. For, as in Egypt, God was propitiated by the blood of the paschal lamb, the type and figure of the true Lamb of God, so He is propitiated by the blood of his Son, the true Paschal Lamb, which speaketh better than Abel’s. Herein is the strongest evidence of the infinite love of Jesus Christ, who not only once, but seven times, shed his precious blood amidst the most cruel sufferings for our salvation. Let this seven-fold shedding of the precious blood be the subject of our present meditation.
1. The first shedding of blood was at His Circumcision:
Jesus shed His blood the first time when He was circumcised. According, to the law of Moses, every Israelitish male child was to be circumcised eight days after his birth. This circumcision was a sign of the covenant which God had made with the children of Israel. The circumcised belonged only to the people of Israel, and partook of the graces which God bestowed on this people; they were also obliged to observe the law of Moses. Out of obedience to the laws Jesus permitted himself to be presented in the temple, to be circumcised, but thereby he had a far higher purpose; he wished to indicate the mystery that he would redeem us by the shedding of His precious blood. When our Saviour was born in Bethlehem, the holy angels announced Him as our Redeemer, without intimating, however, in what manner He was to redeem the world. Eight days later Jesus himself revealed this mystery of blood by His circumcision. As a rosy morn announces an evening rain, so this rosy morn of circumcision means nothing else than that in the evening of His life His blood was to flow, like rain, from all the veins of His sacred body.
This first shedding of the precious blood is an exhortation to us to serve Jesus from our earliest childhood. When He shed His blood as a mere infant, is it not becoming that we should devote to His service the years of our childhood? But, alas! how many of us have urgent reasons to exclaim with David: “The sins of my youth and my ignorances do not remember.”–Ps. 24: 7. Think of the years of your childhood; did you not pass them in levity? Did not some of you suffer shipwreck of your innocence and commit grievous sins in those years. Call to mind the years of your youth. Did you not commit sins then, which perhaps on your death-bed will lie on your conscience as a heavy load? Let us then repent of the many sins of our childhood and youth and let us at least henceforth lead a penitent life. You, Christian parents, possess a special means of atoning for the sins of your youth by educating your children in the fear and love of God.
2. The shedding of blood in the garden of Olives:
The Evangelist says: “And being in an agony, He prayed the longer And His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground.”–Luke, 22: 43. 44. The love of Jesus was so great that He would not wait for the scourges, thorns and nails, but, as the myrrh sends forth its precious oil through the foliage before its bark is cut, so His infinite love and His desire to redeem us urged Him to shed for us His innocent blood in the garden of Olives as a sacrifice of propitiation. This sheding of blood in the garden of Olives was the most painful of all His sufferings; for it was not caused by external, bodily wounds, but by internal sufferings, by the agony of His soul. Jesus anticipated in it His entire Passion, which was vividly represented before His eyes. He trembled at the thought of the loss of so many souls for whom he foresaw he would die in vain; who might be saved, but will not. When the death agony is very severe, you notice with heartfelt compassion, large drops of sweat on the brow and face of the dying. But there was never heard of a dying man who sweat drops of blood. Our Saviour alone exhibited this sign of mortal anguish at the moment when He commenced His sacred Passion.
A legend says that on every place where a drop of Jesus’s blood trickled down, a flower sprang up. Spiritually explained, this legend is literally true. Meditation on our Saviour’s shedding blood in the garden is the fruitful seed of virtue. Can you be so cruel as to offend Jesus again by sins, when you remember his sadness of spirit and his agony caused by your sins, which was so vehement that he sweat blood? Or can you be indifferent to your own salvation and persevere in an impenitent spirit when you reflect that the remembrance of His sacred Passion being fruitless in regard to many sinners because of their obduracy, made the Son of God sweat blood?
3. Jesus is scourged. The four Evangelists narrate that Jesus was Scourged:
Thus St. Matthew says that ”Pilate having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to the Jews to be crucified. The Jews were forbidden by law to inflict more than forty stripes. The Romans had no number of stripes fixed by law. That Jesus was scourged after the manner of the Romans is evident from the fact that it was a Roman judge that passed sentence upon Him, as also from the words of Jesus: “They shall deliver the Son of Man to the Gentiles to be mocked, and to be scourged, and to be crucified.”–Matt. 20: 19. This punishment, as inflicted by the Romans, was one of excessive cruelty. Many expired before it was finished. As Pilate by the punishment of scourging intended to move the Jews to compassion, it is to be inferred that it was inflicted on Jesus with the utmost cruelty. The prophets who saw in spirit our scourged Saviour, say of him that “from the sole of the foot unto the top of the head, there is no soundness therein; wounds and bruises and swelling sores.”–Isaiah, 1: 6. They say there was no beauty in Him, nor comeliness; that they thought Him, as it were, a leper, and as one struck by God.–Is. 53: 2-5. Our Saviour was so cruelly scourged that even Pilate, the heartless Gentile, cried out at the pitiable sight: “Behold the man.”
St. Bridget, when a child of ten years, saw in a vision our Saviour in the act of being scourged. The good child, moved to compassion, said: “Who has disfigured you thus?” Jesus answered: “Not the Jews only have done it, but all those who despise my love.” And who are these? Especially those Christians who do not endeavor to restrain the passions of their flesh. If your conscience reproaches you with having scourged your Redeemer anew by committing such heinous sins, repair the outrage by a virtuous and penitential life. “Let not sin therefore, reign in your mortal body so as to obey the lusts thereof,” (Rom. 6: 12); on the contrary, “mortify your members which are upon the earth,” (Col. 3: 5); and make no provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.–Rom. 13: 14.
4. Jesus shed His blood the fourth time, when he was crowned with thorns:
The Evangelist, St. Matthew, relates this cruel coronation, in the following manner: “Then the soldiers of the governor, taking Jesus into the hall, gathered together unto Him the whole band, and stripping Him, they put a scarlet cloak about Him. And plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand. And bowing the knee before Him, they mocked Him saying: Hail, king of the Jews. And spitting upon Him, they took the reed and struck His head.”–Matt. 27: 27-30. The adorable head of Jesus had thus its own sufferings. The coronation was as ignominious as it was painful; ignominious, because in order to jeer at His pretensions, they put a crown of thorns upon his head; painful, because of the many wounds the thorns made in His head.
The coronation is to us an earnest exhortation to banish all proud and ambitious thoughts from our minds. Jesus crowned with thorns says to us: “Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.”–Matt. 11: 29. “Far be it from me,” said St. Elizabeth of Hungary, “that I, poor creature that I am, should appear with a bright crown upon my head before my God and Saviour, who, being king of heaven and earth, wore a crown of thorns.”
5. Jesus shed his blood the fifth time, carrying the cross:
We cannot doubt that Jesus shed blood when He carried the cross. When he took the cross upon his shoulders, he was already bruised, and full of wounds, which, being fresh, bled continually; He also fell several times under the heavy weight of the cross, whereby He received new wounds, out of which blood flowed; He was also struck by the soldiers and executioners, and this could not be done without shedding blood.
The precious blood which Jesus shed when carrying the cross, points out to us the way that leads to heaven. It is no other way than that which He trod before us; the way of the cross. Jesus Himself declares: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”–Matt. 16: 24. Both the sinner and the just man must tread this bloody way; the sinner, because without mortification he is not able to overcome his passions and do penance; the just man, because without self-denial it is impossible to resist the many temptations with which all are assailed, to make progress in virtue, and to persevere in justice to the end. Let us follow Jesus on the way of the cross, let us suffer with Him, that we may be glorified with Him.–Rom. 8: 7.
6. Jesus shed his blood the sixth time, when He was crucified:
St. John (19: 18) says: “Bearing His own cross, he went forth to that place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him.” Having arrived at the place of execution, the soldiers stripped off His clothes, and crucified Him, by piercing His hands and feet with heavy nails, and fastening them to the wood of the cross. Who is able to describe the torments of our dear Lord, when He was nailed to the cross and hung thereon, supported by His own wounds? How truly can He cry out with the Prophet: “O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.”– Lam. 1: 12.
Cast one glance at your crucified Redeemer and take to heart the words of St. Bernard: “I need no other evidence to convince me how grievous an evil sin must be. I know sufficiently from the nature of the medicine; the nature of my wound, and the remedy being so painful, I clearly see how dangerous my disease was. God himself, the holy and innocent God, would suffer in His human nature for the sins that we regard so little; for the guilty pleasures we enjoy so easily, God Himself would die the death, the most ignominious death, of the Cross.” O let us make the resolution, never again to offend God by a mortal sin.
7. The seventh and last time Jesus shed His blood was when His side was opened:
“When the soldiers came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one of the soldiers opened His side with a spear and immediately there came out blood and water.”–John, 19: 33, 34. Blood and water came out as an evidence that these were the last drops of the Sacred Blood. Thus it is literally true, that our Redeemer shed the last drop of his blood for us. We are reminded of this infinite charity by the separate consecration of bread and wine in holy Mass, for after the Elevation the Body and the Blood of Christ appear separated, the sacred species being separated on the altar.
By the shedding of the precious blood from the wound of the Sacred Heart our Saviour gave us the last proof of His infinite love. Let us return the love of Jesus by devoting to Him all the affections of our heart. Let us give Him a proof of our love by fulfilling His divine will and fearing nothing so much as to offend Him. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.”–John, 14: 21.
Thus Jesus shed His precious blood seven times, and the price of these seven sheddings of blood is found in the seven Sacraments, by which we are cleansed from sin and sanctified. These seven sheddings of blood remind us also of the three Theological and the four Cardinal virtues; also of the seven virtues opposed to the seven deadly or capital sins, which are infused into us by baptism; also of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which we receive in confirmation, and finally of the seven days of the week, which we should dedicate to the service of God. The covenant between God and the Israelites was sealed with blood. The new covenant was sealed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. The covenant between God and men is sealed again as many times as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God. Assist, whenever you can, at the tremendous Sacrifice of the Mass, and frequently receive holy communion.
The Pulpit Orator: Containing Seven Elaborate Skeleton Sermons, or Homiletic, Dogmatical, Liturgical, Symbolical, and Moral Sketches, for Every Sunday … Chief Festivals and Other Occasions; Johann Evangelist Zollner. Edition, 4. Publisher, Fr. Pustet & Company, 1884.