History of the Devotion
In the course of the long life of the Church many feasts have come into existence. A great number refer to the mysteries of the life of our Divine Lord. It is fitting to honor with a special devotion certain parts of the Sacred Humanity of Christ. However, it is for the Church to decide and to define what parts or what mysteries are to be proposed to the public for special worship. She has done this in regard to the Holy Wounds of our Saviour, His Most Precious Blood, and especially His Most Sacred Heart.
The history of the devotion to the Precious Blood dates from the elaborate ritual and striking symbolism of the Old Testament which finds an anti-type in the Sacrificial Priest and Victim on Calvary. The Epistles of Saint Paul, especially those to the Hebrews — called the Epistle of the Precious Blood — the first Epistles of Saints Peter and John, as well as the Apocalypse, testify to the connection between the Covenant in blood in the old Law and the New.
The Fathers who give a large place in their writings to the doctrine of the Precious Blood, are, in the East Saint John Chrysostom, and in the West, Saint Augustine. A great many saints have been especially devoted to the Most Precious Blood, among them Saint Gertrude, Saint Catherine of Siena, called the Prophetess of the Precious Blood, Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi. Among the men there have been Saint Robert Bellarmine, who composed the Vesper hymn for the feast, Blessed Gaspar del Bufalo, Founder of the Precious Blood Fathers, and Saint Vincent Mary Strambi, who encouraged Blessed Gaspar, and at the insistence of his friend wrote a book of meditations on the Precious Blood for the month of July. Walter Farrel, O.P., summarizes the teaching of Saint Thomas on the role of the Precious Blood in our Redemption as follows: “The sacredness of life was given a vivid emphasis in the Old Testament’s insistence on profound respect for blood. It was so clear that the life of a man poured out of him when his blood gushed out on the ground that the blood was easily taken as a symbol of all of bodily life. It was not food to be eaten, but sacrifice to be offered in recognition of God’s sole dominion over life and death. Blood was “the life of the flesh.” (Leviticus 17,11) The blood of animals, poured out on the altar, was a sacrifice of life to the Master of Life, an acknowledgement of the supreme lordship of God. Blood was seen as the life of the flesh; to eat it was a presumption that went as far as the consumption of life itself.
“The blood of Christ is infinitely precious, as are His fingers, His hands, His arms; for all of these belong to a Divine Person, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. When we speak of the preciousness of the blood of Christ, however, we mean more than this. In the light of the Old Testament, which He fulfilled, the blood of Christ means His whole bodily life. “You were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled.” (1 Peter 1:18) This was the price of redemption, the whole bodily life of Christ; and this was the price He paid.
“As the blood flowed on Calvary from His hands and feet, His Head and Heart, the life poured out of the Son of God for the redemption of men. An awful price. To whom was it paid? To whom were men in bondage to such an extent that only such a ransom would free them?
“We needed rescue from the malice of the devil; but this is not the story of our redemption. The terrifying truth that explains the necessity of Calvary is that we needed redemption from the entirely just and inexorable penalties of the justice of God. The red blood dripped down the cross on Calvary and life flowed out of the Son of Mary, not to satisfy the extortions of diabolical hate, but to deliver us from the wrath of the living God.
“Precious blood indeed, for it is a terrible thing to fall under the wrath of God. Precious blood, shed but not lost, given up by God to be gathered, every drop, by God and held for eternity; the boundless treasure by which self-made slaves are freed from the penalties sin demanded of the strong arm of God. Who else but God could stay the power of God’s justice? Precious Blood “because the life of the flesh is in the blood : and I have given it to you, that you may make atonement with it upon the altar for your souls: and the blood may be for an expiation of the soul.” (Leviticus 17:ll)
Nature of the Devotion
Canon Herve points out that “The Divine Word assumed His whole human nature at the same time by an immediate and perpetual union…. The Word immediately assumed an integral human nature with all that pertains to its essence, or integrity, and perfection….”
“Regardless of the physiological question…it is theologically certain that blood is an integral part of the human nature and was immediately assumed by the Word. This is clearly seen in Scripture, speaking of the blood of the Son of God and attributing to it our redemption: The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.’ Tradition is expressed in the words of Clement VI: ‘…the least drop of blood … on account of its union with the Word would have sufficed to redeem the whole human race.'”
Therefore the material object of devotion to the Precious Blood is the whole Christ. More especially, the proximate material object is the physical, living Blood that is one with the glorified Body. The formal object of the devotion is the uncreated excellence of the Divine Word, and the special formal object is the particular excellence of the Most Precious Blood, which was actually shed on Calvary for our salvation in loving obedience to the command of the Eternal Father.
The practical aim of the devotion is “to awaken confidence, contrition, reparation — by bearing Christ’s Cross, zeal for the Church and for souls, including in an especial manner the souls in Purgatory…. The practices honoring the Precious Blood are devout reception of the Blood sacramentally, adoration of the Blood actually or mystically shed, and meditation on these mysteries, acts of satisfaction for those redeemed yet suffering souls in Purgatory, acts of love and gratitude founded on deep faith and confidence in Christ Crucified, the recitation of prayers in honor of Christ’s Passion….”
In his book on the Precious Blood, Father Faber gives us an insight into the special characteristics of this devotion. “All devotions have their characteristics; all of them have their own theological meanings…. Another characteristic of the devotion of the Precious Blood is the way it brings out and keeps before us the principle of sacrifice. Sacrifice is peculiarly the Christian element of holiness; and it is precisely the element which corrupt nature dislikes and resists. There is no end to the delusions, which our self-love is fertile enough to bring forth, in order to evade the obligation of sacrifice, and to narrow its practical application. If it were enough to have correct views, or high feelings, or devout aspirations, it would be easy to be spiritual. The touchstone is mortification. Worldly amusements, domestic comforts, nice food, and a daily doing of our own will in the lesser details of life, are all incompatible with sanctity, when they are habitual and form the ordinary normal current of our lives. Pain is necessary to holiness. Suffering is essential to the killing of self-love. Habits of virtue cannot by any possibility be formed without voluntary mortifications…. These are axioms which at all times offend our weakness and self-indulgence. But they are of peculiar importance in times like these, when comforts and even luxuries are almost universal. It is comfort which is the ruin of holiness…. There is a smoothness in the mere lapse of a comfortable life which is fatal to holiness. Now all the forms, and images and associations and pictures and ideas of the devotion to the Precious Blood breathe sacrifice. Their fragrance is the odour of sacrifice. Their beauty is the austerity of sacrifice. They tease the soul with a constant sense of dissatisfaction and distrust with whatsoever is not sacrifice; and this teasing is the solicitation of grace. In time they affect us with a love of sacrifice; and to gain this love of sacrifice is to have mounted the first ascent of holiness…. It is the very mission of the devotion to the Precious Blood to preach a crusade against quiet sinless comforts….
“It is another characteristic of the devotion to the Precious Blood that it does not usurp the place of other devotions; but by its own growth makes more room for them…. It mingles in a most natural way with devotion to our Blessed Lady. It is an additional splendour to every one of her mysteries. It throws light on them. It brings her into the mysteries of Jesus. It has, a peculiar connection with the Immaculate Conception. It forms in itself a separate devotion to her immaculate heart and sinless blood.
“It is also a variety of devotion to the Passion. It furnishes a point of view from which we may regard each mystery, while it is also a mould in which we can fuse all the mysteries of the Passion into one. It is thus a unity of the devotion to the Passion as well as a variety of it, besides being in itself an additional devotion to the Passion. When we wish to range the whole Passion in one view, we find that simply to look upon it as the single mystery of the Passion, it is too large for us and becomes vague. Now vagueness is precisely what we must try to avoid in devotion to the Passion. Its virtue resides in its vividness. Unless it is vivid, it will not be true; and unless it be true it will not be reverent.
“Devotion to the Precious Blood also supplies us with an additional form of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The devotion to the Precious Blood in the chalice may be considered, not merely as an additional form of devotion, but as an additional devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; while the special adoration of the Precious Blood, when we are kneeling before the tabernacle is a form of devotion, bringing much doctrine before us, and enabling us better to comprehend the august realities of that tremendous Sacrament.
“But the closest alliance of the devotion of the Precious Blood is with the devotion to the Sacred Heart. The Precious Blood is the wealth of the Sacred Heart…. It was precisely the Precious Blood…which was the chosen instrument of our redemption…. If it were not for this, the devotion to the Precious Blood and the devotion to the Sacred Heart would be but one devotion, two aspects of the same devotion.”
Fruits of the Devotion
Father Faber also has an admirable treatment of the fruits of devotion to the Precious Blood. “Here is (a) fruit of the spirit of this devotion to the Precious Blood. The greatest defect in our worship of God is our want of confidence in Him. Confidence is the genuineness of worship, and the tranquil plenitude of love. What can give us more confidence in God than the study of the Precious Blood? Who can doubt Jesus when He bleeds? … Another gift of this devotion is a vehement and intelligent hatred of sin…. The Precious Blood is His Blood, Who is Uncreated Truth. It is His Blood who came with His truth to redeem souls. Hence love of souls is another grace which comes from the spirit of this devotion. … In close connection with this grace we should name, as another fruit of the spirit of this devotion, a great devotion to the Sacraments. . . . The effect of this devotion upon our devotion to our Blessed Lady may well be named as one of its graces, one of the revelations of its spirit. It makes our devotion to her an integral part of our devotion to Jesus. It makes the two devotions one. It draws her into the scheme of redemption so intimately and at the same time with such splendours of separate exaltation, that the very highest of language of the saints about her becomes easy to us, and is the only natural expression of our inward love. To be enthusiastic our love of Mary only needs to be theological….”
Mary and the Precious Blood
In his Compendium of Mariology, Father Keuppens treats of Mary and her role as associate with Christ the Redeemer in the manner of redemption, and says the price paid by the Blessed Virgin was not only her sorrows but the same price Christ paid, namely, His Passion, Life and Precious Blood. It was Mary’s inasmuch as it stems from the most pure blood of her Immaculate heart. Pius X writes, in “Ad diem ilium” : “By this communion of sorrows and will between Mary and Christ, she merited to become a most worthy Reparatrix of the fallen world, and therefore the Dispensatrix of all that Jesus won for us by His Blood and Death.” Benedict XV remarks that “She suffered with her Suffering Son, and almost died together with him, and abdicating her maternal rights over her Son, she in so far as was in her power immolated Him for the human race, that justice might be satisfied, so that it may be truly said that together with Christ she redeemed mankind.”
Feast of the Precious Blood
The feast of the Most Precious Blood dates to the 17th century. It was formerly the Friday of the fourth week in Lent and not a universal feast. Pius IX, on June 30, 1849, extended the feast to the universal Church and placed it on the first Sunday of July, in gratitude for deliverance from the great perils that attended the first years of his pontificate. It was likewise Pius IX who dedicated July to the Most Precious Blood. In the Jubilee Year of 1933, the anniversary of our Redemption, Pius XI elevated the feast to that of First Class to be celebrated by the Universal Church on July 1.
It was in 1949, the Centenary of the extension of the feast of the Most Precious Blood, to the universal Church that Pope Pius XII, asked all to “recall to mind this divine price of our redemption which was offered to the Eternal Father that we might be freed from the slavery of the devil and be restored to the adoption of the sons of God. Wherefore let each one of us, detesting his admissions, strive with all his strength to make amends for the injuries done to our Redeemer and follow after him with the most intense love, which a life reintegrated with Christian morals will proclaim. When Christ shed his blood he consecrated human grief that all might learn from him the labors and miseries that they suffer—bearing them with a serene and stalwart spirit, mindful of that divine pronouncement that “he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38) Thus Our Saviour through his most poignant torments wished to soothe and soften our sadness so that by his example all might learn to relieve the trouble and grief of others—giving them solace and aid insofar as they are able. This is what thhe Precious Blood teaches, which Jesus Christ no longer pours forth from his wounds, but even daily offers in the Eucharistic Sacrifice a pleasing victim for all of us.”
The foregoing selections reflect not only the justification for our devotion to the Most Precious Blood, but also its great dignity and beauty. The subject provides inspiration not only to the theologian but to the preacher, teacher and writer as well. It almost seems as though it was to Passionists that Pope Pius XII might have been speaking when he (to the assembled Fathers of the Missionary Society of the Most Precious Blood): “You, therefore, in a special way, whose Institute bears the very name of this devotion, should meditate with intent and loving mind on these things; and propose the same to others for meditation, when opportunity offers….”
It will help for each one of us to fathom the depths of our wonderful Passionist vocation if we let ourselves be led by a strong devotion to the Most Precious Blood. For, every second of our day finds somewhere in the world the elevation of five chalices of the Precious Blood. Every second an opportunity to unite ourselves in thought and affection with Christ our Eternal High Priest! Every second is an opportunity to add ot our offering of confidence and gratitude to the Eternal Father an offering of loving atonement, in fulfillment of that part of our spirit that urges us to “fill up what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His body which is the Church”. (Colossians 1:24)