Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Precious Blood

Once again a group of us on plurk decided to blog on the same topic. Since this Sunday is the first Sunday in July, and the first Sunday in July is the feast of the Precious Blood, naturally the topic is the Precious Blood.

The others who blogged on this topic include Pennyante's "Our Blood is Precious", Snupnjake's "Reflections on the Precious Blood", cuaguys's "The precious Blood - a Lost Feast" and Joe's "The Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ" and Joe of St. Thérèse's "The Month of the Precious Blood of Christ".

I didn't choose the topic. I know little about the Precious Blood, and until this topic was suggested was ignorant even of the feast day itself. I could whine on and on about being a poorly catechized cradle Catholic, but let's face it; at my age I deserve the responsibility for my own (lack of) education.

So I did what any good Catholic would do, I googled the term, and then waded through the mass of vile hatred, anti-Catholic rhetoric, satanic videos, vampire references, etc. to try to find a Catholic site with information. As usual, New Advent comes to the rescue. Sadly, I am no theologian, and words like "hypostatic union", while I understand vaguely what they mean, don't really give me a good grasp of the topic. What I did get were some good references to scripture passages and some understanding of the Precious Blood:
The blood of our Divine Saviour. Jesus, at the Last Supper, ascribes to it the same life-giving power that belongs to His flesh (see EUCHARIST). The Apostles, St. Peter (1 Peter 1:2, 19), St. John (1 John 1:7; Apocalypse 1:5  etc.), and above all St. Paul (Romans 3:25; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:10) regard it as synonymous with Jesus's Passion and Death, the source of redemption
It may also like the Heart or the Wounds  from which it flowed, be singled out for special honour, in a way that special honour  was rendered it from the beginning by St. Paul and the Fathers who so eloquently praised its redeeming virtue and rested on it the Christian spirit  of self-sacrifice.
New Advent also has the history of the feast day at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12373a.htm:

For many dioceses  there are two days to which the Office  of the Precious Blood has been assigned, the office being in both cases the same. The reason  is this: the office was at first granted to the Fathers  of the Most Precious Blood only. Later, as one of the offices of the Fridays  of Lent, it was assigned to the Friday after the fourth Sunday in Lent. In many dioceses these offices were adopted also by the fourth Provincial Council of Baltimore  (1840). When Pius IX went into exile at Gaeta (1849) he had as his companion the saintly Don Giovanni Merlini, third superior general of the Fathers of the Most Precious Blood. Arrived at Gaeta, Merlini  suggested that His Holiness make a vow to extend the feast of the Precious Blood to the entire Church if he would again obtain possesion of the papal dominions. The pope took the matter under consideration, but a few days later sent his domestic prelate Jos. Stella  to Merlini with the message: "The pope does not deem it expedient to bind himself by a vow; instead His Holiness is pleased to extend the feast immediately to all Christendom". This was 30 June, 1849, the day the French  conquered Rome  and the republicans capitulated. The thirtieth of June had been a Saturday  before the first Sunday  of July, wherefore the pope decreed  (10 August, 1849) that henceforth every first Sunday of July should be dedicated to the Most Precious Blood.
Of course, this blog is "What Does Mike think?" not "What Can Mike Find on Google". For me, there are two aspects of the Precious Blood, which are identical in efficacy, but widely different in my experience.

First, there is a physical substance of the blood of Our Lord, shed during His passion and crucifixion. I was able to see a replica of the Shroud of Turin in Philadelphia last month, and the most striking thing about it, to me, was not the "image" of Christ that appears on the cloth, but the blood stains everywhere. The image at the top right of this post is a photo I took of the shroud showing the bloodstains on the back from scourging. I don't know if the cloth is actually the burial cloth of Christ (that's a subject for another blog post) but I'd like to think it is, and whether or not it is, the blood stains that I saw are a solemn reminder of Christ's love for us. To think of anyone, let alone the creator of the universe, going through that suffering and humiliation, to the death, because He loved me is just so awesomely, fearfully humbling I can't even find the words to describe it.

The other aspect of the Precious Blood is something I experience every week (or more often). At mass, the priest speaks the words of institution:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
When I was growing up nobody but the priest actually drank the Precious Blood. If I remember correctly, it wasn't until I was on retreat in high school that we were given Communion under both species (the Body and Blood of Christ). I envisioned the Apostles doing the same thing in the early church. To me, the act of receiving Communion in this way seems more "vivid" than receiving just the host, because while the host is flat and nearly flavorless, the wine fills your mouth and nose with sensations. It is a very clear "knock you over the head" sort of way to receive Christ.

Today our parish distributes Communion under both species routinely. I find that I often forgo receiving the Precious Blood, not because I don't want it, but because I don't want it to become "routine" - I like the "treat" of receiving it occasionally. It reminds me of that high school retreat, and of the Apostles, and Christ Himself in a special way.

Ironically, when my children prepared for First Holy Communion, they were not taught about nor introduced to the wine. I think this was a big mistake, because they are curious about it. Even if they were not offered Communion under both species at their First Communion (and they were), it would have prepared them for receiving it later. My 9 year old, to this day, will not receive the Precious Blood. He often has "trouble" with new foods that he tries and needs to spit them out. He is worried that the taste of the wine might be something he can't tolerate and doesn't want to risk it with the Precious Blood of Christ. At some point we will have to get some wine similar to what is used in our parish and let him taste it to see, but we haven't done so yet. It would have been much simpler if they had done that in class.


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