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The Precious Blood of Christ
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present conference is on the Precious Blood of Christ. As you know, we are reflecting on the principal attributes of Christ which Father Gerald identifies as the foundation stones for the imitation of Christ. He saw the most fundamental premise for the imitation of Christ. Says Father Gerald:
Is Jesus as the Lamb of God. He is the Lamb of God not only because He sacrificed Himself, He is the Lamb of God because He continues sacrificing Himself in an unbloody way in every Mass He offers. And while His sacrifice is completed, ours must go on.
Having said that, Father Gerald identifies the second primary foundation for the imitation of Christ as the Precious Blood of Jesus. The moment we say that Christ is the Lamb of God and explain that the Lamb of God was slain for our redemption, having further recognized and this is crucial - we further recognize that Christ, though Man, would not have died naturally because, unlike us, He was not a sinner. His death had to be inflicted outside of Himself. In a word, the Lamb of God - watch the verb - had to be slain in order to die. Moreover, Christ being the sinless Lamb of God, having no sin on His soul which would have deserved death, his mortal Body, mortal because He wanted it to be mortal, could only die by the Blood separating from that Body. Christ's Body was deprived of its Soul when the Blood left the Body. All of this, therefore, is locked up in realizing that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who by shedding His Blood, redeemed the world.
Our reflections in this conference will be three. First, to see the context which the Church over the centuries has used as the foundation for her devotion to the Precious Blood of Christ. Then, the understanding that Father Gerald had of the role of the Precious Blood in the life and sanctification of priests. And finally, what the Precious Blood should be in our own lives, and what devotion to the Blood of Christ ought to be in everyone who claims to be a true follower of the Lamb of God.
Church's Foundation for Devotion to Precious Blood of Christ
The revealed foundation for the Church's belief in the Precious Blood and the reason for her fostering devotion to the Precious Blood among the faithful occurs in the first chapter of the first letter of St. Peter, verses 18-19. Says Peter:
You know that you were redeemed from the vain manner of life handed down from your fathers, not wish perishable things as silver or gold but with the Precious Blood of Christ as the Lamb without blemish and without spot. Unquote Peter.
There are certain words and phrases in the revealed statement that we have just read that we should begin to unravel in order to understand something of the depth of meaning behind those two simple words, Precious Blood. Peter begins by reminding the faithful to remember the hardest thing in this life for us is to remain mindful of the truths of faith. Because what we believe on God's revealed Word is twice removed from the common experience that we have in this world. What we believe is first of all not immediately perceptible to the senses. Moreover, what we believe is not even penetrable to the naked reason. The word, remember, is an imperative: keep in mind. Arouse your faith in what and how you were redeemed. And it is the how we were redeemed that is the foundation stone of the mystery of the Precious Blood. God took on a human nature so that in that human nature He could die. In order to die, the soul had to separate from the body. But for the Body to have the soul separate, the body itself had to be deprived of His Blood. Theologically speaking and physiologically speaking, the All-Holy Son of God who became Man to redeem us could only have died by being drained of His Blood. Christ, listen, could not have died of some disease. Christ could not have died because of some mortal illness. All illness, disease, the natural debilitating of the body is the result of sin. Let me emphasize this. All our illness, our disease, our sickness, our wasting away of our body for all of us this is our faith - is the result of our sinful nature. Not so with Christ. That draining of the human body of His Blood was the one way that Christ, Sinless Son of God and Son of Mary that He was, the one way that He could die.
Peter goes on: we were redeemed, we were ransomed. What is Peter talking about? What is Peter saying when he says that we were redeemed? Literally it means bought back. Having sinned before God, we incurred a heavy debt. The debt was death. But all of the deaths (plural) of all of the human beings since the beginning of time, we believe, would not have been adequate - again, it is our faith would not have been adequate to ransom, to make up for, the infinite gravity of the sin not only of our first parents but by now the accumulated - what a low figure of speech - mountain of sin. Because an infinite being was in His Being offended by His creatures, only an Infinite Being could provide adequate ransom to redeem.
Peter goes on: "We were therefore not redeemed by anything corruptible". And you would think that Peter would find two better words than gold and silver. Because of all material things that are corruptible, two of the most incorruptible are gold and silver. But not even the most precious things that the world can provide, no other ransom, would have been adequate. But we have been redeemed, bought back, ransomed, by the Precious Blood of the Lamb of God. Try not to forget the title. Precious Blood is the revealed title, part of God's inspired biblical teaching in the first letter of the first Vicar of Christ.
I'm not quite finished yet with part one. Why does Peter identify the Blood of the Lamb of God as Precious? Well, it is surely Precious because it is the Blood of no human being. It is the Blood of the living God who took on human nature, capable of shedding His Blood. Why was the Blood of Christ Precious? Because it is the Blood of God who took on human nature in order to be able to suffer and to bleed and, let us add, in order to bleed to death. Why Precious? Because it is the Blood of the living God.
The Role of the Precious Blood in the Life of a Priest
We now ask ourselves, what in the spirituality of Father Gerald was his understanding of the role of the Precious Blood in the life of a priest? Remember, Father Gerald's spirituality is a priestly spirituality. I would like to read at some length, the text goes back to July, the traditional month of the Precious Blood, the year 1950. It is twenty years before his death. Father wrote a short essay on the Precious Blood and the Priest. I would like to quote some pertinent passages.
The Precious Blood of Jesus obviously belongs to all men inasmuch as for all men without exception It was poured out on Calvary. Nevertheless, it will be profitable for us priests to reflect on our special relationship with the redeeming Blood of Christ. First, we share with all sinners, aware of what the Blood of Christ has purchased for us, in a debt of gratitude which God's continued patience with us in the forgiveness of our daily transgressions, only serves to increase. Secondly, We share, insofar as we have accepted the graces of personal holiness, in the gratitude of our Blessed Mother and of all the saints, for all holiness comes from the Blood of Jesus. Third, we share uniquely in Mary's privilege of bringing the Precious Blood to man. Her Immaculate heart is the fountainhead. But for the continued presence of the Blood of Jesus on our altars, God deigns to use us, His priests, so that, effectively, we share in Mary's privilege of giving the Blood of Jesus to the world. Finally, we priests administer the fruits of the Precious Blood every time we administer the Holy Sacraments and, most especially, in every sacramental absolution. Unquote Father Gerald.
As I have been saying and will repeat more than once, it is not just my forty years in the priesthood, it is my lifetime relationship with by now hundreds of priests, most of whom, thank God, have remained faithful to their priestly vocations - but not all.
If there is one mystery of the faith that every priest should meditate on every day, it is: to what extent is his priestly life a reflection of the Christ who ordained him. Over the years of teaching priests, I have told them, "Whatever else you forget, do not forget the word priest, in every language of history, in every religion ancient and living, the word, priest, means the one who sacrifices. And in Christianity, the essence of the priesthood means self-sacrifice. That's why God became Man, so that He might have a human Body with living, human Blood, and have a human will so that, by shedding His own Blood voluntarily He might be the Victim, and by shedding that Blood voluntarily He might be the Priest.
When priests are ordained, we are told by the ordaining prelate, to be what we are called, to live up to what we offer, to become like the one Who ordains us, the High Priest Jesus Christ. A priest is ordained, not - dear Lord - not for himself but for others. He should spend himself. Like my dear friend, Father Pusatari in Rome, one of Rome's exorcists, told me: a priest should allow people to devour him, eat him up. In a word, to drain his blood. That is Part two of our reflections.
Devotion to the Precious Blood
Part three. Devotion to the Precious Blood is not a spiritual option, it is a spiritual obligation, and that not only for priests, but for every follower of Christ. I really believe, and I hesitate even saying this, but I really believe that one of the symptoms of modern society (and I would even include, sadly, modern Catholic society) one of the symptoms of a growing, gnawing secularism is the lessening and the weakening of devotion to the Precious Blood. Devotion, as we know, is a composite of three elements: It is first- veneration, it is secondly- invocation, and it is thirdly- imitation. In other words, devotion to the Precious Blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who was slain, is first of all to be veneration on our part, which is a composite of knowledge, love and adoration. We are to study to come to a deeper understanding of what those two - I am afraid for many people - casual words, Precious Blood, really mean.
I found this passage in the oldest document, outside of sacred scripture, from the first century of the Christian era - to be exact, from Pope St. Clement I, dated about 96 A.D. Says Pope Clement:
"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."
To understand the meaning of the Precious Blood we must (otherwise the mystery will be lost on us), we must get some comprehension of the gravity of sin, of the awfulness of offending God, because it required the Blood of the Son of God to forgive that sin. We are living in an age in which to sin has become fashionable. But we believe that we are here for only a very short time. We further believe that Christ when He told us the way that leads to damnation is broad and many there are who walk that way, that the way that leads to eternal life is narrow and there are few who walk that way. I am watching every syllable I am saying. The Church has never pronounced infallibly on the number lost and the number saved, but she has canonized St. John of the Cross and made him a Doctor of the Church. Says John of the Cross: "I believe that the majority of the human race will be lost."
This veneration of the Precious Blood, which is the first element in our devotion to the Precious Blood means that we have a deep sensitivity to the awfulness of sin. Sin must be terrible. It must be awful. It must be the most dreadful thing in the universe. Why? Because it cost the living God in human form the shedding of His Blood.
Devotion to the Precious Blood means - beyond veneration which means understanding, grasping and loving, loving Jesus Christ in the shedding of His Blood - it further means that we invoke Christ under the attribute of His Precious Blood. I really wonder, I do. Suppose I picked a thousand Catholics at random, I mean, believing, Churchgoing Catholics and would ask them: What litanies has the Church approved for the universal recitation by the faithful? I honestly doubt if very many out of a thousand would know that one of those litanies is the Litany of the Precious Blood. I thought I would read a few invocations;
"Blood of Christ, Only-Begotten Son of the eternal Father."
What are we saying? Are we saying that that Blood was the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father? Frankly, yes. Because we know that term, Precious Blood, is not just a symbol, not just a title. It identifies that quality of the Only-Begotten Son of the Eternal Father which Christ wants us to constantly have in mind, namely, that the Only-Begotten Son of the Eternal Father suffered. Suffered for us.
"Blood of Christ falling upon the earth in the Agony."
In the Middle Ages when the faith was stronger than in modern times, even the errors, shall I say, were more respectable? There were those who speculated (talk about a believing age!) those who speculated that maybe, just maybe, when Christ shed His Blood either in the Agony in the Garden or on Calvary, that once the Blood left the Body It was just ordinary blood. In the age of faith, believers speculated about, what was that blood separated from the Body? And the Church infallibly defined: Every drop of Christ's Blood in the Agony in the Garden, every drop He shed on Calvary, every drop was united hypostatically with the Second Person of the Trinity. Every drop of that Blood was adorable.
"Blood of Christ, Price of our salvation."
The more I lecture, the more I teach, the more people I deal with, the more I have come to identify two words: love and pain. If one person claims to love someone else, the one who claims to love, infallibly - if there is genuine love - is not only resigned to enduring pain -- pain is the proof of love, pain is the price of love. That's why God became Man: that He might be able to endure pain, especially the pain of draining His Blood out of love for us. May I recommend to all of you to promote the recitation of the litany of the Precious Blood?
Finally, devotion means imitation. In other words, if Christ showed His love for us by the shedding of His Blood, we are to show our love for Him - I mean everything I am saying - we are to show our love for Him by the shedding of our blood. That is what the Church means when she has us say that when Christ offers Himself daily on the altar in the Sacrifice of the Mass, we are told to identify that as our sacrifice - His and ours. He, the Head of the Mystical Body, can no longer suffer, but thank God, we can!
This shedding of blood, I have not tired of repeating since my ordination, that we are living in the most heroic age of martyrs in the history of Christianity. I mean it. Countless millions of Christians who believe in the Precious Blood are proving their love for Him by their sufferings. Many by now in our century have shed and are shedding their blood physically. What a privilege! What a privilege if we were called to shed our blood physically in the Name of, and out of love for Christ!
And I don't hesitate recommending praying for the gift of martyrdom. But even if it is not God's Will that we shed our blood for Christ, to manifest our love for Him physically, let's make sure, absolutely sure, that we let no opportunity go by without shedding our blood spiritually. And that, my friends, no matter what our state of life, no matter what our vocation may be, if we are Christians, we are meant to shed our blood!
Lord Jesus, You became Man in order by your Passion and Death and the draining of your Blood on the Cross, might prove to us how much You, our God, love us. Protect us, dear Jesus, from ever running away from the sight of blood. Strengthen our weak human wills so that we will not only not run away from the cross, but welcome every opportunity to shed our blood in spirit in union with your Precious Blood, so that, dying to ourselves in time we might live with You in Eternity. Amen
In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
December 26, 1987
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