‘[W]hy blood? Why so much emphasis on the death? Surely the life of our Lord had a significance of its own; he came to earth to live, not simply to die. Here, I think, we want to make the doctrine plainer than it is in many people’s minds. The life of our Lord on earth might have been a sufficient atonement for our sins, had God so willed, even if he had not crowned it by a death on the cross. If he had seen fit to ascend into heaven again, when he was still a little child in his Mother’s arms at Bethlehem, our redemption might still have been achieved. What made amends for our sins was not precisely his death, but that generous offering of himself to his eternal Father which began with Bethlehem and only ended on Calvary. If we use his blood as the symbol of that life-long generosity which redeemed us, it is only because the cross was the supreme test, the crucial experiment, which gave that generosity its perfect outward manifestation.
…[T]he doctrine of the Precious Blood certainly means this, for Catholic and Protestant alike – it means that you and I had something done for us which we could never have done for ourselves. Deny that doctrine, obscure that doctrine, and you have fatally altered the whole content of the Christian message. The love of God, St John tells us, resides not in our showing any love for God, but in his showing his love for us first, when he sent out his Son to be an atonement of our sins. Forget that, and you have forgotten how to be a Christian’.
Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
‘[L]ook at Calvary, and there is the glory of the divine self-giving love shining glorious. Jesus on the Tree is reigning as King. And there too, on Calvary, we see cleansing. Listen to Saint John: Jesus has died on the Cross, and the Roman soldier comes with the lance and pierces His sacred side, and there flows a stream of water and blood. And the Evangelist places the most intense emphasis on this incident. “He that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true, and he knoweth that he saith true that ye also may believe”. Why this intense emphasis upon the flowing of the water and the blood? Of course, it is the emphasis of the historian, and the Evangelist wants his readers to know it is solid fact and history; and an eye witness was there and really saw these things happen; and the Son of God did, in truth, die; and the water and the blood flowed from His side. But, knowing Saint John, we are always sure that there is not only history but also symbol in the things that he shows us, and so it is here. Water – what is water? Water that cleanses, and cleansing does flow to our sad and sinful human race from Calvary. The humility of Calvary flows like a great stream to cleanse the pride of men and nations. And blood, what is blood? Blood is sacrificial life, not just life, but life that passed through death; and not just death, but death that has the mighty potency of true sacrifice about it. And it is this sacrificial life that flows from Calvary – flows as a gift, so that, first in the community of the redeemed Church, and then amongst all men who are brought within that community, there may be lived out a life that is sacrificial; offered to God and offered to the world in sacrificial service’.
A.M. Ramsey, Lord Ramsey of Canterbury, 1904-1988 (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1961-1974)
Cathedral of St John the Divine, NYC, 1962
‘Behold and see the virtue of this precious plenty of his dearworthy blood! It descended down into hell and burst their bonds and delivered them, all who were there who belong to the court of heaven. The precious plenty of his dearworthy blood overflows all the earth, and is ready to wash all creatures of sinne who are of good will, have been, and shall be. The precious plenty of his dearworthy blood ascends up into heaven in the blessed body of our lord Jesus Christ, and there is in him, bleeding, praying for us to the father, and is and shall be as long as we need’.
Julian of Norwich, c.1342-c.1430
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who didst come down from heaven to earth from the bosom of the Father, and didst bear five wounds on the Cross, and didst pour forth thy precious Blood for the remission of our sins: we humbly beseech thee; that at the day of judgement we may be set at thy right hand, and hear from thee that most comfortable word, Come ye blessed into my Father’s Kingdom; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Concluding prayer of the Walsingham Chaplet of the Five Wounds, St Gregory’s Prayer Book.
‘The outpouring of Christ’s blood is the source of the Church’s life. Saint John, as we know, sees in the water and blood which flowed from our Lord’s body the wellspring of that divine life which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit and communicated to us in the sacraments. The Letter to the Hebrews draws out, we might say, the liturgical implications of this mystery. Jesus, by his suffering and death, his self-oblation in the eternal Spirit, has become our high priest and “the mediator of a new covenant”. These words echo our Lord’s own words at the Last Supper, when he instituted the Eucharist as the sacrament of his body, given up for us, and his blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant shed for the forgiveness of sins.
Faithful to Christ’s command to “do this in memory of me”, the Church in every time and place celebrates the Eucharist until the Lord returns in glory, rejoicing in his sacramental presence and drawing upon the power of his saving sacrifice for the redemption of the world. The reality of the Eucharistic sacrifice has always been at the heart of Catholic faith; called into question in the sixteenth century, it was solemnly reaffirmed at the Council of Trent against the backdrop of our justification in Christ. Here in England, as we know, there were many who staunchly defended the Mass, often at great cost, giving rise to that devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist which has been a hallmark of Catholicism in these lands.
The Eucharistic sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ embraces in turn the mystery of our Lord’s continuing passion in the members of his Mystical Body, the Church in every age. Here the great crucifix which towers above us serves as a reminder that Christ, our eternal high priest, daily unites our own sacrifices, our own sufferings, our own needs, hopes and aspirations, to the infinite merits of his sacrifice. Through him, with him, and in him, we lift up our own bodies as a sacrifice holy and acceptable to God. In this sense we are caught up in his eternal oblation, completing, as Saint Paul says, in our flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church. In the life of the Church, in her trials and tribulations, Christ continues, in the stark phrase of Pascal, to be in agony until the end of the world.
We see this aspect of the mystery of Christ’s precious blood represented, most eloquently, by the martyrs of every age, who drank from the cup which Christ himself drank, and whose own blood, shed in union with his sacrifice, gives new life to the Church. It is also reflected in our brothers and sisters throughout the world who even now are suffering discrimination and persecution for their Christian faith. Yet it is also present, often hidden in the suffering of all those individual Christians who daily unite their sacrifices to those of the Lord for the sanctification of the Church and the redemption of the world’.
from a homily preached at the Cathedral of the Most Precious Blood, Westminster
18 September 2010, on the occasion of his Apostolic Journey to the United Kingdom
by Pope Benedict XVI
Precious Blood, ocean of divine mercy: flow upon us! Precious Blood, most pure offering: procure us every grace! Precious Blood, hope and refuge of sinners: atone for us! Precious Blood, delight of holy souls: draw us! Amen. – St Catherine of Siena.
Thrilling news today that Blessed John Henry Newman will be canonised in Rome at 10 am on Sunday 13th October. Cardinal Newman remains a central figure in the life and work of both the Congregation of the Oratory in England (which he founded), and the Personal Ordinariates (he is the patron of the English and Welsh Ordinariate). His writings, devotions, prayers, hymns and meditations continue to enliven and inspire, drawing Anglicans and others into the fulness of Catholic communion; a journey he himself made ‘out of the shadows and symbols unto truth’. On this traditional feast day of the Most Precious Blood (to which the whole of July is dedicated), a meditation, by Newman, exhorting us to trust in that Blood.
‘There are men who think that God is so great that He disdains to look down upon us, our doings and our fortunes. But He who did not find it beneath His Majesty to make us, does not think it beneath Him to observe and to visit us. He says Himself in the Gospel: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? and not one of them is forgotten before God. Yea, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows”. He determined from all eternity that He would create us. He settled our whole fortune – and, if He did not absolutely decree to bring us to heaven, it is because we have free will, and by the very constitution of our nature He has put it in part out of His own power, for we must do our part, if to heaven we attain. But He has done every thing short of this. He died for us all upon the Cross, that, if it were possible to save us, we might be saved. And He calls upon us lovingly, begging us to accept the benefit of His meritorious and most Precious Blood. And those who trust Him He takes under His special protection. He marks out their whole life for them; He appoints all that happens to them; He guides them in such way as to secure their salvation; He gives them just so much of health, of wealth, of friends, as is best for them; He afflicts them only when it is for their good; He is never angry with them. He measures out just that number of years which is good for them; and He appoints the hour of their death in such a way as to secure their perseverance up to it’.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
‘Do you wish to know of the power of Christ’s blood? Let us go back to the ancient accounts of what took place in Egypt, where Christ’s blood is foreshadowed.
Moses said: “Sacrifice a lamb without blemish and smear the doors with its blood”. What does this mean? Can the blood of a sheep without reason save man who is endowed with reason? Yes, Moses replied, not because it is blood because it is a figure of the Lord’s blood. So today if the devil sees, not the blood of the figure smeared on the doorposts, but the blood of the reality smeared on the lips of the faithful, which are the doors of the temple of Christ, with all the more season will he draw back.
Do you wish to learn from another source the power of this blood? See where it began to flow, from what spring it flowed down from the cross, from the Master’s side. The gospel relates that when Christ had died and was still hanging on the cross, the soldier approached him and pierced his side with the spear, and at once there came out water and blood. The one was a symbol of baptism, the other side of mysteries. That soldier, then, pierced his side: he breached the wall of the holy temple, and I found the treasure and acquired the wealth. Similarly with the lamb. The Jews slaughtered it in sacrifice, and I gathered the fruit of that sacrifice - salvation.
“There came out from his side water and blood”. Dearly beloved, do not pass the secret of this great mystery by without reflection. For I have another secret mystical interpretation to give. I said that baptism and the mysteries were symbolised in that blood and water. It is from these two that the holy Church has been born “by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit,” by baptism and the mysteries. Now the symbols of baptism and the mysteries came from his side. It was from his side, then, that Christ formed the Church, as from the side of Adam he formed Eve.
That is why in his account of the first man Moses has the words, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” giving us a hint here of the Master’s side. For as at time God took a rib from Adam’s side and formed woman, so Christ gave us blood and water from his side and formed the Church. Just as then he took the rib while Adam was in a deep sleep, so now he gave the blood and water after his death.
Have you seen how Christ has united his bride to himself? Have you seen with what kind of food he feeds us all? By the same food we are formed and are fed. As a woman feeds her child with her own blood and milk, so too Christ himself continually feeds those whom he had begotten with his own blood”’.
from the instructions to the catechumens by St John Chrysostom, c.349-407
O God of truth and love, who gavest to thy Bishop John Chrysostom eloquence to declare thy righteousness in the great congregation, and courage to bear reproach for the honour of thy Name: mercifully grant to the ministers of thy Word such excellence in preaching; that all people may share with them in the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Bangor Antiphony, 7th century, translated by Fr Adrian Fortescue, 1874-1923
Festivis resonent compita vocibus
Now let our streets resound with vocal melody,
Now let each countenance shine clear with holy joy;
Raise high the torches bright, lighting our festal way,
As young and old in order go.
Yet while we sing with joy, spare not due meed of tears,
Mindful of him who died, hanged on the bitter tree,
And for the race of men, fallen from first estate,
From many a wound his blood outpoured.
From the first Adam's sin in Eden long ago
Death’s heavy penalty hung over all mankind;
Now by his life and death our second Adam gives
Life to a fallen race once more.
Since through the highest heaven the Father on his throne
Heard the strong cry that broke from his own dying Son,
Our debt is paid in full by the Redeemer’s blood,
Pardon complete for sin is won.
Henceforth who in that blood washeth his soilèd robes,
Cleansèd from every stain, and like the Angel-hosts
Standing before the King in roseate beauty clad,
Finds grace and favour in his sight.
Therefore let Christian men press on to reach the goal,
Scorning to turn aside from the strait path of life;
Bountiful gifts of grace God gives along the way,
And at the end a glorious prize.
Grant of thy grace and power, Father who rulest all,
That we, whom thou hast bought with thy Son’s precious blood,
And by thy Spirit’s breath dost day by day renew,
May to the crown of heaven attain.
Hymn appointed for the Precious Blood, July 1st
The English Catholic Hymn Book no.829
‘Sweet Jesus, in my imagination I will prostrate myself on the soil, and lower still if I can manage, because I am the perpetrator and the criminal in [all your] painful death. I want to embrace the foot of the cross, prostrate on the ground... Like this I will lie here to catch some of your blood, sweet Jesu; I will not stir from here until I am marked with your precious blood as one of your own (flock), and my soul is softened in that pleasant bath; and in this way it may come about, sweet Jesu, that it may open my hard heart, which now is as hard as stone, to make it soft, to make what was dead in sin spring to life for your sake through the special influence (of your blood). Sweet Jesus, your precious passion raised up dead men out of their graves, it opened heaven, shattered the gates of hell, the earth trembled at it, and the sun lost its light... Come then, sweet Jesu, as it's your wish, and set alight a tiny spark of love within my soul, as you best know how, a touch of compassion for your suffering, from which my heart can be set ablaze and I can be brought to life through it, until I would be aflame with your love above everything else; and lave me in your blood so that I may forget all the prosperity of the world, and all physical attractions’.
from The Longer Meditations on the Passion by Richard Rolle, 1290-1345
‘All laud, honour, glory, and thanks be given to thee, O Lord Jesu Christ, for the sacred wound of thy right hand. For this holy wound sake forgive all such offences as I have committed by my five senses, and remit also all such things as I have displeased thee, in thought, word, and deed, in negligence when I served thee, in sinful delectations, whether the same was in sleep, or when I waked, wittingly or ignorantly. And for thy blessed passion sake, give me thy grace to remember as I should do thy holy death and blessed wounds, utterly to mortify my body and to give thee thanks. Amen.
Laud, honour, glory, and thanks be to thee, most sweet Jesu, for the sacred wound of thy left hand. For the same holy wound sake, be merciful to me, and vouchsafe to change in me whatsoever is displeasant unto thee: give me victory, against all my spiteful enemies and let me by thy grace subdue them all for thy bitter passion sake, deliver me from all perils both in this life & in the life to come and make me worthy of thy grace in thy heavenly country. Amen.
Laud, honour, glory, and thanks be to thee, most gracious Jesu, for the sacred wound of thy right foot. For this holy wound sake grant that I may do worthy penance for my sins. And I most humbly beseech thee for thy holy death sake, that thou keep me thy servant both day and night in thy grace and favour: deliver me from all misery both of body and soul: take my soul to thy protection and tuition at the dreadful judgement day: and bring it to thy celestial joys. Amen.
Laud, honour, glory, and thanks be given to thee, good Jesu, for the sacred wound of thy left foot. For this holy wound sake give me pardon and full remission of my sins, that being protected by thee I may deserve to escape the rigour of thy judgement. And for thy holy death sake I beseech thee most merciful Jesu that before my soul part from my body, I may worthily receive the sacrament of thy most holy body and blood, with unfeigned contrition of heart, sincere confession of my sins, perfect penance, with purity of mind and body: And being comforted with Avail, may come to everlasting salvation. Amen.
Laud, honour, glory and thanks be to thee, most benign Jesu, for the sacred wound of thy blessed side. For this holy wound sake, and for thy infinite mercy sake, which thou showed us, when thy side was pierced with the spear I beseech thee my saviour Jesu that as thou hast cleansed me by Baptism from original sin: so likewise by thy precious blood, which was now at this time both offered and received, all the world over, thou wilt deliver me from all perils, both such as are past, and present, or to come: And for thy holy death sake, give me a right faith, a sure hope, and perfect charity, that I may love thee, with all my heart and all my strength.
Strengthen me in all good works, and give me grace strongly to continue thy servant to the end: that I may both here and in the life to come, please thee. Amen.
Imprint Lord Jesus Christ thy holy wounds in my heart: and moisten my soul with thy holy blood: that whether so ever I turn I may ever see thee crucified before me: and that whatsoever I cast my eye upon, it may seem to me besprinkled with thy holy blood: and that I may being thus wholly directed to thee, may behold nothing but only thee: who livest with thy Father and the Holy Ghost forever. Amen’.
from Certayne devout Meditations very necessary for Christian men devoutly to meditate upon Morninge and Eveninge, every day in the weeke: Concerning Christ his lyfe and Passion, and the fruites thereof, Anon, c.1576
‘Today it is quite a common thing to be able to say, in literal fact, that you have given your blood for somebody else. As it is, we have grown accustomed to a more violent, and, some would say, a less gracious metaphor. St John, at the beginning of his Apocalypse, refers to our Lord as one “who has proved his love for us by washing us clean from our sins in his own blood”.
It is not surprising that the Christianity of the Reformation, with its strong insistence on the doctrine of the Atonement, should have fastened on that language and made it familiar to us. For us Catholics, the Precious Blood is proposed as a special subject of meditation during this month of July, and for us, too, the same symbolism does duty. Read a Catholic poet like Crashaw, and you will find him referring to “that blood, whose least drops sovereign be To wash my worlds of sin from me”. Read an Evangelical poet like Cowper, and you will find him preaching the same doctrine; “The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day, And there may I, as vile as he, Wash all my sins away”. St John’s metaphor has become a commonplace of Christian devotion.
Do you still find it crude, over-strained, unacceptable? Be it so, we are not tied to any particular form of imagery which the piety of a past age has bequeathed to us. Only, in this month of July, we do well to remember the bitter Passion of our Lord, and that giving of his life-blood which sealed it, and seals us through it. A price was paid to redeem you (St Paul says); and because the price paid was so high, because the world itself was not worthy of such a ransom, we must go on reiterating, blindly and uncomprehendingly, our gratitude. Moreover, because the price paid for us was so high, no price can be too high which is demanded of us by our loyalty to Christ, though it should be death itself. To be always generous with God, to go on and on giving him of our best in spite of weariness and disillusionment, to despise soft options, and interpret our duty in terms of love, not in terms of mere justice, to be ready if we might to give him more than he asks of us, ready if that were possible to give him more than he deserves of us - that is the meaning of our devotion to the Precious Blood; may his grace make us worthy of it’.
from a sermon preached at the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer and St Thomas More, Chelsea, 1956
Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
Fr Lee Kenyon