Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Circumcision of Our Lord

1 January A.D. 2011

And almost all things, according to the law, are cleansed with blood:
and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”1

Today is the octave day of Christmas. You probably know that the Church celebrates Her major feasts on the feast day itself, and then for the following seven days, making eight in all—an “octave.” More specifically, today we celebrate the Circumcision of the infant Jesus, following the covenant God made with Abraham, on the eighth day of a little boy's life.2 The covenant established Abraham's descendants as the specially chosen people of God, out of which people God would send the Redeemer promised immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve.3 The fact of our Lord's circumcision according to the covenant demonstrates the fulfillment of God's promise in His Son Jesus Christ.

On this day we also honor, especially, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary. At one time the Church in Rome offered two Masses on this octave day; one of the Circumcision and one in honor of Mary as Mother of God.4 Today the two are combined. If you read through the Mass and the Office, you will find numerous references to the birth of Jesus, to His Circumcision, and to His Holy Virgin Mother.

Saint Paul tells us that circumcision was a sign of Abraham's justification before the Lord: Abraham believed in what God revealed to him; his faith was credited with justification (which means that God would be pleased with the good things Abraham did); and Abraham was given the ritual of circumcision as a token of his faithfulness and justification.5

In the Mosaic Law, the shedding of blood is a very serious thing. It is never done intentionally except in the sacrificial worship of God. Even natural flows of blood make a person ritually “unclean” while they are taking place.6 A woman is “unclean” after childbirth, for it is marked by blood. The Jewish manner of preparing meat to eat requires that as much of the animal's blood be drained and discarded as possible. One was not supposed to “eat” blood. Blood represents life, and is therefore sacred before the Lord. It has very specific and restricted use in Jewish ritual.

It will seem curious, then, from our point of view, to know that that blood of sacrificial animals was offered to God by pouring it out before the altar, or sprinkling it on the altar. Even the people might be sprinkled with blood as a ritual purification.

Saint Paul tells us “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” Bishop Fulton J. Sheen used to speak of the Bible as a “river of blood,” going back to the fallen Adam and Eve in the garden. When they sinned “the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons.”7 But before expelling them from the garden, “the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them.”8 The animals gave up their lives and their skins as a direct result of the sin of Adam and Eve.

After the birth of Cain and Abel, as young men, both offered sacrifice to God. Cain offered the produce of his field, but Abel offered animals out of his flock. God was pleased with Abel's offering of blood in sacrifice to Him, and is thus referred to as “Abel the just.”9

After the flood abated, “Noe built an altar unto the Lord: and taking of all cattle and fowls that were clean, offered holocausts upon the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour, and said: I will no more curse the earth for the sake of man: for the imagination and thought of man's heart are prone to evil from his youth....”10 Noe's sacrifice seems to have appealed to God in favor of mankind.

Abraham was directed to sacrifice his son Isaac—his willingness to obey God without question not only spared Isaac, but we hear God say: “By my own self have I sworn, saith the Lord: because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake: I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the sea shore: thy seed shall possess the gates of their enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.”11

It was by means of the sacrificial blood of the lamb that God deliverd His people from captivity in Egypt: “the whole multitude of the children of Israel shall sacrifice it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood thereof, and put it upon both the side posts, and on the upper door posts of the houses.... And the blood shall be unto you for a sign in the houses where you shall be: and I shall see the blood, and shall pass over you: and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I shall strike the land of Egypt.”12

Today we commemorate the first shedding of blood of the True Lamb of God. Mary would have been there with Joseph, and she would have freely given her Son over to the mohël, or, perhaps, Joseph may have performed the ritual himself. The custom was that the parents would then give the child his name, but both Mary and Joseph knew that this name had been provided beforehand by God. As today's Gospel indicates, “his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.”13

Ultimately, Mary would surrender this same Lamb of God when He, although sinless Himself, took the transgressions of mankind upon Himself to die in the Sacrifice of the Cross. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.”

I have long believed that the Jewish prohibition of “eating” blood existed in the mind of God from the time of creation. Blood was to be something absolutely special, and representative of perfect holiness. God knew from all eternity that one day His Son would announce: “Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.”14 What had been forbidden has become of obligation—not the blood of calves and bulls and heifers, of course, but the all holy blood of Christ, which we receive in Holy Communion, the unleavened bread and wine of the Passover, changed into the substance of the body and blood of the perfect priest and perfect victim, true Son of Mary and true Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is by virtue of this Sacrifice, renewed every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that we have the forgiveness of sins. The priest who hears Confessions would have no power to forgive sin were it not for the connection between the Cross and the altar. He is able to take our sins and place them upon the victim-Christ, precisely because he takes the place of Christ—an alter-Christus, another Christ, as he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in union with Christ on the Cross.

The blood of our Lord's Circumcision is the blood that was shed at Calvary. Even today, but a week after Christmas, we look forward to the days before Easter, to Holy Thursday and Good Friday, when our Lord's precious blood was shed under far less joyous circumstances.

Almost all things, according to the law, are cleansed with blood:
and without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.”






3  Genesis iii: 14 ff.

4  Dom Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Volume II, Christmas book 1, page 371.

11  Genesis xxii: 17-18

13  Gospel: Luke ii: 21


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