Feast of the Most Precious Blood—1 July AD 2007
[ Ordinary of the Mass ]
[ Latin & English Text ]
Today we celebrate the feast of
the Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are all aware that our
Lord shed His blood for us on the Cross—a sacrificial offering to redeem the
human race from the sin of Adam, and to enable those who follow Him to attain
eternal salvation. Yet it may help to put our Lord’s sacrifice in
perspective if we understand the significance of blood in the culture in which
our Lord lived.
If we go back to the very
beginning, it appears that the first shedding of blood came about as a result of
Adam and Eve sinning. God fashioned garments for them out of the skins of
animals to cover their nakedness.
In the next chapter we read of their son Abel, a shepherd, offering God “the
firstlings of his flock ... and the Lord had respect to Abel and his
offerings”—that is to say, God was pleased with his offerings.
After the flood, Noe offered sacrifice again to God: he “built an altar unto
the Lord: and taking of all cattle and fowls that were clean, offered holocausts
upon the altar.”
Again, God was pleased with these offerings, and told Noe to “increase and
multiply” as He did in the beginning.
God also gave Noe and his
descendents explicit permission to take the animals as their food. But in
doing this, God was clear that they were not to take the blood along with the
flesh. Blood was synonymous with life—it held a certain sacredness—the
blood of animals, and particularly the blood of human beings, who were made in
the image of God—to shed the blood of another man or woman would henceforth be
a capital offence.
Throughout the Old Testament we
see God accept the sacrifice of animals. Apart from Melchisedech, the
priest-king of Salem, who offered bread and wine, the pattern is consistent.
There were some offerings of incense, and some of fine wheaten flour, but the
center of Jewish worship was the bloody sacrifice of victims. The
sacrifices were offered, generally, by the fathers of families, and later on by
an officially appointed priesthood. There was the sacrifice by Abraham of
a stag, in place of his only son Isaac. There was the sacrifice of the
paschal lambs in Egypt, the first Passover—and here we see something of the
power of blood. God directed His people to mark their homes with the blood
of those sacrificial lambs, so that He might spare them from the death of all
the firstborn sons in Egypt.
The Passover sacrifice was to be eaten with unleavened bread and wild lettuce to
indicate the haste of the people in fleeing the Egyptians—it was to be an
But the Passover was not the only
sacrifice. Later on in the desert, God ordained Aaron and his sons to be
the official priestly clan, and gave them an elaborate list of sacrifices to be
offered in worship, in seeking forgiveness, and in thanksgiving.
The Jews wandered for forty years in the desert, and it took some time for them
to conquer the Promised Land, and a few centuries before Solomon would build the
Temple in Jerusalem. But the sacrifices were offered daily, according to
When the Temple was constructed,
it became the only place where sacrifice was allowed to be offered, for
it was where God was truly present in the Holy of Holies. Every day, but
particularly for the major festivals, people converged on the Jerusalem Temple
from all over Israel (and beyond) to offer their victims to God. One has
to imagine a veritable river of blood running from the Temple on those days.
There is something of an ambiguity
in the use of blood by the Jewish people. On the one hand it was strictly
prohibited. Not only was the blood to be completely drained from animals
before they could be cooked, but to have a discharge of blood, or to touch some
one who bled, made one ritually “unclean” for a period of time.
Because it involved the shedding of blood, a woman was held to be ritually
“unclean” for forty or eighty days after giving birth to a child, and until
offering a sacrifice at the Temple..
The prohibition against eating blood is repeated even in the New Testament, when
the Apostles set minimum requirements for those who became Christians without
first being Jewish.
But on the other hand, blood was
something holy, that could sanctify. Moses literally sprinkled the people
with blood as a sign of their covenant with God.
Saint Paul wrote to the Hebrews that “with blood almost everything is cleansed
according to the Law, and without the shedding of blood there is no
forgiveness”—and as we heard today, “the blood of goats and bulls ...
sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh.”
“It is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement.”
As Christians, with the ability to
look backwards in time, we know that all of these bloody offerings were intended
by God to prepare His people for the truly redemptive and truly forgiving
Sacrifice of His Son on the Cross. “If the blood of goats and bulls ...
sanctify the unclean ... how much more will the blood of Christ!”
This is the very same blood that
our Lord promised to His followers just after the miracle of the multiplication
of loaves in the desert about a year before the Last Supper: “He who
eats My flesh and drinks My blood has life everlasting ... My flesh is food
indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My
blood abides in Me, and I in him.”
And we know that He was serious, and literal in His meaning, for He did not call
back those who doubted His words—those who said “this is a hard saying ...
how can this man give us His flesh to eat” the “many who turned back and no
longer went about with Him.”
He didn’t call them back with some explanation that His meaning was intended
to be symbolic, for He meant what He said, literally.
But indeed, how could this
be? You will recall that I mentioned the Old Testament priest Melchisedech,
who offered his sacrifice in bread and wine. Melchisedech is remembered in
Psalm 109—one of the Psalms which described the coming Messias. “The
Lord said to my Lord: «Before the daystar ... I have begotten Thee
...Thou art a priest forever according the order of Melchisedech.»”
Jesus Christ, then was “a priest forever according to the order of
Our Lord offered His blood, once
and for all on the Cross. But first He gave His Apostles His promised
flesh and blood: “Take and eat, for this is My body ... take and drink,
for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the
forgiveness of sins.”
He gave them the power to “do this in memory of Him,” so that they and their
successors could do what He had done, renewing the sacrifice of His body and
blood under the appearances of bread and wine.
The drinking of blood had been
prohibited, at least as long ago as the time of Noe. You might think of
that prohibition as a sort of Eucharistic fast, in which God prepared and still
prepares mankind for the reception of one particular blood, very special indeed.
“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” “It is the
blood ... that makes atonement.” And that blood, of course, is the blood
of our Lord Jesus Christ—the blood for which we thank God today on this feast
of the Most Precious Blood.