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Ave Maria!

Feast of the Precious Blood of Our Lord - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - 1 July AD 2012

Take and drink the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ

[ Ordinary of the Mass ]
[ Latin & English Text ]

“For if the blood of goats and bulls ... sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh,
how much more will the Blood of Christ,
who through the Holy Ghost offered Him­self unblemished unto God,
cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”[1]

    Today we celebrate the feast of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  As modern people we have a somewhat scientific understanding of blood.  Most bright high school students can tell you that blood is a fluid containing an iron based protein molecule that carries oxygen to the cells of the body, and then carries the waste products of cellular metabolism away to be removed by the kidneys.  But, of course, no one is quite as detached as that.  Having been cut and having bled is an almost universal experience of mankind.  It is always an uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous experience.  Those who have lost blood in significant quantities can tell you that is like having the life run out of you as you struggle with dizziness while trying to stop the hemorrhage.  The memory of a bloody battlefield is said to be unforgettable.

    But it may help to understand how the Jews of our Lord’s time thought of blood—particularly if we are to understand the references to it in Sacred Scripture.

    In the Old Testament, blood is synonymous with life and with death.  The first reference to blood is only implicit, for by committing the original sin, Adam and Eve came to recognize their nakedness, and “the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them.[2]  A consequence of their sin was the death of the animals that gave up their hides.  A later consequence of their sin would be the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ.

    Blood is mentioned again with the murder of Abel the Just.  Almost as though the blood were alive and could speak, God said:  “What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood cries to me from the earth ... cursed shalt thou be upon the earth, which hath opened her mouth and received the blood of thy brother at thy hand.[3]

    At creation, man was permitted to eat the vegetation of the earth:  “And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat.”[4]  Only after the flood were Noe and his descendants given permission to eat the flesh of the animals:

    And everything that moves and lives shall be meat for you: even as the green herbs have I delivered them all to you: [4] Saving that flesh with blood you shall not eat. [5] For I will require the blood of your lives at the hand of every beast, and at the hand of man, at the hand of every man, and of his brother, will I require the life of man.  [6] Whosoever shall shed man's blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God.[5]

    I read this entire passage because it contains three important things:  (1) man may eat meat but must exclude the blood,  (2) men and beasts are responsible for the bloodshed of innocent men,  and (3) God demands justice for those who kill men who are made in His image —to shed the blood of another man or woman would henceforth be a capital offence.

    Jewish worship was sacrificial—usually animals, but sometimes fine flour and breads.  The animal sacrifices were obviously bloody, but the first “sacramental” use of blood is found in the account of the Exodus.  At the Passover, the Jews were to sacrifice a lamb

    Go take a lamb by your families, and sacrifice the Phase [the Passover].  [22] And dip a bunch of hyssop in the blood that is at the door, and sprinkle the transom of the door therewith, and both the door cheeks:  [13] 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.[6]

    There is something of an ambiguity in the use of blood by the Jewish people.  On the one hand, blood was something holy, that could sanctify.  Moses literally sprinkled the people with blood as a sign of their covenant with God.[7]  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.”[8]  “It is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement.”[9]

    On the other hand blood 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 someone who bled, made one ritually “unclean” for a period of time.[10]  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.[11]  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:  “That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which things keeping yourselves, you shall do well.[12]

    I would suggest that this long term prohibition against touching or eating blood—going all the way back to the time of Noe—as well as its “sacramental” use in sanctification since the time of Moses—was intended to prepare the Jews for the one Blood that was both acceptable (indeed, necessary) to eat, and which made those who did so radically holy.  I mean, of course, the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Our Lord promised this Blood to the crowd of the Jews that followed Him to Capharnaum, during the Passover a year before the Last Supper, as described in the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.  (Catholics should read this sixth chapter at least once each year—it makes belief in the Real Presence unquestionable.) 

    [52] If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world. [53] The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  [54] Jesus said to them: “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.[13]

    “How can this man give us His flesh to eat and his blood to drink?”  Not a terribly surprising question, but what is important for our purposes, is that our Lord merely reiterated the importance of receiving His Body and Blood—He did not back down on His claim.  And, Saint John records that “after this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with Him.”  Note that our Lord still did not back down.  Had He meant that He would give a mere symbol of His Body and Blood, He surely would have made this clear, rather than having many disciples desert Him.

    “How much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the Holy Ghost offered Him­self unblemished unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

    The almighty and everlasting God has appointed His only-begotten Son to be the Redeemer of the world, and has willed to be appeased by His blood;  May He grant unto us so to venerate (with solemn worship) the price of our redemption, and by its power be so defended against the evils of this life, that we may enjoy the fruit thereof for evermore in heaven.  Through the same Christ our Lord.  Amen.[14]


[1]   Epistle: Hebrews ix: 11-15

[10]   Deuteronomy xii: 16, 23 ;  Leviticus xv

[14]   Paraphrase of today’s Collect.

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