The crucifix in the oratory at the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Omaha highlights the Precious Blood Jesus shed on the cross. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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Precious Blood is worthy of devotion, priests say

Church dedicates July in its honor

“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.”

– Pope St. Clement, first century

To those outside the Catholic Church, it might seem odd to have a devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Christ.

But that devotion is rooted in the Old Testament, culminates in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death and continues today with the offering of every Mass, two archdiocesan priests say.

The Church dedicates the month of July to the Precious Blood and celebrates the feast of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus on July 1.

“Everything about Jesus is ‘precious,’ but in particular the Church views his blood in this way,” said Father Patrick Harrison, who is in residence at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.

The Lord’s blood is worthy of devotion because it’s “the price of our redemption” and “source of our justification and our sanctification,” Father Harrison wrote in an email response.

In honoring the Precious Blood, Catholics remember the sacrifice of Christ in shedding his blood on the cross, and that sacrifice is renewed at every Mass, said Msgr. William Whelan, who is retired and leads the Institute of the Heart of Jesus.

At Mass, Msgr. Whelan said, Catholics are reminded of this mystery of faith: “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.”

BIBLICAL CONTEXT

Understanding devotion to the Precious Blood requires some context, Father Harrison said, and that begins in the Old Testament.

In the Jewish faith, blood was viewed as the main symbol of life, he said. “When blood poured out of a person or animal and resulted in death, they knew that the blood was the source of life.”

In the Book of Leviticus, which contains laws for Jewish priests and their worship rituals, the sacredness of blood is emphasized, Father Harrison said, including this passage:

“Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for your own lives, because it is the blood as the seat of life that makes atonement. That is why I have told the Israelites: No one among you, not even a resident alien may partake of blood,” resulting in a Jewish prohibition on eating or drinking blood in any way.

There are several other references to blood in the Old Testament, including Cain’s killing of his brother Abel in the Book of Genesis. God said: “What have you done! Listen: Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil.”

Father Harrison said that account brings to mind another incident of blood on the ground, in the New Testament, during Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane: “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

In the Book of Exodus’ account of the Passover, God instructs the Jews to take the blood of sacrificed lambs and put it on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. The blood would save the firstborn of both the people and their animals.

Father Harrison pointed again to Exodus, when the covenant between God and the Jewish people was ratified: “Then Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.”

Another sacrificial sprinkling of blood occurs in the New Testament, when Mary, John the Apostle, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clopas, were underneath the cross when Jesus’ blood fell to the ground, Father Harrison said. “They would have also witnessed and possibly felt the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side after the soldier pierced his side following his death.”

THE LAST SUPPER

Father Harrison said there are seven recorded incidents in which Jesus’ blood was spilled: during his circumcision as an 8-day-old infant, during his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning of thorns, the way of the cross, the crucifixion, and the piercing of his side.

“The Precious Blood of Jesus must also be seen in light of the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass and priesthood (Holy Orders),” Father Harrison said.

Jesus took the cup of wine, gave thanks and said: “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on the behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Both Father Harrison and Msgr. Whelan said the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse, is important in devotion to the Precious Blood:

“Amen, amen I say to you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”

Given the Jews’ views regarding the consumption of blood, “or even just touching it, we can learn why many of his disciples chose to no longer follow him and return to their former way of life,” Father Harrison said.

Based on the Gospel passage, “it is clear that he was not talking metaphorically or symbolically,” he said. “He meant what he said since he knew what was coming in the Last Supper and his sacrifice on the cross where Jesus’ body would be tortured and his blood would be shed.”

Catholics typically can receive the Eucharist under two forms, the Precious Body and Blood, and in each form receive Christ in his entirety. Having two forms of the Eucharist is a reminder of Jesus’ death, when his body and blood were separated, Msgr. Whelan said.

The Precious Blood reminds people that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, he said, the price of redemption. That steep price “helps us realize how evil sin is,” Msgr. Whelan said.

LITANY

Msgr. Whelan said he prays the Litany of the Most Precious Blood, which highlights “the different aspects of the Precious Blood as our redemption.”

The aspects include “price of our redemption,” “our only claim to pardon,” “torrent of mercy,” “strength of martyrs,” “endurance of the saints,” “protection of the threatened,” “comfort of the weary” and “solace of the mourner.”

It “overcomes evil” and “makes the barren fruitful,” according to the prayer, which can be found at www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/litanies/litany-of-the-most-precious-blood.cfm.

Eucharistic devotion in all forms is important, especially for vocations, said Msgr. Whelan, who also is a Serra Club chaplain.

“More than one of our seminarians got their call when adoring the Blessing Sacrament,” he said.