|FEAST OF THE MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD OF OUR
LORD JESUS CHRIST
Taken From THE LITURGICAL YEAR by Dom Gueranger
JOHN the Baptist has pointed out the Lamb, Peter has firmly established his throne, Paul has prepared the bride; their joint work, admirable in its unity, at once suggests the reason for their feasts occurring almost simultaneously in the cycle. The alliance being now secured, all three fall into shade; whilst the bride herself, raised up by them to such lofty heights, appears alone before us, holding in her hands the sacred cup of the nuptial-feast.
This gives the key of today's solemnity, revealing how its appearance in the heavens of the holy liturgy at this particular season is replete with mystery. The Church, it is true, has already made known to the sons of the new covenant, in a much more solemn manner, the price of the Blood that redeemed them, its nutritive strength and the adoring homage which is its due. On Good Friday earth and heaven beheld all sin drowned in the saving stream, whose eternal flood-gates at last gave way beneath the combined effort of man's violence and of the love of the Divine Heart. The festival of Corpus Christi witnessed our prostrate worship before the altars whereon is perpetuated the Sacrifice of Calvary, and where the outpouring of the precious Blood affords drink to the humblest little ones, as well as to the mightiest potentates of earth, lowly bowed in adoration before it. How is it, then, that holy Church is now inviting all Christians to hail, in a particular manner, the stream of life ever gushing from the sacred fount? What else can this mean, but that the preceding solemnities have by no means exhausted the mystery? The peace which this Blood has made to reign in the high places as well as in the low; the impetus of its wave bearing back the sons of Adam from the yawning gulf, purified, renewed and dazzling white in the radiance of their heavenly apparel; the sacred Table outspread before them on the watcrs' brink, and the chalice brimful of inebriation-----all this preparation and display would be objectless, all these splendours would be incomprehensible, if man were not brought to see therein the wooings of a love that could never endure its advances to be outdone by the pretensions of any other.
Therefore, the Blood of Jesus is set before our eyes at this moment as the Blood of the Testament; the pledge of the alliance proposed to us by God; [Exod. xxiv 8; Heb. ix 20] the dower stipulated by eternal Wisdom for this Divine union to which He is inviting all men, and its consummation in our soul which is being urged forward with such vehemence by the Holy Ghost.
'Having therefore, brethren, a confidence in entering into the Holies by the Blood of Christ,' says the Apostle, a new and living way which He hath dedicated for us through the veil-----that is to say, His flesh-----let us draw near with a pure heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with clean water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He is faithful that hath promised. Let us consider one another to provoke unto charity and to good works. [Heb. x 19-24] And may the God of peace Who brought again from the dead the great Pastor of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Blood of the everlasting Testament, fit you in all goodness, that you may do His will: doing in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom is glory for ever and ever. Amen! [Ibid. xiii 20, 21]
Nor must we omit to mention here, that this feast is a monument of one of the most brilliant victories of holy Church in our own age. Pius IX had been driven from Rome in 1848 by the triumphant revolution; but the following year, just about this season, his power was re-established. Under the regis of theApostles on June 28 and the two following days, the eldest daughter of the Church, faithful to her past glories, swept the ramparts of the eternal city; and on July 2, Mary's festival, the victory was completed. Not long after this, a twofold decree notified to the city and to the world the Pontiff's gratitude and the way in whicp. he intended to perpetuate, in the sacred liturgy, the memory of these events. On August 10, from Gaeta itself, the place of his exile in the evil day, Pius IX, before returning to reassume the government of his States, addressing himself to the invisible Head of the Church, confided her in a special manner to His Divine care, by the institution of this day's festival; reminding Him that it was for His Church that He had vouchsafed to shed all His Precious Blood. Then, when the Pontiff re-entered his capital, turning to Mary, just as Pius V and Pius VIII had done under other circumstances, the Vicar of Christ solemnly attributed the honour of the recent victory to her who is ever the help of Christians; for on the feast of her Visitation it had been gained; and he now decreed that this said feast of July 2 should be raised from the rite of double major to that of second class throughout the whole world. This was a prelude to the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which the immortal Pontiff had already projected, whereby the crushing of the serpent's head would be completed.
The Church, formed by the Apostles from all the nations under Heaven, advances towards the altar of the Spouse Who hath redeemed her in His Blood, and in the Introit hails His merciful love. She, henceforth, is the kingdom of God, the depository of truth.
The Blood of the Man-God, being the pledge of peace between Heaven and earth, the object of profoundest worship, the centre of the whole liturgy, and our assured protection against all the evils of this present life, deposits, even now, in the souls and bodies of those whom it has ransomed, the germ of eternal happiness; The Church, therefore, in her Collect, begs of the Father, Who has given us His Only-begotten Son, that this Divine germ may not remain sterile within us, but may come to full development in Heaven. . . .
It was by His Own Blood that the Son of God entered into Heaven; this Divine Blood continues to be the means whereby we also may be introduced into the eternal alliance. Thus, the old Covenant, founded on the observance of the precepts of Sinai, had likewise by blood consecrated the people and the law, the tabernacle and the vessels it was to contain; but the whole was but a figure.
'Now,' says St Ambrose, 'it behoves us to tend to truth. Here below, there is the shadow; here below, there is the image; up yonder, there is the truth. In the law was but the shadow; the image is to be found in the Gospel; the truth is in Heaven. Formerly a lamb was immolated; now Christ
is sacrificed, but only under the signs of the mysteries, whereas in Heaven it is without veil. There alone, consequently, is full perfection unto which our thoughts should cleave, because all perfection is in truth without image and without shadow.' [Ambr. De Offic. I 48] There alone is rest: thither, even in this world, do the sons of God tend; without indeed attaining fully thereunto, they reach nearer and nearer day by day; for there alone is to be found that peace which forms Saints.
'O Lord God,' cries out in his turn another illustrious doctor, the great St. Augustine, 'give us this peace, the peace of repose, the peace of the seventh day, of that Sabbath whose sun never sets. Yea! verily the whole order of nature and grace is very beautiful unto Thy servitors, and goodly are the realities they cover; but these images, these successive forms, bide only awhile, and their evolution ended they pass away. The days Thou didst fill with Thy creations are composed of morning and of evening, the seventh alone excepted, for it declineth not, because Thou hast for ever sanctified it in Thine Own rest. Now what is this rest, save that which Thou takest in us, when we ourselves repose in Thee, in the fruitful peace which crowns the series of Thy graces in us? O sacred rest, more productive than labour! the perfect alone know Thee, they who suffer the Divine hand to accomplish within them the work of the six days.' [Aug. Confess. xiii 35-37; de Genesi ad_litt. iv 13-17; et alibi passim.]
And the Apostle goes on to say, interpreting by means of other parts of Scripture his own words, just read to us by holy Church, 'And therefore today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts.' [Heb. iii 7, 8, ex Ps. xciv] The Divine Blood has made us participators of Christ: it is our part not to squander, as though it were worthless, this immense treasure, this initial incorporation which unites us to Christ, the Divine Head; but let us abandon ourselves, without reserve, to the energy of this precious leaven, whose property it is to transform our whole being into Him. Let us be afraid lest we fall short of the promise referred to in toay's Epistle, that promise of our entering into God's rest, as St. Paul tells us. It regards all believers, he says, and this Divine Sabbath is for the whole people of the Lord. Therefore, let us make haste to enter in; let us not be like those Jews whose incredulity excluded them for ever from the promised land. [Heb. iii, iv]
The Gradual brings us back to the great testimony of the love of the Son of God, confided to the Holy Ghost, together with the Blood and Water of the Mysteries: a testimony which is closely linked here below with that which is rendered by the Holy Trinity in Heaven. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, sings the Verse. What is this but to say, once again, that we must absolutely yield to these reiterated invitations of love? None may excuse himself by pleading either ignorance or want of vocation to a higher state than that to which tepidity inclines him. Let us hearken to the Apostle addressing himself to all, in this same Epistle to the Hebrews: 'Yea, verily; great and ineffable are these things. But if you have become little able to understand them, it is your own fault; for whereas for the time you ought to be masters, you have need to be taught again what are the first elements of the words of God: and you are become such as have need of milk, though your age would require the solid meat of the perfect. Wherefore, as far as concerns us in our instructions to you, leaving the word of the elementary teaching of Christ, let us go on to things more perfect, not laying again the foundation of penance from dead works, and of faith towards God. Have you not been illuminated? have you not tasted also the heavenly gift? Have you not been made partakers of the Holy Ghost? What showers of graces at every moment water the earth of your soul! It is time that it bring in a return to God Who tills it. Ye have delayed long enough: be now, at last, of the number of those who by patience and faith shall inherit the promises, casting your hope like an anchor sure and firm, which entereth in even within the veil, where the forerunner Jesus has entered for us-----that is, to draw us in thither after Him. [Heb. v, vi passim.]
On Good Friday we heard for the first time this passage from the beloved disciple. The Church, as she stood mourning at the foot of the Cross whereon her Lord had just died, was all tears and lamentation. Toay, however, she is thrilling with other sentiments, and the very same narration that then provoked her bitter tears now makes her burst out into anthems of gladness and songs of triumph. If we would know the reason of this, let us turn to those who are authorized by her to interpret to us the burthen of her thoughts this day. They will tell us that the new Eve is celebrating her birth from the side of her sleeping Spouse; [ Aug. Horn. diei, ex tract. cxx: in Joan] that from the solemn moment when the new Adam permitted the soldier's lance to open His Heart, we became, in very deed, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. [Serm. II Nocturni] Do not be surprised if holy Church sees naught but love and life in the Blood which is gushing forth.
And thou, O soul, long rebellious to the secret touches of choicest graces, be not disconsolate; do not say: 'Love is no more for me!' How far away soever the old enemy may, by wretched wiles, have dragged thee, is it not still true, that to every winding way, perhaps even to every pitfall, the streamlets of this sacred fount have followed thee? Thinkest thou, perhaps, that thy long and tortuous wanderings from the merciful course of these ever pursuant waters may have weakened their power? Do but try; do but, first of all, bathe in their cleansing wave; do but quaff long draughts from this stream of life; then, O weary soul, arming thyself with faith, be strong, and mount once more the course of the Divine torrent; for, as in order to reach thee it never once was separated from its fountain-head, so likewise be certain that by so doing thou needs must reach the very source itself. Believe me, this is the whole secret of the bride-----namely, that whencesoever she may come, she has no other course to pursue than this, if she would hear the answer to that yearning request expressed in the sacred Canticle: 'Show me, O Thou Whom my soul loveth, where Thou restest in the midday!' [Cant. i 6] Indeed, by reascending the sacred stream, not only is she sure of reaching the Divine Heart, but moreover she is ceaselessly renewing, in its waters, that pure beauty which makes her become in the eyes of the Spouse an object of delight and glory to Him. [Eph. v 27] For thy part, carefully gather up today the testimony of the disciple of love; and congratulating Jesus with the Church, His bride and thy mother, on the brilliancy of her empurpled robe, [Prima ant. in Vesp.] take good heed likewise to conclude with St John: 'Let us then love God, since he hath first loved us.' [1 St. John iv 19]
The Church, whilst presenting her gifts for the sacrifice, sings how that chalice which she is offering to the benediction of her sons, the priests, becomes by virtue of the sacred words the inexhaustible source whence the Blood of her Lord flows out upon the whole world.