St. Peter gives us the revealed foundation for our devotion to the Precious Blood. “You were redeemed,” says the Apostle, “not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as the Lamb without blemish or stain” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
The Meaning of the Precious Blood
Given this foundation of faith, we ask ourselves what exactly do we mean when we say we were redeemed by the Blood of Christ? We mean that unless Christ had shed his blood for us, we would not be redeemed.
In his infinite mercy, God chose to become man and die for our sins. But Christ, as the Incarnate Son of God, could not have died of any mortal sickness or disease. As the sinless Lamb of God, His death had to be inflicted outside of Himself. Moreover, having no sin on His soul which deserved bodily death, He had to want to be mortal. He therefore chose to bleed to death on the Cross.
Consequently the Blood of Christ is precious three times over.
It is precious because it is literally the blood of the Son of God Who, out of love for us, assumed a human nature, with a human body that had human blood coursing through its veins.
It is precious again literally, except this blood shed on Calvary, the human race would not be redeemed.
Christ’s Willing Sacrifice on the Cross
It is precious because it was shed by Christ of His own free will. We speak of Christ sacrificing Himself on the Cross. So He did. But the heart of this sacrifice was His willingness to die by allowing His Body to be drained of its life-sustaining blood.
Providentially, the Mother of Jesus was standing under the Cross on Calvary as her Son was bleeding to death for the redemption of a sinful world. The Fathers of the Church tell us that Mary was splattered with the Blood of Christ, the blood he had received from her during the nine months she carried Him in her womb.
Devotion to the Blood of Christ goes back to the early Church. Understandably, it is at the center of Christianity. Unlike the bloody sacrifices of animals in the Old Testament, the New Testament is new because Christians believe God Himself became man to shed His blood on the Cross for our salvation.
Moreover, and most importantly, we believe that Christ continues to offer His blood for us in every Sacrifice of the Mass.
As the glorified Redeemer, He can no longer shed His blood physically, as He did on Calvary. But in every Mass He sheds His blood mystically. That is why when He instituted the Eucharist, He separately consecrated first the bread, “This is my body,” and then the wine, “This is my blood.” Until the end of time, every Mass signifies the separation of Christ’s body and blood, symbolizing His readiness to die every time Mass is offered.
On Calvary, Christ merited the graces of our salvation through the Mass. He now communicates the graces won for us by the shedding of His blood on the Cross.
Certainly one of the least known litanies approved by the Church is the Litany of the Precious Blood.
Implied in this litany is the fact that Christ’s whole Passion, from Gethsemani to Calvary, was a shedding of His blood. Thus we are told to pray:
Blood of Christ, falling upon the earth in the agony, save us.
Blood of Christ, shed profusely in the scourging, save us.
Blood of Christ, flowing forth in the crowning with thorns, save us.
Blood of Christ, poured out on the Cross, save us.
We are further told to remember why the blood of Christ is so precious:
Blood of Christ, the price of our salvation, save us.
Blood of Christ, without which there is no forgiveness, save us.
The Precious Blood as a Source of Grace
But most satisfying is the realization of the efficacy of the Precious Blood. It gives us the graces we need as we struggle through life on our way to eternity. No wonder St. Thomas Aquinas could say in the hymn Adoro Te, “Lord Jesus, loving Pelican of Heaven, cleanse me a sinner with Your blood, for a single drop can save the whole world from all its sin.”
So the Litany goes on in fervent invocation:
Blood of Christ, stream of mercy, save us.
Blood of Christ, victor over demons, save us.
Blood of Christ, courage of martyrs, save us.
Blood of Christ, help of those in peril, save us.
Blood of Christ, pledge of eternal life, save us.
The Apostolate of the Precious Blood
Our century is the most bloody century in human history. We are living in the Age of Martyrs. Christ in His Mystical Body is undergoing what may justly be called a cosmic Passion.
Devotion to the Precious Blood is a divine imperative in our day. As we join our trials with those of the bleeding People of God, we cooperate with the Savior in His redemption of the modern world.
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.