By Veronica A. Arntz
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui unigenitum Filium tuum mundi Redemptorem constituisti, ac ejus Sanguine placari voluisti: concede, quaesumus, salutis nostrae pretium solemni cultu ita venerari, atque a praesentis vitae malis ejus virtute defendi in terris; ut fructu perpetuo laetemur in caelis. Per eumdem Dominum nostrum.
Almighty everlasting God, Who didst appoint Thine only-begotten Son to be Redeemer of the world, and didst vouchsafe to be appeased by His Blood: grant, we beseech Thee, that (by our solemn service), we may so venerate the Price of our redemption, and by its power be so defended from the evils of this present life on earth, that we may enjoy its fruits for evermore in heaven. Through the same our Lord.
Thus reads the Collect for the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate today in the traditional Roman Rite. Considering that, just a few short weeks ago, we celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi, why is it that the Church designates a special feast specifically for the Blood of Christ? What is it that, in her great wisdom, the Church wishes us to learn from this special feast day? Our focus shall be the words “Price of our redemption” from the Collect, and we shall investigate more closely how Christ’s blood buys our redemption.
In the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed to the Lord, and their blood was an important part of that sacrifice. There is blood present in nearly every sacrifice, both practically with the killing of animals, but also with a spiritual significance. For example, for the Day of Atonement, the Lord commanded that the blood from the bull “sin offering” (Leviticus 16:11) be sprinkled “with his finger on the front of the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times” (Leviticus 16:14). Two goats are required for this sacrifice: one is killed, and its blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat. The living one is called the “scapegoat,” for the sins of Israel are confessed over it, and it is sent into the wilderness (cf. Leviticus 16:15-16; 20-22). Furthermore, there is another commandment separate from the Day of Atonement:
If any man of the house of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life (Leviticus 17:10-11).
If a man killed an animal (ox, lamb, or goat) and did not bring it to be offered as a sacrifice to the Lord, “bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people” (Leviticus 17:4).
As is clear from this small selection of verses in Leviticus, blood was a necessary aspect to sacrifices in the Old Testament. The omnipresence of blood symbolized death: it emphasized the cyclic nature of life and that all creatures eventually die. Certainly, this is what the Lord commanded the Israelites to do in their sacrifices, although (even if not always seen by them) there was a greater reality present. The Psalmist realizes that the blood sacrifices could not be enough for the Lord:
Deliver me from bloodguilt, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise. For you take no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:14-17).
The Psalmist begs the Lord to be delivered from the cycle of death, for he knows that the sacrifices he offers are insufficient for giving praise and adoration. A “broken spirit” is what is acceptable and appropriate, but how could that be possible under the law of the Old Covenant, which required animal sacrifices?
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a suffering servant who would take on the sins of the people. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Living in the time after the Incarnation, we know that Isaiah is speaking of Christ. Christ came to take on the punishments of man, to end the cycle of death and sacrifices. Christ came to be the ultimate Sacrifice, as the Letter to the Hebrews explains. “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near” (10:1). As we have already seen, the sacrifices of the Old Testament could never be enough to redeem man from his sin. For this reason, Christ came into the world, so that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Christ therefore “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (10:12).
Protestants misinterpret these passages of Scripture to mean that there are to be no more sacrifices offered—and thus, there is no need for the Catholic Mass. Nevertheless, Christ gave us a new sacrifice with the Cross; He gave us the sacrifice of His very own Body and Blood. No mortal man could offer such a sacrifice, which is why animals were needed. But Christ, the God-man, could give Himself to pay the infinite debt accrued by man’s sin. During the Last Supper, Christ instituted the gift of the Eucharist, indicating that the disciples ought to offer this sacrifice instead of the ones in the Old Law. When offering the chalice, which contains the wine turned into blood, Christ prays, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). Christ’s very own blood is now the blood of the New Covenant, which unites man to God for eternity. Christ specifically says that we are redeemed and forgiven our sins by the shedding of His blood.
Thus, Christ’s blood holds a specific importance, for, when He died on the Cross, all of His blood was poured forth from his body for souls; not one drop remained. All Christ needed to do was prick His finger to save souls, but instead, he chose to pour forth all of His lifeblood for the sake of man. As we read, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). Through St. Faustina, Christ has revealed to us that it is through His side that he wishes to pour out His mercy on us. Every drop of His blood was poured out for mercy—for the redemption of our souls. No longer do we need the blood sacrifices of the Old Covenant—we are no longer trapped within the cycle of death, for Christ’s blood brings eternal life to man. Through the blood of Christ, which we now consume, comes new life, not death.
It is fitting to reflect on Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s words in his work entitled Knowing the Love of God (originally published as The Last Writings of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange; now published by Ignatius Press—Lighthouse Catholic Media, 2015). In this collection of retreat conferences, Lagrange writes about the “foolishness” of God’s love for us, the excess of His love that is revealed on the Cross and in the Eucharist (p. 44). He writes, “It was not sufficient for Him to have abased Himself to the level of the Incarnation; He wished to abase Himself even to the level of the Eucharist, to empty Himself to the point of disappearing under the appearances of bread and wine” (p. 47). See the love of our Lord for us! Not only did He become a slave in the form of flesh and blood, but He also gave his life on the Cross, pouring out His very own Precious Blood, so that we might have eternal life with Him. Not only that, but He allows us to receive Him in the Eucharist daily, if we so choose and are in a state of grace.
Lagrange continues, “Although He foresaw in the smallest details all the profanations that would take place, He chose to remain just as docile in the hands of the sacrilegious priest as in the hands of the saintly priest” (Ibid). How applicable this statement is in our own time: When so many priests (either through ignorance or direct will) do not understand the reverence due to our Lord in His Body and Blood, disgracing His True Presence. If only we understood his greatest desire, which is to be united with man. It was not enough for Him to give His life on the Cross, for He wanted union with man in Communion. Christ desires to be united to each soul individually. How little appreciation there is for His True Presence in our day!
In conclusion, Lagrange writes that such a love requires a response from us. He writes of the response of the saints, which should become our response. “Just as God emptied Himself and renounced His glory in order to live our life, so the saints wished to die to the purely natural life of senses, of self-love and egoism, to allow themselves to be penetrated by divine life” (p. 49). Our response, then, ought to be one of conversion and transformation. We ought to leave behind our own desires, our own plans, our own wills, and unite everything to Christ in the gift of the Eucharist that He has given us. Because Christ has poured out his blood for us, we should not hesitate to “enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). Therefore, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22). Christ’s sacrifice of blood, then, was the Price of our redemption. He paid the debt through His blood. We ought to offer our whole body and soul in union with Him, begging for His mercy on us and the whole world.