Rorate Caeli

CATHOLIC SURVIVAL GUIDE, Third Part - Devotions that prepare us for the Four Last Things (Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell)

Death - Judgement - Heaven - Hell

by the Rev. Deacon Nick Donnelly

Christ in Judgement (Last Judgement detail)
Baptistery of Saint John
Traditionally, Lent is the penitential season when the faithful are encouraged by the Church to contemplate the Four Last Things — Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell — as a spur to contrition and repentance. This past Lent, in the midst of the worst pandemic in a hundred years, the eschatological orientation within which all mankind lives, but mostly ignores, was brought into sharper focus by the ever-present threat of serious illness and death. Previous generations of Catholics took the warnings contained in sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition seriously — that plagues could express God’s wrath at the depravity of human sin to which we should respond with contrition and repentance. One of the blessings of COVID-19 is that it’s focusing faithful minds on the Four Last Things, spurring us to penitential self-examination at the prospect of divine judgement that has suddenly become more real.

In 1979 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith(CDF) promulgated, Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology, that warned of doubt and unease amongst the faithful about their ‘destiny after death’.  They cautioned this was resulting in many refraining from thinking about their ‘destiny after death’ out of fear, and being adrift without a convincing theology of hope. The CDF traced this fear to the post-conciliar controversies about fundamental doctrines such as the existence of the soul and eternal life that detached the faithful from traditional truths and vocabulary; ‘All this disturbs the faithful, since they no longer find the vocabulary they are used to and their familiar ideas.’

There are two traditional devotions, popular before Vatican II, that prepared and consoled the faithful for individual judgement after death and the Last Judgement at the end of time: devotion to Our Lord’s Precious Blood, and, devotion to the Five Sacred Wounds of Christ. Prof. Eamon Duffy describes Christ’s wounded body in these devotions as ‘a hieroglyph of love’:

“Prayer and image have come together by a network of associations in which the crucified and wounded Christ features as the guarantor of the dying Christian’s hope. What began as a quasi-liturgical devotion to the Passion becomes a deeply person plea for redemption at the moment of death.” (Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, p.242.)

These traditional devotions to the Precious Blood and Sacred Wounds give us much more than a vocabulary and ideas to understand the Eschatological realities facing us. These devotions take us deeper into our relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Judge. ‘For we must all be manifested before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.’ (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Christ’s Body saves us from God’s Wrath

Christ’s sacred body saves the righteous from the wrath of God’s judgement at their sins. At death we bring our personal history of sin into the presence of God’s absolute holiness. St. Augustine describes this intersection of the foulness of our sins with the purity of God’s holiness in terms of divine wrath, writing:

“O man, when you appear before your Creator to be judged, you will see before you an angry God. On one side will be the sins that accuse you; on the other, the devil ready to seize you for his own. Your conscience will trouble and torment you, hell will lie open at your feet.” (St. Augustine quoted by St. Don Bosco in The Companion of Youth, p.51.)

With the tragic loss of a sense of sin, as observed by the Venerable Pope Pius XII in 1946, there has also been an almost complete and catastrophic loss of the knowledge of God’s wrath, reducing divine judgement, at best, to an accounting exercise, or at worst, non-existent. Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition make clear that eschatology has two polarities — divine wrath and divine mercy, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.’ (John 3:36.)

The righteous are saved from the wrath of God at their sins by being sacramentally immersed in the Precious Blood of Christ shed from the Precious Wounds of His Sacred Body and offered up to the Father as a perfect sacrifice on the Cross:

“Jesus unceasingly gazes into the face of His Father, and, with incommensurable love, He yields up His body to repair the insults offered to the Eternal Majesty: Factus obediens usque ad mortem [He became obedient unto death]” (Bl. Columba Marmion, Christ in His Mysteries, p.281.)

Abbot Vornier, commenting on St. Thomas Aquinas’ insights, observes that it was the unique qualities of the Son of God’s Incarnate body, poured out through His blood, that constituted this perfect and irreplaceable sacrifice. (Abbot Vornier, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, p. 108.) What are the unique qualities of the Sacred Body of Christ that make it the perfect sacrifice capable of saving us from the wrath of God?  St. Thomas Aquinas writes that it is a ‘Body of holiness and purity absolutely divine’, quoting St. Augustine:

“Is there anything so clean, with such power of cleansing away the sins of men, as that flesh, born in a womb without the least stain of carnal lust, nay, born in the womb of a Virgin? And can anything be offered up and be accepted with such grace as the flesh of our sacrifice, which has become the body of our Priest?” (ST III, q.48,a.3,ad 1.)

Fr. Matthias Scheeben emphasises that the unique qualities of the Body of Christ are due to it being the human flesh assumed by the eternally begotten Son of God, and thereby sharing in the life of the Most Holy Trinity:

“The human flesh of Christ corresponds to the brilliant aura of glory that suffuses Him in His divine nature, and His human blood corresponds to the river of life and love that gushes forth from His divine heart. Thus by partaking of His flesh we are illuminated by the light of eternal truth, and are transfigured and transformed by its glory; and in His blood the ocean of eternal life and divine love floods our hearts.” (The Mysteries of Christianity, p.524.)

Realising more intensely the essential sacramental dimension of our participation in the salvific Body and Blood of Christ makes our deprivation of the sacraments due to COVID-19 even more painful to bear. However, God in His providence gives us, through these traditional devotions to Christ’s Precious Blood and His Sacred Wounds, yet another means of benefiting from His saving graces, to add to those of Perfect Contrition and Spiritual Communion.

Devotion to Christ’s Precious Blood

Since the time of the Apostles, the Precious Blood of Jesus has been drawn to the attention of the faithful for devotion, honour and veneration as the cause of our Redemption. St Peter wrote, ‘Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver…But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled’ (I Peter 1:18-19.) And St. Paul wrote, ‘Christ died for us; much more therefore, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from wrath through him’: ‘In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his grace’. (Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7.)

The Catechism of Pope Pius V makes it clear that the faithful should understand the ‘admirable fruits of the blood, shed in the Passion of our Lord’:

1.   The Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant gives us access to an eternal inheritance.
2.   Through faith in the Blood of Christ we have access to the righteousness of God.
3.   Through the Precious Blood of Jesus our sins are remitted.

Dr. Ludwig Ott explains that, Tradition refers to the Blood of Jesus as ‘Precious’ because, as blood of the Divine Logos, the blood of Jesus Christ is “the Precious Blood”’(Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 151.), “The Precious Blood is therefore a part of the Sacred Humanity and hypostatically united to the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.”(Catholic Encyclopaedia).

The soteriological significance of Jesus’ blood being hypostatically united to the Son of God was explicated by Pope Clement VI in 1343, providing one of the main elements of devotion to the Precious Blood:

“…with the precious blood of His very Son as of a lamb unspotted and unstained He has redeemed us” [cf.1 Pet. 1:18-19], who innocent, immolated on the altar of the Cross is known to have poured out not a little drop of blood, which however on account of union with the Word would have been sufficient for the redemption of the whole human race but copiously as a kind of flowing stream”. (Unigenitus Dei Filius).

This theme of the infinite value of the Blood of the Second Person of the Trinity has been a favourite devotional reflection of numerous saints. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his eucharistic hymn, Adoro te devote, wrote, ‘Deign, O Jesus, Pelican of heaven, me, a sinner, in Thy Blood to lave, to a single drop of which is given all the world from all its sin to save’. Blessed Columba Marion wrote, ‘A single drop of the Blood of Jesus, the God-man, would have sufficed to save us, for everything in Him is of infinite value’. (Christ in His Mysteries, p.282). Encouraging devotion to the Precious Blood, Pope St. John XXIII wrote, ‘Unlimited is the effectiveness of the God-Man's Blood… Such surpassing love suggests, nay demands, that everyone reborn in the torrents of that Blood adore it with grateful love.’(On Promoting Devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.). St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote, ‘Put your sins in the chalice for the Precious Blood to wash away. One drop is capable of washing away the sins of the world.’

Devotional Prayers to the Precious Blood of Jesus

The 1926 prayer book ‘Devotion to the Precious Blood’ (Tan Books) outlines some of the prayers that comprise this traditional devotion.

St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (1566-1607) recommended, ‘Every time a creature offers up this Blood by which he was redeemed, he offers up a gift of infinite worth, which can be equalled by no other!’ (p.6).  She offered up the Precious Blood of Jesus fifty times a day to bring release to suffering souls in Purgatory. (p.14):

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Jesus, in satisfaction for my sins, and for the needs of Holy Church. Amen.

O Eternal Father, I offer Thee, though the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the Precious Blood of Thy Son for the relief of the suffering souls in Purgatory. Amen.

The Oratorian Fr. Frederick Faber (1814-1863.) recommended every evening, before sleep, that we ‘ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to offer God the Precious Blood of her Divine Son Jesus for the intention that thereby one mortal sin, which might be committed somewhere that night, might be prevented.  He also expounded that if every morning this offering were renewed from day to day, we could prevent many mortal sins’. (p.10):

O Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary, offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of thy Divine Son for the intention that one mortal sin may be prevented this day (or this night). Amen.

Manifesting the truth of ‘Lex orandi, lex credendi’, the Litany of the Most Precious Blood (p37-41) includes petitions that express how the Precious Blood of Christ saves us from the Wrath of God (p.39):

Blood of Jesus, which pacifies the wrath of the Father,
Cleanse us, O Precious Blood!
Blood of Jesus, which mitigates or averts punishments,
Cleanse us, O Precious Blood!
Blood of Jesus, propitiation for our sins,
Cleanse us, O Precious Blood!
Blood of Jesus, cleansing bath for the sinful soul,
Cleanse us, O Precious Blood!

Blood of Jesus, balsam for the wounds of the soul,
Cleanse us, O Precious Blood!

Devotion to Christ’s Precious Blood during COVID-19

Deprived of receiving in communion the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus is another way of deepening our love of the Most Holy Eucharist. It enables us to join our prayers to the sacrifice of the Mass being celebrated privately by priests throughout the world.

1.   Unable to have recourse to the sacrament of confession, offer up the Precious Blood of Jesus to the Father in satisfaction for your sins and the needs of the Church; so grievously impoverished by the closure of churches and the physical absence of the laity.  If you are aware of any mortal sins, make an act of perfect contrition, resolve to amend your life and go to confession as soon as possible. As you make the following prayer unite yourself to one of the priests somewhere in the world who is at this moment offering up the Chalice of the Precious Blood of Christ:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Jesus, in satisfaction for my sins that I am unable to confess, and for the needs of your stricken Holy Church. Amen.

2. With the closure of the churches and the suspension of the sacramental life of millions of the faithful, the devil will be seeking to tempt countless souls into the blasphemy and sacrilege of mortal sin. Every morning and night ask Our Lady to offer up the Precious Blood of her Son to the Father for the intention of stopping mortal sin in the world:

O Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary, with so many without the protection of the sacraments, offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of thy Divine Son for the intention that one mortal sin may be prevented this day (or this night). Amen.

3. In this unprecedented crisis, when many of the faithful cannot request Masses for the souls in purgatory, it is imperative that we frequently avail ourselves of the relief offered by this devotion to the Precious Blood. If an anniversary of a loved one occurs during the closure of the churches, add their name to the following:

O Eternal Father, I offer Thee, though the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the Precious Blood of Thy Son for the relief of the suffering souls (or name of loved one) in Purgatory. Amen.

4. Pray the Litany of the Precious Blood before a Crucifix or an image of the Holy Shroud of Turin.

Devotion to the Five Sacred Wounds

Devotion to the Five Sacred Wounds of Christ can be traced back to St. Peter’s insight into the wounds of the Crucified Christ; ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (I Peter 2:24.)  Furthermore, the Church Fathers understood that it was Christ’s intention that we approach Him through His Holy Wounds. St. Augustine described the Resurrected Christ’s Wounds as ‘the result of his power, not of some necessity’ (Letter 95, 7).  St. Ambrose also writes that Our Lord choose to keep His Wounds in His Glorified Body:

“He chose to bring to Heaven those wounds He bore for us, he refused to remove them, so that He might show God the Father the price of our freedom. The Father places Him in this state at His right hand, embracing the trophy of our salvation: such are the Witnesses the crown of scars has shown us there.” (St. Ambrose).

Why does Christ want us to approach Him through His Holy Wounds? Though our sins wounded Christ, His Sacred Body, hypostatically united with the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, transforms these wounds into the means to heal the wounds of sin in ourselves.

This healing transformation is exemplified by the wound in Christ’s side. From this wound flowed blood and water from His Sacred Heart which has been traditionally understood as signifying the opening up of sanctifying grace through the sacraments. St. Augustine wrote: “Here was opened wide the door of life, from which the sacraments of the Church have flowed out, without which there is no entering unto life which is true life.” (Homilies on St. John the Evangelist, 120,2).  Commenting on Medieval devotional practices, Prof. Duffy writes that the sacred wound in Christ’s side ‘had a particular fascination and devotional power, for it gave access to his heart, and thereby became a symbol of refuge in his love.’ (Stripping of the Altars, p. 244.)

This devotion to the Wounds of Christ as refuges, or hiding places, was an important expression and symbol of hope for the penitent sinner facing the struggle against the devil’s onslaught of temptations as well as the prospect of being a sinner standing before God’s Judgement.  We can hide in Christ’s Wounds to seek protection from the devil and we can seek merciful healing of the self-inflicted wounds of sin within the Five Sacred Wounds.

The ancient Christological prayer, the Anima Christi, expresses this idea of Christ’s Wounds as a protective refuge against the devil:

 “O good Jesus, listen to me;
 In Thy wounds I fain would hide;
 Ne'er to be parted from Thy side;
 Guard me, should the foe assail me.”
                        (St. John Henry Newman’s translation).

St. Mechtilde’s (1240- 1298) famous Prayer to Five Wounds approaches each wound individually as springs of healing medicine in which to submerge sins and sinful desires, as in this extract:

“I thank Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for the painful Wound of Thy LEFT FOOT, from which flowed the Precious Blood that washes away our sins. In it I sink and hide all the sins I have ever committed.”

Julian of Norwich (1342 -1416) describes the Wound in Christ’s side with the same sense of the infinite capacity to bring healing to man that we saw in the appreciation of a single drop of Christ’s Precious Blood to wipe away all of mankind’s sins:

“With a kindly countenance our good Lord looked into his side, and he gazed with joy, and with his sweet regard he drew his creature’s understanding into his side by the same wound; and there he revealed  a fair and delectable place, large enough for all mankind that will be saved and will rest in peace and love.” (Long Text, Vision Ten).

Thomas à Kempis (1380 –1471) also saw the Wounds of Christ as a consoling refuge,
‘Rest in Christ’s Passion and live willingly in His Holy Wounds. You will gain marvellous strength and comfort in adversities’. (The imitation of Christ).

Having said this, the Wounds of Christ also express the two polarities of eschatology — divine wrath and divine mercy. Prof. Duffy writes:

“…it was believed that when Christ came as Judge he would display his Wounds, to the elect as pledges of his love for them, to sinners as bitter reproach — ‘they shall look on him whom they have pierced’.  Thus the very image which spoke of Christ’s tenderness and compassion for the sinner could become a terrifying indictment of the impenitent.” (Stripping of the Altars,  p. 246).

Making devotion to the Five Holy Wounds of Christ part of one’s life of prayer is helpful.  Firstly, to gain the right disposition to receive the graces of repentance and healing that flow from His Wounds in this life, and, secondly, so that they become pledges of love at our Judgement after death.

Devotion to Christ’s Five Holy Wounds during COVID-19

1.    With the closure of the churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have lost our sanctuaries, our places of refuge, from the culture of death and sin that surrounds us in secular society. However, like our forefathers and mothers in the faith, we can seek refuge in the Wounds of Christ. There are various traditional devotional prayers to each of the Five Holy Wounds of Christ that will draw you deeper into these refuges of mercy, such as  St. Mechtilde’s Prayer to the Five Wounds  and St. Alphonsus Liguori’s The Little Chaplet of the Five Wounds of Jesus Crucified.

2.    The closure of the churches and deprivation of the sacraments due to COVID-19 has deepened the sense of escalating crises within the Church. Many feel called to make acts of reparation for the offence caused to Our Lord by the heresies, sacrileges and sins abroad in the Church. Devotion to the Five Holy Wounds of Christ is an excellent way of adopting the practice of reparation, such as Servant of God Marie Martha Chambon’s The Rosary of the Holy Wounds, approved by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1999:

On the large beads pray: Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ. To heal the wounds of our souls.

On the small beads pray: My Jesus, pardon and mercy. Through the merits of Thy Holy Wounds.

3.    Learn the Anima Christi by heart as a sign of your devotion to the Five Holy Wounds of Christ and you will have at hand a ready prayer in times of crisis or reflection.


We cannot underestimate the harm being done to souls by the deprivation of the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacrament of Confession. The closure of the churches and the suspension of Mass is the single greatest catastrophe to devastate the Church in the whole of history of Christendom. Every enemy of the Church has sought to deprive Catholics of the Mass and reception of the Blessed Sacrament, because this is the primary objective of the devil. However, these devotions to the Precious Blood and Five Holy Wounds of Christ are a powerful defence against this assault of the devil because they put us into touch with the eucharistic heart of Our Lord:

“The Eucharistic heart of Jesus yearns to attract our souls to itself. This heart is often humiliated, abandoned, forgotten, scorned, outraged, and yet it is the heart that loves our hearts, the silent heart that would talk to souls to teach them the value of the hidden life and the value of the ever more generous gift of self.” (Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Our Saviour and His Love for Us, p. 267).