July 1 is the feast of the Precious Blood in the traditional calendar, and in certain privileged places and orders in the 1969 version. It is also the day my father died. It might be seen as a somewhat embarrassing devotion – more suited to old ladies and foreigners. But it is deep at the heart of our faith, and has engaged me ever more as I have aged.
A seemingly omnipresent series of books on the bookshelves of Catholic homes when I was a boy were the pocket-sized missals and other devotional books authored by Fr Joseph Stedman and published by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood in Brooklyn.
With the exception of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (which featured artwork based on Gustave Doré), the illustrations ranged from primitivist to photographic.
One of these volumes was the Novena Manual. In addition to many prayers (including quite a number in honour of the Precious Blood of Jesus), the manual provided a short life of Mother Catherine-Aurelia, founder of the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood, a contemplative order based in Quebec. It was their Brooklyn monastery which sponsored the confraternity that in turn published the books.
Most of these publications featured a chalice on the cover, and this was not too surprising. Every Catholic knows that at each Mass the wine in the chalice is transubstantiated into the Precious Blood of Jesus – as it was at the Last Supper.
In fact, the Novena Manual included a prayer in honour of “The Seven Bloodsheddings of Our Lord”: the Circumcision, the Agony in the Garden; the Scourging; the Crowning with Thorns; the Carrying of the Cross; the Crucifixion; and the Piercing of the Heart.
I was perhaps 10 years old when it hit me with full force that these sanguineous doings were intimately connected with the chalice consecrated at Mass – that it was in fact the same liquid; that this same Blood was the “price of our Salvation”, and it was applied to each of us at our baptism.
About the same time, I read the story of the Holy Grail for the first time in a copy of Le Morte d’Arthur I was given for my 11th birthday. These words jumped out at me:
Then looked they and saw a man come out of the Holy Vessel, that had all the signs of the Passion of Jesu Christ, bleeding all openly, and said: My knights, and my servants, and my true children, which be come out of deadly life into spiritual life, I will now no longer hide me from you, but ye shall see now a part of my secrets and of my hidden things: now hold and receive the high meat which ye have so much desired. Then took he himself the Holy Vessel and came to Galahad; and he kneeled down, and there he received his Saviour, and after him so received all his fellows; and they thought it so sweet that it was marvellous to tell.
I could never look at receiving Communion the same way again.
In junior high I discovered a strange old volume called Curiosities of Popular Customs, which has remained one of my favourite books ever since. That was where I learned about what were claimed to be actual relics of Christ’s Blood. The book enumerated several, describing in detail the procession of the Holy Blood of Bruges. St Thomas Aquinas held that all such relics would have been recalled to Christ at the Ascension. Pope Benedict XIV declared that there could indeed be such relics, but that they would lose their divine nature.
Fascinated with the topic, I did some amateur research over the years – and so became interested in the Shroud of Turin, the True Cross, Eucharistic miracles and the like. Especially interesting to me was the discovery a few years ago that all of the five Eucharistic miracles of recent years, as well as the centuries-old one at Lanciano, and the traces of blood on the Shroud and the Sudarium of Oviedo, are the same blood type – AB.
Indeed, the Precious Blood flows in and out of innumerable other devotions – the Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy, Five Wounds, the Blessed Sacrament and the Kingship of Christ. Moreover, it is Marian, because Our Lord and Our Lady shared the same blood when He was in the womb, and His Sacred Heart and His Kingship are intimately united to her Immaculate Heart and her Queenship.
As with anyone else, the Divine Blood of the Mystical Body unites Head and Members, centre and periphery.
Charles A Coulombe is an author and lecturer based in Los Angeles and Vienna