In St Thomas Aquinas’s Eucharistic poem, Adoro Te devote, he writes: “O true pelican, Lord Jesus, cleanse me, who am unclean, in your blood, one drop of which would be enough to wash the whole world of all its defilement.” The reference to Christ as a pelican is based on the medieval belief that pelicans fed their young with their life-blood, thus making them a fitting symbol of Christ feeding us with the Holy Eucharist.
Hence, above the entrance to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Westminster Cathedral, which is dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus, there is an image of the pelican shedding its life-giving blood (pictured). The significance of blood lies precisely in this scientific and Biblical fact: “the life of a creature is in the blood” (Lev 17:11). The blood of Christ refers to the very life of the God-Man, divine life, which was shed on the Cross as a sacrifice for our salvation. For as Leviticus also says: “it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life”. As such, one drop of Christ’s blood has infinite value, carrying within it the eternity of the Godhead, of Life and Being itself. So, one drop of Christ’s blood suffices to make atonement for sin, giving life to all of humanity who are spiritually dead through sin; one drop renews the world, and restores integrity to that which had lacked wholeness.
When Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, he said that his blood was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). St Peter, therefore, says that we are “ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ”. Devotion to the Precious Blood, like devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, moves us to gratitude and thanksgiving for the love of God made visible in Christ, our “true pelican” who freely and lovingly shed all his life-blood so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
Traditionally July is the month dedicated to the Precious Blood because the feast was on July 1 (now combined with Corpus Christi). In 1960 Pope St John XXIII wrote a letter on promoting devotion to the Precious Blood, in which he fondly recalled his parents instilling this devotion in the Roncalli household by praying the Litany to the Precious Blood every day in July. Perhaps we can pray this litany in our homes and families throughout this month. Who knows? Another holy and pious pope could result from this beautiful devotion!