After June, the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, July is dedicated to the Precious Blood. Both devotions flow from the pierced side of Jesus as He hung from the cross on . Pope Pius IX instituted the feast of the Precious Blood of Our Lord in 1849 on the First of July, but the feast was removed from the Roman Calendar in 1969, although the Votive Mass and devotion to the Precious Blood remain. (Votive Masses are options for the ferial days when no feast or vigil is celebrated in the liturgy.)
The scripture verse at the heart of this devotion is 1 Peter 1: 18-19: “You were redeemed, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as the Lamb without blemish or stain”. In 1960, Blessed Pope John XXIII issued an Apostolic Letter commending the devotion to the Precious Blood. Pope John cited his childhood: “From infancy this devotion was instilled in us within our own household. Fondly we still recall how our parents used to recite the Litany of the Most Precious Blood every day during July.” Even more importantly, he highlighted worship of the Jesus’ Blood in the context of the Mass:
The Blood of the new and eternal covenant especially deserves this worship of latria when it is elevated during the sacrifice of the Mass. But such worship achieves its normal fulfillment in sacramental communion with the same Blood, indissolubly united with Christ'sBody. In intimate association with the celebrant the faithful can then truly make his sentiments at communion their own: "I will take the chalice of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. . . The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul for everlasting life. Amen." Thus as often as they come worthily to this holy table they will receive more abundant fruits of the redemption and resurrection and eternal life won for all men by the Blood Christ shed "through the Holy Spirit." Nourished by his Body and Blood, sharing the divine strength that has sustained countless martyrs, they will stand up to the slings and arrows of each day's fortunes — even if need be to martyrdom itself for the sake of Christian virtue and the kingdom of God.
Note that Pope John XXIII uses the term “this worship of latria”, meaning not only adoration but sacrificial offering. As Catholics, we know the difference between worship and veneration or dulia, which we offer to the saints and hyperdulia, the greater veneration we proffer to the Blessed Virgin Mary—we worship God alone, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and because the Precious Blood is included in the Sacrifice of the Altar, we adore and worship not only when we see the chalice raised after the words of Consecration, but when we receive Holy Communion. Note that Pope John XXIII was writing when the laity did not receive Holy Communion under both forms: he writes of the Precious Blood being “indissolubly united with Christ’sBody”, and that he quotes what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite in the prayers of the priest before drinking the “Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Outside of Mass, devotion to the Precious Blood includes the Chaplet of the Precious Blood, which commemorates the times Jesus shed His Blood, from His Circumcision to the piercing of his side after death on the Cross; the Litany of the Most Precious Blood, approved by Blessed John XIII; and Pope Pius VII’s 1817 Offering in Reparation to the Most Precious Blood.
Many saints have promoted devotion to the Precious Blood: St. Maria de Mattias founded the Congregation of the Sisters Adorers of the Most Precious Blood, now called the Sisters Adorers of the Blood of Christ (A.S.C.). She was inspired by St. Gaspar del Bufalo, founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood (C.PP.S), whom Pope John highlighted in his Apostolic Letter. Before their efforts in the nineteenth century, however, in the fourteenth century St. Catherine of Siena summarized adoration of the Precious Blood in her prayer:
Ocean of Divine Mercy:
Flow upon us.
Most pure Offering:
Procure us every Grace!
Hope and Refuge of sinners:
Atone for us!
Delight of holy souls:
Draw us! Amen.
Going back to the Early Church Fathers, Pope John XXII quotes St. John Chrysostom, reflecting on the sacramental effects of receiving the Body and the Blood of Jesus:
Let us, then, come back from that table like lions breathing out fire, thus becoming terrifying to the Devil, and remaining mindful of our Head and of the love he has shown for us. . . This Blood, when worthily received, drives away demons and puts them at a distance from us, and even summons to us angels and the Lord of angels. . . This Blood, poured out in abundance, has washed the whole world clean. . . This is the price of the world; by it Christ purchased the Church… This thought will check in us unruly passions. How long, in truth, shall we be attached to present things? How long shall we remain asleep? How long shall we not take thought for our own salvation? Let us remember what privileges God has bestowed on us, let us give thanks, let us glorify him, not only by faith, but also by our very works.
It’s clear that devotions to the Sacred Heart, to the Precious Blood, the Holy Name, the Divine Mercy, are all meant to benefit our spiritual growth and ongoing sanctification through our meditation and prayers, but mostly through their connection to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Stephanie A. Mann is the author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, available from Scepter Publishers. She resides in Wichita, Kansas and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com. Stephanie is working on a book about the English Catholic Martyrs from 1534 to 1681.