A message from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Since 1849, the Catholic Church throughout the world has celebrated the month of July as the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Devotion to the Blood of Christ has been a pious tradition in the Church since its beginnings. In 96 AD, Pope St. Clement I wrote:
Let us fix our gaze on the Blood of Christ and realize how truly precious it is, seeing that it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of conversion to the whole world (First Letter to Church at Corinth).
The early Fathers of the Church taught that the Church was born from the pierced side of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross at Calvary.
For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church. As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross (St. Ambrose, On Luke 2: 85-89, 339-397).
Mindful of the command of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians where the Apostle wrote:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).
St. John Chrysostom (347-409) taught:
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 (Homilies on First Corinthians).
Special devotion to the Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ continued to grow and spread throughout the Catholic world over the centuries and was the subject of numerous works of art, writings, homilies and treatises from many of the Church’s greatest artists, popes, saints and teachers.
Pope Pius IX formally instituted the Feast of the Most Precious Blood on June 30, 1849, during the First Italian War of Independence. In a message he sent on that day, while in exile, to the superior general of the Fathers of the Most Precious Blood, Pope Pius IX established the feast to be celebrated “immediately” throughout Christendom on the first Sunday of July, dedicating the entire month to the Most Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ:
The Precious Blood which we worship is the Blood which the Savior shed for us on Calvary and reassumed at His glorious Resurrection; it is the Blood which courses through the veins of His risen, glorified, living body at the right hand of God the Father in heaven; it is the Blood made present on our altars by the words of Consecration; it is the Blood which merited sanctifying grace for us and through it washes and beautifies our soul and inaugurates the beginning of eternal life in it.
In his apostolic letter “On Promoting Devotion to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ” of June 30, 1960, Pope St. John XXIII wrote,
You know well enough that your ransom was not paid in earthly currency, silver or gold; it was paid in the Precious Blood of Christ; no lamb was ever so pure, so spotless a victim. If only they would lend a more eager ear to the apostle of the Gentiles: “A great price was paid to ransom you; glorify God by making your bodies the shrines of his presence (1 Corinthians 6:20).” Their upright lives would then be the shining example they ought to be; Christ’s Church would far more effectively fulfill its mission to men. God wants all men to be saved, for he has willed that they should all be ransomed by the Blood of his only begotten Son; he calls them all to be members of the one Mystical Body whose head is Christ. If only men would be more responsive to these promptings of his grace, how much the bonds of brotherly love among individuals and peoples and nations would be strengthened. Life in society would be so much more peaceable, so much worthier of God and the human nature created in his image and likeness.
Although, since the revision of the liturgical calendar by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Church no longer requires the Sunday observance of the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the entire month of July still remains a time for its commemoration. A votive Mass of the Most Precious Blood was established for use by Catholic communities throughout the world with this Opening Prayer:
O God, who by the Precious Blood of your only Begotten son have redeemed the whole world, preserve in us the work of your mercy, so that, ever honoring the mystery of our salvation, we may merit to obtain its fruits. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Devotion to the Precious Blood is not a spiritual option for Catholics but still remains a spiritual obligation for every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. John A. Hardon, SJ, The Precious Blood of Christ, 1987).
On July 5, 2009, during his remarks at the Angelus, the late Pope Benedict XVI explained that:
To the cry which rises from so many parts of the earth for the blood that is spilled, God responds with the Blood of his Son, who gave his life for us. Christ did not respond to evil with evil but with goodness, with his infinite love. The Blood of Christ is the pledge of God's faithful love for humanity. Every human being, even in conditions of extreme moral wretchedness can say, fixing his eyes on the wounds of the Crucified One: “God has not abandoned me, he loves me, he has given his life for me,” and thus rediscover hope.
May the Virgin Mary, who at the foot of the Cross together with the Apostle John received the testament of Jesus’ Blood, help us to rediscover the inestimable richness of this grace and to feel deep and everlasting gratitude for it (Angelus, July 5, 2009).
Pope Francis later reflected:
Since the beginnings of Christianity, the mystery of love of the Blood of Christ has fascinated many people … (especially during) the month of July, when Christian piety turns in a special way to the Blood of Christ. … the Blood of Christ is the fount of salvation for the world. … God chose the sign of blood because no other sign can express so eloquently the supreme love of a life given for others (Audience, Members of the Family of the Precious Blood, June 30, 2018).
As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I encourage all the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese to re-enkindle devotion to the Most Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in their meditation and prayer during the month of July. Here is a traditional prayer which I have edited and offer for your consideration:
Most Precious Blood of Life Eternal, price of sinful man's redemption, by whose saving streams the thirst of souls is quenched, and their stains are washed away, you who plead the cause of humanity before the throne of infinite mercy, from the depths of my heart I adore you and desire, as much as lies in my power, to make atonement for the injuries and insults that are constantly offered you by our world and especially by those who rashly dare to blaspheme you. Who will not bless and praise this Blood of infinite value? Whose soul would not be inspired with love for Jesus Who shed It all for us? What would be my fate, had I not been redeemed by this Divine Blood? And what drew you from the veins of my Savior even to the last drop? It was love! O boundless love, which has given us this saving balm! O priceless balm, welling from the fount of immeasurable love! Grant that all hearts and tongues may praise you, magnify you, and give you thanks, now and throughout all ages. Amen.