Friday, November 10, 2023
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Let’s start this week’s journey On the Road to Emmaus with a question. Fingers on the buzzers. Here goes: Who is Longinus? If you know, well done. I’m impressed. Longinus is the name traditionally given to the Roman soldier who pierced the side of the crucified Christ with a lance as he hung dead upon the cross.
The only disciple who didn’t flee from Jesus during his Passion was the young Saint John. Here is what he recalls of that moment on Calvary: “One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water.” (John 19:34)
From earliest times the Church has understood the water from Christ’s side as symbolic of baptism while his blood represents the Most Holy Eucharist. After all, whenever we receive Holy Communion we receive Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. That means that even if we receive Him only in the sacred host, but not from the chalice, we are still receiving the precious blood of Christ.
A particular devotion to the Precious Blood grew up Flanders – in what is now modern Belgium – about 900 years ago. It was then that the great crusader, Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders, returned from the Holy Land with a relic of the Holy Blood which had been allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea upon that first Good Friday. A grand basilica and annual festival in the Flemish city of Bruges soon followed to give worthy veneration to the holy relic. In fact, the great Procession of the Holy Blood still takes place every Ascension Day through the streets of Bruges.
Meanwhile, the Feast of the Most Precious Blood emerged out Spain the 16th century and became universal in the 19th century under Pope Pius IX. In the 20th century it was Pope Saint John XXIII who did much to encourage love for the Precious Blood of Jesus.
In a 1960 apostolic letter he gives a very personal glimpse of how central the devotion was to his childhood growing up, as he did, in a large but poor family of sharecroppers in northern Italy. He writes:
“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.” July is the Month of the Precious Blood of Jesus.
Good Pope John then to quote the early Church Father, Saint John Chrysostom, on the supernatural power that comes from worthily receiving Christ’s Precious Blood during Holy Mass. He says:
“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.”
In the same year Pope Saint John promulgated a litany – a series of prayers – in honor of Jesus in His Most Precious Blood. And that is my challenge: At least once during this week, recite the Litany of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. Got that? At least once this week, recite the Litany of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. A link to the text of the prayer is here.
Until we meet again next week On the Road to Emmaus, God bless you all.
+ Earl Boyea
Bishop of Lansing