In Rome last year, I visited many little – and many not so little – Churches in the city. Amongst all of them, my favourite was the tiny Church of S.Maria in Trivio, on the Via dei Crociferi, just to the left of the Trevi Fountain. Later, I learned that this Church is the house of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, founded by Saint Gaspar del Bufolo, whose body rests within the Church. One evening, I had gone there to pray my Rosary and I saw there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament – but unusually, it was not the Host, but the Precious Blood (of course, both forms contain the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ). I had not seen this previously. The image on this page was taken that evening, and the Precious Blood is seen on the Altar. The Missionaries spread devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, and in this month dedicated by the Church to the Precious Blood, I thought again of this beautiful little Church.
Devotion to the Precious Blood can take many forms – there are litanies, prayers of adoration and of reparation, Chaplets, booklets, and many other things besides. A quick trawl of Google reveals many pages dedicated to this devotion.
The reason why we adore the Precious Blood is that it is by the spilling of this Blood that Christ paid the price of our redemption. The Scriptural foundation for the devotion are the words of the Gospel where we hear that on the Cross, after the death of Christ, the centurion pierced His Heart with a lance and from It, Blood and Water flowed (cf. Jn.19:35). In Catholic imagery and iconography, the representation of the Blood flowing from the pierced Heart of Christ is a common one, with which many of us will be familiar.
It is also an image we associate very much these days with the Divine Mercy devotion – for the Divine Mercy Image itself presents this Blood and Water flowing from the Heart of Jesus, now risen and glorious, His Body still bearing the marks of the Passion. In this Image, the Blood and Water are represented by the red and pale rays. Saint Faustina was asked by her confessor to ask the Lord what the two rays in the Image symbolised. She did so, and the Lord told her this –
“The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonised Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross.” (Diary, para.299)
Clearly, then, these two rays and what they represent, are central to the Divine Mercy devotion, as Our Lord draws our attention to them very explicitly. The pale ray represents the SAcraments of Initiation, particularly Baptism, by which we are justified. The red ray denotes the Eucharist, which is the life of our souls, our spiritual sustenance, the ‘Source and summit’ of our Faith.
Sometimes, St Faustina saw visions of the Lord as He is represented in the Image, the rays emanating from His Heart. At other times, she would see Him on the Cross; on Good Friday one year, she wrote –
“I saw the Lord Jesus, crucified, Who looked at me and said ‘I thirst’. Then I saw two rays issue from His side, just as they appear in the Image.” (Diary, para.648).
On other occasions, she saw the same two rays issuing from the Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, as on this occasion, recorded in January 1935 –
“When I was in Church, waiting for Confession, I saw the same rays issuing from the Monstrance and spreading throughout the Church.” (Diary, para.370).
This symbolic image of the two rays spreading out is repeated several times. Sometimes they spread throughout the Church, and sometimes she says they spread across the entire world –
“Then suddenly, I saw how the two rays, as painted in the Image, issued from the Host and spread over the whole world.” (Diary, para.1046).
The Divine Mercy devotion is very much the devotion of our era, and so it is interesting that the Lord re-directs our attention to the notion of His Precious Blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins and giving life to our souls.
Of course, this really takes us back to the core of our faith – the Eucharist. In every Mass, we recount how the Lord said “This is My Body.. This is My Blood” and the miracle of transubstantiation is repeated anew. The Mass not only reminds us of the Last Supper and of the Sacrifice of Christ, but it “perpetuate(s) the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.1323).
Sometimes, we require the eyes of our faith to see clearly what we sometimes forget, or to become reacquainted with what we know but sometimes give too little thought to. Perhaps something of this was in the mind of the Church when she set this month before us as being dedicated to the Precious Blood.
Throughout this month, whether adoring the Lord in the Tabernacle or in the Monstrance, or uniting ourselves to Him in Holy Communion, may we take even a brief moment to consider the reality of this Sacrament of His love and His presence. This consecrated Bread and Wine is the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, poured out for love of us upon the Cross. May His most Precious Blood be our salvation.
O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a Fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.