Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Propers for the Feast of the Most Precious Blood

For Catholics, our faith lives are centered around the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Yet we often hear more about the body, and not as much about the Blood of Christ.  In the Feast of the Precious Blood, the Church wants us to think more about this.  Some will find this confusing, considering that we recently celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, which typically includes the talk about the Blood of Christ.

I believe this "separation" occurs for a reason.  For any true sacrifice to be so, the blood is seperated from the body.  Likewise with our feasts.  The Church, in her wisdom, gives the faithful ample time to reflect upon both aspects of the sacrifice of the Cross, today we focus on the blood.

You have redeemed us, O Lord, with Thy Blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us for our God a kingdom.  Ps. 88:2. The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever; my mouth shall proclaim Your truth through all generations. (Introit)
If there is one thought we should meditate on for this feast, it is that Christ had to be sacrificed for our redemption.  We frequently talk about the coming of Christ in His Incarnation and Nativity, but not as much talk is done today about the His sacrifice of Himself.  If He simply came to this Earth and died a natural death, he would be no different than various other religious leaders, perhaps worthy to listen to, but certainly not to follow.  Our redemption required not only a death, but a sacrificial death.

When we contemplate deeper the purpose of a crucifixion, we can see why this Introit is so powerful.  The Romans were the undisputed masters of crucifixion in the ancient world.  Yet they only did it to a select few people.  Roman citizens were forbidden from being crucified.  (Cicero viewed it near blasphemous for a Roman to even speak the word because it was so horrific.)  The primary point of a crucifixion was not to execute.  The primary purpose was to humiliate the condemned.  The condemned was of low social stature.  In some cases, he could be alive for over a day to the cross.   The secondary point of crucifixion was to terrorize the people witnessing it.  You were reminded never to do the same, lest you wind up naked and hanging from a cross to die slowly, watching everyone make sport of you.

We know that the Roman soldiers symbolized us during the Crucifixion of Our Lord.  Therefore, we looked to humiliate our Lord and God.  Yet it is through that humiliation that we are redeemed.  Rather than give us what we rightly deserve for our part in His death, we are shown pardon.  Rather than being cast into eternal imprisonment, we are made citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom.  This is the reason we sing of God's mercy forever.

Brethren: But Christ, being come an high Priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: Neither by the blood of goats or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? And therefore he is the mediator of the new testament: that by means of his death for the redemption of those transgressions which were under the former testament, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance, in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Epistle, Hebrews 9:11-15)
If we are reminded of the cruelness of this manner of death in the Introit, in the Epistle we are reminded of the fact that Christ did this willingly.  The sacrifice of Christ would have no efficacy if it was done against His will.  While other religions have martyrs, no religion has her central figure a man who was born to that sacrifice.  The blood of Christ is so powerful because it is freely offered.  This is why the sacrifices of the Old Covenant could never truly take away sin.  The victim was never freely offered.  Indeed, as a beast, it lacked such freedom.  Yet in giving up something essential to their life, there was still a sanctification the believer received in the offering of sacrifice.

With Christ, everything is different.  If we knew who He truly was, we would not want to send him to a Cross.  Indeed, the Apostles attempt to prevent it.  Christ continually asserted that what was happening was of His own choosing.  If He willed it, the entire thing would've stopped.  It is this ultimately selfless act that provides life for others.  Far from just sanctifying the flesh, this willing sacrifice transforms all of creation, and most importantly, transforms our hearts when we come into contact with that blood.

At that time, Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: "It is consummated." And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost. Then the Jews (because it was the parasceve), that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day (for that was a great sabbath day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken: and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came: and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him.
But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it hath given testimony: and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true: that you also may believe.
One wonders why the Roman soldier spearing our Lord is the last event mentioned in the Crucifixion.  I believe pondering the nature a little bit more of the Crucifixion will allow us to understand this.

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who was crucified was nailed to the cross.  We know from earlier that crucifixion was something done to humiliate one of low social stature in Roman society.  Yet if nails were used, this indicated a special revulsion towards the condemned.  (Josephus recounts of Roman soldiers nailing Jews to crosses in an almost blind rage during the Siege of Jerusalem, while various other Roman records indicate rope was frequently used.)

When the Romans used nails, they were out to send a message.  In their eyes, a supposed "King of the Jews" would directly challenge their authority, for this would be a leader not of their choosing.  They had no problem with kings in Judea.  Indeed, Herod Antipas was that King.  If the Romans despised anything, it was someone else attempting to challenge their sphere of influence.  Rebels were dealt with swiftly and with the utmost cruelty.  We know that Caesar cut a path of massacre and near genocide throughout all of Gaul for the tribesmen daring to oppose Roman hegemony.  This sets the stage for Christ's death in the eyes of the Romans.  One could say the spear was the final insult.  It was obvious Christ was already dead, yet the Romans insulted Him further by in essence desecrating His body.

Yet in once again a true testament of God's mercy, healing occurs through this act of insult.  Our Catholic Tradition tells us the man who performed this insult is known as Longinus.  He could be viewed as the first to truly receive the blessings of Divine Mercy.  When he insulted Our lord with the lance, God instead cleansed him with the blood of Christ.  Further tradition states that he was immediately converted to Christ at this moment, even helping to cleanse the body of Our Lord in great sorrow, and even becoming a Saint.  I think this Gospel puts the words of the Hebrew epistle in perspective.  The blood of Christ transformed a man who just an instant before had reviled and insulted Christ into a great saint.

We have been admitted to Your sacred banquet, O Lord, and have joyously refreshed ourselves with the waters from the fountain of our Saviour. May His Blood spring up within us as a saving water for eternal life; who lives and rules with You . . .  (Postcommunion)

As He did to Saint Longinus, so He wishes to do to us! When we insult and revile God with our sins, God instead offers mercy.  When we jam the lance of our defiance towards God, He offers us a pardon which we cannot merit.  While the prince of this world encourages us to do this and then attempts to trap us in guilt and despair once we realize what we have done, God instead forgives this supreme offense, if we say, as that centurion "Truly this was the son of God."

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