We know that the City of Philadelphia has many historical reminders of our country’s history. Many tourists come to view our historical sites and artifacts, especially during these summer months. One of these historical exhibits that is less well known than many of the others is the naval vessel S.S. Olympia, which can be viewed as part of the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing. This was the flagship of Commodore George Dewey during the Spanish-American War of 1898. In command of this ship, Commodore Dewey won the naval victory of Manila Bay in the Philippines, which was decisive in the American victory over Spain in that war. Spanish missionaries had served in the Philippines for several centuries and the bishops of the dioceses were Spaniards. After the American victory, the American government asked the Holy See to replace the Spanish Catholic bishops with American bishops. One of the first Americans to be named a bishop to serve in the Philippines was a young priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who was serving as a professor at Saint Charles Seminary: Father Dennis Dougherty. As we know, he later returned to Philadelphia as its archbishop, where he served zealously from 1918 to 1951. It is said that during his long years as archbishop of Philadelphia, whenever he would pass the Olympia at its Philadelphia berth, he would point to it and say: “There is the reason I became a bishop!”
We know that in our own lives we think of and mentally “point to” people and situations which were the catalysts for major events in our lives. I hope that we all look with grateful hearts to those who influenced us, as well as the many events which have shown God’s fatherly care for us. This week, I would like to dwell on an aspect of our faith which is of the greatest importance for every person. It is something which we can point to and say: “This is the source of my Redemption. This is the reason why my sins can be forgiven. This is the reason why I can share in the life of God. This is the reason why I can go to heaven when I die.” We are speaking of the Precious Blood of Jesus, poured out for our salvation. We dwell on this mystery in a special way in this month of July, which the Church dedicates to reflection upon it.
Month of July dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus
Blessed John XXIII had a great devotion to the Precious Blood and early in his Pontificate he wrote an Apostolic Letter on this subject to prepare the faithful for the month of July. He wrote: “As we now approach the month devoted to honoring Christ’s Blood, which is the price of our Redemption, the pledge of salvation and of eternal life, may Christians meditate on it more fervently and may they savor its fruits more frequently through the sacraments. Let their meditations on the boundless power of the Blood be seen in the light of sound biblical teaching and the doctrine of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church” (Inde a Primis, 30 June 1960).
Our natural inclination is often to have a fear of blood! Many of us grow queasy at its sight and it is disturbing to see ourselves or others bleeding. Likewise, in our desire to avoid anything unpleasant, we can find the entire concept of the shedding of blood, even the Blood of Jesus, to be distasteful. However, just as we know that blood is necessary for life, in the divine plan God willed that the Blood of Jesus, the Son of God made Flesh, would be necessary for our salvation. Just as it would be selfish to ignore the sacrifices that other people have made for us because the thought makes us uncomfortable, so it would be if we chose to ignore the Blood of Jesus, which Scripture tells us over and over again, was the “price of our salvation.”
Blood in the History of Salvation
In the epistle to the Hebrews, Saint Paul presents a magnificent explanation of the value of the Blood of Jesus and places it in the context of the fulfillment of the types or figures of blood and sacrifice that were present among the Jewish people, our ancestors in the faith. In the first part of his epistle, Saint Paul explains the surpassing worth of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, in the second part of the epistle, chapter 9 and the beginning of chapter 10, he examines the excellence of Christ’s sacrifice and the power of His Blood. This does not merely have a temporary value, such as that of the blood of the animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant. Jesus, the perfect and eternal priest, offered the perfect and eternal sacrifice when He shed His Blood for us once upon the Cross. This is why the priest at Mass, when saying the words of consecration over the wine, refers to what has become the Blood of Jesus as the “new and everlasting covenant.”
Saint John Chrysostom (347‑407) explained this to the newly baptized of his time in this way: “Do you want to know how effective the blood of Christ is? Let us go back to the symbols which foretold it and remind ourselves of the ancient accounts of the Jews in Egypt. Moses told them to kill a year‑old lamb and put its blood on the two doorposts and the lintel of each house. Would you like an additional way to appreciate the power of Christ’s blood? See where it flowed from, what its source is. It began to flow from the very Cross and its source was the Lord’s side” (Baptismal Catechesis III, 13‑18).
The Sacrifice of the Mass
We know that the Church teaches us that the Mass makes present again, in an unbloody manner, the sacrifice which Jesus offered once on the Cross. Theologians have explained this by pointing out that at the separate consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, the sacrifice of the Cross is made present again in a mystical, unbloody manner. This is not a new sacrifice, but the life ‑- giving sacrifice of Jesus made present on our altars again and again. The Council of Trent teaches: “It is one and the same victim, he who now makes the offering through the ministry of priests and he who then offered himself on the Cross; the only difference is in the manner of the offering” (De SS. Missae sacrificio, chapter 2). One of the best ways to live out this week’s reflections is to reflect upon some of these thoughts during your time at Mass. Think about what is really happening on the Altar, especially at the consecration of the Mass. This does not mean that the sacrifice of Jesus was not sufficient and so has to be repeated over and over again. That is exactly the opposite of what the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches. Jesus gave us the gift of the Mass precisely because His sacrifice was so important and life -‑ changing for us that He wanted it to be repeated until the end of time. As one of the prayers of the Church’s Liturgy says: “As often as the commemoration of this victim is celebrated, the work of our Redemption is performed.”
May I suggest a practice that you might begin during this month of July but that you might also continue at every Mass? At the consecration of the bread and the wine, as they are being transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, think about the sacrifice of the Cross that is being made present before you. When the chalice containing the Precious Blood is shown to you for your adoration, remind yourself that this Blood has made all good things possible for you. The Precious Blood of Jesus is indeed the price of our salvation!