This Rivulet of Red

A meditation -- through art, liturgy, and hymn -- on the Sacred Blood.

This text was originally published as part of Ad Cenam Agni, a 2023 virtual Lenten Retreat hosted by the Abbot's Circle.

How shocking is the sight of a stream of blood falling to the earth in an agony, in the welling up of the stripes of a scourging, gushing from the thorn wounds in the head, pouring from hands and feet fastened with nails, spurting forth from a dead man’s wounded side. Shocking, yes, but still more impenetrably mysterious, achingly poignant, and reverently moving is this truth: this drop of blood, this rivulet of red, this gathered pool, fallen on dirt, on wood, on the hands of executioners, on the clothes of bystanders, on the towels of devoted friends, on the veil of his mother, is God and Christ himself, in person.

So apparently abstract, just a bit of liquid, a swath of color, a glossy dot, and yet in very truth it was God. How closely the Lord desired to come in order to take away our sins, to sanctify the very earth and air, to unite his sacrifice with the whole concrete cosmos! He is truly the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” who takes away the sins of the world which he has made into an altar of immolation, the temple of the universe he made in six days, made holy on the sixth day: behold him! The mystery of faith indeed! Well did the sun darken and the earth quake.

In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist the Lord shows us how it is that he wants to “remain with us always.” In the bread becoming his Body we understand that he is present in his substance, really present, as really as anything presented to our senses. In the wine becoming his Blood we understand how and why he is substantially present in the first place, namely that he might offer himself as a sacrifice for the glory of God and the forgiveness of sins.

The Blood symbolizes the event the Eucharist represents: his saving death shown by the separation of his Body and his Blood. The Blood is for the Mystery we celebrate: the death of the Lord until he comes. In the Holy Mass the Body and Blood are mystically separated in a sacramental sacrifice. If the priest were to consecrate only the Body, there would be no complete sacrifice since there would be no sign of his death in his Blood. Of course now the Lord is risen from the dead and so it is his glorious and immortal Body which is present along with his Blood under the sign of bread, and his shining and powerful Precious Blood present with his Body under the sign of wine. And his soul and Godhead are one with both. The whole Christ is present under the sign of his Blood, so now, differently from his Passion it is not only his Blood and Divinity which are joined together as he is sacrificed under the signs of bread and wine, but his whole risen self is present together.

Thus in the Mass, in the Eucharistic signs, the Precious Blood finds its highest state and its greatest glory, and is also of the greatest benefit to us who share in the sacrifice in his Blood. We triumph with Christ claiming victory in his Blood, we see by faith that, as St Paul teaches us, we join together all things in heaven and on earth “making peace through the Blood of his Cross.” St.Norbert healed the blind and drove out demons by breathing on the blind and the possessed with his breath still redolent of the Precious Blood after his communion at Mass

The words of the great St. John Chrysostom are both famous and instructive in this regard:

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.

So let us sing a hymn of praise as we adore the Precious Blood of Jesus our God, in words attributed to Saint Alphonsus Mary de’ Ligouri:

Glory be to Jesus,

who in bitter pains

poured for me the life blood

from his sacred veins!

Grace and life eternal

in that Blood I find,

blest be his compassion

infinitely kind!

Blest through endless ages

be the precious stream

which from endless torment

doth the world redeem!

There the fainting spirit

drinks of life her fill;

there, as in a fountain,

laves herself at will.

Abel's blood for vengeance

pleaded to the skies;

but the Blood of Jesus

for our pardon cries.

Oft as it is sprinkled

on our guilty hearts,

Satan in confusion

terror-struck departs;

oft as earth exulting

wafts its praise on high,

angel hosts, rejoicing,

make their glad reply.

Lift ye then your voices;

swell the mighty flood;

louder still and louder

praise the Precious Blood.

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