The Patrimony and the Precious Blood

In the Roman Rite prior to 1969, July 1 was the feast of the Precious Blood of Jesus; July remains the month of the Precious Blood. Cradle Catholics over a certain age will remember the line of booklets produced by the Confraternity of that name, based at the Brooklyn Monastery of the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood, an order with French-Canadian origins. Given that the feast was instituted by Bl. Pius IX in thanksgiving for his regaining control of Rome in 1849, an individual of Anglican origins might be forgiven for thinking that it is a devotion of more interest to Latins. This would be a great mistake.

Without wanting to plug my latest book, A Catholic Quest for the Holy Grail, unduly, I describe at great length therein close connexion between the Holy Grail (an integral part of the Arthurian legend and so of patrimonial literature) and devotion to the Precious Blood. Catholic, Anglican, and New Age visitors thrill when visiting Glastonbury to the stories there of St. Joseph of Arimathea and his blooming thorn-staff, the Abbey, the Catholic shrine, and the Tor – many of which refer to the Holy Grail. But the chalice that Christ used at the Last Supper is, if it is anywhere, most likely in Valencia, Spain. Moreover, the earliest legends do not describe St. Joseph as bringing the Grail, but relics of the blood and water that flowed from Christ’s side at the Crucifixion. The Blood he is supposed to have concealed under what is now the Chalice Well, and the Water under the White Spring; geologists ascribe the reddish hue of the former’s water and the whitish of the latter’s to differing minerals in each. Still, it IS odd that such closely situated springs should have such radically different minerals.

In any case, the story is not quite as farfetched as one might think. In French legendry, St. Joseph and his sacred relics are said to have come from Palestine with the party of Apostles and Disciples that first evangelised Provence. In Medieval England, relics of Christ’s Blood were venerated at Hailes, Ashridge, and Westminster – even as similar relics are enshrined at Bruges, Fecamp, Mantua, Weingarten, Neuvy-Saint-Sepulchre, Reichenau, and elsewhere in Europe to-day. While the English relics were destroyed at the Reformation, the concept of the cleansing Blood of Christ washing the believer free of his sins was retained by all the Protestant churches: amongst Anglicans, the Caroline Divines and Nonjurors retained the identification of that Blood on the Cross with the contents of the chalice used at Holy Communion. This was revived under nascent Anglo-Catholicism, culminating in the foundation of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament.

Among the first generation of Oxford Movement-era converts to Rome was Fr. Frederick Faber, founder of the Brompton Oratory. Foremost among the large number of devotional works he wrote was one about the Precious Blood, which became very popular among English Catholics.  That popularity, alongside the memory of the Holy Blood that had existed at Westminster Abbey, led in 1895 to the new cathedral of the Archdiocese being named “The Cathedral of The Precious Blood.” Ironically, the Catholic Church of the Most Precious Blood in Southwark has been placed in the hands of the Ordinariate.

One thought on “The Patrimony and the Precious Blood

  1. In the 1969 revision of the Roman calendar, Pope Paul VI combined the former Feast of the Precious Blood with the Feast of the Body of Christ on the date of the latter. Thus, the second Thursday after Pentecost is now officially the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (I don’t know Latin and don’t want to mangle the Latin title), though often still popularly called Corpus Christi.

    In the United States, Canada, and other places where the second Thursday after Pentecost is not a holy day of obligation, the celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ transfers de jure to the following Sunday to ensure that the faithful participate therein.

    Norm.

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