There’s no getting around that, the redemption fee. The price is high. Freedom from sin is gained by the sacrifice of the blood of the Lamb.
Unity is a bloody affair
Traditionally, July is the month of the year dedicated to the Precious Blood of Christ. However, this theme can sound a bit dissonant in our lives, since these summer days are usually spent on vacation. Calvary Hill seems far from summer barbecues and the beach!
Nevertheless, we hear Saint Paul say to us this Sunday: “In Jesus Christ, you who were once far away, you have drawn near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13). As scattered as our lives are, different and diverse as the members of the body are, all are united in the blood of Christ.
Blood and Sacrifice in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, the one who offered a sacrifice was, by the sacrifice, brought near to God. In fact, this is the etymology of the Hebrew word for sacrifice: korban (קָרְבָּן qorbān) means “to be near”. While the people of Israel had a complex and highly specified system of worship, a few words about the nature of sacrifice in the Old Testament shed light on the Christian understanding of sacrifice.
God called the people of Israel to be a nation apart, a people peculiar to himself (Deut 7: 6, Ps 135: 4). The ritual system, comprehensively prescribed in Leviticus, called this people to a central principle exhorted by God: “Be holy, as I am holy” (Lev 11:44). Israel has a unique conception of God: personal union with him is the goal of life. God is the source from which all strength and life are derived.
Different from other ancient peoples, human sacrifice was expressly prohibited in Israel (Deut 12:31, Lev 18:21). It is true that the God of Israel demanded that the firstborn be given to him (Exodus 22:28). However, it is clear that the animals were sacrificed in place of the children (Ex 34:20). The redemption of the firstborn by the sacrifice of a lamb becomes the basis of a theology of substitution, allowing the offering of an animal to redeem a child.
Famous in the book of Exodus, it is the blood of the lamb sacrificed for a family and spilled on the doorposts of the house, which protects the family from the angel of death. Blood is the sign of the covenant, which protects the people of Israel.
Then, after fleeing Egypt, Moses and Israel receive the Ten Commandments from God. At Mount Sinai, to ratify the people’s covenant, Exodus said: “[Moses] took the blood and shed it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words’ ”(Exodus 24: 8). Having been delivered from slavery, the blood of the covenant signifies the new life that Israel has with God. Communion with God is mediated by sacrifice and made visible in rites, which include the shedding of blood.
The Blood of the New Covenant
The New Testament book, Letter to the Hebrews, recognizes the centrality of blood in Israelite ritual worship. Hebrews notes that the covenant was ratified in the blood of animals and that blood is used to purify the Temple. Explaining the customs of Israel, Hebrews said, “According to the law almost everything is cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).
But Hebrews goes further. The book argues that the worship of ancient Israel is not yet complete, so to speak incomplete compared to the sacrifice of Christ. Hebrews said, “But in these sacrifices there is only an annual remembrance of sins, for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10: 3-4). Christ, true God and true man, shed his Precious Blood once and for all, the blood of our redemption. Unlike the regular offerings of bulls and sheep, Jesus’ sacrifice deserved the salvation of the world on Calvary Hill.
The sacrifice of the mass
Where is the blood in our lives? How to get in touch with the sacrifice of Calvary? The Catholic Church has always understood that the celebration of the Eucharist makes present the graces of the passion of Christ. Lumen gentium, a document of the Vatican Council II, says it thus: “As many times as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed, is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption continues, and, in the sacrament of Eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ is both expressed and realized. (LG3).
Not all Christians see the Holy Mass this way. The famous Protestant theologian John Piper preached: “This repeated sacrifice [the Holy Mass] in the church required an official priesthood to administer the sacrifices, just as the Old Testament had an official priesthood to offer animal sacrifices. But both the Mass and the clerical priesthood minimize and distort Christ’s once and for all sacrifice on Calvary. “
But Mass is not a rehearsal of Calvary. the once for all Jesus’ sacrifice is not replayed as a repeat of Frasier or copied as some kind of printed document. On the contrary, in Mass, the graces of the cross are, so to speak, sustained, brought into the here and now. In the Holy Mass, the historical event of the outpouring of his Precious Blood by Jesus is made present for us.
Union in the Precious Blood
Let us therefore love Jesus in the shedding of his blood. In the first century, Pope Clement exhorts the Church saying: “Let us fix our gaze on the Blood of Christ and realize how precious it is, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of conversion to the whole world. The precious blood of Jesus washes away our sins and in doing so allows us to draw closer, to live united with God and with one another.
The medieval proverb tells us that “blood is thicker than water”. The proverb more or less means that family, blood ties, are the most reliable. We could develop this idea, thinking back to Lumen gentium which says: “Christ instituted this new covenant, the new testament, that is to say in his blood, gathering together a people composed of Jews and Gentiles, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the spirit ”(LG 9). The Blood of Christ consecrates Christians in a new identity, binding us together in the Lord.
Blood is indeed thicker than water. In his Precious Blood, Jesus brings us closer, brings us even closer than the bonds of blood. By his blood we have been redeemed and, as believers, we share this most extraordinary gift of his grace and mercy. This same blood continues to nourish us. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the element of simple wine is transubstantiated in the very Blood of Christ. May this Precious Blood nourish us, sustain and preserve our union with the Lord.