The Feast of the Most Precious Blood

Q. When I was young, I remember celebrating the Feast of the Most Precious Blood (July 1). Why is it no longer observed in our churches?

A. The Feast of the Most Precious Blood was established in 1849 by Pope Pius IX. As with certain other feasts in the Church calendar (such as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7), it’s a feast of thanksgiving that commemorates a military victory. The Pope was declaring the Church’s gratitude for the expulsion of a hostile revolutionary army from Rome in 1849.

Of course, Catholic devotion to the Most Precious Blood didn’t begin at that time. It has its roots in Scripture and the ancient teachings of the Church. The Gospel tells us how, at the first Eucharist, Jesus spoke of the New Covenant in His blood made possible by His sacrifice on the Cross the following day (Matthew 28:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; quoted by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:25). He taught as well that we must drink His blood in order to have eternal life (John 6:53–56). St. John also points out in his account of Our Lord’s passion the significant detail that blood flowed from Jesus’ side after He was pierced by the soldier’s lance (John 19:34).

We find in Scripture that the apostolic teaching began to elaborate more fully on the redemptive power and infinitely precious value of Jesus’ blood. That blood is the essential lifeblood of the Church. It ransoms us from death (Revelation 5:9). It cleanses us and frees us from sin, as foreshadowed by the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament (Hebrews 9:11–28; 13:12; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5; 7:14). It redeems and justifies us (Acts 20:28; Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18–19). It reconciles us to God (Ephesians 2:13; Colossians 1:14), equips us for mission (Hebrews 13:20–21), and empowers us to conquer Satan (Revelation 12:11).

Not surprisingly, then, given its important role in our salvation, the ancient Church Fathers preached often about it, and popular devotions to the Most Precious Blood arose in the Medieval period that have continued to the present day. In this light, it’s certainly understandable that the Church would eventually establish a feast devoted to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. So why do we no longer celebrate it in the current Church calendar? The feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, according to the official rationale offered, “because the Most Precious Blood of Christ the Redeemer is already venerated in the solemnities of the Passion, of Corpus Christi, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.” Instead, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (“the Body of Christ”) was renamed “The Solemnity of Corpus et Sanguis Christi (“the Body and Blood of Christ”).

Many Catholics find this to be a regrettable decision and hope that it may be one day reconsidered. Consider how the Incarnation of Our Lord is celebrated by three separate feasts: His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Annunciation, March 25); His coming forth from her womb (Nativity, December 25); and His manifestation to the world as represented by the Magi and shepherds (Epiphany, January 6). We would never think of merging all these into a single feast, because each one points to a particular aspect of the Incarnation that merits our focused celebration and reflection. It seems that, even with other feasts commemorating Our Lord’s passion and death, perhaps something valuable has been lost with the removal of a feast that focuses especially on the Precious Blood.

Even so, the celebration remains on the old calendar as observed in parishes using the Extraordinary (Traditional Latin) Rite. And we are all free to take this day as a welcome opportunity to thank Our Lord for the gift of His blood and to contemplate more deeply just how powerful and precious it is.