Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Feast of the Most Precious Blood

Today is the Feast of the Most Precious Blood. It originated as an observance in southern Europe and hence, no doubt, the Italian eighteenth century hymn we know in translation as Glory be to Jesus.

In 1849 Pope Pius IX extended it to the whole Church and Pope Pius X fixed its celebration on July 1st rather than the first Sunday in July. In the Special Jubilee Year of 1933 Pope Pius XI made it a Double of the First Class.

I was particularly struck by the forceful clarity of the teaching from much earlier in the history of the Church - and pointing to its essential coherence across time and space - in two of the designated Mattins readings for today:

From the Sermons of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (d. 407)
Homily 84 in John, cap. 19

And so was it done concerning that Lamb: the Jews killed a sheep, and I have learned the value of the sacrament. From the Side flowed forth Blood and Water. I would not, O my hearer, that thou shouldest pass by the depths of such a mystery as this without pausing; for I have yet a mystic and mysterious discourse to deliver. I have said that the Water and Blood shewed forth symbolically baptism and the sacraments. For from these, holy Church was founded by the laver of regeneration, and the renovation of the Holy Ghost. Through baptism, I say, and through the sacraments, which seem to have issued from his Side. It was therefore out of the Side of Christ that the Church was created, just as it was out of the side of Adam that Eve was raised up to be his bride. This is the reason why Paul saith, no doubt in allusion to his Side: We are members of his Body, and of his bones. For even as God made the woman Eve out of the rib which he had taken out of the side of Adam, so hath Christ made the Church out of the Blood and Water which he made to flow for us out of his own Side. 

Homily by St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (d.430)
120th Tract on John

One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His Side, and forthwith came thereout Blood and Water. The Evangelist speaketh carefully. He saith not that he smote the Side, nor yet that he wounded It, nor yet anything else, but pierced pierced It, to fling wide the entrance unto life, whence flow the Sacraments of the Church, those Sacraments without which there is no entrance unto the life which is life indeed. That Blood which was shed there was shed for the remission of sins, that Water is the water that mantleth in the cup of salvation. Therein are we washed, and thereof do we drink. Of this was it a type when it was said unto Noah: The door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof and of every living thing of all flesh shalt thou bring into the ark to keep them alive. (Gen. vi. 16, 19.) A figure this of the Church. Thus was it that the first woman was made from the side of her husband while he slept, and she was called (Eve, which is, being interpreted,) Life, because she was the mother of all living. (Gen. iii. 20.)This name set forth a great good, before it became associated with the bitter fruit of a great evil. And here we have the Second Adam bowing His Head, and the deep sleep of death falling upon Him upon the Cross, and He sleepeth, that the Lord God may take a thing out of His side, and may make thereof a wife for Him. O what a death was His, which quickeneth the dead! What is cleaner than His Blood? What more health-giving than His wounding?

This establishment of the Sacraments flowing from the Passion is Lao brought out exquisitely in Rogier van der Weyden’s triptych of 1445-50 which is now in the Royal Fine Arts Museum in Antwerp.

Seven Sacraments Rogier.jpg
Image: Wikipedia 

There is an expandable view and more about the painting at Seven Sacraments Altarpiece

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