Monday, July 1, 2013

The Feast of the Most Precious Blood

Devotion to the Most Precious Blood, rooted in the primitive Church and already alive in

the first centuries of Christianity, experienced its greatest development in the Middle Ages, when

great importance was given to the suffering humanity of Christ.  Thanks to St. Casper of Buffalo,

the Feast of the Most Precious Blood was initiated and under the Pontificate of Pius IX, it was

extended to the whole Catholic World.

St. Casper of Buffalo (1786-1837), seven years after the foundation of the Congregation of

the Most Precious Blood, presented a request to obtain the “nulla osta” for the celebration of the

Feast of the Most Precious Blood.  The Sacred Congregation for Rites granted for it to be celebrated

on the first Sunday of July, only within this Institute.  The Saint, therefore, did not have the joy of

seeing it extended to the universal Church, as he had so ardently desired.

It was the revolution of the year 1848 which induced Pope Pius IX to extend it to the whole

Church.  The Holy Father had left Rome which was occupied by the revolutionaries, and had taken

refuge in Gaeta.  Ven. D. John Merlin, already secretary and then the successor of St. Casper of

Buffalo, was highly esteemed by Pius IX due to his holiness, prudence and wisdom, so much so that

he summoned him during the difficult moments in the Church and also asked him to hear his own

confession.  Pius IX, in a private Audience, asked him when those terrible moments that the Church

was experiencing, would pass.  The holy Missionary reflected for a moment, as if in prayer, and

then replied to the Pontiff that if, with a vow, he would extend the Feast of the Most Precious Blood

to the whole Church, he would return to a liberated Rome.  The Pope wanted time to reflect a little. 

Then, in a letter dated June 30

advice, but without binding himself with a vow. 

Then, on the first Sunday of July of that same year, the revolutionaries were constrained to

leave Rome and the Pope, with a decree dated August 10

Precious Blood to the whole Church, to be celebrated as a double of the second class on the first

Sunday of July.  Pius X fixed it definitively on July 1

centenary of the Redemption, raised it to a double of the first class in April of the year 1934.

On February 14

coupled the Feast of the Most Precious Blood with that of  Corpus Domini.   Very soon after,

however, he came to know that his decision had caused much discontentment, especially in the

Institutes which bore this most august title, as well as great disillusionment amongst those devoted

to the Blood of Christ, already so impassioned by the lively recommendations of Pope John XXIII.

Receiving in a public audience the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, the Sisters,

and the Pious associations that bore the title of the Blood of Christ, as well as very many devotees,

he wanted to clarify the meaning of such coupling and confirm that all the Institutes, churches and

chapels, confraternities and pious associations which bore this beautiful title, could still celebrate

the Feast as a Solemnity on July 1of the year 1969, following the post-council liturgical reform, Paul VI

Queen of the Most Precious Blood

When, thanks to the spreading of the devotion to the Blood of the divine Redeemer, the

Holy Virgin started to be invoked under the title of “Queen of the Most Precious Blood,” there

were discussions and contrasting opinions amongst the sacred Writers and some of the Marian


The Magisterium of the Church took no sides.  The polemic was kindled greatly when the

gifted Jesuit Fr. G.M. Petazza published a booklet entitled: “The Most Precious Blood and Our


In the first chapter Fr. Petazzi gave reflections upon the Relationship of Mary Most Holy

with the adorable Blood of Jesus, affirming, amongst other things, that “the title of Queen of the

Most Precious Blood marvellously expresses the relationship of Mary with the adorable Blood.  In

fact, the divine Blood is the title by which Mary Most Holy is Queen: 1) because She had given it

to the divine King, Who by it and with it, reigned in the world; 2) because uniting Herself to the

offering of this Blood, She became Queen of the Universe; 3) because from the Blood She was

germinated, the first flower and Queen of beauty; 4) because in administering this adorable Blood,

She demonstrated Her exalted sovereignty of love.”

To the theses which were contrary to this he replied that the title of Queen did not always

indicate superiority over the object to which it referred, so that the title was not, therefore, to

indicate a superiority over Christ Himself.  In fact, when She is called Queen of peace, of love,

of sorrow, etc., it does not mean to say that the Virgin has dominion over peace, over sorrow and

over love, but that they are both titles of Her royal pre-eminence.  And therefore, with tranquillity,

amongst all the titles by which we may greet Mary Most Holy our Queen, the principal one is

precisely this adorable Blood, which is the profound reason of Her royalty.


One of the most moving and incisive depictions stemming from Catholic devotion to the

Blood of Christ is certainly that of the “mystical winepress,” practically forgotten due to the

impetuous assaults of a supposed Christianity without suffering or the Cross. In these

representations Christ is portrayed as the fruit squeezed, whose juice, namely His Blood, is

gathered up in a vat to be the drink of redemption for the sins of man. Christ is compared with the
grape and, pressed like grapes in order to obtain wine, gives vital force to mankind. As such, Christ

crushed by the Cross brings forth Blood for the spiritual salvation of man.

The iconography of the Torculus Christi [the winepress of Christ] dates back to medieval

times. Initially there was the simple depiction of the vine and the clusters of grapes. The image of

Christ in the winepress spread from the 12

divine Redeemer was portrayed in an ever more explicit manner with His Blood exuding under the

pressure of the winepress. The image is inspired by the text of Isaiah (63:3): “I have trodden the

winepress alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me: I have trampled on them in my

indignation, and have trodden them down in my wrath, and their blood is sprinkled upon my

garments, and I have stained all my apparel.”

The credit for wisely uniting this passage of Isaiah with the marvellous cluster of grapes in

Numbers, is to be attributed to St. Augustine.  “And going forward as far as the torrent of the

cluster of grapes, they cut off a branch with its cluster of grapes, which two men carried upon a

lever” (Numbers 23:4). In his Exposition of the Psalms, the Bishop of Hippo’s comment is explicit,

“My enemies have trodden on me all the day long; for they are many that make war against me.

From the height of the day I shall fear: but I will trust in thee. […] How therefore is He held in

Geth? Held in a winepress is His Body, that is, His Church. What is, in a winepress? In pressings.

But in a winepress fruitful is the pressing. A grape on the vine sustaineth no pressing, whole it

seemeth, but nothing thence floweth: it is thrown into a winepress, is trodden, is pressed; harm

seemeth to be done to the grape, but this harm is not barren; nay, if no harm had been applied,

barren it would have remained. Let whatsoever holy men therefore that are suffering pressing from

those that have been put afar off from the Saints, give heed to this Psalm, let them perceive here

themselves, let them speak what here is spoken, that suffer what here is spoken of…. The first

cluster pressed in the wine vat was Christ. When that cluster by passion was pressed out, there

flowed that wine whose chalice inebriating is so beautiful!”

The most celebrated portrayal of the  mystical winepress  is certainly that executed by

Andrew Mainardi, called Chiaveghino, for the high altar in the Church of St. Augustine in

Cremona, Italy, in 1594.

This composition is entirely centred upon the figure of Christ Who, bent and burdened under the winepress

which is being rotated by two angels,

is extending His arms forward so that His Blood will fall from the wounds of His hands into the vat.

In the superior part of the painting, God the Father is depicted with His arms opened wide in the

highest heavens, faraway from the true and proper crushing action. Below St. Gregory the Great

holds up, with the assistance of an angel, a chalice which is filled with the divine must, while other

Church Fathers––Jerome to the right, Augustine and Ambrose to the left––are figured at the side of

the winepress, behind which there is gathered a crowd of Faithful ready to taste the fruit of the

Redemption. One of the details worth noting is that Augustine, with his right hand, is pointing to

Christ Who by His sacrifice redeems humanity. The composition, truly unique of its kind, strongly

emphasizes the role of the Church (especially seen here in the person of St. Gregory the Great who

was a figure always associated with the Blood of Christ) as the intermediary between Christ and the

throng of the Faithful.

In painting this work Mainardi alludes to the greatness of the merits of Christ and the

Church: the Blood which gushes forth from the Redeemer’s wounds, is the lymph of the assembly

of believers and is dispensed by the Church through penance and indulgences.

The image of the Torculus Christi––the winepress of Christ––was not foreign to medieval

mysticism which did not fail to express itself with artistic portrayals of great interest. Among the

mystics worthy of great attention we find, without a doubt, the mystic of Florence, St. Mary

Magdalene de Pazzi (1566––1607), a contemporary of Mainardi. Tradition attributes an artistic

design to the Saint which can be found in the cell where she died (see the image). On the back of

the image it is written: “This picture and the inscriptions seen in it were made by the very hand of

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi in whose published life is read: She, being in ecstasy in the dark, and
with her eyes blindfolded, painted devout images on paper which, being miraculous, have been


The design, which is rather simple, figures Christ bent under the weight of the Cross-press

which is placed diagonally. Upon the four limbs one reads: Humilitas, Innocentia, Castitas, Caritas.

His feet are resting upon the vat which is in the form of a heart, below which there flows a scroll

with the words: Ego torcular calcavi solus calcavi. The Redeemer stands out in front and in His

right hand He holds a carafe full of blood; His Blood is being poured out of the carafe into a chalice

which a devout person on her knees (she herself) is holding. On the reverse side of the image there

is written: “Bl. Albert the Great maintained: Recordatio Passionis Christi multo plus / iuvat homini,

quam si integrum annum / jeiunerat in pane et aqua, vel si quotidie / virgis aut flagellis cederetur

usque ad sanguinis effusionem vel si quotidie legeret / integrum Psalterium  [The memory of

Christ’s Passion benefits man more than if he fasts on bread and water for a year, or if he

disciplines himself to the shedding of blood with rod and whip, or if he daily reads the entire


Even in her frequent ecstasies, the Saint returns to the theme of the Torculus Christi and His

Blood. In her thirty-fourth colloquy of April 17

preceding night in this way: “The fruitful vines are the souls in love with Thee, oh Word, who

would give their lives a thousand times daily, if it were possible, for Thy love and in order to obtain

souls for Thee, souls whose vines are squeezed in the funnel, or rather in the true winepress of the

memory of Thy Passion.” And in the forty-sixth colloquy of May 7, 1587 she adds: “And the wine

squeezed [in the press] is so abundant that the bride does not have sufficient bottles to store it all….

But what does the Bridegroom do? He gives her [the vessel needed] for storing it up. And what is

this that He gives to her? He gives her that precious and great vessel, and this is His Heart.” The

mystical transport of this Saint towards Christ and His saving Blood inspired in many ways the field

of iconography. Noteworthy is the evocative canvas of the early 17

Church of Licata where the Saint is portrayed on her knees in front of Christ Crucified and is

literally being hit with a wave of blood-light coming out from the Redeemer’s side, whilst the

Virgin is crowning her (see the image).

The varied iconography of the  Torculus Christi demonstrates the ardent devotion of the

Christian people towards the Lord’s Blood, the price of our redemption, the plant of benediction,

the trophy of glory, the standard of salvation. It is necessary to return to this devotion in order to

focus Christianity anew on Him alone Who ransoms us at the price of His Blood which was

wrenched out in the mystical winepress of the Cross.

Christ on the Cross

“…And naked like this on the Cross

Jesus, enkindled by love,

does not concern Himself with the jeers or voice

of those who despise Him;

then Nicodemus took

and wrapped the sweet Saviour in cloth.

Inebriated with charity,

this is how Isaiah saw Him:

red and bathed in wine

likewise His vestments;

from the press exuded wine:

this is the Cross and the great sorrow.”

(Lauda 9, vv. 29-40)

The Cross as the Winepress

[Christ to His Mother]: “It is true that Thou didst carry Me for nine months, the Cross will only

carry Me for three hours: Thou without labour or weight, [the Cross] with weight and labour…

It is true that Thou didst not receive Me from [the Cross], but that it received Me from Thee, and

having received Me alive it give Me back to Thee dead: and the Cross is very indebted to Thee for

this Head; but Thou too art much indebted to the Cross for the salvation of the world. Thou wert the

vine of the grape: [the Cross] is the press of the wine: Thou didst have Me as Thy fruit, [the Cross]

takes Me as the price. And even if it was said of Thy fruit: ‘Benedictus fructus ventris tui,’ and of

[the Cross]: ‘Maledictus qui pendet in ligno,’ nonetheless from today onward it will be the plant of

benediction, the trophy of glory, the standard of salvation.”

(from the Diceria Sacra)
(De Vita Contemplativa July edition)