“I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His Precious Blood…” St. Catherine of Siena’s legendary body of letters — encouraging lay friends, comforting Sisters, admonishing priests, princes, and popes — are littered with references to Christ’s Precious Blood, honored in a particular way in the Catholic world during the month of July.
Today, few of us would write to someone “in His Precious Blood” — what does this bold language mean? We can draw from it three lessons of Christian life that certainly informed St. Catherine’s unique apostolate. First, the superabundance of God’s saving power; second, the preciousness of each human soul and thus the imperative to grow in virtue oneself and draw others to Christ; and third, the joy of Christian life.
First, the gratuity and abundance of God’s power and mercy. Christ’s Blood is a more apt symbol for this than His Body, because liquid can gush forth, spill over, cover surfaces, and fill crevices. When Catherine writes, and when we live, “in His Precious Blood,” we are living in mercy that is indeed gushing forth from His side, spilling over in the sacraments, covering souls, and finding and filling crevices of sin and suffering. It is abundant and powerful enough to transform all that needs transformation.
Secondly, St. Catherine, echoing St. Paul, points out that we were redeemed not by costly gems but by something much more precious, His Blood. This Blood is priceless; since it was spilt unstintingly for my salvation and for yours, we realize that our souls are also priceless. This means that I have a responsibility to care for my soul, to cultivate it with good spiritual nourishment — reading, retreats, regular frequenting of the sacraments — and to practice virtue. It also means that, always governed by prudence and charity, I have a responsibility to help my neighbor grow closer to Christ.
Finally, tradition associates Blood with wine, partly because Christ uses wine daily in the Mass as the substance to become His Blood in the Eucharist. The Anima Christi prayer asks the Blood of Christ to “inebriate us.” This recalls the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles were so filled with joy and holy boldness that others thought they were drunk — at 9 o’clock in the morning! Christian life means the Cross, suffering, and it is also a life of joy, of hope, of audacity, because we are children of the King, infinitely loved, and infinitely precious.
This month, we can make our own a prayer attributed to St. Catherine: “Precious Blood, ocean of divine mercy: flow upon us! Precious Blood, most pure offering: procure us every grace! Precious Blood, hope and refuge of sinners: atone for us! Precious Blood, delight of holy souls: draw us! Amen.”
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.