"Una stilla": a reflection on the Precious Blood


The power of the blood of Jesus to redeem us from our sins is infinite. St Thomas puts it graphically by saying that one drop (una stilla) is enough to save the whole world from every crime. Here is the verse from the hymn Adoro te Devote and the unsurpassed translation by Edward Caswall:
Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo Sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

O loving Pelican! O Jesus, Lord!
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in thy blood;
of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
is ransom for a world’s entire guilt.

With him is plentiful redemption

In his reflection on the great power of one drop of the precious blood, Father Faber focuses on the copiousness of our redemption:
“The worth of one drop of the Precious Blood is simply infinite; consequently, no imaginary arithmetic of possible creations will convey any adequate idea of its overwhelming magnificence. Alas! the very copiousness of our redemption makes our view of it less clear. The very crowding of God's love causes it to have something indistinguishable about it. Who does not see that it will take us an eternity to learn Jesus, or rather that we shall never learn Him, but that the endless work of learning Him will be the gladness of our eternity?” (“The Precious blood: or, The price of our salvation”)
To help us in this path of learning, Father Faber offers a comparative example which would probably be dismissed as sentimental by the snootier sort of modernist, but is actually a good reminder to a devout Catholic, of the power of Our Lord’s precious blood:
“If all the merits, graces, gifts, and powers of our dearest Mother had been possible without the Precious Blood, they might have ascended as sweet incense before God forever, and yet in no possible duration of time could they have merited the Precious Blood. Not all these together, saints, angels, and Mary, with all their glorious holiness, growing yet more glorious in endless ages, could have bought one drop of Precious blood, or merited that mystery of the Incarnation whose wonderful redeeming power resides in the Precious Blood.”

Redemption is a real work with real effects

Other writers in their enthusiasm, have come up with a different illustration. It is sometimes said that Jesus could have redeemed us with a cut finger. While strictly true, this does not help us so much. The fact is, Our Lord did not redeem us with a cut finger, He shed His blood copiously for us on the Cross. It is helpful if we can understand why.

Before ever there was a need for redemption, God loved the world copiously. He loved Adam and Eve, and all their descendants with an infinite love. The coming of Word of God in the flesh was the means by which the blessed Trinity willed for us to be in communion with the Godhead. God the Son, sharing in our humanity, gave us His flesh and blood so that we could share in His divine life.

The devastating and evil consequence of the fall was that our human nature was so damaged that we were no longer capable of being in communion with God. This damage was real and needed a real reparation. The redemption won for us by Jesus Christ was not simply a moral example, still less a merely juridical acquittal; it was a work that had real results in our very being. If you prefer to use philosophical terminology, it was a work with ontological effect. The redemption actually changes those who have access to it through their baptism. It changes us so that we are now the kind of beings who can be in communion with the Godhead.

The work of redemption was also carried out in real world circumstances, with real fallen people reacting to the living God who walked in their midst. Given the disorder of our fallen human nature and the evil choices that were made, there was never a chance that the Hosannas of Palm Sunday would be the final triumph. It was inevitable that the Christ would face enmity of the kind that would only be satisfied with His immolation.

The greatest of all prayers

The redemption brought about by the precious blood of Christ was not the disinterested logical consequence of a cut finger; it was the full personal immersion of God made man into our world with all the love, hatred, joy and anguish that beat against it. He consciously and deliberately loved us to the uttermost and offered Himself in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world whatever the cost might be. The spiritual and psychological pain was so great the even the Son of God cried for the chalice to pass. The apology that He offered to the Father was the greatest of all prayers:
“Who in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence.” (Heb 5:7)
It is true that one drop of the precious blood would take away the sins of the whole world but this should not be treated lightly. Our redemption was won through an arduous journey of pain and tears. God’s benevolence and generosity to us is copious, abundant and overflowing: not only did the sacrifice of Our Lord take away our sins, it changed us so that we could be in communion with God, even "co-sharers of the divine nature." (2 Pet 1:4) In bringing about this utterly undeserved benefit for us, Our Lord shed that very blood which he would give us every time we receive Holy Communion. That is why we follow St Thomas and Fr Faber in reverencing every drop of the precious blood.
“But, if we saw one drop of the Precious Blood, hanging like the least pearl of dew upon a blade of grass on Calvary, or as a dull disfigured splash in the dust of the gateway of Jerusalem, we should have to adore it with the selfsame adoration as the uncovered splendours of the Eternal.” (Fr Faber op. cit.)

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