St Gaspar del Bufalo and the Precious Blood

Saint Gaspar del Bufalo (1786-1837) was an apostle of devotion to the Precious Blood. Imprisoned for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to Napoleon, and notable in charitable works, he preached with such power that the banditti came to lay down their weapons at his feet. Devotion to the Precious Blood is of fundamental importance. The talk quotes from St Gaspar, St John XXIII and our great English priest, Father Faber.

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[Text] St Gaspar del Bufalo and the Precious Blood

St Gaspar del Bufalo was born on the feast of the Epiphany in 1786, so his mother named him Gaspar, Melchior Balthasar when he was baptised (on the same day). His family worked in service and lived opposite the Church of the Gesù in Rome, so the young Gaspar would have known the painting there of the Sacred Heart by Pompeo Batoni. It shows Our Lord holding out his heart in his hand, bathed in fire and with streams of light coming from it.

Ordained in 1808, he set up an evening society for the labourers and farm workers who came into Rome from the countryside to sell their wares. He provided catechism for orphans and children of the poor, and set up a night shelter for the homeless. That was his first year of priesthood. 

In 1809 Napoleon invaded Rome and St Gaspar was one of the faithful priests who refused to take the oath of allegiance to him. His reply, when asked, was: 
“I would rather die or suffer evil than to take such an oath. I cannot. I must not. I will not. (Non posso, non debbo, non voglio.)”
He was consequently exiled to Northern Italy and spent four years in prison. In 1814, thanks to the British victory over Napoleon, freeing Europe from his attempted domination, St Gaspar returned to Rome. We should perhaps remember him whenever we are in London and pass through Waterloo Station or see Nelson’s column.

St Gaspar and the Mission of the Precious Blood

After the French occupation, the Papal States needed to recover basic Government, including the rule of law. St Gaspar was sent to Umbria as a missionary, at the request of Pope Pius VII. There he founded the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. As normally happens when the rule of law has broken down, the area was dominated by what are usually referred to as banditti or bandits. It would give a better idea of the situation if we referred to them as gangsters, and their work as organised crime.

St Gaspar reconciled many of these criminals by his preaching of the Precious Blood of Our Lord. The Passionist priest and bishop St Vincent Strambi, described his preaching as being "like a spiritual earthquake." In response, many of the bandits came to lay down their guns at his feet.

As so often happens when a good man tackles organised crime, the local officials were not happy since they had lost the corrupt income they had received from bribes. They complained to Rome, where they had plenty of friends, and almost got St Gaspar suspended. He did not help his own cause by also preaching against abuses in the Church, especially financial, and against the poor government of the papal states. In addition, some of his enemies sympathised with the Italian Jansenism and the beginnings of freemasonry. We need his intercession for so many things today. Fortunately he was saved by going to Pope Leo XII for an audience and impressing him with his obvious holiness. Under Pius VIII, he faced further hostility and did have his faculties removed for a short time. During all this, he acted with saintly patience, forbearance and forgiveness. 

In 1836, his health began to fail, so he went back to Rome. In his weakened state of health, he took up a new apostolate: helping out in ministering to the sick during the cholera epidemic. He died of his labours in 1837 at the age of 51.

St Gaspar knew with the certainty of faith, the power of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord. Not only do we experience this power in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but in all the sacraments, which flow from the side of Christ pierced by the centurion at Calvary.

St Gaspar’s preaching

St Gaspar’s preaching on the Precious Blood had three ends: reparation to our Holy Redeemer, propitiation of the Eternal Father, and the sanctification of souls.(1) He regarded the devotion to the Precious Blood as of fundamental importance. As he put it,
All the mysteries are focused in the infinite Price of our Redemption like the radii of a circle converging in the centre. In this devotion all the truths of faith are summed up. For this reason we say in the consecration of our chalice: the "Mystery of Faith."
In a letter to Pope Leo XII, the saint put forward the devotion as an answer to the errors of the time and a programme for the necessary remedy to them:
Is it not also a fact that Sacred Scripture itself gives us the steps to take for the Reform? Pacificans per Sanguinem Crucis eius sive quae in coelis sive quae in terris sunt? ‘making peace through the Blood of his Cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven’ [Col 1: 20]. Do we ourselves not know that Christus dilexit ecclesiam tradidit semetipsum pro ea . . . acquisivit sanguine suo ‘Christ loved the church, and delivered himself up for it?’ [Eph 5: 25]. Does not Divine Wisdom tell us that justificati in Sanguine salvi erimus ab ira per ipsum ‘justified in the Blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him?(2)

St John XXIII

St John XXIII had a lifelong devotion to the Precious Blood, thanks to his dear mother. In 1960 he wrote the Apostolic Letter Inde a Primis on promoting devotion to the Precious Blood. In it, he said, 

The Blood of the new and eternal covenant especially deserves this worship of latria when it is elevated during the sacrifice of the Mass. But such worship achieves its normal fulfilment in sacramental communion with the same Blood, indissolubly united with Christ’s eucharistic Body. In intimate association with the celebrant, the faithful can then truly make his sentiments at communion their own: “I will take the chalice of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord… The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul for everlasting life. Amen.”

Sadly, that prayer of the priest before receiving the chalice was removed from the text of the modern rite of Mass. Of course, priests can say it quietly as an act of devotion. 

Speaking of how the faithful may experience burning love for Christ when they come worthily to the altar, Pope John XIII quotes St John Chrysostom spoke eloquently on the subject: 
Let us, then, come back from that table like lions breathing out fire, thus becoming terrifying to the Devil, and remaining mindful of our Head and of the love he has shown for us… This Blood, when worthily received, drives away demons and puts them at a distance from us, and even summons to us angels and the Lord of angels… This Blood, poured out in abundance, has washed the whole world clean… This is the price of the world; by it Christ purchased the Church… This thought will check in us unruly passions. How long, in truth, shall we be attached to present things? How long shall we remain asleep? How long shall we not take thought for our own salvation? Let us remember what privileges God has bestowed on us, let us give thanks, let us glorify him, not only by faith, but also by our very works.(3)

Father Faber

Our own English priest, Father Faber, the founder of the London Oratory, was an apostle of devotion to the Precious Blood and wrote a book fervently expounding the devotion. In one place, he writes:
When the Blessed Sacrament is laid upon your tongue,—that moment and that act which the great angels of God look down upon with such surpassing awe,—the Blood of Jesus is throbbing there in all its abounding life of glory. It sheathes in the sacramental mystery that exceeding radiance which is lighting all heaven at that moment with a magnificence of splendour which exceeds the glowing of a million suns. You do not feel the strong pulses of his immortal life. If you did, you could hardly live yourself. Sacred terror would undo your life. But in that adorable Host is the whole of the Precious Blood, the Blood of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, and Calvary, the Blood of the Passion, of the Resurrection, and of the Ascension, the Blood shed and reassumed. As Mary bore that Precious Blood within herself of old, so do you bear it now.(4)

As so often, Father Faber’s writing is filled with a sense of awe at the majesty and sacredness of the divine, but also with an evident love for the persons of the Holy Trinity. When he writes of the Precious Blood, he can scarcely contain himself, so filled is he with devotion. He is an example to us of the power that the worship of the Precious Blood can give to our life of prayer. We need not be surprised that his embellished translation of St Alphonsus Liguori’s Viva viva Gesù is filled with tender sentiments of heartfelt love and profound adoration. If we celebrated more public devotions to the Precious Blood, perhaps we might hear this hymn more often in England and make it familiar once again. We can finish with the example of just one of the verses:
Oh, sweetest Blood, that can implore 
Pardon of God, and heav’n restore, 
The heav’n which sin had lost; 
While Abel’s blood for vengeance pleads, 
What Jesus shed still intercedes
For those who wrong him most.(5)

Notes

1. Beniamino Conti, C.PP.S. Saint Gaspar del Bufalo, Apostle of the Blood of Christ. Volume II: The Preaching of Saint Gaspar on the Devotion to the Blood of Christ. C.PP.S. Resources–No. 32 2010. Missionaries of the Precious Blood Cincinnati Province. p4 

2. Conti op cit p13-14 In Ioan. Homil. XLVI; Migne P. G. LIX, 260-261

3. In Ioan. Homil. XLVI; Migne P. G. LIX, 260-261

4. Frederick William Faber. The Precious Blood. 1860. p36. (https://archive.org/details/a5807812fabe00uoft)

5. The words of the hymn can be found at: Faber, Frederick William DD. Hymns. 3rd American, from the Author's last Edition of 1861. Baltimore: John Murphy & Co. page 116. (https://ia802805.us.archive.org/24/items/hymns00faberich/hymns00faberich.pdf) Various melodies can be found at https://hymnary.org/text/hail_jesus_hail_who_for_my_sake – the one most popularly used in England is “Novello.”

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