What we haven’t learned from John XXIII

Since the 16th century the Church has assigned different devotions to different months. Most Catholics still know that May is dedicated to Our Lady, October to the holy rosary and November to the Holy Souls. Perhaps less well known is that July is traditionally devoted to the Precious Blood. There used to be a feast of the Precious Blood on July 1, established by Pope Pius IX in 1849.

Does it matter? I think in an age and in a country where Holy Communion under both kinds is routinely administered it matters greatly, and we need to promote greater devotion to the Precious Blood.

My own pastoral experience leads me to the heartsore conclusion that, due to inadequate catechesis, the practice of routinely administering Holy Communion under both kinds may paradoxically weaken devotion to the Precious Blood. I hear huge numbers of the faithful refer to receiving “the wine” at Communion. During the swine flu scare a few years ago I found pinned to the doors of a Jesuit church posters explaining that, for reasons of health, “There will be no wine available at Communion” for the next few months.

This hardly constitutes the “worship of latria” owed to the sacramental reality of Christ’s Blood, referred to by Pope John XXIII in his 1960 apostolic letter Inde a Primis. To say so is not a judgment on those responsible (with the possible exception of the clergy at the aforementioned church who really should know better). But it ought to give rise to concern and action. St John XXIII’s exhortation was, in part, the fruit of his own great devotion to the Precious Blood. He urges the faithful to cultivate the same devotion, explaining that worship of the Blood of the new and eternal covenant “achieves its normal fulfilment united with Christ’s Eucharistic body”. Therefore “the faithful can make the sentiments of the priest their own: ‘I will take the chalice of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord’.” All this, though they only receive under one kind.

The General Instruction of the latest edition of the Roman Missal implies that the Council of Trent rejected calls for Communion under both kinds because of the historical context: “a difficult period when Catholic faith in the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the ministerial priesthood, and the real and permanent presence of Christ under the Eucharistic species were placed at risk”.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection