A Total Self-Giving

From “Christ the Priest,” Lent, 250-253 (1944)

The price of our redemption was the blood of the Redeemer poured out for us upon the Cross. In the modern view this dogma is hard to grasp. Blood, the thick red liquid that courses throughout the veins of man and beast, revolts the senses when it is exposed to sight, when it comes pumping out of some severed artery, and with an acrid stench. How could such liquid buy anything? In their realism, people see the Old Testament sacrifices as little more than the exercise of the butcher’s craft…

Yet symbolically blood has always played an important part in man’s relations with God. Here Saint Paul is mainly concerned with its use in the ceremonies prescribed by the law, for the most significant parts of that host of animals sacrificed in the tabernacle or temple was their blood. Lesser ministers slaughtered the victims, but the priests themselves carried the blood into the sanctuary and poured it about the altar. By the blood itself no one benefited, least of all the pure spirit of God, but it meant something to the Israelites, and still more does it mean something to Christians when the blood is that of Christ. He it was who said over the chalice: “This is my blood of the new testament which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins.” St Peter wrote of the “precious blood of Christ as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled.” St John declared that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” And Saint Paul elsewhere speaks of the blood as “the great price.” …

The blood of a living creature is the symbol of its life. Life does, in fact, depend largely on that continually flowing stream within the body we speak of the “life blood” of a creature, and there could scarcely be a more striking emblem of giving life to God than offering the blood of the victims slain for him. That was why the legal high priest was directed to enter the holy of holies bearing the “blood of goats and of oxen,” the symbol of life spent for the sake of God. Not, however, the life of these animals, but rather of those who are offering them and ultimately of the one Victim who was to give his infinitely precious life for the renewed life of mankind.

Jesus Christ as priests must needs offer something. He could have offered anything, sanctifying it and making it acceptable to the Father by the touch of his innocent and infinitely worthy hands. He could even have offered merely the smallest part of himself since the minutest part of his humanity united to the divine person was of infinite value. He could have offered one single drop of his blood and saved the world by that. But it was not for such an offering that he had come into the world. The perfection of justice would be completely satisfied only by something comparable to the wholesale sin and error of men, at the same time the divine love and mercy would not be satisfied except with the most absolute generosity, a total self-giving.

So the Victim of the unique act of worship and of the total redemption of man was not merely part of the priest but the whole of the priest. The High Priest gave his life, laying it down for the redemption of all those who are willing to be bought with this infinite price. But how could this be shown to the world?

He was the Priest and must offer his life himself visibly so that the world could see his offering and share in it. The life of his soul was a spiritual thing. That could not be offered outwardly. But the way had been prepared by the legal sacrifices and he poured out his blood upon the Cross Life poured out of him. His blood had been shed for the remission of sins.

Conrad Pepler, OP (1908-1993) was an English Dominican priest and author, the author of several books on the liturgy and sacramental theology, and the warden of Spode House, England’s first Roman Catholic conference center.


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