The Precious Blood Family of Saints
We are used to including in our Precious Blood Family here on the West Coast of California a variety of names in our Litany of Saints that bring to mind our devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus. At the top of the list are names like St. Gaspar del Bufalo and Blessed Maria de Mattias. In speaking of them we also include mention of Companions and fellow laborers who accompanied them, Venerable Merlini, St. Vincent Palloti, Blessed Vincent Strambi and others. For St. Gaspar, devotion to the blood of Christ was the fount from which all the other devotions sprang. There was no devotion more fundamental. If this is true, mention of this devotion would have been evident in the church's patrimony prior to the early 19th century when Francis Albertini composed such cherished prayers in honor of the Blood of Christ, such as the Seven Offerings and the Precious Blood Chaplet. A brief survey of the writings of the ancient Fathers and Doctors of the church would reveal that this is true. From the earliest centuries with St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin Martyr, to the present day, we discover how central this spirituality is.
St. Catherine of Siena
For me, a favorite in this list of Saints and Holy ones is the name of the youngest daughter of Jacobo of Benicasa and his wife Monna Lapa of Puccio dei Piagenti. Catherine, the youngest of twenty-three children, was born in 1347. From the first she was different from the others. At the age of six she saw the saints gathered in praise around the Lord and she wanted to be one of them. As a young girl she made a private vow of virginity, and at 12 she cut off her hair to make clear that she did not want a husband prepared for her, as she had already given herself to the Lord. Over difficult opposition of her family, and even of the Dominican Tertiaries she was joining, she finally was permitted to take the Dominican Habit and become a member of the this group of tertiaries called the "Mantellate.(1) The Mantellate were a group of older women, often widows, who took the habit of the Dominican Order but remained living in their homes and participating in the prayers of the community and the works of mercy.
The First Work: Communion
It was St. Gaspar that said that our principle was the same as Vincent de Paul, we are Carthusians at home and apostles on the road. It is Catherine, centuries before who put flesh to this ideal. After taking the habit, she confined herself to her room to be in total communion with God, going out only to attend the Mass at the local Dominican Church. After some years of this solitude and silence, her family slowly accepting the direction her life had taken, she abruptly returns to society, to serve the needs of the sick and the poor, to serve her family, and to participate in the works of the Mantellate. This sudden turn to work in the world did not end her spirit of silence and contemplation. The beauty of a soul in the state of Grace is what she delighted in, so whether serving the lepers at the edge of society, or bringing a condemned criminal to a delight for the truth(2) she did not care that she was sometimes misunderstood by her fellow citizens. "She is always with the poor and the friendless," they said. "You who were once far off, have been brought near by the Blood of Christ," the scripture tell us. She, who could not read, knew this and lived this with her every breath.
It would take a longer dissertation to explain the intricacies of feuds between Italian City states in the 14th century. Suffice it to say that it was contemplation of the truth that led Catherine to intercede in political and religious disputes, even to the point of her preaching to the Holy Father, bringing him to accept his own responsibilities and obligations. St. Gaspar's own venture in this regard seems to be a strong echo of the life of this 14th century Saint. Her first intervention was with prayer, then with counsel and personal intervention.
The First Sign: The Blood of Christ
"You know that I set before you the mystic body of Holy Church under the image of a wine cellar. In this wine cellar was the blood of my only begotten Son, and from this blood all the sacraments derive their power."(3) As one Precious Blood Companion here in California stated, "who does that sound like 450 years later?"(4) Indeed both St. Gaspar and Blessed Maria de Mattias provide echoes of this belief in the 19th century, as we hear from our own founder: "I am consoled, indeed, by the interior status of your soul with reference to the most holy Eucharist. When one withdraws into this mystical wine cellar, who can number the good effects that will be experienced? There, you are to beseech for me a holy electricity in my poor soul so that, each morning when I celebrate holy Mass, it will be recharged by the most merciful Jesus. Although there are mystical seasons in the soul, nevertheless, in one who loves Jesus Crucified, all turns out for the good. "(5)
The Precious Blood is worked so thoroughly through her writings that it is difficult to organize. Over and over, Catherine speaks of the "power of the blood," and the "blessing of the blood," and the "fruit of the blood." All are linked with God's providence, love and mercy. "My mercy, which you receive in the blood, is incomparably greater than all the sins that have ever been committed."(6) When Catherine speaks of the fire of divine charity from Christ's open side, she sounds just like Maria de Mattias, "or perhaps we should say Maria sounds like her."(7) Some of her writings are addressed to a soul on journey. Others are addressed, with concern and care, to the clergy.
It can be spoken no better than to echo her words. "God is the highest and eternal good, and cannot will other than our good; it is God's will that we be made holy in him, and everything God gives us and permits is toward that end. And if we were to doubt this, I assure you that we could remove all doubt by looking at the Blood of the humble and immaculate Lamb.(8)
In our own day we have elevated St. Catherine with the title, Doctor of the Church. More than this she is a member of our family, not just in the communion of Saints but in our own Precious Blood Family. In this year dedicated to God as Father, I suggest we take her as our inspiration, that this Father is our greatest good and joy, and that the proof of this goodness lies in the Precious Blood of the Savior.
(1)Source for this section of the article is St. Catherine of Siena, Lodovico Ferretti, Ediizioni Cantagalli, Siena
(2)A lovely description of these events is found in a book for children. St. Catherine of Siena, the Story of the Girl Who Saw Saints in the Sky, Mary Fabyan Windeatt, Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford, IL
(3)St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue
(4) Maureen Lahiff served as a research assistant on this article
(5)St Gaspar in a letter to Mother Maria Nazzarena De Castris, 18 December 1830, Letter 2109, in Strokes of the Pen, IV
(6)St. Catherine, The Dialogue
(7)Precious Blood Companion Maureen Lahiff
(8)St. Catherine, The Dialogue