For about 120 years, roughly 1850 until 1970, the feast of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ was celebrated on or about July 1 each year. While the feast had been celebrated in various dioceses for a couple of centuries, Pope Pius IX raised the observance to a feast day for the universal Church in 1849 in gratitude for the liberation by French troops of the city of Rome from Italian revolutionaries. Pope Pius X settled the observance annually on July 1. In 1933, Pope Pius XI raised the feast to the rank of Double of the 1st Class to mark the 1,900th anniversary of Jesus’s death. Pope John XXIII had a special devotion himself to the Precious Blood and in 1960 he saw that the feast be classified as first class on the General Roman Calendar. A Litany of the Most Precious Blood was also approved for public use in 1960 by Pope John XXIII, The feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 because liturgists revising the ceremonies and calendar of the Church after the Second Vatican Council determined that the Most Precious Blood of Christ is already celebrated in the solemnities of Passion Week, of Corpus Christi (renamed The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ), of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. A Mass of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is still found among the votive Masses of the Roman Missal.
The rather unfortunate history of the Catholic community’s devotion to the Precious Blood is all the more heightened when one considers the frequency (or rather infrequency) with which the sacramental Blood of the Savior is offered to the faithful during Mass. The regularity of Holy Communion under both species varies tremendously from parish to parish and from diocese to diocese. In the United States, the Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life showed that by 1989, slightly less than half of the parishes in its survey offered the chalice to their congregations. In parishes that do offer the Precious Blood, the percentage of worshippers accepting the chalice varies greatly.
In the early Church, Communion was ordinarily administered and received under both kinds as mentioned by St. Paul in I Corinthians 11:28. However when the Eucharist was brought to the sick only the Body of Christ was offered. During the Middle Ages when much stress was laid on being holy and devout when receiving the Eucharist, Communion reception in general began to lag (hence legislation about an Easter Duty.) Likewise, since offering the chalice was more liable to result in accident or upset, denial of the cup prevented anything ill-mannered happening to the sublime Eucharist. By this time, and for similar reasons, Communion was given only on the tongue rather than in the hand.
The Protestant Reformers, including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Cranmer fought hard for the extension of the cup to the people. In 1564, Pius IV did grant this permission to some German bishops, provided certain conditions were fulfilled. This concession was withdrawn in the following year. Since the Reformation, until quite recently, reception of Communion under both species had become much more, perhaps almost exclusively, the mark of Protestant Christians which might explain the hesitancy of some pastors even today to extend the cup to the people.
The dual consecration — “This is My Body…This is the Chalice of My Blood” — is absolutely essential to the effectiveness of the Mass. The Body and Blood of Christ, separate as at the moment of his death, really and truly make present again that moment of sacrifice when Christ on the Cross gave over his Body and shed his Blood for the redemption of mankind. Without both elements — the Body given and the Blood poured out — there would be no daily renewal of the saving, sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. While it is true that the Risen Christ is fully present in the Eucharist under either form, sharing in the sacrifice of Christ by receiving both His Body and His Blood emphasizes for the communicant how important Christ’s sacrificial moment on Calvary truly was. Indeed, Christ rose for the believer’s justification but he also died for humanity’s sins. Reception under both species is a graphic and vivid reminder of the saving death of Christ and of the anguish that the Savior endured to save each soul.
The words of consecration recorded in Scripture and as spoken at Mass today — “Take this, all of you, and eat of it…Take this, all of you, and drink from it…” should be taken much more seriously. Communion under both species should be the norm not the exception.