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Sanguis Dei

“I adore Thee, O Precious Blood of Jesus, flower of creation, fruit of virginity, ineffable instrument of the Holy Ghost, and I rejoice at the thought that Thou came from the drop of virginal blood on which eternal Love impressed its movement; Thou were assumed by the Word and deified in His person. I am overcome with emotion when I think of Thy passing from the Blessed Virgin’s heart into the heart of the Word, and, being vivified by the breath of Divinity, becoming adorable because Thou became the Blood of God. I adore Thee enclosed in the veins of Jesus, preserved in His humanity like the manna in the golden urn, the memorial of the eternal Redemption which He accomplished during the days of His earthly life. I adore Thee, Blood of the new, eternal Testament, flowing from the veins of Jesus in Gethsemane, from the flesh torn by scourges in the Praetorium, from His pierced hands and feet and from His opened side on Golgotha. I adore Thee in the Sacraments, in the Eucharist, where I know Thou art substantially present… I place my trust in Thee, O adorable Blood, our Redemption, our regeneration. Fall, drop by drop, into the hearts that have wandered from Thee and soften their hardness. O adorable Blood of Jesus, wash our stains, save us from the anger of the avenging angel. Irrigate the Church; make her fruitful with Apostles and miracle-workers, enrich her with souls that are holy, pure and radiant with divine beauty.” –St. Albert the Great

oil on canvas ·  28 x 22 in ·  2024 · prints coming soon here

Inspired by this meditation on the Precious Blood of Jesus by St. Albert the Great, this painting is a poetic illustration of the reality, meaning, and beauty found in the interconnection between the Blood of Jesus contained in the chalice, His pierced Heart, and the act of Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. This is illustrated through the depiction of a monstrance, an anatomical heart, and a chalice. In an allegorical manner, the Host traditionally exposed in the monstrance is here replaced by the Blood of Christ, which pours into the chalice. Simultaneously, the face of the monstrance is an anatomical representation of the pierced Heart of Jesus. This hybrid sacred vessel is set in an opened altar niche, surrounded by various Eucharistic motifs.

The replacement of the Blood in the receptacle of the monstrance instead of the Host underscores the reality of the presence of the Blood in the act of Adoration. For theologically sound- and very practical- reasons, the Blood of Jesus is not placed in a monstrance, as that is not the purpose of such a vessel. The history of monstrances, including their design and construction of the lunula (the circular receptacle with a crescent-shaped clip for holding the Host upright), were intended precisely to allow a consecrated Host to be easily and securely placed inside for the purposes of Adoration, Benediction, or processions. The thought or practicality of filling the receptacle with the Blood would be absurd. Yet, artistically, this substitution can be made, and its appearance in a monstrance startles, for it is not something we would see in real life. This replacement, then, can deepen our understanding that the Blood of Jesus is also adored in the Host (a living body must contain living blood, and it is no different in the Sacred Host). Additionally, this substitution closely alludes to the many Eucharistic miracles in which a consecrated Host begins to bleed or transforms into human heart tissue.

A monstrance, also known as an ostensorium (from the Latin words monstrare and ostendere, meaning “to show”), has always been used to “show” or “present” the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in such a way that He can be adored or carried. Though not directly used in the Sacrifice of the Mass, this vessel or shrine allows us to gaze upon and adore Our Lord for a prolonged period of time in a manner that is appropriate and dignified for Him. Throughout the years, monstrances have taken various forms and designs, from cylinders with golden stands (such as reliquaries) to the common “sunburst” or “solar” design emulating the rays of the sun. Here, the ornamentation of the face of the monstrance is such that it alludes to an anatomical heart: it is divided into the four chambers of a human heart, and the golden rays of light emanating from the monstrance double as the veins and arteries of the heart. Traditionally, in medical illustrations, the right atrium and right ventricle are colored blue, while the left atrium and left ventricle are red. This is so as the right side of the heart pumps deoxygenated blood and the left vessels of the heart transport oxygenated blood. Likewise, the four “chambers” of the monstrance are colored accordingly and appear to be flowing with liquid. Several of the golden rays are also colored according to the positioning of the veins and arteries of a human heart: the three openings of the aorta at the top (red), the pulmonary artery on the left (blue), the four pulmonary veins, with two on each side (red), and the superior vena cava and inferior vena cava on the right (blue).

The transformation of the monstrance into an anatomical heart presents the poetic connection that the monstrance, once the Blessed Sacrament is placed inside, in a certain dignified manner, becomes vivified- it now partakes in the living, beating Heart of Jesus. The same blood “enclosed in the veins of Jesus” during His earthly life now flows and pumps through the man-made “body” of this sacred vessel.

Separating the four chambers of the heart are four golden medallions, each representing one of the means by which Jesus was physically inflicted by man and which, in turn, His Blood was shed. As they occurred chronologically (from the left of the monstrance and proceeding clock-wise): the Scourge, the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Nails, and the Holy Lance. The Blood of Our Lord was shed mercilessly at the Scourging, flowed profusely from the Crown of Thorns, and poured out freely on the Cross- the price of our salvation flowing from the Precious Body of the Creator by means of torture by the creature.

The Crown of Thorns is the topmost medallion, as it was placed on the Head of Christ, while the bottommost medallion is the Lance that pierced His Side and Heart. At the Crucifixion, the pierced Heart of Jesus poured forth blood and water; in the same way, the opening beneath the monstrance also pours forth blood and water into the chalice below. It is His Heart (as symbolized by the entire monstrance), that is once more pierced and that becomes present on the altar during the Consecration. This imagery also alludes to the mixing of water and wine in the chalice during the Offertory before the Eucharistic prayer.

This living Blood is collected into the golden chalice- that most sacred vessel which holds the Most Precious Blood during the Mass- where it is then given to mankind to drink, for his purification and sanctification. In the Old Testament, on the Feast of Passover, an unblemished male lamb was to be sacrificed, its blood sprinkled on the wooden doorposts of one’s home, and then its roasted flesh eaten. Only if this was done would the Angel of Death spare that household and pass over. Now, Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover- He is the spotless Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God, Who was sacrificed and slain for the forgiveness of sins, and Whose Blood covered the wood of the Cross- and only if we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood can we be spared from Death.

It is this Blood that inaugurated and now continues to “irrigate” the Church, giving us nourishment, life, and protection from evil and harm. Even in human terms, blood is universally a symbol of life. It is with great piety that many devotions and prayers to the Precious Blood have rightly emerged, including the institution of the Feast of the Precious Blood of Jesus in the month of July. As the price of our salvation and our pledge of eternal life, we must constantly invoke the Precious Blood of Jesus over our lives, families, all we have, and all we do, for His Blood is a repellant to all evil and a shield from the Enemy. As in the Anima Christi prayer, the Blood of Christ is asked to inebriate us- but this intoxication is a sober inebriation. Rather than suffocating man in what is irrational, this Drink makes man more prudent- the senses are further opened, the mind enlightened, and the heart purified.

Beneath the chalice is the corporeal, a square linen napkin. “Corporeal” comes from the Latin word corpus, meaning “body.” The corporeal is traditionally made of linen after the linen burial cloths that wrapped the body Jesus, and therefore why it is given its name. The corporal is always placed on the altar beneath the Host and chalice to collect any fragments from the consecrated Host. It is also placed under the monstrance during Exposition, as Jesus is present. A small, red cross is normally embroidered near the edge.

The monstrance and chalice are enclosed in an exposed, stone niche, with the Holy Ghost, in the form of a dove, at the top. The Holy Ghost, during the Epiclesis, is called down to sanctify the offerings of bread and wine; likewise, the “ineffable instrument of the Holy Ghost” is here present, having sanctified the wine to become the Blood, and Who is always present with the Father and the Son. In the openings of the columns on either side are grapevines, alluding to the source from which the consecrated wine is derived. This “fruit of the vine and work of human hands” is also the “fruit of virginity,” as, in a sense, wine is derived from the crushed ovary of the grapevine. Yet, this “fruit of virginity” may not merely reference the Blood of Jesus as the fruit of the virgin grape, but also as the fruit of the womb of the Virgin Mary.

Flanking the monstrance are two candles. When the sanctuary lamp is aflame, it is indicative of the presence of Jesus. Stepping into this scene, the burning candles reassure us that this is a sacred space where God is truly present. Today, candles used in the Liturgy must be made of a least more than half beeswax, though, historically, more was required. Another “fruit of virginity,” this pure wax derived from bees represents the pure flesh assumed by Jesus from His Virgin Mother. Additionally, the wick symbolizes the Soul of Jesus and the flame, His Divinity.

Entwining the two columns are verdant vines of blooming white lilies and red roses, traditional motifs in depictions of the Eucharist. Here, the red roses allude to the Blood of Jesus shed during His Passion and Death and now contained within the chalice. The roses also symbolize how this great sacrificial love ought to take root in our own souls from frequent reception of the Eucharist. The presence of the rose thorns continue as a reminder of the Crown of Thorns. According to legend, in the beginning- in the Garden of Eden- roses did not grow with thorns; it was only after the Fall that the rose grew thorns, therefore becoming a symbol of sin having now entered the world. In this way, Christ was crowned with the sin of the world. As in the poem Roses and Thorns by Richard Henry Stoddard (1856) and Tchaikovsky's Legend: though roses ought to have been on the Head of Christ, red drops of blood sprung there instead.

The white lilies represent purity; not only the pure, spotless Sacrifice of the Lamb, but the continual purification of the soul in consuming the Eucharist. As in the Book of Revelation, it is the Blood of the Lamb that washes our robes clean, making us presentable to God the Father (Rev 7:14). Likewise, St. Paul speaks of the unblemished offering of Christ, Whose Blood- far more than the blood of animals- will cleanse our consciences from dead works (Heb 9:14). The combination of the two floral symbols, growing from the same vine, symbolize how the two virtues of charity and purity are inseparable in the Blessed Sacrament and when speaking of man’s own transformation through a deep devotion to the Eucharist and Adoration.

The stone columns and arch give the impression that we are stepping into a sort of vision; there is a sense of mystery and perhaps a hesitancy to look in and witness this display. Yet, at the same time, the composition invites us in to draw close to the mystery of the Blood of Jesus contained in these sacred vessels. In the background, where the niche would be expected to be sealed, is a pure, heavenly sky. Rather than being placed within a chapel or traditional altar niche, this scene is fully exposed, yet somewhat outside space and time. It gives the viewer the sense of the unknown, as to what else might be behind the arch, what other mysteries or beauties will be found. Every act of Adoration, at each moment we gaze at Jesus in the monstrance, is almost a separation from earthly time. More so, each time we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is a foretaste of Heaven, a communion with all the angels and saints, where the past, present, and future cease- it is an abyss of purity, being united to the Trinity in such an intimate way. The endless, otherworldly sky behind the seemingly human architecture underscores our crossing the threshold into the Divine, into communion with the Trinity.

The Latin title Sanguis Dei (“Blood of God”), is somewhat unusual. Traditionally, “Sanguis Christi” (“Blood of Christ”) is used in reference to the consecrated wine; yet, the Eucharist is the eternal sacrifice of God the Son back to God the Father, and in being of the same essence, the Body and Blood that is consumed in the Eucharist can likewise be said to be the Body and Blood of God Himself. In a poetic fashion, St. Albert has alluded to the fact that the Blood flowing through the Word made flesh and born of the Virgin Mary belongs also to the First Person of the Trinity. If God the Father became incarnate and took on flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Body of His Son is His Body, and the Blood of His Son, His Blood. The title is also inscribed around the chalice, further identifying this vessel as truly containing the Blood of God.

This Blood is indeed “deified.” It flows through the Veins of the Second Person of the Trinity- in the same way that Our Lord’s Body, Heart, Eyes, and all other faculties of His Flesh are most adorable and precious, so, too, the Blood within His Veins. This precious Blood that was so carefully preserved and enclosed in the safety of His Veins as the Infant Jesus grew is now shed profusely and mercilessly in His Passion and Crucifixion. Nothing is beautiful, adorable, or compelling at the sight of pools of blood, let alone a victim shrouded with blood. Yet, this Blood is most adorable because it is the Blood of God.

In this singular sacred vessel of the chalice and the monstrance, we can adore and gaze at the spotless, pure Blood of Jesus, given the honor and dignity deserving to God. The imagery ultimately weaves together the One Who is sacrificed in the Mass and the One Whom we visit in Adoration. Precious stones and metals, fragrant flowers, and fruits of creation cannot truly do justice to this great Gift of the Body and Blood of God made food. The wheat, the grapes, the flowers, the bees- all of creation- lives, blooms, works and, ultimately, dies for Him; and all of this, for man’s salvation.

By Aveen Toma ·  2024


Aveen Toma

Fine Art

Sacred Art

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