Rick Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. A Catholic convert by way of G.K. Chesterton and the Catholic Worker movement, Rick has studied theology at Evangelical institutions as well as Franciscan University of Steubenville. He currently serves on the nursing faculty at Bethel College, Mishawaka, Indiana. You can find more of Rick’s writing at God-Haunted Lunatic.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not
a participation in the blood of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16).
In Mad Max: Fury Road (2015),the eponymous post-apocalyptic renegade is run down by the murderous War Boys, but his life is spared. Why? They tattoo it right on Max: “O-negative, high octane; universal donor.” Max subsequently beomes a source of hemoglobin for the anemic elite.
But what makes Max a universal donor? What makes his blood so valuable?
What we call “blood types” are actually descriptions of the most common protein antigens that attach to the surface of our red blood cells and which make for transfusion compatibility problems. If you’re type A, for instance, and you receive type B blood in a transfusion, you can have a severe allergic reaction — even a deadly one. To complicate matters even more, blood banks also have to account for the presence or absence of a protein known as Rh factor — which is why you’d be either a type A+ or type A- blood type. There are other considerations (and blood types) that further complicate transfusion compatibilities, and blood banks have their work cut out for them as they strive to match the antigens of donor blood to recipient blood.
But then there’s O- red blood, which is devoid of all the most common antigens. Since it can be received by virtually anyone, particularly in emergency situations, folks who already have it coursing through their veins are designated “universal donors” — like Mad Max.
That being the case, I’m thinking there’s some intentional Christ-figure imagery in Fury Road: a suspended rebel pouring out his lifegiving O- blood for his tormenters. Since the movie’s director and co-writer, George Miller, was a physician before he took up filmmaking, I imagine he was keenly aware of the universal donor connotations. But regardless of what Miller had in mind for his film, it does seem to make sense that Jesus himself would’ve had that totally accessible O- blood type.
Turns out, this might not have been the case. The Eucharistic miracles that have been investigated by the Church throughout the centuries — those times when the Eucharistic species have turned into visibly human flesh and blood — all seem to point in a different direction. When subjected to blood type analysis, these miraculous remnants seem to indicate a Messianic AB blood type, which is consistent with similar studies on the Shroud of Turin.
But the AB blood type is associated with universal receptivity (especially AB+) rather than universal donation. Generally speaking, since AB+ blood carries the most common antigens, those who have this type can usually safely receive any of the major types in a red blood cell transfusion. There’s a low risk of reaction – the recipient’s blood already matches in large part the kinds of attached antigens he’d be likely to receive.
If true, what would we make of this counterintuitive Christological phenomenon? Why would Jesus’ blood be globally receptive instead of universally accessible?
Here’s what I came up with. In the Eucharist, we commonly speak of “receiving” Christ in Holy Communion. When we say “Amen” before partaking, we acknowledge his Real Presence and we accept the call to discipleship that goes along with the tremendous sacramental Grace we’re about to consume.
The truth is, however, that when we take Communion, it’s less about Christ becoming part of us than it is we becoming ever more part of him – and, by extension, ever more part of his body, the Church. “Really partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread,” the Council Fathers teach us, “we are taken up into Communion with Him and with one another” (LG 7). And what applies to the Eucharistic bread applies to the Chalice. St. Irenaeus writes that Christ “has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own Blood, from which He causes our blood to flow.” Even more directly, Irenaeus insists that our Communicated flesh is not only nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood, but is also “in fact a member of Him.”
You can only stretch medical metaphors so far, I know. In this case, we’re not even accounting for the hundreds of rare blood types that go beyond the simple A-B-O and Rh characteristics. Even so, I take great comfort in the allegorical idea of Christ as a universal recipient – that his Precious Blood is capable of receiving anyone’s antigen-tainted humanity. He took on the sins of the world, and so no sinner is excluded from being taken up into his divine life. This is theologically true regardless of Jesus’ actual blood type, but the evidence we have that it was indeed the broadly compatible AB type certainly underscores the dogmatic reality.
Now, there may be some health care professionals out there who’ll be quick to point out that people with type AB+ blood are also known as “universal plasma donors.” In other words, plasma transfusion compatibility issues run in the opposite direction of blood-cell transfusion concerns. Now, among other things, plasma carries the clotting factors that stave off deadly hemorrhaging – but this is where my sanguineous spiritual allegory is stretched to the breaking point. Like I said, you can only take medical metaphors so far, so I’ll happily leave further speculation to others and rest in the powerful notion of Jesus’ blood being abundantly receptive – a receptivity that, please God, even extends to me.