Holy Week Reflection

August 8, 2015 | Reflections From Sr Mary

(given during Reconciliation Liturgy)

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.
Never failed me yet,
Jesus blood never failed me yet.
This one thing I know,
for he loved me so.

Recently I have been blessed not by a word, but by a song! A song, of course, is made up of words but this particular song spoke deeply to my heart – and obviously to many other people’s hearts – much louder and deeper than just words.

Some of you who may tune into Classic FM at times might have heard this song being played or talked about recently. The song I am speaking about has the unusual title of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. And, being unusual, there is, of course, a story behind it. Before telling you the story, the reason why it has been so widely spoken about on Classic FM is due to the fact that the Adelaide Festival was on recently and Gavin Bryars, the man who brought this song to life, was composer in residence at the Festival this year. Classic FM broadcasted live concerts from the festival including two featuring works of Gavin Bryars. I was sent a recording of the night when Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet was the major work!

Here is Gavin Bryar’s story about the song…

“In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant & Castle Station and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some of the homeless people broke into drunken song – sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads – and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet. This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song – 13 bars in length – formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to a studio, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking that perhaps I might add an orchestrated accompaniment to it. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the homeless man's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism."

The original version of the song lasted just over 3 minutes but by 1972, with a new orchestral arrangement by Gavin Bryars, it was recorded on cassette tape for 25 minutes. Then in 1993, with the advent of CDs, a fuller version of 74 minutes was recorded. Since then, it has been performed in concert halls throughout the world.

Before playing it, I want to tell you that the song is unusual and not like something we might hear in a monastic choir or even from Frank Andersen or the St Louis Jesuits, but in its simplicity and the context Gavin Bryars sets for us, it becomes a powerful mantra filled with longing, beauty and above all faith and joy. The words are:

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.
Never failed me yet.
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.
This one thing I know,
for he loved me so.

Imagine listening to that for 74 minutes! I have played it a few times and after a while, the repetition sort of became part of me and I felt myself being swept along by something “other”. I imagined those in the concert hall sitting with their eyes closed as various instruments came in and out and the volume increased then quietened… and always the homeless man proclaiming his simple faith and joy. Since hearing it, the mantra has played over and over in my mind and heart day and night!

These days, we would probably not sing a song like this nor really use the words about Jesus’ blood very often….but, in essence, our faith is built on Jesus’ blood being shed for us and as we approach the end of Lent, the days of the Triduum will be very much about Jesus’ blood…the giving and sharing of the blood of Jesus on Holy Thursday, the outpouring of Jesus’ blood on Good Friday and the lifeblood of Jesus rising on Easter Sunday.

Jesus’ blood… “do this in memory of me”…and we do….almost every day here at the Abbey….Jesus’ blood…gift, privilege, life-giving, nourishing, warming, inviting, strengthening, sustaining, loving, shedding, giving, pleading, never failing yet….
How is it for you?
How do you describe it?
What does it mean to you?


I invite us all this week to drink deeply of the blood of Jesus during our Eucharistic celebrations and as we do so, to sing along with that homeless man “Jesus blood never failed me yet…” in faith, in simplicity and joy…and with him, to remember: “this one thing I know, for he loves me so”.


As we come now to our time of reconciliation, the words of the Gospel that we hear in the Consecration each day remind us of the connection of Jesus’ blood being shed and the forgiveness of our sins:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.

So, as we celebrate this great gift of forgiveness, I ask you to share very simply this evening – just one sentence is enough. After each sister shares we will respond with the beautiful and deeply meaningful antiphon, “Jesus blood never failed me yet” and then pause just a little before the next sister shares.