Merry Christmas! Today is the day we celebrate the coming of God to us in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ.
I hope you have enjoyed the Advent reflections linking the incarnate body of Jesus to the same flesh we find in the Eucharist. To finish the series, I will share a bit on proven Eucharistic miracles to further demonstrate the connection between the baby who was born to Mary on this day and the Eucharist we have celebrated every day since the Resurrection.
To begin, the Catholic Church teaches that an actual miracle takes place on the altar at every Mass when the bread and wine are transformed into Jesus’ actual flesh and blood. The Catechism states:
In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC #1374).
Even though this transformation occurs, the body and blood of Christ remain under the appearance of the bread and wine, which causes many to doubt the truth of the matter. So many miracles have occurred in numerous realms of our lives, perhaps even in your own life, that are impossible to explain within the laws of nature, yet we have faith they have happened because of divine intervention. We are called to see the miracle of the Eucharist with the same eyes of faith. However, knowing how we are prone to doubt, like Thomas who needed to put his hands in Jesus’ wounds to believe in the resurrection (John 20:24-29), God has provided some instances of undeniable proof to help our belief.
One of the earliest recorded Eucharistic miracles occurred in about 750 AD in Lanciano, Italy. A priest was having doubts about the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. One day, as he was praying the words of consecration, the bread and wine turned into what appeared to be flesh and five individual globules of blood. Convinced of the miracle, the Blessed Sacrament was transferred to the care of some monks as relics. In 1970, the archbishop of Lanciano asked the pope for permission to have the relics tested by Dr. Edward Linoli, who was a professor of anatomy, histology, chemistry, and clinical microscopy. After testing, Dr. Linoli found that the blood was human blood of AB type. He found that the host contained muscular tissue of the myocardium, which is the wall tissue of the heart, as well as arteries, veins and nerves. What’s more, Dr. Linoli reported the flesh and blood to have, “responded rapidly to all the clinical reactions distinctive of living beings.” In other words, even after 1200 years, it was actual living flesh and blood, rather than tissue from a long-deceased corpse. The testing also showed that no preservatives had been used at any point.
In 1263, another priest, named Peter of Prague, was also struggling to believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He was on a pilgrimage to Rome and stopped in the city of Bolsena to celebrate Mass. As he spoke the words of consecration, blood began to drip from the host, down his hands, and onto the corporal, which is a linen cloth placed on the altar to reverently collect any particles of the Blessed Sacrament. He asked to be taken to Pope Urban IV, where a team was assembled to investigate. It was determined the blood was real and the corporal was enshrined in the Cathedral of Orvieto where it remains today. The miracle prompted Pope Urban to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the proper for a Mass and an Office honoring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ. On the one-year anniversary of the miracle, the feast of Corpus Christi was instated by a papal bull.
On August 18, 1996, in Buenos Aires, a woman came across a desecrated consecrated host in the back of the Church. She brought it to Fr. Alejandr Pezet, who put it into a glass of water, which he placed into the tabernacle to allow for the host to be dissolved. He opened the tabernacle again on August 26, but found in the glass a large piece of bloody tissue. He immediately informed Archbishop Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, of the incident and the archbishop asked for the priest to have it professionally photographed, which took place on September 6, 1996. It was then decided that the tissue would remain in the tabernacle for the time being with no attempts to preserve it. After three years, there was no change in the tissue, as evidenced by the earlier photograph. A team was assembled in New York, which included a cardiologist, a forensic pathologist, and other scientists in relevant fields. In order to not create a bias in the team, the source of the tissue was not revealed and they were only to test it and report their findings. Dr. Frederic Zugibe testified:
The analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”
Of course, given the fact that the miracle was concealed for a period of time, it has been argued that this could be a hoax and that the host was simply replaced by a piece of tissue, perhaps from a cadaver. However, if you read the doctor’s testimony carefully, the large number of white blood cells indicated that the sample was taken from a live and beating heart.
The Church has a long history of witnessing Eucharistic miracles, with over 100 having been officially recognized. That being said, they have become more frequent as time has progressed. One possible reason is that the early Christians did not doubt the truth of the miracle that occurs at every Mass. They simply believed in the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ because Jesus said it was true. As time progressed, our doubting Thomas ways have gained a stronger hold, causing even Catholics to question the reality of the Eucharist. In His great Mercy, God has given us these tangible and visible miracles to help alleviate our doubt and to deepen our trust in His Truth. If you are interested in this topic, or you have doubts yourself, I have two book recommendations for you: Eucharistic Miracles and Eucharistic Phenomena in the Lives of the Saints, by Joan Carroll Cruz and A Cardiologist Studies Jesus: The Stunning Science Behind Eucharistic Miracles, by Dr. Franco Serafini. To conclude, take some time to read Mark Chapter 9 and imitate the father of the boy from whom Jesus cast out demons and pray unceasingly, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”