In the Gospels, Jesus typically requires an act of faith – something difficult—from anyone asking for healing. In the age of the Church, Jesus likewise asks of everyone a difficult act of faith—belief that at the command of the priest, bread and wine changes substance into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. It is as much a stumbling block today as it was for the crowds to whom Jesus proclaimed, “the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51). But the faith Jesus demanded of them was not unreasonable. He provided the crowds with a miracle—the multiplication of the loaves and fish—and many others as well throughout his ministry. Likewise, Jesus has continued to provide miracles now and then to show that faith in the Eucharist is defendable.
Every Eucharist can be said to be miraculous in that it brings God’s power above nature. But not every Eucharist is miraculous in the full meaning of the term—namely power above nature that is clearly open to our five senses as such. Typically, God’s power is behind the veil. The bread and wine that has become the Body and Blood of Jesus still taste, smell, and feel like bread and wine.
However, there have been times when the Eucharist has been miraculous in the full meaning of the term.
The Miracle in Lanciano, Italy
In the eighth century in the Italian town of Lanciano on the Adriatic coast, a Basilian monk-priest was celebrating Mass at the monastery church of St. Lengonius. This priest, however, was having doubts about Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. At the words of Consecration, the Host in his hands turned visibly into flesh and the consecrated wine turned visibly into blood. The faithful present were overcome with wonder and awe and spread the news of the miracle far and wide. The relics of the miracle were preserved by the Basilian fathers and then the Benedictines, and they are still on display at the Church of St. Francis in Lanciano. Over 1,200 years later, the flesh, in the shape of a Communion Host, and coagulated droplets of blood from the Chalice are still in tact. Typically, flesh and blood or bread and wine disintegrate rather quickly.
Scientific examination of the relics in 1971 yielded even more insight into the miracle, in addition to showing it to be beyond natural explanation. Dr. Odoardo Linoli, a professor having specializations in anatomy, pathological histology, chemistry, and clinical microscopy, examined the relics that year with the assistance of Dr. Ruggero Bertelli, an anatomical expert. Dr. Linoli made the following discoveries: the flesh was real human flesh from the heart—a cross section including the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve, and left ventricle. It contained true human blood, of the AB variety, which is much more common in the middle east than it is in Italy—and the same as found on the Shroud of Turin. The chemicals found in the blood should have very quickly disintegrated, but instead lasted over 1,200 years. No preservatives were found. Dr. Linoli and Dr. Bertelli published their findings in an Italian medical journal in 1971.
The spiritual significance of the flesh being heart tissue, with the anatomical structures as discovered, is that this part of the flesh is responsible for pumping the lifeblood of the body, much like Christ in the Eucharist pours his life and grace into the Church and the soul to bring them to life. We might think of the prayer later revealed by Jesus to St. Faustina:
O blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you.
It is interesting to note that St. Lengonius, the patron of the church in which the miracle took place and who is said to have been from this town, was the Roman centurion traditionally thought to be the soldier who thrust a lance into Jesus’ side (as in John’s Gospel) but then testified, in the Synoptic accounts, “Truly this man was the son of God!” (Mark 15:39). The town Lanciano, meaning ‘lance,’ was later named after him.
The Miracle in Buenos Aires
While one might think that Eucharistic miracles like this only took place long ago, this is not the case. While there have, in fact, been many Eucharistic miracles, one particular miracle that took place in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, at St. Mary Church in 1996 bears a striking resemblance to the miracle of Lanciano. A communicant discarded their Consecrated Host in the back of the church rather than consume it, perhaps because it had fallen on the ground. One of the faithful found the discarded Host on a candlestick holder, and reported it to the priest, Fr. Alejandro Pezet, who took the usual measures to reverently return the Host to nature. He retrieved the Host, placed it in the Tabernacle submerged in a container of water so that the Host, which was likely not safe to consume, would dissolve. So long as the accidents of the Consecrated bread and wine remain, so does the Real Presence of Christ, but the Presence is withdrawn when the accidents naturally dissipate.
Fr. Pezet returned after six days to retrieve the water into which the Host should have dissolved, so that it could be returned to nature. Instead, what he found was bleeding flesh, which had expanded in size from that of the Host. He reported the phenomenon to Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires—the future Pope Francis—who advised him to have professional photos taken and to keep silence on the matter until further advised. Fr. Pezet did so, but several years later, the flesh and blood were still in good condition. So in 1999, Archbishop Bergoglio authorized Dr. Ricardo Castanon to have the flesh and blood analyzed. Dr. Castanon is a former atheist who converted to Catholicism because of prior encounters with miraculous phenomena that he was called upon to analyze.
Dr. Castanon found Dr. Fredereic Zugiba of New York, a highly respected cardiologist, forensic pathologist, and biochemist known for his expertise in determining cause of death, and had the sample sent to him for analysis without telling him where it had come from or what it was thought to be. Dr. Zugiba examined the sample and concluded that it was tissue from the human heart (myocardium of the left ventricle) and that the blood was type AB human blood from the same body. Furthermore, based on the large presence of many blood cells which cannot typically survive after death, he concluded that the person from whom the sample was taken likely suffered traumatic blows to the chest and may even have been alive when the heart tissue was removed. The cells even appeared to be pulsing as if in a live person. Dr. Zugiba said to Dr. Castanon, “How did you take out the heart of a dead man and took [sic] it alive to me to my New York lab?”
Only after giving this analysis, Dr. Zugiba was told the source of the sample: a consecrated Eucharistic Host. Dr. Castanon then contacted Dr. Linoli, who had analyzed the samples from the miracle of Lanciano, to compare the results. They matched exactly. Dr. Linoli and Dr. Castanon are also convinced that the flesh and blood found in the Eucharistic miracles in Buenos Aires and in Lanciano—and also the blood from the Shroud of Turin—are miraculous in origin and are from the same person of middle eastern descent—namely, Jesus Christ.
Eucharistic miracles, though not part of the Church’s public revelation binding on all the faithful, are gifts from God that lift the veil for us with regard to the unswerving Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in every Eucharist. Jesus gives himself as the lifeblood of our souls and of the Church. His Body and his Blood are now ours, as with a family bloodline. As St. Joan of Arc said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”
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