Eucharistic Faith and Eucharistic Miracles

Over the past several weeks, we (The Anchor newspaper) have received a half-dozen phone calls, emails and letters about the paid advertisement that we have been running by the Love and Mercy Publications, found this week on page 13. The advertisement, which also runs in national and diocesan Catholics newspapers across the country, is entitled “The Truth of the Eucharist Revealed,” features bullet points about “flesh and blood in bleeding consecrated host,” “human DNA present,” “heart muscle present,” and “white blood cells present” and seeks to persuade readers to “see and hear the story unfold” by ordering a DVD entitled “Science Tests Faith,” which is said to give a “powerful fact-based base for belief in the real presence in the Eucharist.”

One of those who contacted us said that he found the advertisement “alarming and shocking,” adding that it “seems to promote fanaticism and to negate faith in the Eucharist.” Another suggested that by appearing in a diocesan newspaper, the ad will “mislead people into thinking that statements such as these represent Church teaching.” A third avowed that he had “never heard something so ridiculous in [his] whole life.” It’s a safe bet that if a group of unconnected readers from various age groups and parts of the Diocese had questions about the advertisement, there would be other readers with similar questions who haven’t contacted us. Therefore it would be good to explain what the advertisement is about, why we chose to accept it, and what lessons all Catholics can learn from it.

The advertisement promotes a video, is based on a 1999 Fox TV documentary entitled “Signs from God — Science Tests Faith,” that discusses various scientific tests that have been done on some ancient and modern Eucharistic miracles. Eucharistic miracles are nothing new or uncommon.  A recent Vatican International Exhibition entitled “Eucharistic Miracles of the World” featured panels on 140 of the more well-known of them that have occurred through history.

Perhaps the most famous one of all happened in Lanciano, Italy, in the 8th century. After a Basilian priest said the words of consecration, the host changed into a piece of visible flesh and the precious blood in the chalice coagulated into five globules of different shapes and sizes. The priests of the region immediately preserved the miracle in a reliquary. In 1970, Pope Paul VI permitted tests to be conducted by Dr. Odoardo Linoli, Professor of Anatomy and Pathological Histology, Chemistry and Clinical Microscopy in Arezzo, assisted by Professor Ruggero Bertelli of the University of Siena. The host and the globules were analyzed with microscopes and other instruments that would not destroy the specimens. The doctors concluded that the flesh and the blood were both human, that flesh came from the muscular tissue of the heart, and that both the flesh and the blood globules were of blood type AB (the same as the blood found on the Shroud of Turin). Scientists say that the fact that blood types were only discovered in 1900 and the blood was AB — present in only four percent of people — makes the possibility of fraud at any point statistically very unlikely. The blood had proteins found in the same normal proportions as found in fresh normal blood — even after 13 centuries of exposure to atmospheric and biological elements. Pope John Paul II devoutly visited Lanciano as a cardinal and as Pope wrote in 2004 of the “two Eucharistic miracles” (the host and the precious blood) that make Lanciano the “destination of many pilgrimages from Italy and the whole world.”

Another Eucharistic miracle happened in Bolsena, Italy in 1263. A priest from Prague returning from a pilgrimage to Rome stopped at a Church to celebrate Sunday Mass for the pilgrims with whom he was journeying. When he got to the part of the Mass called the fraction, when the priest, at the words of the Lamb of God breaks the priest’s host into two parts, the host began to bleed, with blood flowing over the corporal and down the altar. The corporal was quickly brought to Pope Urban IV, who was in the Papal City of Orvieto a short-distance away, and the corporal and altar were eventually enshrined in the protected Church of Orvieto. It was this miracle that led Pope Urban to establish the feast of Corpus Christi the following year, which the Church has celebrated ever since.

It seems that one of the reasons why some readers may have had questions about the advertisement is because they are unaware of Eucharistic miracles like those of Lanciano or Bolsena-Orvieto. When one reader called to express his concerns, he was asked whether he was aware of the history of Corpus Christi and the Eucharistic miracle that led to its establishment. He responded that he has been attending Mass weekly for nearly 70 years, had never missed the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord – even, he added, when it used to be celebrated on a Thursday — but not once had he ever heard his parish priest mention any Eucharistic miracle in a Corpus Christi homily.

A Catholic’s faith in the Eucharist is not based on Eucharistic miracles, but it can be confirmed and strengthened by Eucharistic miracles. Catholic faith in the Eucharist comes essentially from Christ’s own words and actions. In the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus told his listeners to “work for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you,” and then specifies that he is the “living Bread that has come down from heaven” and that the “bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” He stressed that “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” and that unless we “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” we will have no life within us. He would make sense of those words a year later when, during the Last Supper, he would take Passover meal elements of bread and wine and totally change them into his body and blood and give himself to his apostles to consume under those appearances. Jesus’ Eucharistic words and actions constitute the fundamental ground for Catholic faith in his real presence.

At the same time, however, Jesus demonstrated time and again that he confirmed the truth of his words by miracles. Before he gave his discourse on how he is the Bread of Life, he worked the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. To demonstrate that he had the power on earth to forgive sins, he healed a man of his paralysis. When his critics were antagonizing him in the temple area, he replied, “Even if you do not believe me, believe the works” (Jn 10:25, 38). Faith is ultimately a belief in something on the basis of a trust in someone testifying. We believe in what Jesus says because we believe in him. But one way Jesus used to help others grow in trust of him was through the miracles done in his Father’s name, which powerfully demonstrated his trustworthiness.

Eucharistic miracles do not have to be believed by Catholics. The Church teaches that they are to be evaluated like private revelations are, not on the basis of Catholic faith but on the principles of common sense as to whether something is more likely of supernatural or natural agency. At the same time, the Church has clearly shown that it believes Eucharistic miracles possible, by establishing feasts and erecting shrines, conducting scientific tests and having experts from all fields study them and publish their findings that the events cannot be explained by natural terms. Such miracles, while not establishing faith in the Eucharist, canbuttress Eucharistic faith and amazement, by taking off the veil of the regular miracle of transubstantiation and giving a tangible reminder that what seems to be bread and wine is in fact Jesus’ body and blood.

This is why we (The Anchor) and many other Catholic newspapers have accepted the advertisement by Love and Mercy Publications.

For those who would like to learn more about Eucharistic miracles, they might order the video, read Joan Carroll Cruz’ book “Eucharistic Miracles,” or view the panels of the Vatican exhibition “Eucharistic Miracles of the World” at http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/a3.html.

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About the Author

Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations. He is the former pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, Massachusetts and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

After receiving a biology degree from Harvard College, he studied for the priesthood in Maryland, Toronto and for several years in Rome. After being ordained a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Fall River by Bishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. on June 26, 1999, he returned to Rome to complete graduate work in Moral Theology and Bioethics at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family.

Fr. Landry writes for many Catholic publications, including a weekly column for The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River, for which he was the executive editor and editorial writer from 2005-2012. He regularly leads pilgrimages to Rome, the Holy Land, Christian Europe and other sacred destinations and preaches several retreats a year for priests, seminarians, religious and lay faithful. He speaks widely on the thought of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, especially John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He was an on-site commentator for EWTN’s coverage of the 2013 papal conclave that elected Pope Francis, appears often on various Catholic radio programs, and is national chaplain for Catholic Voices USA.

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