Jesus said to the Jewish crowds, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. (John 6:51-58)
Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. In order to highlight the significance of this feast, we are reinstituting the traditional procession with the Eucharist at the end of select Masses. Historically, this feast emerged in the life of the church as a wonder-filled response to various Eucharistic miracles. Perhaps the most famous of these miracles occurred in the city of Lanciano, Italy, around 700. There was a local monk, who had serious doubts about the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Amid these doubts, one day when he was celebrating Mass at the small Church of St. Legontian, as he said the words of consecration, “This is my body, This is my blood,” the bread changed into living flesh and the wine changed into blood before his eyes. Amazed and dismayed, he carefully reserved the host along with the precious blood, which are preserved and can be seen today.
Since 1574, various investigations have been conducted upon the miracle, the most recent of which was about 30 years ago, using modern tools of analysis. The results of these tests are quite astonishing.
First, the precious blood, which quickly coagulated into five irregular globules, is real, type AB blood (which is the same blood type as on the Shroud of Turin).
Second, although each globule varies in shape and size, each weighs the same as the others, and they always produce the same weight no matter which or how many globules are weighed.
In other words, all five globules weigh the same as one, two weigh the same as three, etc. This is remarkable in light of our belief that, in the Eucharist, the whole Christ is present in even the smallest drop of the chalice or smallest piece of host. Third, the host is human-striated muscular tissue of the myocardium (the heart wall), also type AB, and is absolutely free of any agents used for preserving flesh. Moreover, it contains normally fractionated proteins that are present in the same ratio as those in normal fresh blood. In other words, not only is the host a piece of preserved heart tissue, it is living. Because of this and many other Eucharistic miracles, there was a movement from the faithful to celebrate the body and blood of Christ on a special day.
As we celebrate this feast, let us rejoice in the gift of the Eucharist. We know that as incredible as Eucharistic miracles can be, it is not because of such miracles that we believe. Miracles are not the cause of our faith. To those who believe no miracle is necessary.
Rather, such wonders confirm or witness to our belief. They rouse us and encourage us in living our faith. They quell doubts. So, like that monk of Lanciano, if the Eucharist is a difficult or doubtful part of your faith, you are not alone.
Remember that most of Jesus’ disciples left Him precisely because He said, “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Yet, Jesus does not call his friends to “take and understand, but “take and eat.” When we come to Mass free from serious impediment and sin, let us be prepared to be nourished by His life-giving body and blood. In the Eucharist, Jesus feeds us, so that we can feed others. We receive what we believe so we can be what we receive.
~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.