Note: Last year, inspired by words from Fr. Robert Spitzer, I ran a 10-part series in our bulletin (Aug. 12 – Oct. 14, 2018) on modern day miracles that had been heavily scrutinized by science (available when you visit our parish website and pull up the bulletins from those dates). Spitzer had said that 93% of those who lose their faith today in America claim that their primary reason for this loss of faith is that they do not believe religion can hold up to the scrutiny of modern science. In other words, faith in science is replacing faith in God for many people. Spitzer’s solution to this modern phenomenon was to challenge Church leaders to make a focused effort to report Church documented miracles that have confounded science in recent decades. In that spirit, I shared a cross section of ten widely studied miracles for your consideration. At the request of several of our Sacred Heart students I decided to bring back a 2nd year of episodes on this topic. So far this year I have discussed the so called “incorruptibles” (saints who have died but whose bodies have not decomposed) and some of the newer discoveries on the Shroud of Turin, which is believed by many to have been the actual burial cloth of Jesus as he lay in the tomb. This weekend, I bring you…
Episode 13: The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, Italy
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, in regard to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, once the words of consecration are uttered by the priest during the celebration of the Mass, Jesus Christ becomes substantially present, body, blood soul and divinity in what was previously only bread and wine. We refer to this miraculous change at the words of Christ himself from the Last Supper as “Transubstantiation”. Once this miracle has occurred, Catholics believe that only the “accidents” of the original elements of bread and wine remain (i.e. appearance, texture, taste, etc.). They are no longer merely bread and wine but are thereafter referred to as the Body and Blood of Christ and we show reverence to the presence of this Eucharist accordingly. Sometimes this is also referred to in spiritual writings as the “True Presence”. Our Catholic belief in the True Presence is to be contrasted with the belief held by other Christians that view various communion rites as only a symbol or reenactment of the Last Supper. It is also in contrast to those Christian denominations who maintain a type of Eucharistic practice but who believe in something called “Consubstantiation”. Such Christian confessions believe that Jesus is present “alongside” the symbolic presence of bread and wine if your faith accepts such a proposal. In other words, the communion material, to them, is still bread and wine or grape juice but Jesus would accompany those physical signs and bless your life if you believe in him. For Catholics, a validly consecrated Eucharist is none of those things. Christ is present body, blood, soul and divinity in the two species of bread and wine, not in a symbolic way but in reality, whether we accept that by faith or not. The bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. That is why we ask that those present at Mass who are, as yet, uninitiated or who do not accept that teaching or who are aware that they have grave sin on their soul (unconfessed) not participate in the Communion Rite. For, as Jesus said in John 6:51-55, “I am the living bread that comes 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…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…For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”
However, Christian history has shown that, on any number of occasions, doubts about this Apostolic Tradition have surfaced. From time to time, God’s response to such doubts has been to allow what we sometimes refer to as Eucharistic Miracles to take place to remind us that, though our senses continue to perceive mere bread and wine as we receive, our hearts, informed by faith may come to understand the reality that it is, in fact, Jesus himself that we are receiving. There are dozens of these documented miracles throughout the world. I shared one example last year in Episode 1 regarding the Eucharistic miracle of Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1996 under then Cardinal and Archbishop George Bergoglio (a.k.a. Pope Francis). Now I will tell you about one of the oldest Eucharistic miracles known to the Church, which occurred in Lanciano, Italy in the early 700s AD.
Lanciano (“the Lance”) changed its name in honor of the lance of Longinus which is said to have pierced the heart of Jesus after his death while he was hanging from Cross. The Roman soldier who carried out this crude act as proof that Jesus was dead was named Longinus. Tradition tells us that when the blood and water splattered out of the side of Christ, Longinus was showered by it and was, in that moment, miraculously cured of some sort of eye disease that was gradually robbing him of his eyesight. It is said that, as a result of that miracle, Longinus also received the gift of faith in Jesus and later was recognized as a saint of the Church. St. Longinus’ hometown, then known as Anxanum, is called Lanciano today. It was there that the noted Eucharistic miracle occurred while a Basilian monk was celebratng the Mass in St. Francis of Lanciano Parish in the early 700s AD. This monk reportedly had lost his faith in the teaching of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist but, to his shock, at the words of consecration, on one particular day, the physical appearance of the Eucharist changed. No longer did it appear to him and the faithful under the”accidents” of bread and wine. Instead it took on the physical appearance of flesh and blood. Those Eucharistic elements were, of course, not consumed but instead have been preserved for the past 1250 years in that church. It is only recently that the Church universal has allowed these Eucharistic elements to be studied scientifically but, between 1970 and the mid-1980s, they were submitted to four extensive scientific studies, most recently under Dr. Odoardo Linoli (Pathological Histology, Chemistry and Clinical Microscopy) and Dr. Ruggero Bertelli, professor of the University of Sienna. This is what was discovered:
The Precious Body/ Host – First, the host matter was identified as striated human muscle, which was free of any known preservative. In other words, though it was 1250 years old, it had not decomposed despite no efforts to store it under any special care. The muscular tissue had maintained the size and shape of a host but was found to contain myocardium and endocardium tissue, vagus nerve tissue and tissue from the left ventricle of a human heart (just like the Buenos Aires sample I cited earlier).
The Precious Blood – This substance had, over time, formed into five globules of various sizes. When studied, the substance was revealed to be human blood, type AB (just like the blood samples found on the Shroud of Turin and the face cloth or Sudarim of Ovieto). The occurrence of AB blood type among the population of Lanciano, Italy is known to be rare (between .5% and 1%) while among Palestinians it occurs in 14-15% of people (also rare). In other words, if this were an intentional fraud, the likelihood of a perpetrator choosing AB blood would be highly unlikely. Other details are more shocking still. The proteins found present in this sample are the same as one might expect to find in fresh blood but these proteins break down usually within 20-30 minutes after death. Again, this sample is 1250 years old. These proteins should not be present at all. And here is the topper, which seems to defy physics…A paradox regarding the weight of the individual globules (again each is of different size). It was discovered, rather by accident that, when weighing any combination of the globules (1, 2 or 3 together, etc.) they always weighed the same as all five put together. In other words, the weight of any portion of the sample was the same as the weight of the whole. Many aspects of these tests still defy science today. Did I blow your mind?