At a Mass in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on August 15, 1996, an elderly Eucharistic minister accidentally dropped a Host on the floor. He informed the priest celebrant, who reverently picked up the Host and placed it in a small container of water, which he then put in the tabernacle. The priest’s intention was to wait until the Host had dissolved, and then pour the mixture down the sacrarium—a special sink which empties directly into the ground below, and allows the proper and sacred disposal of Eucharistic elements in this sort of situation. However, a week later the priest discovered to his great surprise that instead of dissolving, the Host had grown in size, and was covered with red spots that looked like blood. After several more days, the Host continued changing in appearance and finally looked like a piece of human flesh. A sample of this tissue was sent to a lab in Buenos Aires, which reported that it found human red and white blood cells, and tissue from a human heart. The lab report also stated that the tissue sample appeared to be still alive, as the cells were moving or beating as they would in a live human heart.
Three years later, in 1999, the Church arranged for a noted scientist to conduct further tests; he sent a sample of the tissue to a lab in New York City, but without telling it where the sample came from. This lab reported the sample was living muscle tissue from a human heart. Five years later yet another test was performed, with the same result— though the doctor conducting it, without knowing the sample’s origin, also added that the muscle tissue appeared to have been taken from someone whose heart had been severely traumatized or beaten. At this point the doctor in Buenos Aires remembered hearing about the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, Italy—where, during a Mass in the 8th century, a priest who had doubts about the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist elevated a Host at the moment of consecration, only to have the Host turn into a piece of living human flesh. These Eucharistic elements have been preserved in Lanciano for over 1200 years, and have undergone scientific analysis several times. Accordingly, the doctor in Buenos Aires arranged for the recent lab tests to be compared with those made of the Eucharistic flesh in Lanciano, again without revealing the origin of the lab samples. The experts making this comparison reported that, based on a DNA analysis, the two lab samples must have come from the same person—someone with blood type AB positive. As if that weren’t enough, these two blood samples proved to be identical with blood samples taken from the Shroud of Turin, which tradition identifies as the burial cloth of Jesus (from an on-line article by Deacon Donald Cox, posted March 30, 2012).
The Church’s teaching on the Eucharist—that it truly is the Body and Blood of Christ—is much more than just a religious belief or a theological assertion; according to the testimony of modern science, it is also a physical reality and a verifiable truth. However, our faith doesn’t depend on the testimony of science, but on the promise of Jesus. He is the Son of God; He is present in all His Divine Majesty and Power at every Mass the Church celebrates, and He desires the most intimate possible union with His people through this Sacrament—a truth that should fill us with wonder and gratitude.
The readings for the Feast of Corpus Christi speak of how bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. The miracle Jesus worked in the Gospel—changing five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed five thousand people—hinted at the far greater miracle He would work at the Last Supper. The 1st Reading from the Book of Genesis links together the concepts of a sacred priesthood, bread and wine, and blessing—and in the 2nd Reading St. Paul describes the ultimate example of this: “The Lord Jesus, on the night He was handed over, took bread . . . broke it, and said, ‘This is My Body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My Blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” As Catholics, we not only belong to the only Church Jesus founded, but also to the Church that obeys His command regarding the Eucharist at every Mass we celebrate.
A few days after this year’s First Communion liturgies, I asked some of our 2nd graders to describe what this experience was like for them. Here are some of their words. One girl wrote, “It was very fun and exciting to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.” A boy stated, “I was nervous, [but] it was fun eating and drinking the Body and Blood.” A girl happily exclaimed, “Now I can receive Jesus at church!” Another girl echoed this sentiment, saying, “It was very special to me; now I can receive [Communion] at Mass.” According to a boy, “My First Communion was exciting because I knew I was receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. It felt good and I knew I had a bigger share of God’s grace. . . . I was happy when I received Communion.” A girl stated she was so excited she wanted to leave for church the first thing that morning, and one of the boys—in addition to expressing his joy at receiving Communion, also referred to the song the children afterwards sang up here in front of the altar, saying “It was awesome to sing in front of all those people.” Another boy added, “I felt good because my mom and dad were there.” Lastly, a girl wrote, “It was nice to share that time with my family. I can’t wait until I receive the Eucharist again.”
These simple comments by some of our 2nd graders offer three important reminders for us. First of all, as all the children recognized, Holy Communion isn’t symbolic or pretend, but truly is a sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. Secondly, because God’s life enters into us, we do indeed receive a greater share of divine grace—meaning that each reception of the Eucharist will, if we cooperate, help us come closer to God and be made more ready for eternal life in Heaven. Thirdly, as several children pointed out, the Eucharist is meant to be a source of unity—with our physical families, but also with all those who are trying to live as brothers and sisters of Christ. Non-Catholics may or may not be convinced by scientific analysis of the Eucharistic elements; however, a far more important testimony regarding the reality of the Eucharist is given by individual Catholics. Our example must demonstrate that this Sacrament is real, and that it truly makes a difference in our lives—and proclaiming our faith in this manner is an essential way of obeying Our Lord’s command to “do this in remembrance of Me.”