Sunday, June 13, 2004

Lanciano, Santarem—and the Greatest Eucharistic Miracles of All

Eucharistic Miracle of Santarem

(Corpus Christi 2004 (C): This homily was given on June 13, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Corpus Christi 2004]

Most of us are familiar with the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, Italy. Way back in the 8th century, a Basilian monk of that city was having doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. He prayed to have those doubts removed.

Well one day, as he was celebrating Mass, God answered his request in miraculous fashion by literally changing the bread and wine into flesh and blood at the consecration.

The elements were never consumed; they’ve been preserved for 12 centuries at a shrine in Lanciano.

In 1971, the Church decided to have the elements analyzed by a team of scientists. Their testing led them to the following conclusions:

The blood of the Eucharistic Miracle is real blood and the flesh is real flesh. Both belong to the human species.
The flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart.
The blood type is identical in the flesh and blood (type AB).
The proteins in the blood are in the same proportions as those found in normal, fresh blood.
There is no trace whatsoever of any materials or agents having been used to preserve the elements.

This is probably the most famous of all the Eucharistic miracles that have occurred since Jesus instituted the sacrament at the Last Supper.

A lesser known one took place in Portugal in the mid-13th century. I had the privilege last year of visiting the church where this miracle is preserved, the Church of St. Stephen in the town of Santarem.

Here’s how it happened:

A woman who lived in Santarem at the time was greatly troubled by her husband’s adulterous behavior—as she should have been! Unfortunately, however, she made the mistake of going to the local sorceress—the local witch—to find a solution to her problem.

The witch promised the woman that her husband would change his ways and become faithful to her again—if the woman obtained for the witch a consecrated host from the local church. (In case you’re not aware of it, those involved in the occult love to desecrate the Blessed Sacrament.)

So the woman pretended to be ill and went to see the local priest at St. Stephen’s, asking him for prayers and for Holy Communion.

The priest innocently gave her the Eucharist, which the woman took out of her mouth (obviously when the priest wasn’t looking) and put into the veil she was wearing on her head. But she never made it to the witch’s house.

As the woman left the church, the host began to bleed! She panicked (which is quite understandable!), ran home with the bleeding host, and put it into the cedar trunk where she kept her clean linens.

During the night, however, the woman and her husband were awakened by bright rays of light coming from the trunk. At that point, she confessed to her husband what she had done.

Not surprisingly, both were converted on the spot! The two spent the entire night in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Some neighbors also saw the light that evening, and they began coming to the house the next day.

Finally the parish priest was told. He took the Eucharistic miracle back to the church, where it’s been ever since.

I tell this story on Corpus Christi Sunday because of something I saw on my way to the Church of St. Stephen last year.

We came into town that day on a bus—a 48 passenger coach. Now busses of that size have no problem negotiating the relatively wide streets of Westerly, but they do have a big problem getting around old European towns like Santarem, where many of the roads are extremely narrow.

Consequently, we were forced to park about a half mile away from the church, and walk the remaining distance. Well, during that little stroll, we passed a building that was marked: “Assembly of God Church.” It was less than a quarter mile from St. Stephen’s.

That struck me.


Because members of the Assembly of God Church do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist; they do not believe in transubstantiation! For them, the Eucharist is merely a symbol!

Here we have people who are living and worshipping just a couple of blocks away from a genuine Eucharistic miracle, and they still don’t believe!

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at Catholics in our part of the world who don’t believe in the Real Presence! Nor should we be surprised at Catholics who miss Mass on Sundays and Holy Days (like Ascension Thursday a few weeks ago), and don’t think twice about it. Nor should we be surprised at Catholics who come to Communion after they miss Mass without going to Confession first. Nor should we be surprised that so many people come into church and fail to genuflect to the tabernacle (either before they take their seat or before they go over to the statues to light candles). Nor should we be astonished when people receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass and walk right out of church afterward—even though they’ve been told it’s wrong by their parish priest 1,001 times (and since I’ve been here for 15 years, that number is no longer an exaggeration!).

If there are people in Santarem who lack faith in the Eucharist even though they live in such close proximity to a Eucharistic miracle, why should we expect a different situation here?

But, thankfully, there are many others in this part of the world who do believe, and who do have a great love and appreciation for the Blessed Sacrament.

One of them—a daily communicant who has gone through some very difficult times recently—wrote the following to me a few months ago: “When you go to Mass and Communion for a long period of time, every day, it seems as if the continuing presence of the Eucharist has a cumulative effect in blotting out sin and vice and building up virtue. It’s like his presence in the body and the prayers of others overcomes and reduces concupiscence [the inclination to sin]. Just an observation. I never would have been able to navigate so freely through my trials over the last few years without [Jesus in the Eucharist]. I would have been a basket case.”

The effect of the Holy Eucharist in this man’s life will probably never make headlines like the miracles of Lanciano and Santarem—but the strength and help he’s received are miraculous nonetheless.

And he’s not alone. For those who receive Holy Communion with faith, for those who receive humbly and worthily, for those who receive prayerfully and with open hearts, a similar type of miracle takes place through the Blessed Sacrament.

And, in many respects, my brothers and sisters, those are the greatest Eucharistic miracles of all!