Approximately in the year 700 A. D. in the Italian city of Lanciano at the monastery of St. Longinus, a Basilian monk was preparing to offer Mass. Because he was struggling with his faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, he prayerfully asked God for help. Perhaps he said, “Lord I believe, but help my unbelief.” He then proceeded to the altar.
During the holy Mass, at the double consecration when our Lord’s words from the Last Supper are repeated over wheaten hosts and a chalice of ordinary wine mixed with water, a visible change in the Eucharistic elements occurred. With the consecratory words, “This is My Body,” the appearances of the host changed from bread to flesh, and with the words, “This is the chalice of My Blood,” the appearances of the wine changed to that of blood. The priest, with nervous excitement, recognized in this miracle the answer to his prayers. He then invited the congregation to come forward and see the miracle for themselves. The people wept for joy and, after Mass, left the parish to tell family, friends, and strangers of this extraordinary blessing. Shortly afterwards, the bishop was informed. He investigated and declared it to be a Eucharistic miracle.
Thirteen hundred years later, without the aid of modern scientific methods of preservation or sealing, these Eucharistic elements are still in tact and on display in the cathedral. This in itself is miraculous. The Host still appears like flesh, while the Precious Blood has coagulated into five pellets – suggesting our Lord’s five wounds to his hands, feet, and side.
In the year 1970, Archbishop Pacifico Perentoni of Lanciano decided to allow fragments of these Eucharistic elements to be examined in a laboratory. The tests were to be conducted by Dr. Odoardo Linoli, professor of anatomy and pathological histology, and chemistry and clinical microscopy, as well as former head of the Laboratory of Pathological Anatomy at the Hospital of Arrezo. He would be assisted by Dr. Ruggero Bertelli, professor emeritus of Human Anatomy at the Universtity of Siena.
On March 4, 1971, the results of the tests were presented to the public.
- The Contents of the chalice were fresh human Blood, AB type, and contained chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium.
- The Host was human flesh, perfectly preserved, containing fresh human Blood, AB type.
- This Flesh was the cross section of the wall of a human heart, the myocardium and the endocardium.
- The particular sample of the Heart could normally be obtained only by a skilled pathologist.
- No traces of preservatives were found, nor would the freshness of the samples have allowed extraction from a cadaver.
In an interview with ZENIT, Dr. Linoli later stated,
“As regards the flesh, I had in my hand the endocardium. Therefore, there is no doubt at all that it is cardiac tissue.”
Regarding the Precious Blood, he said,
“The blood group is the same as that of the Man of the Holy Shroud of Turin, and it is particular because it has the characteristics of a man who was born and lived in the Middle East regions.”
In 1973, the Higher Council of the World Health Organization assigned a number of scientists to investigate the findings of doctors Linoli and Bertelli. Over a period of fifteen months, five hundred examinations were conducted. The findings only reaffirmed the original results, and these were published in New York and Geneva in 1976. In 1981, Dr. Linoli himself tested his previous findings using more advanced technology, and the results were the same.
A Catholic might logically wonder, “In light of such objective and scientific evidence for the Real Presence, how could a non-believer persist in their unbelief?” I would respond with two personal stories.
First, one day while hiking with an atheist, I asked my unbelieving companion what he thought of Eucharistic miracles. I then recounted the story of Lanciano. He responded, “Well it might have been the flesh and blood of some one, but how do you know it was the flesh and blood of Jesus?”
Second, I once mentioned the issue of Eucharistic miracles to a rather renowned Protestant apologist who was speaking at a local Baptist church. His immediate response was to claim that all such apparent Eucharistic miracles were actually demonic delusions.
Presented with objective evidence demonstrating the veracity of Catholic teaching, what else can the stubborn unbeliever do but run? What else but descend into illogical absurdities that require as much “faith” as do the miracles themselves?
The responses of these two men are sobering reminders that, believing is not only a matter of the intellect; it is a matter also of the will. A person can have a plenitude of reasons to believe. He or she can have a deep intellectual comprehension of doctrines and morals, apologetical arguments to support them, and even additional “motives of credibility” provided by miracles. And yet, the tiny human creature can freely resist and deny the Creator of the universe, because faith requires the virtue of humility, the grace-inspired willingness to bow before the Great Other and profess His Holy Name. And many people would rather do anything other than bow to the Great Other.
The various Eucharistic miracles that have occurred over the centuries are certainly extraordinary. And yet, in another way, they are entirely ordinary. They indicate a hidden reality that is invisibly present on the altars even of the smallest and most ordinary Catholic parishes throughout the world; namely, the abiding presence of Emmanuel – God with us – wherever the holy Mass is offered. For at every valid Mass, the words of consecration convert mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ so that nothing remains of that bread and wine except their appearances. What the faithful receive in Holy Communion is the very same divine Person Who died on Calvary – the same Flesh that was pierced by nail and lance for our sins, and the same Blood that was spilled at the scourging and later flowed down the beams of the Cross.
In the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, science demonstrated what the faithful already see with the luminous eyes of faith – that which the Church has proclaimed for two thousand years and can be found even in a children’s catechism. Baltimore Catechism One teaches,
“Q. What is the Holy Eucharist?
A. The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament which contains the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.”
Truly, as Our Lord once prayed,
“I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and prudent, and didst reveal them to little ones” (Mt. 11:25).