By Jeremy Goebel
Connecting Faith and Life
The Catholic Church has always professed her belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In paragraph 1374, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Eucharist is, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” This teaching comes directly from Christ in Scripture, in particular in the Bread of Life Discourse in John’s Gospel (see John 6: 22-59). Jesus taught his disciples in Capernaum, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
Jesus’ teaching is abundantly clear – but are there any extraordinary signs or miracles associated with this teaching? Yes! There are several approved Eucharistic miracles in the Catholic Church. During my undergraduate studies, I was able to personally see one of these miracles up close. My senior year I studied abroad in Rome; and during this time, my classmates and I went on a trip to Siena, Italy. During our time there, we visited the Basilica of San Francesco. In this basilica was a side chapel; and in this chapel, there was a small altar. On that altar sat a glass container filled with over 200 consecrated hosts. I prayed there in front of the Blessed Sacrament as I had done so many times. However, what I came to find out was that those hosts were consecrated nearly 300 years ago! Miraculously, there was no mold, corruption or signs of decay.
The story of this miracle begins in Siena in 1730, when thieves went into the church of St Francis in to steal a ciborium, which is a silver- or gold-plated vessel that holds consecrated hosts in the tabernacle. When the Catholics in Siena discovered this, they were grieved – not because of the missing vessel, but because of the stolen consecrated hosts that had gone missing. Everyone was soon made aware of the missing hosts. Just a few days later, hundreds of hosts were found in an offertory box at a church nearby. The thieves had dumped the hosts into the box and kept the ciborium. Once the archbishop was notified of this, the hosts were counted, cleaned, and brought back to St. Francis. When the people of Siena heard that the consecrated hosts were found, they came to see for themselves in a spirit of thanksgiving and worship. Over time, since all of the hosts were not consumed, some began to notice that they had no sign of decay or deterioration. There they sat, in a normal container, exposed to air and light just as the other hosts had been. Some of the Franciscans began to believe that these hosts were being miraculously preserved by Our Lord. Over time, several tests were done. First, they placed unconsecrated hosts that were made of the exact same material in a box. Within a decade, the unconsecrated hosts were discolored, corrupted, and nearly unrecognizable. Other tests were performed by scientists and theologians, which verified that the consecrated hosts were made with the same ingredients as any ordinary host. Yet at that time, the hosts had been preserved for over a century. This is just one of the approved miracles that verifies and strengthens our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
While I was there praying in that chapel, I read a simple brochure detailing the story of the miraculous hosts. One line near the end of that brochure will always stay with me; At this great miracle, “science reverently bows its head.” Jesus is truly with us in the Eucharist. Our God has given himself to us in a real, substantial and miraculous way. He did this to fulfill his promise to us when he said at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” As we enter this time of Eucharistic Renewal as a diocese, let’s pray for the gift of faith to firmly believe in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Jesus, we trust in you. Amen.
Jeremy Goebel is Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Evansville.