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The Eucharist: 10 Questions and Answers

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Bede is an artist with an interest in theology and mysticism.

The Eucharistic Miracle of Buenos Aires, 1996

As Fr. Alejandro Pezet finishes evening Mass, a woman informs him that somebody left a host on a candleholder. The priest quickly goes to the spot and sees that the host has been soiled. He then places it in a container of water, as is the protocol for such situations, and puts it away in the tabernacle.

A few days later, he opens the tabernacle and sees that the host is bleeding. He informs his bishop, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis), who has it professionally photographed. As time passes, the host grows in size. Cardinal Bergoglio then sends a fragment of the host to New York City to be analyzed. The world-famous cardiologist, Frederick T. Zugibe, analyzes the sample in 1999 without being told it was part of a host.

Dr. Zugibe determines that the sample is human flesh from the left ventricle of the heart; the flesh contains DNA and type AB blood cells, the rarest blood type in the world. He also discovers that the owner of the heart endured a severe beating around the chest and was under intense stress.

When witnesses inform him that the sample was part of a consecrated Host, he responds, "How and why a consecrated host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science—a mystery totally beyond her competence."

This striking event is one of many so-called Eucharistic miracles that have occurred in history. What exactly is the Eucharist? What does Jesus intend by giving us his flesh and blood? Have there been recent miracles? This article tries to answer the following Eucharist-related questions.

  1. What does the word "Eucharist" mean?
  2. Is Jesus truly present in the Eucharist as He was on earth?
  3. What are some prefigurations of the Eucharist in the Old Testament?
  4. What are some New Testament references to the Eucharist?
  5. Why did Jesus establish the Eucharist at the Last Supper?
  6. Have there been recent Eucharistic Miracles?
  7. What are some common features among scientifically studied Eucharist Miracles?
  8. What are the requirements to receive the Eucharist worthily?
  9. What are the fruits of receiving the Eucharist?
  10. Does Jesus desire to unite with souls in holy communion?

1. What does the word "eucharist" mean?

The word eucharist is Greek in origin deriving from eucharistein, which essentially means "giving thanks." Jesus Himself uses a similar word in the original Greek New Testament: And he took bread and when he had given thanks [εὐχαριστήσας – eucharistēsas], he broke it and gave it to them (Luke 22:19).

The earliest Christians used the term eucharist in reference to the Blessed Sacrament and even the Mass itself. For example, the ancient document known as the Didache (ca. 70-100 AD), gives specific instructions on celebrating the Eucharist, such as, "Do not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord."

Reception of the Eucharist is an exercise of thanksgiving because one receives eternal life through it.

2. Is Jesus truly present in the Eucharist as He was on earth?

Before the priest recites the sacred formula known as the consecration at Mass, there appears only bread and wine. After the consecration, while retaining the appearance of bread and wine, these elements are yet changed into a new reality: it is now Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This miraculous transformation, known as transubstantiation, makes Jesus present upon the altar in his body and blood, soul, and divinity. It is the same Jesus who walked the roads of Palestine, performed miracles, and suffered death by crucifixion, but with a special distinction—it is His resurrected body present in the Eucharist.

Faith alone reveals this mystery because as Jesus once concealed his divinity under the garments of a human body, he now conceals his humanity under the vesture of bread and wine.

3. What are some prefigurations of the Eucharist in the Old Testament?

The Passover Lamb: God instructed Moses to have each household kill a male lamb on the night of the Israelite's departure from Egypt, an event known as the Passover. The lamb's blood was then applied to the door frames (lintels) of the households, which protected the house from the destroying angel. The lamb's meat was consumed to provide strength for the journey toward the Promised Land.

The Eucharist is the new Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), which Christians receive to save them from the Angel of Death and provide strength for the journey to heaven. St. John Chrysostom says, "In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not the figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ." (Catechesis 3)

The Manna: As the Israelites traveled across the desert to the Promised Land, God fed them with "Bread from Heaven," which the people named Manna. Jesus likewise provides the Eucharist as food for the journey through the desert of this world to the promised land of Heaven. He says, "I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:48-51)

The Blood of the Covenant: Blood was sacred to the ancient Israelites as it contained the life force. Thus, God tells Moses: "The life of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11). God likewise gives blood for the sake of atonement: "I have given it [the blood] for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life." (ibid)

When Moses, therefore, sacrifices peace offerings at the base of Mt. Sinai, he sprinkles the blood on the people, saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you." (Ex. 24:8) The blood not only purifies but ratifies the Israelite's covenant of obedience. With souls purified by the blood, Moses and seventy of the elders immediately afterward ascend the mountain and see the God of Israel (Ex 24:9).

The Eucharist fulfills this prefiguration. At the Last Supper, Jesus exhorts his disciples to drink from the sanctified cup, saying, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Mt 26:28) Hence, Christians consume the new blood of the covenant to purify their souls, pledge obedience, and be worthy to ascend to heaven.

The Bread of the Presence: In Exodus 25, God commands Moses to construct a table and place it in front of the Ark of the Covenant. He then instructs him to place loaves of sanctified bread on top of the table: "You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times." (Ex. 25:30) The Eucharist fulfills this prototype yet is not reserved only for priests as was the bread of the Presence (Lev. 24:9).

This is a replica of the Bread of the Presence table once found in the Temple.

This is a replica of the Bread of the Presence table once found in the Temple.

4. What are some New Testament references to the Eucharist?

Matthew 26:26-28 – While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.

John 6:53-58 – So Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.

1 Corinthians 10:16 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?

5. Why did Jesus establish the Eucharist at the Last Supper?

Jesus gives the Eucharist as a memorial of his love, a pledge of his abiding presence, and as food for pilgrims journeying to heaven (viaticum). It is medicine for our infirmities and the means by which He establishes union with our souls, as the vine to the branches (John 15:5).

Holy Communion is the beginning of eternal life. The Eucharist is also a sacrifice of praise, par excellence, which the Church offers to the heavenly Father. Finally, Jesus gives the Eucharist as an atoning sacrifice because it re-enacts the sacrifice on Calvary, the fruits of which are applied to the whole mystical body.

6. Have there been recent Eucharistic Miracles?

Cúa, Venezuela (December 8, 1991): As Father Otty Ossa Aristizábal offers Midnight Mass, he notices that the Host on the paten starts to bleed. The priest has no wounds, so he knows it's not his blood. The Host continues to bleed after reservation in water. Scientific investigation reveals that it is real blood, type AB+. The blood on the miraculous Host appears fresh to this day.

Kerala, India (April 28, 2001): As Fr. Johnson Karnoor recites prayers before a Host exposed in a monstrance, he observes three red dots appear on the Host. He stops praying and asks the parishioners present to see the dots. He locks the Host in the tabernacle and examines it a few days later. He sees the image of a man with a crown of thorns emerge. This image remains on the Host and is venerated today in St. Mary's church in Chirattakonam. More info may be found here.

Tixtla, Mexico (October 21, 2006): Fr. Leopoldo Roque, pastor of San Martin de Tours church, places a Host for a sick parishioner in a special container called a pyx. The religious sister holding the pyx observes that the Host is bleeding. Bishop Alejo Zavala Castro sends the Host to be analyzed. The scientists discover that the Host is flesh from a human heart and contains type AB blood. Further analysis reveals intact white and red blood cells and active macrophages, which continue to bleed as though still alive. The Host is venerated today in the parish.

Sokółka, Poland (October 12, 2008): Fr. Stanislaw Gniedziejko accidentally drops a Host during Mass and then places it in water. He places the Host in the tabernacle, and the sacristan, Sister Julia Dubowska, later places it in a safe in the sacristy. One week later, Sr. Julia checks on the Host and sees a large red blood clot formed in the center. Scientific analysis reveals that the Host is still living myocardial heart tissue of a person nearing death. Moreover, the heart fibers and elements of bread are interwoven in a manner that is impossible to achieve by human means.

Legnica, Poland (December 25, 2013): After a Host falls on the floor at Mass, Msgr. Zbigniew Kiernikowski places it in a container of water. However, red stains form, which prompts a scientific investigation. Researchers at the Department of Forensic Medicine in Szczecin find that the Host is a heart muscle under severe stress.

These are photos of recent eucharistic miracles.

These are photos of recent eucharistic miracles.

7. What are common features among scientifically studied Eucharistic Miracles?

Type AB+ blood is among the rarest types of blood in the world. Only 3.2% of the world population has this type of blood, though it is more common among Palestinian men. In addition, doctors describe type AB+ blood as the "universal recipient" because persons with this blood can receive any kind of blood transfusion.

Significantly, scientific analysis of the Shroud of Turin, the Corporal of Bolsena, the Sudarium of Oviedo, as well as the miraculous Hosts of Lanciano, Cúa, Tixtla, Sokółka, and Buenos Aires all reveal type AB+ blood. As if this were not astonishing enough, studies also indicate that these miraculous Hosts are the heart muscles of a severely stressed person. What is the meaning of these discoveries?

In the first place, Jesus reveals Himself in the Eucharist as the universal receiver. As mentioned, type AB+ blood can receive all blood types. This may be understood in a spiritual sense that His Heart is open to receiving all persons in a state of grace.

Secondly, microscopy reveals these Hosts to be the heart muscles of a severely stressed person. What is God saying here—is Jesus actually in pain? While technically not subject to pain in his risen body, He inexplicably wills to suffer. By accepting a human heart at his Incarnation, Jesus made Himself vulnerable. Though glorified, this Heart remains sensitive to both love and rejection. Mysteriously, He appears not to bind Himself to the theological rules of impassability and continues to suffer. This reality He has revealed to several mystics.

For example, He told St. Faustina, "Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at My insides. The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain." (Diary 50) Again, "What is so wounding to My Heart is that often instead of love I meet with indifference...It is not sin that most grievously wounds My Heart but what rends and lacerates it is that after sin, men do not take refuge in it once more." (Message to Sr. Josefa Menedez, 1922)

How does this affect our reception of Holy Communion? Jesus seeks hearts that will compassionate with Him. Love heals the wounds of his Heart. The following video explains some of the famous Eucharistic Miracles in history.

8. What are the requirements to receive the Eucharist worthily?

To receive the Eucharist worthily, one must be a baptized Catholic, free of any mortal sins, and sincerely desire union with Jesus Christ. Also, faith is essential because, as St. Paul says, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." (1 Cor 11:27-29)

9. What are the fruits of receiving the Eucharist?

The worthy reception of the Eucharist augments our intimate union with Jesus: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." (Jn 6:56) As material food sustains bodily life, so the Eucharist nourishes the soul. Holy Communion also cancels venial sins and strengthens the soul against sinning mortally.

Finally, Holy Communion reinforces the bonds within the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. As theology teaches, it is Jesus who consumes us more than we consume Jesus. St. Augustine explains this reality in his Confessions, where Jesus tells him, "I am the food of grown men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; You will not change me into yourself like bodily food, but you shall be changed into me." (Confessions, VII, 10, 18)

10. Does Jesus desire to unite with souls in Holy Communion?

Jesus told St Faustina: "Oh, how painful it is to Me that souls so seldom unite themselves to Me in Holy Communion. I wait for souls and they are indifferent toward Me. I love them tenderly and sincerely, and they distrust Me. I want to lavish My graces on them, and they do not want to accept them. They treat Me as a dead object, whereas My Heart is full of love and mercy. In order that you may know at least some of My pain, imagine the most tender of mothers who has great love for her children, while those children spurn her love. Consider her pain. No one is in a position to console her. This is but a feeble image and likeness of My love." (Diary 1447)

Painting by Juan de Juanes (1523-79)

Painting by Juan de Juanes (1523-79)

Food for the Journey

In his providence, God gives food for the smallest insects to the largest of animals. He likewise provides many types of food for human beings. He endows this food with the necessary nutrients to support life and maintain health. While this nourishment supports bodily life, God did not forget that souls require sustenance. As material food cannot support the soul, He gives the Eucharist.

This food contains all the "nutrients" so that the soul may grow on earth and live eternally in heaven. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, says Jesus, you have no life in you." (John 6:53) Therefore, it is in our best interest to not starve but seek the food that will support our journey toward eternal life.

References

Divine Mercy in my Soul, the Diary of St. Maria Faustina

The Way of Divine Love

St. Augustine's Confessions

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by Doubleday, 1995

Eucharistic Miracles: Buenos Aires, 1996

The Eucharistic Miracle Of Buenos Aires, Argentina

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Bede