Editor's Note: This story was posted on Dec. 11. On Dec. 16, the Diocese of Salt Lake City announced the findings of its investigation, noting natural, not miraculous, causes.
On many occasions throughout Catholic history, consecrated Hosts have miraculously bled or turned into human heart tissue. Such miracles are physical manifestations of the theological core of our faith — that at the Consecration of the Mass, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
It is only after intensive investigation, however, that the Church will declare a miracle.
An investigation into a possible Eucharistic miracle in the Diocese of Salt Lake City was opened last month after a host appeared to bleed at St. Xavier Church in Kearns, Utah. Although initially it was displayed and attracted great excitement, the diocese appointed a committee to look into it.
In an interview for the Register, the head of the committee, Msgr. M. Francis Mannion explained that, on Dec. 1, the host was taken for testing to a biologist at an undisclosed university.
“We are only at the beginning stages [of investigation],” he said. “She [the biologist] is doing the simplest of tests to determine if it is human blood.”
If it is, Msgr. Mannion said there would still need to be further investigation; and, ultimately, it would go to the Holy See for Church validation. “It’s a matter of prudence,” the monsignor said. “The attitude is to approach the whole thing with a cautious reverence. We are not starting with a conclusion, but are walking through the steps.”
Msgr. Mannion encouraged people to remain calm, and he said that when they receive the test result, it will be made public. His perspective reflects the Church’s cautious approach to all miracles, because, often, there are organic explanations.
Other recent reports of bleeding hosts have turned out to be false. For instance, last May, several blogs showed a photograph of a bleeding host at St. Patrick Church in Rochelle, Ill. At least one report even claimed the host had turned to flesh and blood. The pastor, Father Johnson Lopez, confirmed to the Register that it was only bacteria. “I truly believe in miracles, and an extraordinary miracle of the Eucharist would be a blessing for our community, but there was no miracle,” he said.
Similar occurrences have happened recently at churches in St. Paul, Minn., and Dallas, where what appeared to be blood on hosts turned out to be fungus. Another recent report of a bleeding host in Guadalajara, Mexico, at Mary, Mother of the Church in 2013, has yet to be either dismissed or verified. It was captured on video; and according to the parish secretary, who spoke with the Register, it is still under investigation.
Pope Francis’ Witness to a Miracle
In cases where the Church announces a true Eucharistic miracle, there must be no other reasonable explanation, and scientific evidence verifies that the blood or flesh is human.
While Pope Francis was the auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina, just such a miracle took place in 1996, in the parish of Santa Maria y Caballito Almagro. Renowned scientist Ricardo Castanon Gomez, who headed up the investigation, explained the miracle in a video. The story is also told in detail in Reason to Believe: A Personal Story by Ron Tesoriero.
On Aug. 15, 1996, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, a woman approached Father Alejandro Pezet after Mass to report she had found a desecrated Host on a candleholder at the back of the church. The priest followed canon law for proper disposal, putting it in a glass of water to dissolve. Instead, the Host appeared to turn into a bloody piece of meat.
Cardinal Antonio Quarracino and our current Pope Francis, then-Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had it photographed on Sept. 6, 1996. The photographs show a fragment of bloodied flesh that had become larger than a host.
It was placed in a tabernacle; and after three years, with no signs of visible decay, Bishop Bergoglio opened an investigation. On Oct. 5, 1999, in the company of witnesses, Gomez sent a sample of the blood to Forensic Analytical in San Francisco.
So as not to be influenced in any way, no scientists were told where the sample came from. The results came back that it was human blood, AB-positive.
Tissue samples were then sent to Dr. Frederick Zugibe, of Columbia University in New York, a renowned cardiologist and forensic pathologist. His results on March 26, 2005, identified the sample as human flesh and blood. Zugibe testified that it was “a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves.” Because white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, he stated that “the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”
Author Tesoriero actually witnessed these tests, along with Mike Wilesee, a well-known Australian journalist. Wilesee asked the scientist how long white blood cells can remain alive from a piece of human tissue kept in water. Zugibe told them it would last a matter of minutes. When he learned it had been in water for more than three years, Zugibe was amazed and said that the cells from the sample were moving and beating as a heart would, so there was no way to scientifically explain his findings.
Then Gomez arranged to compare those lab reports with the ones from the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, Italy. That miracle took place during the eighth century. A priest-monk suffered from doubts about Transubstantiation, wondering if the bread and wine really did become the Body and Blood of Christ. He prayed for help believing it was true. At the Consecration of one of his Masses, the Host changed into a circle of flesh, and the wine became blood before the eyes of numerous witnesses. The Host-turned-flesh and the wine-turned-blood, without the use of any form of preservative, are still present more than 1,300 years later in a reliquary at St. Francis Church in Lanciano. They have been scientifically tested a number of times, with the last one being in 1970.
Again, without revealing the origin of the test samples, the experts compared the Buenos Aires lab reports with those from Lanciano. They concluded that the reports must be from the same samples. Both samples revealed an “AB”-positive blood type, which occurs in 5% of the population. The DNA is identical, and there are features to indicate that the man came from the Middle East. (It is also noteworthy that these lab results match up with those from the Shroud of Turin and the Cloth of Oviedo.)
Science Increases Faith
Teaching about Eucharistic miracles like these can increase faith and bring people back to the Catholic Church, according to Dorie Gruss of Lombard, Ill., director of the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association. The late Father John Hardon, whose cause is up for canonization, was the association’s founding spiritual director. Gruss said he often told her, “If you don’t believe in the Eucharist, you are not really Catholic.”
The association promotes perpetual adoration and has created an exhibit and published a book (by the same name) on 140 Vatican-approved Eucharistic miracles called “The Vatican International Exhibition: The Eucharistic Miracles of the World.” It has been displayed in 18,000 churches.
“Father Hardon believed that the essence of the Catholic faith is the Eucharist,” Gruss explained. “He could see the disrespect for the Eucharist, especially after Vatican II. He wanted to get back to Catholics believing in the True Presence, so our website is Father Hardon’s work.”
According to Gruss, educating people about Vatican-approved Eucharistic miracles is a way to convince them with scientific evidence that at the Last Supper Jesus literally meant it when he said, “This is my Body, and this is my Blood.”
“These miracles bring about a resurgence of faith in the Eucharist,” she said. “And that is something we really need right now.”
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.