|The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano|
Although there is a popular tradition which connects the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi with the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena-Orvieto, there seems to be little historical basis for such an assertion. The Catholic Encyclopedia credits the Feast not to the miracle of Orvieto, but to the visions of St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon, who lived in Belgium through the early part of the 13th century.
However, though it may be true that there is little historical connection between this Eucharistic Miracle and the promulgation of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the popular devotion of the faithful (especially of those in Italy) and the great festivities celebrated each year in these two Italian towns, calls to mind this Eucharistic Miracle as we celebrate today this holy Solemnity.
As we consider the reality of Eucharistic Miracles, we may be led to a further question: If we believe that the Real Presence remains in the Eucharist so long as the accidental properties remain (i.e. that Christ is present so long as the Eucharistic species remains in the appearance of bread or wine), what are we to make of Eucharistic Miracles in which the species ceases to appear as bread or wine and instead is physically and accidentally changed into flesh and blood? Does Christ remain in the Eucharist after a Eucharistic Miracle? And, if he does remain, are we to conclude that the miraculously visible flesh and blood is physically the very same flesh and blood which was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary? In other words, is a Eucharistic Miracle something like a relic of Jesus?
In such a complicated question, we do well to turn to the Angelic Doctor for guidance. We recall that St. Thomas Aquinas is “the greatest theologian and impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist” – summus theologus simulque Christi eucharistici fervidus cantor (Bl. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia 62).
Whether Christ's Body Is Truly There When Flesh or a Child Appears
Miraculously in This Sacrament? (Summa Theologica III, Q. 76, Art. 8)
Objection 1: It seems that Christ's body is not truly there when
flesh or a child appears miraculously in this sacrament. Because His
body ceases to be under this sacrament when the sacramental species
cease to be present, as stated above (A. 6). But when flesh or a
child appears, the sacramental species cease to be present. Therefore
Christ's body is not truly there.
Obj. 2: Further, wherever Christ's body is, it is there either under
its own species, or under those of the sacrament. But when such
apparitions occur, it is evident that Christ is not present under His
own species, because the entire Christ is contained in this
sacrament, and He remains entire under the form in which He ascended
to heaven: yet what appears miraculously in this sacrament is
sometimes seen as a small particle of flesh, or at times as a small
child. Now it is evident that He is not there under the sacramental
species, which is that of bread or wine. Consequently, it seems that
Christ's body is not there in any way.
Obj. 3: Further, Christ's body begins to be in this sacrament by
consecration and conversion, as was said above (Q. 75, AA. 2, 3, 4).
But the flesh and blood which appear by miracle are not consecrated,
nor are they converted into Christ's true body and blood. Therefore
the body or the blood of Christ is not under those species.
On the contrary, When such apparition takes place, the same
reverence is shown to it as was shown at first, which would not be
done if Christ were not truly there, to Whom we show reverence of
“latria”. Therefore, when such apparition occurs, Christ is under the
I answer that, Such apparition comes about in two ways, when
occasionally in this sacrament flesh, or blood, or a child, is seen.
Sometimes it happens on the part of the beholders, whose eyes are so
affected as if they outwardly saw flesh, or blood, or a child, while
no change takes place in the sacrament. And this seems to happen when
to one person it is seen under the species of flesh or of a child,
while to others it is seen as before under the species of bread; or
when to the same individual it appears for an hour under the
appearance of flesh or a child, and afterwards under the appearance
of bread. Nor is there any deception there, as occurs in the feats of
magicians, because such species is divinely formed in the eye in
order to represent some truth, namely, for the purpose of showing
that Christ's body is truly under this sacrament; just as Christ
without deception appeared to the disciples who were going to Emmaus.
For Augustine says (De Qq. Evang. ii) that "when our pretense is
referred to some significance, it is not a lie, but a figure of the
truth." And since in this way no change is made in the sacrament, it
is manifest that, when such apparition occurs, Christ does not cease
to be under this sacrament.
But it sometimes happens that such apparition comes about not merely
by a change wrought in the beholders, but by an appearance which
really exists outwardly. And this indeed is seen to happen when it is
beheld by everyone under such an appearance, and it remains so not
for an hour, but for a considerable time; and, in this case some
think that it is the proper species of Christ's body. Nor does it
matter that sometimes Christ's entire body is not seen there, but
part of His flesh, or else that it is not seen in youthful guise, but
in the semblance of a child, because it lies within the power of a
glorified body for it to be seen by a non-glorified eye either
entirely or in part, and under its own semblance or in strange guise,
as will be said later (Suppl., Q. 85, AA. 2, 3).
But this seems unlikely. First of all, because Christ's body under
its proper species can be seen only in one place, wherein it is
definitively contained. Hence since it is seen in its proper species,
and is adored in heaven, it is not seen under its proper species in
this sacrament. Secondly, because a glorified body, which appears at
will, disappears when it wills after the apparition; thus it is
related (Luke 24:31) that our Lord "vanished out of sight" of the
disciples. But that which appears under the likeness of flesh in this
sacrament, continues for a long time; indeed, one reads of its being
sometimes enclosed, and, by order of many bishops, preserved in a
pyx, which it would be wicked to think of Christ under His proper
Consequently, it remains to be said, that, while the dimensions
remain the same as before, there is a miraculous change wrought in
the other accidents, such as shape, color, and the rest, so that
flesh, or blood, or a child, is seen. And, as was said already, this
is not deception, because it is done "to represent the truth,"
namely, to show by this miraculous apparition that Christ's body and
blood are truly in this sacrament. And thus it is clear that as the
dimensions remain, which are the foundation of the other accidents,
as we shall see later on (Q. 77, A. 2), the body of Christ truly
remains in this sacrament.
Reply Obj. 1: When such apparition takes place, the sacramental
species sometimes continue entire in themselves; and sometimes only
as to that which is principal, as was said above.
Reply Obj. 2: As stated above, during such apparitions Christ's
proper semblance is not seen, but a species miraculously formed
either in the eyes of the beholders, or in the sacramental dimensions
themselves, as was said above.
Reply Obj. 3: The dimensions of the consecrated bread and wine
continue, while a miraculous change is wrought in the other
accidents, as stated above.
In summary, sic et non
Thus, the Angelic Doctor answers “yes” and “no” – that is, he answers in the positive to our first question, and in the negative to our second.
Does the Real Presence remain after a Eucharistic Miracle? Yes, on two accounts. First, and foremost, because the dimensive quantity of the accidents persists, the “substance” of the accidents remains. Moreover, the change in appearance of the accidental properties (the accidents of bread changing to those of flesh and the accidents of wine changing to those of blood) is a manifestation of the true reality of Christ’s sacramental presence. Therefore, in the case of a Eucharistic Miracle, the Real Presence of Christ remains in the Eucharist.
After a Eucharistic Miracle, is Christ present in the Eucharist in the same visible manner as he was present on earth, such that he who looks upon the Eucharistic Miracle is able to see physically the flesh and blood of Jesus? In other words, is a Eucharistic Miracle something like a relic of Jesus? No, again on two accounts. First, because such would mean that the Eucharist was no longer a sacrament. This alone distinguishes Christ’s presence in the Eucharist from his presence in heaven, that he is present in his proper species in heaven while he is present in his sacramental species in the Eucharist. Moreover, if the Eucharistic Miracle were physically and accidentally the flesh and blood of Jesus, then the Eucharistic Miracle would cease to contain the whole Christ but would only be a “piece” of our Savior – and, thus, we see how repugnant it is to think of the Eucharist (even after a Eucharistic Miracle) as a relic of Jesus; for a relic is only a part of a saint, but Christ is present whole and entire in each portion of the Eucharist.