Thursday, June 23, 2011

Does the Real Presence remain after a Eucharistic Miracle?

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.


Anonymous said...

Never thought about it before. Makes sense.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

unfortunately, I will not be able to post very many comments over the next five days or so, due to lack of access to a computer.

Michelangelo said...

Abba Reginaldus,

Thank you, Father, I'm in your debt! A powerful demonstration of my sophomoric question! Thank you very much. (And after this I'll try to look up stuff in St. Thomas, who'da thought he analyzed the question of Eucharistic miracles!?! Happy Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist!

Chatto said...

Father, I know it will take a while for you to reply to this...I was wondering if you could tell us more about St. Thomas' references to the appearance of 'a child' in the Eucharistic Miracle. Does he mean a whole figure of small child appears where the Host was? An image on the Host? Is there a famous example of this? Thanks in advance.

Jack said...

The Russian Orthodox Liturgikon says about this very issue that should such happen, the priest is to take fresh matter as needed (bread, wine, or both), and say the appropriate words of the Anaphora over them.

Those that have changed their appearance to something other than bread and wine are to be put aside--NOT in the Tabernacle--and the Bishop notified.

Should they resume their proper appearance of bread or wine, they are to be consumed with the ablutions of the next liturgy.

A Sinner said...

While it may have been helpful for those alive at the time, I'm actually convinced that emphasis of Lanciano today is the reason for much of the disbelief in the Eucharist. I think Catholics (and Protestants) got the image in their head (I certainly had it as a child, and it seems to be what uneducated Catholics and Protestants THINK we believe when I probe them) that the Eucharistic Presence is basically, yeah, a little disk of severed flesh of Christ, or a cup of liquid blood...and are rightly repulsed by such a grotesque idea. Yet, without the very complex understanding of Aquinas here, it is what miracles like Lanciano seem to imply. Most people think nowadays they are supposed to represent what the Eucharist "really is" if the accidental "veil" as it were, were to fall away (bad theology, but in the popular imagination...)

As such, I would NOT emphasize Lanciano anymore or show that picture of it much, because it leads to everyone thinking the Catholic Church teaches we eat a little piece of severed flesh and drink of a cup of liquid blood. And...frankly...blech! Even if the Apostles had consecrated on Good Friday, Aquinas said, it would have been His WHOLE dead body and the TOTALITY of His shed blood (ie, not merely an amount equal in volume to the wine).

yan said...

St Thomas is wonderful!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Unfortunately, I too am not aware of where the reference to the Child comes from.
I do know that, in the Eucharistic Miracle chapel at Orvieto, there are frescos of a priest elevating a Host which has changed into a small Child. But I don't know where it comes from ... certainly, it is not a reference to the miracle of Orvieto-Balsena.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
You make good points. I have tried to communicate the same in several posts on the sacramental nature of the Real Presence ... it is not a piece of Christ which we receive, but the whole Jesus sacramentally and really present.

Leo said...

Dear Fr., thanks for your above post.

I have a couple of questions though. If this flesh that the Eucharist turns into sometimes, is not the flesh of Christ - whose flesh can it be?
I find the arguments made for it not being the flesh of Christ somewhat unconvincing.
1. You say, since Christ is present sacramentally in the Eucharist and it's the entire person present sacramentally, this cannot be Christ as it's only a part of his flesh. Well, once the species of bread and wine - the accidents, the signs of the eucharist dissapear, I would tend to think the basis of your arguement that this is not a "sacramental presence" dissapears as well - it's not! the rules of sacramental presence no longer apply!

2. We know that Christ has a glorified body - are we so certain of the properties of the glorified body that because a piece of his flesh is made manifest over here, He is 'un-whole' in some way up in heaven?

3. Even if it were to be so (that the glorified body is not too different from our body in respect to duplication of flesh), we are well aware today of many parts of our body being able to regenerate themselves. for eg., if I hurt myself and lost some skin on my arm, that skin will grow again. Because a scrap of my skin is left on the ground, does not mean I am without some part of my body. Muscles have the ability to grow again. And the heart is a muscle (whcih is what many say the flesh is from).
Today we even have stem cells which can take on any part of the body and grow into it. My point is simply that, even in our bodies, we can observe that there is a great capacity to regenerate, so why do you apply this as an argument to the glorified body?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

If the flesh is physically a piece of Christ's flesh, then (as you say) we would loose the "sacramental presence" ... which would mean that the "Eucharistic Miracle" in Lanciano is not really the Eucharist at all -- since it would no longer be a sacrament.
This would be a very strange thing! (i.e. it would be strange to call something which is not the Eucharist, a Eucharistic Miracle)

Moreover, it is a bit offensive to think that the Species in Lanciano is a "hunk" or a "piece" of Christ's flesh. It would be as though we cut off his finger and put it in a monstrance.

Finally, Christ's soul cannot be (physically) in two places at once -- it cannot be both in heaven and in a piece of flesh on earth ... this would mean that the Species in Lanciano is dead non-glorified flesh.
This is why it is so important to maintain that the Eucharist is a sacrament and that Christ IS NOT locally present in the Eucharist as in a place -- this is the explicit teaching of the Church, as represented in Paul VI's Mysterium Fidei.

The only way to maintain that the Lancian Host is not a dead piece of flesh is to claim that it is still the Eucharist. But, if it is still the Eucharist, it cannot be merely a "piece" of Christ.
Therefore, it is clear that this cannot be physically Christ's flesh ...

As to whose flesh it is ... the answer is fairly simple ... just like all the other accidental properties of the Eucharist, the accident of flesh does not inhere in a subject.
[as we do not say that Christ "tastes" dry in the Precious Blood, so too we do not say that the visible flesh in Lanciano is Christ's flesh]

I know that this is quite complicated -- and I am bringing in some philosophical concepts -- but I hope that the matter is at least a little bit more clear!
Peace to you! +

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