As we have seen from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, the Eucharist was celebrated from the Church’s earliest days, and it is clear from the writings of the Church Fathers that they believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I will give two examples (you can find many more here and here):
Saint Ignatius of Antioch was a second generation Christian who was appointed by Saint Peter to serve as Bishop of Antioch, and who was fed to lions during the persecutions of the Emperor Trajan. The surviving letters of Ignatius are among the earliest works of Christian theology found outside of the Bible. In his letter to the Romans (written around 110 AD), Ignatius wrote, “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ . . . and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.”
Saint Augustine (354-430 AD) was one of the greatest of the Church fathers and is recognized as one of 36 doctors of the Church because of the importance of his teachings. His Confessions, detailing his journey from a life of sin to repentance and conversion, is considered the first (and one of the best) autobiographies in Western literature. Saint Augustine spoke clearly about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist: “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ.”
Last but not least, there are the many miracles demonstrating that the Eucharistic host is truly the flesh of Christ. An anonymous eighth century monk, doubting the Real Presence as he said mass, witnessed the host turning into flesh and the wine turn into blood before him. Both the flesh and blood have been preserved at the Church of San Francesco in Lanciano, Italy, where scientific tests from the 20th Century have confirmed that they are indeed human flesh and blood, with no explanation for their preservation. A similar miracle took place in the 13th Century in Bolsena, Italy, when the host began to bleed in front of a doubting priest. The priest rushed to Pope Urban IV to inform him of the miracle, leading to the establishment, in 1264, of the feast of Corpus Christi.
Nor are these miracles limited to medieval times. On Christmas Day 2013, a host fell to the floor during mass in Legnicia, Poland. The priest placed it in a container to dissolve, but after two weeks, not only was the host still intact, “a red spot covering a fifth of its surface appeared.” Medical experts were called in, and they discovered that the host was composed of myocardial (heart) tissue “with alterations that often appear during agony.”
Similar miracles, likewise rigorously studied by medical experts, occurred in Bentania, Venezuela in 1991, in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992, 1994 and 1996, and in Sokolka, Poland in 2008. You can read a detailed account of the 1996 miracle here. Scientists confirmed not only that the host had been transformed into heart tissue, but also that the tissue contained white blood cells, indicating that “the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken,” and, because the white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, “the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.” (For a full list of Eucharistic miracles through the centuries, visit this site.)
In the case of the Venezuelan miracle, not only was a bleeding host preserved, it was filmed by a New Jersey man named Daniel Sanford, who “saw that the Host was as if in flames, and there was a Pulsating Heart that was bleeding in Its center.” Sanford witnessed the host in this state for about thirty seconds; then the host returned to normal. You can watch his video of the miracle here.
These miracles are powerful reminders of Jesus’ divinity and stark reminders of the humanity he shares with us. (I know I was interested to learn that our Lord and Savior has AB-positive blood. This is the rarest of blood types, and is not the universal donor blood type, but the universal receiver. A person with AB-positive blood can receive blood from anyone. All of us can unite our sufferings to the Lord!)
The evidence from the gospels, the fathers, and the miracles are overwhelming: Jesus is Truly Present in the Eucharist. He gives his flesh and blood to us so that we may have eternal life in him. May we approach with him with reverence and awe.
Image: The Last Supper by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).