by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Last week, I shared with you some highlights of our recent archdiocesan Marian pilgrimage to Fatima, Santiago de Compostela, Lourdes and Rome. However, I did not mention the very first stop of the pilgrimage was at the Church of the Holy Miracle in Santarem, Portugal.
In the 1200s, a woman of Santarem was distressed by her husband’s lack of affection toward her, his frequently staying out very late at night and her fear that he was unfaithful to his wedding vows. In her desperation, the woman went to a sorceress for assistance, who promised to restore her marriage if the woman could procure for her a consecrated eucharistic host.
Despite a reluctance to fulfill the request of the sorceress, the woman was
so determined to restore her marriage that, after receiving holy Communion, she removed the host from her mouth and wrapped it in a veil. While on her way to the sorceress, a concerned passerby pointed out that she was apparently bleeding as blood was seeping from the host through the veil. The woman, regretting very much what she had done but uncertain how to remedy the situation, went home and placed the host wrapped in the veil in a trunk.
As usual, the woman’s husband came home very late. The woman, fearful
of her husband’s reaction, said nothing to him about what had happened. They were both awakened in the middle of the night by bright beams of light emanating from the trunk. At this point, the woman confessed to her husband what she had done and why. Both husband and wife spent the night in prayer in the presence of the eucharistic Lord asking forgiveness for their sins.
The next day, the couple confessed to their parish priest what they had done. The priest came to their home to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament. He encased the consecrated host in wax. The following day, when the priest examined the host, he was startled to discover the wax casing was shattered, and the host was now mysteriously enclosed in a crystal container.
The parish church was under the protective patronage of St. Stephen,
the first Christian martyr. As news spread about the eucharistic miracle, the church became known popularly as the Church of the Holy Miracle. The host in the crystal container can still be seen today by pilgrims.
Incidentally, the eucharistic miracle in Santarem did result in the renewal and restoration of the couple’s marriage. During this year especially devoted to the strengthening of marriage and family life, it would be wonderful for our eucharistic adoration chapels to be crowded with husbands and wives praying for the grace to be able to love their spouse with greater fidelity, passion and generosity.
This is just one of many eucharistic miracles that have been chronicled all over the world. One of the most significant and well-known sites of a eucharistic miracle is Bolsena, Italy. In the year 1263, a German priest, known as Peter of Prague, stopped in Bolsena while making a pilgrimage to Rome. He was a good and pious priest, but he was experiencing doubts about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
While celebrating Mass in the Church of St. Christina in Bolsena after he pronounced the words of consecration, the host began to bleed. The blood covered his hands, dripped upon the altar and stained the altar cloth (the corporal) upon which the Blessed Sacrament had been consecrated.
The priest immediately went to the nearby city of Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was residing. He informed the Holy Father of what had happened in Bolsena and gave the pope the blood- stained corporal. Pope Urban immediately had the unusual occurrence investigated. Convinced of its authenticity, Pope Urban IV established the feast of Corpus Christi as a universal feast for the entire Catholic Church in 1264.
Pope Urban also commissioned the brilliant theologian Thomas Aquinas to author the Mass prayers and develop the office for the feast. In a reflection
still used in the Office of Readings for the solemnity of Corpus Christi, St. Thomas wrote: “Since it was the will of God’s only-begotten Son that men should share in his divinity, he assumed our nature in order that by becoming man he might make men gods. . . . He offered his body to God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed his blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin. But to ensure that the memory of so great a gift would abide with us forever, he left us his body as food and his blood as drink for the faithful to consume in the form of bread and wine.”
The recent effort by a Satanic cult in Oklahoma City to use a stolen consecrated host in order to offer a so-called “black mass” was reminiscent of the request of the sorceress in Santarem 800 years ago. These followers of the prince of darkness in a very twisted way demonstrate a belief in Our Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist. In a strange way, they show a greater appreciation of the power of Christ’s presence in this Blessed Sacrament than many of us who receive holy Communion each Sunday.
During our Marian pilgrimage, we had the opportunity to participate
in eucharistic processions both in Fatima and Lourdes. Mary always leads us to her Son, Jesus. True devotion to Mary inevitably results in a deeper love for her Son’s real presence in the Eucharist.
As we prepare to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), let us ask the Blessed Mother to help us foster in our hearts a greater devotion to the sacrament of the body and blood of her Son. May Mary help us cultivate a more fervent faith and love for
the beauty and power of the Eucharist!