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Jesus once lamented to St. Faustina how so many people don't seem to understand the Sacrament of Holy Communion and His Real Presence in the Eucharist.
"When I come to a human heart in Holy Communion," He said, "My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. ... They treat Me as a dead object" (Diary of St. Faustina, 1385)
The message of Divine Mercy is a Eucharistic message, one that calls us to lead a sacramental life. So let's take a closer look at this great gift: the Eucharist.
'Unless You Eat the Flesh'
The Sacrament of the Eucharist was instituted on Holy Thursday, and this gift is celebrated daily in Holy Masses all over the world. Jesus wants us to partake in this gift as frequently as our station in life permits. "Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6:53-54).
The Church teaches that at the moment of Consecration during the Mass, the bread and wine on the altar become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. In 1551, the Council of Trent condemned the opinion that Christ is present only in the elements as a sign, or that Christ is received only spiritually. In John 6: 48-51, Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and never die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh."
The Real Presence
After the Consecration, although the appearance remains, the bread and wine cease to exist. This change is called transubstantiation. While it is true God is everywhere spiritually, the Eucharistic presence of Christ — that is, that Christ is present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, is called the True Presence or the Real Presence. When discussing the Real Presence, one can see from John, Chapter 6, that even at the time of Christ, there was disagreement and discussion, and many did not understand what He was saying. In verses 48-56, He speaks of being "the living bread which came down from Heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever," and He added, "for My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." However, in verse 60, it is written that many of His disciples, when they heard Christ's words, remarked, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" And in verse 66, "After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him."
The early Christians who believed in the Real Presence suffered much. There was much persecution, and many martyrs were made. People met and prayed in secret and could not openly discuss their faith. As a result, a community of secrecy developed as reflected in the complex signs and symbols of the early Church, ones that could not be deciphered by the pagans.
Early this century when the catacombs were discovered and excavated, several symbols were found in far greater frequency than others. They reflected on the meaning of life and the "Great Secret," the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Interestingly, it was not Christ's Resurrection, His numerous healings, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Passion that predominated in the symbolic artwork of the catacombs. Rather, it was the symbol of the Eucharist that was the focus throughout and was even on Peter's tomb.
A Miracle in Lanciano
I want to mention the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, Italy. Lanciano is a small coastal town on the Adriatic Sea. The term means "the lance," and tradition has it that St. Longinus, the soldier whose lance pierced the heart of Jesus from which flowed blood and water (Jn 19:34) was from Lanciano. Longinus converted after the events of the Crucifixion and was eventually martyred for the faith.
At the time of this Eucharistic miracle, heresy was spreading in the Church about the True Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. A monk was having doubts, and his doubts were growing stronger. One morning at Mass during the Consecration, he began to shake and tremble. He faced the people to show them what had happened. The Host had turned to flesh and the wine into blood!
This miracle took place nearly 1,300 years ago and is ongoing. Testing done in the 1970s revealed the flesh to be human heart tissue and the blood of human origin, both AB blood type. The blood had characteristics of living blood, and no preservatives of any kind were found in either specimen.
A Girl Gets a Special Gift
The miracle of Bologna, Italy, took place in 1333 in Bologna, Italy, and occurred because a pious young girl of 11 had a burning desire to receive our Lord in the Eucharist. Imelda Lambertini was born of wealth and entered the Dominican convent at age 9. She had a burning love for Jesus in the Eucharist. She wanted to receive Holy Communion but was unable because she was not the required 12 years of age.
The Lord gave her a special gift on the Feast of the Ascension in 1333. While praying, a Host appeared suspended in mid-air in front of her. The priest was called and he gave her Holy Communion. She went into ecstasy and never awakened. She died while receiving her First Holy Communion! Blessed Imelda's incorrupt body lies in the church of San Sigismondo near the University of Bologna. Pope St. Pious X named her Protectress of First Holy Communicants.
We may ask why the Lord gives us these miracles. Perhaps it is to show how present He is in the Eucharist. He desires that all of us, even the lost sheep, come back to the fold and that He loves us, even when we sin. He is the God of mercy and love, and He wants us to share that love and mercy with others. So today, may God bless you and may His Eucharistic love radiate out from you to a hurting world!
Dr. Bryan Thatcher is the founder of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM), an apostolate of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.