Excerpt from Exploring the Miraculous (OSV 2015) by Michael O'Neill
Christianity’s greatest miracle is the transubstantiation of the Eucharist that happens daily all over the world. This central dogma of the Catholic Faith boldly claims that despite retaining all the physical characteristics of bread and wine (known as accidents), these food staples, once consecrated, truly become the actual flesh and blood of the Son of God during the Sacrifice of the Mass. Many people have ignored this great event, saying that the bread and wine are mere symbols and that Jesus used them at the Last Supper in an act of commemoration and celebration of community. It would seem like an acceptable and comfortable interpretation of Jesus’ intention and ease this strange notion of required cannibalism, but to see that this interpretation is incorrect one has to look no further than the Gospel of John to the scandal that Jesus caused with his command:
So Jesus said to them, “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)
Many of Jesus’ followers left him because of this unbelievable and confusing suggestion. Yet he did not clarify his statement or follow with a parable to show the symbolism in his words or chase after all the people who had followed him dutifully up to that point.
Throughout history to this modern day, skeptics and believers alike have likewise questioned and struggled with this core belief. The sheer impossibility of it seems to be matched by the why of it: why would the Creator of the universe humble himself to take the form of a lifeless piece of food, easily ignored and able to be desecrated? The doubt over whether Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity could be truly present in the Eucharist has caused many to receive this gift in not in good standing with the Catholic Church or at all.
The Catholic Church affirms the Eucharist as the central element of the life of faith:
The Eucharist is the source and summit of all Christian life. In the Eucharist, the sanctifying action of God in our regard and our worship of him reach their high point. It contains the whole spiritual good of the Church, Christ himself, our Pasch. Communion with divine life and unity of the People of God are both expressed and effected by the Eucharist. Through the Eucharistic celebration we are united already with the liturgy of heaven and we have a foretaste of eternal life
A few times throughout history, this invisible mystery has come to life in a very visible way through Eucharistic miracles. The proof exists for all to see in the hundreds of instances of additional physical phenomena associated with a consecrated host. Many are still displayed in churches around the world. Such evidence has led skeptics to believe in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.
Eucharistic miracles come in many varieties. Perhaps the most convincing are the cases in which the consecrated wafer, commonly known as the host, has been transformed into human flesh. Other times the Eucharist has been seen to bleed human blood as verified by scientific testing. Other consecrated hosts have been inexplicably preserved for hundreds of years or have fortuitously escaped danger by passing through a fire unscathed or vanishing from the clutches of thieves. Some miraculous stories report the levitation of consecrated hosts. In the hagiographies of saints throughout Church history, holy men and women have experienced great miracles of the Eucharist, including the strange phenomenon of surviving on no food except for the bread consecrated into the body of Christ.