One of our team members (Judy Alciatore) who usually will help on our radio program for Wednesday nights, on Eucharistic Miracles, has a gift in writing poetry. So it was a natural fit to speak about this Poet tonight. I believe like Prudentius, Judy share's her gift with us, to glorify God and I will leave it to her if it was to atone for her own sins.
The Spanish Christian poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348 - c. 405) was a lawyer by profession. After two terms as provincial governor, he was summoned by the emperor to court, where he served with distinction. But jurisprudence did not really appeal to him. He finally gave up the practice of law altogether and gave himself up to a life of asceticism, for example, abstaining from food until evening and not eating meat.
In his spare time, he composed many poems, which are deeply religious and reflect the strong Catholic faith of the early Christians, following the liberation of the Church under Constantine. There is no question why Prudentius wrote his poetry. It was simply to glorify God and atone for his own sins. Scholars have divided his poems into three categories: the lyrical, the didactic, and the polemical.
His lyric poems cover a large variety of subjects, especially for the sanctification of the hours of the day or certain important feasts, such as Christmas and Epiphany. Some of his poems continue the liturgical tradition of St. Ambrose and are written in the Ambrosian iambic diameter. Others, especially his Christian burial poetry, follow the metric form of Horace. Not a few of his poems were written to glorify the Church's martyrs, like Sts. Peter and Paul, Cyprian and Agnes.
Prudentius' two principal instructive poems are on the mystery of the Holy Trinity and on the origin of sin. They are both examples of passionate, glowing exposition of revealed dogma combined with an extraordinary gift of poetic expression. There seems no doubt that Prudentius was at least partially influenced by Tertullian, whose mastery of language was superb. But, unlike Tertullian, Prudentius never wavered in his Catholic orthodoxy. Yet, even Prudentius is not free from occasional lapses, like his belief that only a small number of souls will be lost.
Among Prudentius' polemical poetry, outstanding is his invective against Symmachus. In it, he shows how the early Christians reconciled their patriotism with their faith. For Prudentius, the Church is the divinely planned fulfillment of the genius of the Roman government. As a Christian, he is impartial to his pagan fellow citizens for their services to the state. Prudentius is proud of the Roman Senate, seeing that by the end of the fourth century most of its members were Christians.
It is not surprising that so many of Prudentius' poems have found their way into the Church's liturgy over the centuries. Nor is it any wonder that he is considered the greatest among the Christian poets in the first millennium of Catholic history. What he also shows is the power of the faith to inspire literary genius, not only among priests and religious but among the laity involved, as Prudentius was, in the secular world.
Eucharistic Miracle of Ofida, Italy, 1273-1280
In Offida, near the Church of St. Augustine, are kept the relics of the Eucharistic miracle which took place in 1273, in which the Host became living Flesh. There are many documents which describe this miracle, among which is an authentic copy on a parchment of the 13th century, written by the notary Giovanni Battista Doria in 1788. There are also many official decrees of the popes beginning with that of Boniface VIII (1295), to that of Sixtus V (1585), discourses of Roman congregations, Episcopal decrees, communal statutes, votive gifts, memorial stones, frescoes and testimonies of notable historic figures, among whom we recall the Antinori’s and Fella.
In 1273 in the town of Lanciano, a woman named Richiarella went to a witch and asked her how she could recover the affection of her husband, Giacomo Stasio. Following the witch’s advice, she went to Communion to obtain a consecrated Host.
Richiarella returned home and put the Host on the fire in an earthenware jar with the intention of turning the Blessed Sacrament into powder to put into her husband’s food. The Particles, however, were transformed into living Flesh.
Richiarella, horrified by these events, wrapped the jar and the Bloodied Host in a linen handkerchief that she then buried under the manure in her husband’s stable.
Strange events began to take place inside the stable: every time Giacomo’s donkey entered, it would genuflect toward the place where the miraculous Host was buried, and Giacomo began to think that his wife had put a spell on the beast.
Seven years later, Richiarella remorsefully confessed her terrible sacrilege to the prior of the Augustinian priory in Lanciano, Giacomo Diotallevi, a native of Offida.
According to the oldest stories, the woman, in tears, began screaming, “I killed God! I killed God!” The priest went to the place, found the bundle with the relics, and gave them to his fellow-citizens.
This story of the donkey is not the first time the Lord used such an animal to make His Point! Remember Balaam's Donkey (Numbers 22:21-39) and St. Anthony's challenge to Bononillo's lack of faith and his mule in the town square?
A cross-shaped reliquary was made to contain the Host. An ancient story recounts that two monks, Brother Michele and a confrere, were invited to Venice. When they arrived, they made the craftsman promise with an oath of loyalty “that he would not reveal to anyone what he was about to see and place inside the cross. Having taken the oath, the craftsman took the pyx containing the miraculous Host, but, struck with a sudden fever, exclaimed, ‘What have you brought me, Oh my Brother?’
The religious then asked him if he was in mortal sin. The craftsman answered, ‘Yes’, made his confession to the same priest and, the fever having left him, he took the pyx without any danger. Without extracting the Host, he fixed both Host and pyx, together with the sacred wood, inside the same cross, with a crystal above it, as you can clearly see.”
The reliquaries of the jar and the Blood-stained linen with the cross containing the miraculous Host are exposed in the Church of St. Augustine in Offida. Richiaretta’s house was transformed into a small chapel. In 1973, the seventh centenary of the miracle was celebrated, and every year on May 3rd, the citizens of Offida celebrate the anniversary of the miracle.