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The Guardian Angel: The Eucharistic Miracle of Ferrari Italy 1171

Many holy fathers (Sts. Jerome, Cyril, Ephrem, Augustine) say that the consent of Mary was essential to the redemption. It was the will of God, St. Thomas says (Summa III:30), that the redemption of mankind should depend upon the consent of the Virgin Mary. This does not mean that God in His plans was bound by the will of a creature, and that man would not have been redeemed, if Mary had not consented. It only means that the consent of Mary was foreseen from all eternity, and therefore was received as essential into the design of God.

This Eucharistic Miracle took place in Ferrara, in the Basilica of Saint Mary in Vado, on Easter Sunday, March 28, 1171. While celebrating Easter Mass, Father Pietro da Verona, the prior of the basilica, reached the moment of breaking the consecrated Host. At this point he saw that Blood gushed from the Host, staining the ceiling of the crypt above the altar with droplets. In 1595 the crypt was enclosed within a small shrine and is still visible today in the monumental Basilica of Santa Maria in Vado.

In March 28, 1171, the prior of the Canons Regular Portuensi, Father Pietro da Verona, was celebrating Easter Mass with three confreres (Bono, Leonardo and Aimone). At the moment of the breaking of the consecrated Host, Blood gushed forth from the Host and threw large drops on the ceiling of the small crypt above the altar. Histories tell of the “holy fear of the celebrant and of the immense wonder of the people who crowded the tiny church.”

There were many eyewitnesses who told of seeing the Host take on a Bloody color and having seen in the Host the figure of a Baby. Bishop Amato of Ferrara and Archbishop Gherardo of Ravenna were immediately informed of the event. They witnessed with their own eyes the miracle, namely “the Blood which we saw redden the ceiling of the crypt.”

The church immediately became a pilgrim destination, and later was rebuilt and expanded on the orders of Duke Ercole d’Este beginning in 1495.

There are many sources regarding this miracle. Among the most important is the Bull of Pope Eugene IV (March 30, 1442), in which the pontiff mentions the miracle in reference to the testimonies of the faithful and ancient historical sources. The 1197 manuscript of Gerardo Cambrense, conserved in Canterbury’s Lambeth Library is the oldest document that mentions the miracle. The miracle received recent attention in the “Gemma Ecclesiastica” (Budding of the Church) by historian Antonio Samaritani.

Another document which dates to March 6, 1404, is the Bull of Cardinal Migliorati, in which he grants indulgences to “those who visit the church and adore the Miraculous Blood.”

Even today, on the 28th day of every month in the basilica, which is currently under the care of Saint Gaspare del Bufalo’s Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, Eucharistic Adoration is celebrated in memory of the miracle. And every year, in preparation for the Feast of Corpus Christi, the solemn Forty Hours devotion is celebrated. The eighth centenary of the miracle was celebrated in 1971.

St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars (1786-1859), told his people, "Our Lord is hidden there in the tabernacle, waiting for us to come and visit Him, and make our requests to Him...In heaven, where we shall be glorious and triumphant, we shall see Him in all His glory. If He had presented Himself, before us in that glory now, we should not have dared to approach Him; but He hides Himself like a person in prison, who might say to us, 'You do not see Me, but that is no matter; ask of Me all you wish and I will grant it."' The Cure of Ars spent most of his long hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. During his homilies, he would often turn towards the tabernacle, saying with emotion, "He is there!" So the litany of witnesses to the power of the Real Presence went on. By the time of the first international Eucharistic Congress in 1881, the evidence was more than sufficient for the Church's magisterium to speak extensively on the subject.


It was no coincidence that international Eucharistic Congresses came into existence because of the experience of the faithful. As mentioned before, it was a laywoman, Marie-Marthe Tamisier, whose personal awareness of the spiritual energy available from the Real Presence that Providence used to bring about the first international Eucharistic Congress at Lille, in France, in 1881. In the papal brief which Leo XIII addressed to those attending that Congress, he spoke of the "great joy" he had in commending the bishops who organized the assembly. He approved its purpose, namely "of repairing the iniquities wreaked upon the Most Holy Sacrament and of promoting Its worship." He praised the laymen for "the great extension of the work of Nocturnal Adoration" and for the report of "how this salutary institution is taking root, progressing and bearing fruit everywhere." The key factor, according to Pope Leo, is that Eucharistic Adoration is bearing supernatural fruit wherever the practice is nourished by the faith of the people. St. Pius X's devotion to the Real Presence, biographers say, was at the heart of his historic promotion of early and frequent Holy Communion. On the day of his canonization, Pope Pius XII identified the source of his predecessor's apostolic genius: "In the profound vision which he had of the Church as a society, Pope Pius X recognized that it was the Blessed Sacrament which had the power to nourish her intimate life substantially, and to elevate her high above all other human societies" (Quest' ore di fulgente) May 29, 1954). Anticipating the publication of his decree on frequent, even daily, Communion (December 20, 1905), Pius X requested that the international Eucharistic Congress that year should be held in Rome. It was the sixteenth in sequence and the first one in the Eternal City. The Pope opened the Congress with the Mass which he celebrated and then participated in the procession with the Blessed Sacrament. Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI carried on the papal tradition of encouraging adoration of the Holy Eucharist, and prayers of expiation and petition to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It was Benedict XV who issued the first Code of Canon Law in 1917 which legislated the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in "every parish or quasi-parish church, and in the church connected with the residence of exempt men and women religious" (Canon 1265, #1). It was this same Code which encouraged the private and public exposition of the Holy Eucharist. Pope Pius XI associated the worship of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament with expiation for sin. St. Margaret Mary had been canonized in 1920, just two years before Achille Ratti was elected Pope. In 1928, he wrote a lengthy encyclical on Reparation to the Sacred Heart. Its whole theme is on the desperate need to plead for God's mercy, especially through the Holy Eucharist. During her prayers before the Blessed Sacrament, Christ revealed to Margaret Mary "the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of a mourner." The Savior said, "Behold this Heart which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of a more special love." Among the ways to make reparation to the Heart of Christ, the Pope urged the faithful to "make expiatory supplications and prayers, prolonged for a whole hour-which is rightly called the 'Holy Hour"' (Miserentissimus Redemptor, May 8, 1928). It was understood that the Holy Hour was to be made even as the original message was received by St. Margaret Mary, before the Holy Eucharist.

Pope Pius XII With Pius XI's successor, we begin a new stage in the Church's teaching on the efficacy of prayer addressed to Christ really present in the Sacrament of the altar. A year before his election to the See of Peter, Cardinal Pacelli was sent as papal legate to the international Eucharistic Congress at Budapest in Hungary. It was 1938, a year before the outbreak of the Second World War. The theme of Pacelli's address at the Congress was that Christ had indeed left this earth in visible form at His Ascension. But He is emphatically still on earth, the Jesus of history, in the Sacrament of His love. Pius XII published forty-one encyclicals during his almost twenty year pontificate. One feature of these documents is their reflection of doctrinal development that has taken place in the Catholic Church in modern times. Thus, development in the Church's understanding of herself as the Mystical Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis Christi, 1943); in her understanding of the Bible (Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1943); in her understanding of the Blessed Virgin (Deiparae Virginis Mariae, 1946), proposing the definition of Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven. The Encyclical Mediator Dei (1947) was on the Sacred Liturgy. As later events were to show, it became the doctrinal blueprint for the Constitution of the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. Nine complete sections of Mediator Dei deal with "Adoration of the Eucharist." This provides the most authoritative explanation of what the Pope describes as "the worship of the Eucharist," which "gradually developed as something distinct from the Sacrifice of the Mass." It seems best briefly to quote from these sections and offer some commentary. 1. Adoration of the Eucharist. The basis for all Eucharistic devotion is the fact that Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is the Son of God in human form. The Eucharistic Food contains, as all are aware, "truly, really and substantially the Body and Blood together with the Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ." It is no wonder, then, that the Church, even from the beginning, adored the Body of Christ under the appearance of bread; this is evident from the very rites of the august Sacrifice, which prescribe that the sacred ministers should adore the Most Holy Sacrament by genuflecting or by profoundly bowing their heads. The Sacred Councils teach that it is the Church's tradition right from the beginning, to worship "with the same adoration the Word Incarnate as well as His own flesh," and St. Augustine asserts that: "No one eats that flesh without first adoring it," while he adds that "not only do we not commit a sin by adoring it, but we do sin by not adoring it." (Mediator Dei, paragraph 129-130) Everything else depends on this primary article of faith: that the Eucharist contains the living Christ, in the fullness of His human nature, and therefore really present under the sacred species; and in the fullness of His divine nature, and therefore to be adored as God. 2. Dogmatic Progress. There has been a deeper grasp by the Church of every aspect of the mystery of the Eucharist. But one that merits special attention is the growing realization, not only of Christ's sacrificial oblation in the Mass, but of His grace-filled presence outside of Mass. It is on this doctrinal basis that the worship of adoring the Eucharist was founded and gradually developed as something distinct from the Sacrifice of the Mass. The reservation of the Sacred Species for the sick and those in danger introduced the praiseworthy custom of adoring the Blessed Sacrament which is reserved in our Churches. This practice of adoration, in fact, is based on strong and solid reasons. For the Eucharist is at once a Sacrifice and a Sacrament: but it differs from the other Sacraments in this that it not only produces grace, but contains, in a permanent manner, the Author of grace Himself. When, therefore, the Church bids us adore Christ hidden behind the Eucharistic veils and pray to Him for the spiritual and temporal favors of which we ever stand in need, she manifests living faith in her divine Spouse who is present beneath these veils, she professes her gratitude to Him and she enjoys the intimacy of His friendship (131). The key to seeing why there should be a Eucharistic worship distinct from the Mass is that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ. No less than His contemporaries in Palestine adored and implored Him for the favors they needed, so we should praise and thank Him, and implore Him for what we need. 3. Devotional Development. As a consequence of this valid progress in doctrine, the Church has developed a variety of Eucharistic devotions. Now, the Church in the course of centuries has introduced various forms of this worship which are ever increasing in beauty and helpfulness; as, for example, visits of devotion to the tabernacle, even every day, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; solemn processions, especially at the time of Eucharistic Congresses, which pass through cities and villages; and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament publicly exposed. Sometimes these public acts of adoration are of short duration. Sometimes they last for one, several and even for forty hours. In certain places they continue in turn in different churches throughout the year, while elsewhere adoration is perpetual, day and night (132). To be stressed is that these are not merely passing devotional practices. They are founded on divinely revealed truth. And, as the Pope is at pains to point out, "these exercises of piety have brought a wonderful increase in faith and supernatural life to the Church militant upon earth." Are these practices liturgical? "They spring from the inspiration of the Liturgy," answers Pius XII. "And if they are performed with due decorum and with faith and piety, as the liturgical rules of the Church require, they are undoubtedly of the very greatest assistance in living the life of the Liturgy." Does this not confuse the "Historic Christ" with the Eucharistic Christ? Not at all, says the Pope. On the contrary, it can be claimed that by this devotion the faithful bear witness to and solemnly avow the faith of the Church that the Word of God is identical with the Son of the Virgin Mary, Who suffered on the Cross, Who is present in a hidden manner in the Eucharist and Who reigns upon His heavenly throne. Thus St. John Chrysostom states: "When you see It (the Body of Christ) exposed, say to yourself: thanks to this Body, I am no longer dust and ashes, I am no more a captive but a freeman: hence I hope to obtain Heaven and the good things that are there in store for me, eternal life, the heritage of the Angels, companionship with Christ" (134). Among other forms of Eucharistic devotion recommended by Pope Pius XII, he gave special attention to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He spoke of the "great benefit in that custom which makes the priest raise aloft the Bread of Angels before congregations with heads bowed down in adoration and forming with It the sign of the cross." This "implores the Heavenly Father to deign to look upon His Son who for love of us was nailed to the Cross and for His sake and through Him willed . . . to shower down heavenly favors upon those whom the Immaculate Blood of the Lamb has redeemed" (135).

Pope John XXIII. Unlike his predecessor, John XXIII did not publish any extensive documentation on the Eucharistic Liturgy. But he took every occasion to urge the faithful, especially priests, to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. In the life of a priest nothing could replace the silent and prolonged prayer before the altar. The adoration of Jesus, our God; thanksgiving, reparation for our sins and for those of all men, the prayer for so many intentions entrusted to Him, combine to raise that priest to a greater love for the Divine Master to whom he has promised faithfulness and for men who depend on his priestly ministry. With the practice of this enlightened and fervent worship of the Eucharist, the spiritual life of the priest increases and there are prepared the missionary energies of the most valuable apostles. All the while that he was urging priests to pray before the altar, the Pope reminded them that "the Eucharistic Prayer in the full sense is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass" (Encyclical Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, August 11, 1959). After all, without the Mass there would be no Real Presence. We might say that Christ's abiding presence in the Holy Eucharist is an extension of the Eucharistic sacrifice. On the eve of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John participated in the Corpus Christi procession of the Blessed Sacrament in Rome. On that occasion, he composed an earnest prayer for Christ's blessings on the forthcoming Council. O Jesus, look upon us from your Sacrament like a good Shepherd, by which name the Angelic Doctor invokes you, and with him Holy Church. O Jesus, good Shepherd, this is your flock, the flock that you have gathered from the ends of the earth, the flock that listens to your word of life, and intends to guard it, practice it and preach it. This is the flock that follows you meekly, O Jesus, and wishes so ardently to see, in the Ecumenical Council, the reflection of your loving face in the features of your Church, the mother of all, the mother who opens her arms and heart to all, and here awaits, trembling and trustful, the arrival of all her Bishops (June 21, 1962). Words could not be plainer. They could also not be more authoritative. The Vicar of Christ was teaching, by example, how effective prayer to our Lord in the Eucharist can be not only for ourselves personally, but for the whole Church of God.

Pope Paul VI. Although Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council and lived through its first session in 1962, he did not promulgate any of its sixteen documents. That was done by his successor, Pope Paul VI. The first conciliar document issued by Paul VI was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (December 4, 1963). Less than two years later, just before the last session of the Council, he published the encyclical Mysterium Fidei (September 3, 1965). It is a remarkable document in several ways.

  • It was issued during the Second Vatican Council.

  • It opens with a glowing tribute to the Council's Constitution on the Liturgy.

  • It praises those who "seek to investigate more profoundly and to understand more fruitfully the doctrine on the Holy Eucharist."

  • But then it goes on to give "reasons for serious pastoral concern and anxiety." Specifically, Paul VI says that opinions are being spread which reinterpret "doctrine already defined by the Church," and in particular "the dogma of transubstantiation" (I).

Most of the encyclical, therefore, is a doctrinal analysis of the Real Presence. By all accounts, it is the most extensive and penetrating declaration in papal history on two articles of the Catholic faith: the corporeal presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and His communication of grace through this Eucharistic presence now on earth. 1. The Real Presence. If we are to understand the sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist, "which constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind, we must listen with docility to the voice of the teaching and praying Church." What does the doctrine and devotion of the Church tell us? This voice, which constantly echoes the voice of Christ, assures us that the way Christ is made present in this Sacrament is none other than by the change of the whole substance of the bread into His Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into His Blood, and that this unique and truly wonderful change the Catholic Church rightly calls transubstantiation. As a result of transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on a new meaning and a new finality, for they no longer remain ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but become the sign of something sacred, the sign of a spiritual food. However, the reason they take on this new significance and this new finality is simply because they contain a new reality which we may justly term ontological. There is no longer under the species what had been there before. It is something entirely different. Why? Not only because of the faith of the church, but in objective reality. After the change of the substance or nature of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and wine but the appearances, under which Christ, whole and entire, in His physical reality is bodily present (V). Of course this presence is beyond our comprehension. Of course it is different from the way bodies are naturally present and therefore can be sensibly perceived. Subjectively, we cannot see or touch the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. But objectively (in reality) and ontologically (in His being) He is there. 2. Communication of Grace. Once the Real Presence is properly recognized, it is only logical to conclude that we should worship the Savior in the Blessed Sacrament. It is equally logical to expect Him to confer blessings on a sinful world by His presence among us. Three passages in Mysterium Fidei make this conclusion perfectly clear. In the first statement, Pope Paul recalls the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria (died 444) who had been so active in defending the physical union of Christ's humanity in the Incarnation as well as in the Eucharist. The reason is that the Eucharist is the Incarnate Son of God who became, and remains, the Son of Mary. St. Cyril of Alexandria rejects as folly the opinion of those who maintained that if a part of the Eucharist was left over for the following day, it did not confer sanctification. "For" he says, "neither Christ is altered nor His Holy Body changed, but the force and power and revivifying grace remain with it" (VI). Once the elements of bread and wine have been consecrated and transubstantiation has taken place, the living Christ remains as long as the Eucharistic species remain. Then, because Christ is present, His humanity remains a source of life-giving grace. In his second statement on the Eucharist as a channel of grace, Pope Paul carefully distinguishes between the Eucharist as Sacrifice and Communion, and the Eucharist as Presence. Not only while the Sacrifice is offered and the Sacrament is received, but as long as the Eucharist is kept in our churches and oratories, Christ is truly the Emmanuel, that is "God with us." Day and night He is in our midst, He dwells with us, full of grace and truth. He restores morality, nourishes virtues, consoles the afflicted and strengthens the weak (VI). These verbs--restores, nourishes, consoles and strengthens--are all forms of divine grace which Christ confers by His presence in the Eucharist. In his third statement on the efficacy of the Real Presence, Paul VI adds the final touch to his teaching. No doubt the living Savior in the Blessed Sacrament is there "full of grace and truth." But there must be a responsive faith on our part. Anyone who approaches this august Sacrament with special devotion, and endeavors to return generous love for Christ's own infinite love, will experience and fully understand--not without spiritual joy and fruit--how precious is the life hidden with Christ in God, and how great is the value of converse with Christ. For there is nothing more consoling on earth, nothing more efficacious for advancing along the road of holiness (VI). The important word in that last sentence is "efficacious." Provided we approach the Real Presence with believing love, Christ will perform wonders of His grace in our lives.

Pope John Paul II. Building on the teaching of his predecessors, John Paul II has come to be known as the Pope of the Real Presence. In one document and address after another, he has repeated what needs repetition for the sake of emphasis: "The Eucharist, in the Mass and outside of the Mass, is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and is therefore deserving of the worship that is given to the living God, and to Him alone" (Opening address in Ireland, Phoenix Park, September 29, 1979). But the Pope has done more than merely repeat what had been said before. He placed the capstone on the Eucharistic teaching of the magisterium that we have been examining. He did so by explaining in the most unambiguous language that there is only one Sacrament of the Eucharist. Yet this one Sacrament confers grace in three different ways. Each manner of giving grace corresponds to the three forms in which the Eucharist has been instituted by Christ. It is at one and the same time a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-Sacrament, and a Presence-Sacrament (Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, March 4, 1979, IV, 20). The revealed foundation for this conclusion is the fact of Christ's abiding presence in the Eucharist. It is the "Redeemer of Man" who by His Passion and death on the Cross merited the grace of our salvation. But it is mainly through the Eucharist that the same Jesus Christ now channels this grace to a sinful human race. It is in this comprehensive sense that we can say, "the Church lives by the Eucharist, by the fullness of this Sacrament." This fullness, however, spans all three levels of its sacramental existence, where, by "sacrament" the Church means a sensible sign, instituted by Christ, through which invisible grace and inward sanctification are communicated to the soul. The Mass is the Sacrifice-Sacrament of the Eucharist. As the Council of Trent declared, the Sacrifice of the Mass is not only an offering of praise and thanksgiving. It is also a source of grace: "By this oblation, the Lord is appeased, He grants grace and the gift of repentance, and He pardons wrongdoings and sins," the blessings of Redemption which Christ won for us by His bloody death on Calvary are now "received in abundance through this unbloody oblation" (September 17, 1562). Holy Communion is the Communion-Sacrament of the Eucharist. As the same Council of Trent defined, Christ present in the Eucharist is not only spiritually eaten, but also really and sacramentally. We actually receive His Body and Blood, and we are truly nourished by His grace. It was Christ's will "That this Sacrament be received as the soul's spiritual food, to sustain and build up those who live with His life." It is also to be "a remedy to free us from our daily defects and to keep us from mortal sin" (October 11, 1551). The Real Presence is the Presence-Sacrament of the Eucharist. How? The Real Presence is a Sacrament in every way that the humanity of Christ is a channel of grace to those who believe that the Son of God became man for our salvation. Chapter VII GRACE THROUGH THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST The underlying theme of the Church's Eucharistic teaching is the fact of "Christ's consoling presence in the Blessed Sacrament. His Real Presence in the fullest sense; the substantial presence by which the whole and complete Christ, God and man, is present" (Pope John Paul II, September 29, 1979). Once this fact of faith is recognized, it is not difficult to see why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so efficacious. Indeed it explains why, without a second thought, Catholics have simply referred to the Real Presence as the Blessed Sacrament. It is a Sacrament, or better, it is the one Sacrament which not only confers grace but contains the very source of grace, namely Jesus Christ. As we read the Gospels, we are struck by the marvelous power that Christ's humanity had in effecting changes in the persons who came into contact with Him. Already in the womb of His mother, He sanctified the unborn John the Baptist the moment Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary. At Cana in Galilee, at His Mother's request, Jesus told the servants, "Fill the jars with water." When the steward tasted the water, it had turned into wine. Jesus spoke with human lips when He preached the Sermon on the Mount, when He taught the parables, when he forgave sinners, when he rebuked the Pharisees, when He foretold His Passion and told His followers to carry the cross. Jesus touched the blind with human hands, and healed the lepers by speaking with a human voice. On one occasion a sick woman touched the hem of His garment. "Immediately," relates St. Mark, "aware that power had gone out from Him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, 'who touched My clothes?"' The woman was instantly healed. Significantly, Jesus told her, "your faith has restored you to health." All through His public ministry, the humanity of Christ was the means by which He enlightened the minds of his listeners, restored their souls to divine friendship, cured their bodies of disability and disease, and assured them of God's lasting peace. That is what St. John meant when, in the prologue of his Gospel, he said, "though the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth come through Jesus Christ." Why? Because Christ is the only-begotten Son of God who became flesh, and not only lived but, in the Eucharist, continues to live among us . In order to draw on these resources of infinite wisdom and power, available in the Eucharist, we must believe. In the words of the Adoro Te, we can say: "I believe everything that the Son of God has said, and nothing can be truer than this word of the Truth. Only the Godhead was hidden on the cross, but here the humanity is hidden as well. Yet I believe and acknowledge them both." Those who can thus speak to Christ in the Eucharist will learn from experience what the Church means when she tells us that the Real Presence is a Sacrament. It is the same Savior Who assumed our human nature to die for us on Calvary and who now dispenses through that same humanity, now glorified, the blessings of salvation.


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