In the eighth century AD, a Basilian monk was saying Mass in the Church of St. Legontian in modern-day Lanciano, Italy. As he was saying Mass, he doubted the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. After the consecration of the bread and wine into the Most Precious Body and Blood of Christ, the host became Flesh and the wine became Blood.
The Eucharist is a twofold miracle. First, bread and wine are substantially changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at the consecration during Mass. Second, the presence of Jesus Christ is veiled behind the accidents (the taste, shape, smell, etc.) of bread and wine. At the miracle of Lanciano, the veil that normally shrouds the Real Presence was lifted, the accidents of the bread and wine departed, and the substance of Jesus Christ—his Body and Blood—were seen.
The Flesh and Blood were kept safe for many centuries and were investigated by the Vatican on a number of occasions. In the 1970s, two scientists, professors Odoardo Linoli and Ruggero Bertelli, examined the Flesh. They determined a number of things. The Flesh was that of a human, and it was specifically heart tissue. They also found that the blood type was AB (the same found on the Shroud of Turin). The fact that the Flesh and Blood have lasted through so many centuries is a miracle in and of itself.
What can this tell us about the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist? Namely, that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is oriented to the Eucharist. The miracle of Lanciano tells us that we receive the very heart of Christ when we receive the Eucharist at Holy Communion. The heart is one of the most vital organs of the body. Thus, when we receive Jesus, we receive his very heart with which he loves us and calls us to follow him. It is clear from Sacred Scripture, and indeed from various Eucharistic miracles, that when one thinks of the Sacred Heart, they should also be thinking of the Eucharist.
In the Passion narrative in the Gospel of John, we read, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out (John 19:33–34). Many of the Church Fathers have made an allegorical connection between the blood and water that flowed from the heart of Christ and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. In his Commentary on the Gospel of John, St. Thomas Aquinas does a good job of summarizing this:
This happened to show that by the passion of Christ we acquire a complete cleansing from our sins and stains. We are cleansed from our sins by his blood, which is the price of our redemption: you know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things, such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet. 1:18). And we are cleansed from our stains by the water, which is the bath of our rebirth: I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean from all your filthiness (Ezek. 36:25); on that day there will be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness (Zech. 13:1). And so it is these two things which are especially associated with two sacraments: water with the sacrament of baptism, and blood with the Eucharist. Or, both blood and water are associated with the Eucharist because in this sacrament water is mixed with wine, although water is not of the substance of the sacrament.
The sacrament of Baptism is the most important sacrament not only because it washes us of original sin and makes us members of the Mystical Body of Christ, but also because it is the gateway to the rest of the sacraments. Without Baptism, one cannot receive any of the other sacraments. But once one has received Baptism, they must continue to be nourished with spiritual food. The sacrament of the Eucharist is that nourishment, and it flows directly from the heart of Christ on the cross.
Again, the Gospel of John offers us another insight into the Sacred Heart when John the Evangelist rests on the heart of Christ at the Last Supper: “He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, ‘Master, who is it?’” (John 13:25 NABRE). Aquinas also offers insight into this passage:
As for the mystical interpretation, we can see from this that the more a person wants to grasp the secrets of divine wisdom, the more he should try to get closer to Christ, according to: come to him and be enlightened (Ps. 34:5). For the secrets of divine wisdom are especially revealed to those who are joined to God by love: he shows his friend that it is his possession (Job 36:33); his friend comes and searches into him (Prov. 18:17).
It is said that St. Thomas Aquinas would go to the tabernacle and rest his head against it as if he was resting his head against the heart of Christ. In a General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “In speaking of the sacraments, St. Thomas reflects in a special way on the Mystery of the Eucharist, for which he had such great devotion, the early biographers claim, that he would lean his head against the Tabernacle, as if to feel the throbbing of Jesus’ divine and human heart.”
We too can rest on the heart of Christ—in Eucharistic Adoration. So many of the saints have recommended this practice, and the benefits are innumerable. It is in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that the Sacred Heart of Jesus speaks with, comforts, and guides us along our life’s journey to fulfilling his will. If we wish to remain close to the Sacred Heart of Christ, we must remain close to the Eucharist.