After hearing about the bleeding wafer in the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City Utah, I was reminded of another, somewhat similar historical incident: the Corporal of Bolsena, which took place in 13th century Italy and also involved a bleeding host. In order to understand the reason why a bleeding piece of bread is such a big deal to Catholics (and not in the “food safety” kind of way), you need to understand Catholicism’s belief in transubstantiation.
Transubstantiation is the change of the wine and bread into the Holy Sacrament of the Blood and Body of Christ, according to the Catholic doctrine. It’s been a while since I was in catechism, but I do remember that the reasoning for the change has to do with Jesus offering his disciples bread and wine at his Last Supper, saying they were his body and blood. The bread and the wine are used in place of the body of God up until that moment, which is why they’re also called “the host” (although it tends to apply more to the wafer than the wine). Catholics canonically do NOT believe that any of the bread is left behind during the change – this is different from some Protestant offshoots that still perform Communion but still believe the bread is a holy bread or both the bread and body – and if they do not, they are in conflict with the doctrine of the Church and cannot take Communion.
Anyway, on to the story. Now, from what I remember in my catechism class (supplemented with a bit of Google research): a Bohemian (modern-day “Czech”) priest named Peter was on a pilgrimage in order to better understand and come to terms with his faith. While on his pilgrimage, he celebrated Mass at Bolsena, Italy, even though he was undecided on the miracle of Transubstatiation. Traditionally, the host begins to bleed after it is consecrated (read:blessed), and when Peter goes to wipe the blood away (thinking that perhaps it was his own blood from a nosebleed, or even blood from the baker), it continues to rise up from the bread. Peter then wraps the host in the corporal (the linen cloth used to cover the altar and keep the host from being defiled by dust and grime) and takes it to the Pope himself, and only when he has an audience withg the Holy Father does he unwrap it. Miraculously, the bread is STILL bleeding, and not only that, but the stains from the blood have formed into a face on the corporal! How exciting.
Now, if you follow the Catholic doctrine, the host began to bleed because it became the actual, physical Body of Christ, and it bled as Christ bled for our sins. It’s also the reasoning for the Feast of the Corpus Christi (the Feast of Christ’s Body), as the Pope was so moved by the power of Christ that he decided to commemorate it with a feast. To believers, that’s where the story ends, It Is Right To Give Him Thanks And Praise, Amen.
But what about the skeptics? Surely there must be a scientific reasoning for a bleeding piece of bread, right?
I’ll discuss that in my next real post on Tuesday, after my NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up! 🙂