The Dynamics of Well Run Prayer Meetings
We all had to read sonnets at school. They are poems which express a single idea in fourteen lines. So the rules are strict, but in the hands of a master like William Shakespeare or George Herbert, the poet finds in the form, not bonds but wings. A prayer meeting is similar. It has an identifiable structure and dynamics like a sonnet, within which the leader and participants can express the ever fresh inspirations of the Holy Spirit. So, ideally, good order and spontaneity go hand in hand. Order without spontaneity is lifeless, and spontaneity without order is chaotic. In this talk, I will examine the form and dynamics of well conducted prayer meetings. My description is not intended to be a rigid blueprint but rather a resource to help prayer group leaders and participants alike to be more thoughtful about the nature and planning of prayer meetings.
Leading the Prayer Meeting
Ideally the leader of the prayer meeting should be appointed a week in advance. This gives him or her the time to prepare and to plan by means of prayer and reflection. If needs be there is the opportunity to liaise with those leading the music and giving the teaching. A number of pitfalls should be avoided such as:
· In a mistaken understanding the freedom of the spirit, appointing no one to lead the prayer meeting.
· Having a rotating form of leadership whereby everybody, regardless of ability, getting an opportunity to lead.
· Appointing some unwitting person immediately before the meeting is due to start.
A prayer meeting should normally begin with one or other of two forms of prayer.
A) Penitential Prayer
As a result of either weakness or malice, all of us fall short of the glory of God in our daily lives. As a result the prayer meeting, like the Eucharist, can begin with an A.C.T. of repentance.
- Admit failures
- Confess them either silently or vocally to the Lord
- Trust in the unconditional ever available mercy of God.
- Ask the help of the Holy Spirit
Prayer is not something we do but rather something we allow the Spirit within us to do with our willing co-operation. Recognizing this the prayer meeting can invoke the Spirit’s help either in a spoken prayer/s or in song e.g. Spirit of the Living God, or Breathe on me Breath of God.
Once the prayer meeting has got under way, the members turn their attention to prayers of appreciation, i.e. thanksgiving, praise and adoration. We will look at each in turn, by using the image of the great temple in Jerusalem during the lifetime of Jesus.
We enter the temple gates with thanksgiving. The word to “thank” in English is taken from the Old English thonc which is a cognate with the German dank, meaning “to think,” literally, “to be mindful, to be aware of.” Appreciation as thanksgiving means that one is mindful and grateful for the gifts of God. The prayer segment of the meeting will often begin with either an invocation of the Spirit, or an act of contrition, or with both. Then prayer of appreciation should usually begin with thanksgiving i.e. concentrating with gratitude on the gifts of God. Like the leper who came back to thank Jesus for his healing, we thank God for the graces and blessings we have received. It is good for the prayer group leader to encourage those present to witness to God’s goodness to them in the recent past, thereby providing people with good reasons for thanking God. They can respond in
· Spontaneous words of thanksgiving
· A chorus of a hymn that expresses thanksgiving. It can be repeated after each testimony.
· Or a full hymn/s of thanksgiving.
We enter the temple courts with praise. The word “praise” in English is derived from the Latin pretiare to prize, which is derived from pretium meaning price. Appreciation as praise acknowledges the value of the God of the gifts. The focus shifts from the gifts of God to the God of the gifts. The leader should give some reasons for doing so, indicate how it could be done in practical ways, while and inviting the people to raise their minds, hearts and voices to the Lord. The people present can contribute in different ways.
Quoting a suitable reading from the scriptures e.g. part of a psalm of praise such as Ps 92:1-2: “It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.” Use gifts of prophecy, visions or an inspired scripture text. For example, a number of years ago I attended a meeting in Belfast. The praise was fairly pathetic. Then a woman saw an image of birds sitting on a wall. Although they had wings they never seemed to fly. Then the Lord said to her: “Unless the birds use the wings of praise, I will not be able to bear them up on the wind of my Spirit.” As soon as they made the decision to praise, the Lord did the rest, until they were lifting the roof with anointed praises.
Praise hymns can also be used. If those who are in charge of the music have a menu of thanking, praising and worshipping hymns made out, they will be able to find an appropriate praise hymn quickly. If people want to nominate appropriate hymns it is good to say why they want them sung, e.g. by quoting a meaningful line. We should praise God intelligently, thereby avoiding a rather mindless sing-song approach. Incidentally, groups need to keep on introducing new praise hymns. Otherwise the golden oldies will grow state through over use. Actions can be used judiciously to accompany songs. There are many examples such as “Isn’t the love of Jesus simply wonderful,” “Father Abraham” and “His banner over me is love.”
Praying and singing in tongues also has an important role to play. When we are praising in English, even the most articulate people quickly run out of things to say even though they still want to praise. That is where the gift of praying and singing in tongues can be so helpful. Although the mind and imagination are at rest, the heart and lips can continue to praise the Lord. Thus tongues is a contemplative, pre-rational, non-symbolic form of prayer, which enables the God within to pray to the God beyond. As the bible indicates on many occasions, praise should be loud and long.Worship
We enter the holy of holies in the temple with worship. The word “worship” in English is derived from the Old English weorth, meaning “worth.” Appreciation as worship is a heartfelt awareness of the glory of the Lord. Ps 95:6 shows how the prayer of appreciation as thanksgiving and praise reaches its point of highest intensity in the form of worship. “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Worship is commonly expressed in bodily gestures such as the ones described by the psalmist with prostrations, raising of arms, clapping etc. Whereas the members of the meeting are active in thanking and praising God they are more passive in worship. As Ps 22:3 says: “Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” As we concentrate on the Lord by means of thanksgiving and praise, the Lord reveals himself to those who are praying. There can be an anointing when the Lord’s presence and glory are palpably present. It is then that the people are moved to a deeper form of praise in the form of worship, an awed, quieter acknowledgement of the inestimable worth of God whose majesty exceeds the narrow bounds of our human understanding. Appropriate worship hymns need to be sung at this time. They may melt into either a gentle singing in tongues or into silent adoration. It is at moments like this that the Lord may grant a speak an inspired word to the meeting, either in the form of a prophecy, vision or word of knowledge etc.
At this point we can make a few points that the prayer meeting leader needs to keep in mind.
Week on week, the prayer group leader should give short teachings which highlight the nature, motives and means of praying and participating during the meeting.
· He or she should not hand over the leadership role entirely to the music group during the time of worship. The instrumentalists are there to serve the meeting under the guidance of the leader. When musicians lead the praise, it is understandable, that they are inclined to sing one hymn after another without respect for the dynamics inherent in mature worship.
· S/he has the responsibility of discerning when to move from thanksgiving to praise to adoration. If people inappropriately suggest the wrong kind of hymns at the wrong time, e.g. a loud praise hymn during the time of quiet adoration the leader should gently but firmly ask that it wouldn’t be sung just then.
· The prayer group leader should encourage the music group to be sensitive to the dynamics of the prayer meeting and to use appropriate hymns. If they had a list of hymns prepared before hand under the headings of invocation, thanksgiving, praise and adoration they would find it easier to access at short notice. S/he should also encourage them to introduce new hymns on a regular basis in order to make sure that older hymns, no matter how worthy, do not loose their freshness through over use.
· The music ministry should use hymns intelligently by highlighting a reason why a certain hymn is being sung, e.g. because of a particularly meaningful chorus. Otherwise there is a danger that the worship will devolve into a sort of mindless sing-song of religious music.
· If there is singing in tongues the prayer meeting leader should encourage those present to sing in the same key.
Sharing forms an important part of the prayer meeting. It is often suited to the thanksgiving section. Scripture assures us: “A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known” Tob 12:7. Sharing can take three basic forms.
During the meeting many of those present may be led to share something that comes to them spontaneously such as reading from scripture, a vision, a prophecy, a word of knowledge and the like.
Ina testimony, a person shares how God has acted in a major event in the person’s life such as a conversion experience, baptism in the Spirit, a healing etc. If the prayer group leader is familiar with the people attending the meeting s/he could invite a person to give such a testimony while giving them guidelines about how to do it. It should follow the ABC of good communication by being Audible, Brief and Christ centered.
In this kind of sharing people tell the prayer meeting members how the Lord has been revealing the divine presence, word and will through the week as they prayed and reflected, while describing how they tried to respond in a practical way.
Teaching is an important aspect of any well run prayer meeting. As St Paul said: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom” Col 3:16. Pope John Paul II has said in his letter on Catechesis that prayer groups should provide systematic programmed teaching about the Christian life. “It aims,” he says in par. 20, “at developing understanding of the mystery of Jesus in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by the word.” In the light of these quotations it is clear that groups should plan to provide good teaching. It usually follows the worship section of the meeting. There are many ways of doing this.
· Assign a prayer group member, who has the charism of teaching, to carry out this task on a regular basis.
· The teacher might be someone invited in from outside for this purpose such as a well known charismatic, a local priest, a nun, brother or lay person.
· Part of a good teaching tape could be played on a cassette recorder. In my experience the extract has to be relatively short, i.e. about 10 mins or so.
Charismatic activity is what distinguishes a charismatic prayer meeting from others such as Marian, Taize, Divine Mercy, or Padre Pio Prayer groups.
· It is important that the prayer group leader is someone who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit and exercises whatever gifts of the Spirit s/he has received especially, the gift of tongues.
· Regular teachings should be given on the nature and the exercise of the different gifts such as tongues, prophecy and healing.
· The prayer group leader should encourage the people to make love their aim while earnestly desiring the spiritual gifts, especially that they prophecy (cf 1 Cor 14:1) and to express that desire in the form of prayer.
· If someone gives a prophecy in tongues the leader should encourage the meeting to wait for an interpretation (cf. 1 Cor 14:13).
Intercession and petitions
By and large, prayers of supplication are offered near the end of the prayer meeting.
Prayers of petition are offered for one’s own personal intentions. Experience teaches that vague and repeated petitions such as “for a special intention, Lord hear us” are not only fairy meaningless, they tend to have a deadening effect on the meeting. To avoid a long list of petitions, the leader could ask people to think of their personal intentions in silence and then to gather them up in a general prayer of petition.
Prayers of intercession are offered for the intentions of others. Par 45-46 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal has this to say about it: “In the general intercessions or prayer of the faithful, the people, exercising their priestly function, intercede for all humanity. It is appropriate that this prayer be offered for the Church, civil authorities, those oppressed by various needs, all young people, and for the salvation of the world. As a rule the sequence of intentions is to be:
A. For the needs of the Church
B. For public authorities and the salvation of the world
C. For those oppressed by any need
D. For the local community.”
Sometimes a group will feel that they are being called to pray for some particular intention on an on-going basis such as a particular political leader. (cf. 1 Tim 2:1), for reconciliation in a particular community, for revival and renewal in the Churches etc. They will try to find out what they can about the issues that concern them, and to discern what kind of prayer is needed. For example, they may feel that they have to pray against the evil spirits of pride, resentment, hatred, condemnation and the like which may be oppressing people’s minds and wills. It takes great faith to pray like this, because frequently the group will not be sure whether they are praying for the right intentions or whether their prayers are being granted. The simply trust in the Lord. However, every now and then they may discover just how well directed and effective their prayers have been.
Prayer groups play an important role in the life of the church. I firmly believe that those charged with the responsibility of leading prayer meetings should prepare by means of prayer, consultation with others e.g. the core group, or the musicians, and thoughtful planning. In this way the leader can carry out his or her task with the assurance that God helps those who help themselves. One doesn’t have to stick rigidly to the plan. It is a bit like jazz. There is a framework, but one improvises within it as the Spirit leads. Of course, preparation without the Spirit is dead and the Spirit without preparation is blind. To be run well prayer meetings need preparatory thought and preparation. Afterwards they need to be assessed with a view to learning from mistakes and making improvements.
When I attend poorly led meetings I am disappointed by things such as:
· A lack of discernible structure
· Weak praise
· An absence of charismatic activity
· Preoccupation with personal needs rather than the contemplation of God
· Obvious personality conflicts and a lack of warm fellowship
· Some people talking too often for too long
· Not surprisingly, they are not well attended.
The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?
My father died suddenly and unexpectedly many years ago. The first time I saw his remains they were in a large city morgue. Together with relatives and friends I stood beside, what we presumed was his coffin, because the name Collins was on the nearby lid. I looked into the casket and thought to myself. ?Death surely changes people. My father looks different. I didn?t realize he had sideburns.? After a time I wandered off and found another coffin which also had the name Collins on the lid. This time, I instantly recognized that the remains were those of my dad. Even at that solemn moment I had to smile when I saw all my grief-stricken relatives, including my mother, standing around the wrong coffin. As I stood there looking at my father?s statuesque corpse, I thought to myself, is this the end? or will we meet again in the resurrection of the dead? From a Christian point of view the answer to this vital question depends on whether the scriptural accounts of Jesus? resurrection are fact or fiction. As the liturgy of Easter declares: ?Christ is risen from the dead! Dying, he conquered death; to the dead, he has given new life.? But as St Paul observed: ?If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain? 1 Cor 15:14.
Resurrection: A Foundation Stone of Faith
Christians believe that the empty tomb, the eleven appearances of Jesus, and the dynamic origins of the Christian religion all point to one unavoidable conclusion: the resurrection of our Lord. Around A.D. 56, the Apostle to the Gentiles expressed what was already a well established Christian belief, when he wrote: ?For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me? 1 Cor 15:3-8.
St Paul maintained that the Holy Spirit, the divine power that raised Jesus from the dead, was the same power that believers experience in their lives. In Phil 2:13 he stated, "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
That is why he stated, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead" (Eph 1:18-20). Down through the centuries, however, many arguments have been put forward in order to discredit this foundational belief. We will briefly assess five of them.
Five Objections and Responses
Firstly, in early Christian times and again in the 18th century, it was argued that the empty tomb could be explained by the fact that some of the disciples had stolen Jesus? corpse and lied about his appearances. Suffice it to say that this theory has been rejected by all reputable scripture scholars. While it could be argued that the apostles were deluded, there is no evidence whatever to suggest that they were liars.
Secondly, others have suggested that Jesus didn?t really die on Good Friday. When he was taken down from the cross he was merely unconscious. Later he revived, escaped from the tomb, and tried to convince the disciples that he had risen from the dead. Again this is a very unlikely scenario. Besides suggesting that Jesus was a con man, it would have been impossible for him to have survived the physical hardship involved in being scourged and crucified. Surely, the lance, which was plunged into his heart, would have killed him if he wasn?t dead already.
Thirdly, some critics, such as Irish scholar Domnic Crossan, maintain that when Jesus died the disciples continued to be animated and motivated by his spirit which they had imbibed during his public ministry. This they projected outwardly in the form of dreams, visions or wishful thinking. In our psychological age, this argument appeals to many people. However, it is not very convincing. While it is possible that a person or a group might have one such hallucination, it stretches credulity to think that many people in different situations would have had similar illusory experiences. In any case they do not explain the phenomenon of the empty tomb.
Fourthly, in the 20th century many sceptics argued that rather than being about an objective event, the resurrection accounts constituted a myth which grew out of the life and death of Jesus. Scholars, such as James Frazer, Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell have indicated how the resurrection accounts have parallels in the stories of the death and re-birth of heroes in other cultures. For example Osiris, Tammuz, Orpheus and Balder were either of divine or semi-divine birth. They flourished, were killed and afterwards reborn. While these myths point to, and find their fulfilment in the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, it doesn?t make sense to say that within a few short years after his death, the early Christians had manufactured their own distinctive resurrection myth. As Anglican theologian John Macquarrie has written, "Myth is usually characterized by a remoteness in time and space... as having taken place long ago." By contrast the Gospels concern "an event that had a particularly definite location in Palestine... under Pontius Pilate, only a generation or so before the New Testament account of these happenings."
Fifthly, there are others who reinterpret the resurrection of Jesus by saying that, while his soul survived death, his body decayed in a grave like anyone else. For instance, controversial Episcopal bishop, John Spong has written: "Jesus... was... placed into a common grave, and covered over...in a very short time only some unmarked bones remained. Even the bones were gone before too long. Nature rather efficiently reclaims its own resources." The notion that Jesus was merely resurrected in a spiritual sense, while his body lay in the grave, is a characteristically modern one. First century Jewish thinking would never have accepted such a view. Furthermore, it is not how Jesus' resurrection was proclaimed in the earliest accounts. It would have been impossible for resurrection claims to be accepted if it was known that there was a tomb somewhere containing the corpse of Jesus. It is likely that those who argue for a spiritual resurrection only, are influenced by a rationalist, scientific world-view that assumes that miracles of any kind, especially the resurrection, are impossible.
Resurrection as Pledge of Eternal Life
Jesus is truly risen. That is our core belief. It is rooted in well attested facts and animated by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Inwardly, the Paraclete witnesses to the length and breadth, the height and depth of the incomprehensible love and mercy of the One who is risen. His saving presence in our hearts is our present pledge of future resurrection.
So I have no need to worry about my father and mother or any of my deceased relatives and friends who have gone before me marked with the sign of faith. With the help of God?s grace, we shall all meet again in glory. As St Paul triumphantly declared: ?Lo! I tell you a mystery?.. we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 1 Cor 51-54.
Annual Miracle of the Holy Fire
I?m sure that like me, you have found that, in life, one thing leads to another. For example, some time ago I read a book entitled Christian Prophecy by a Danish theologian called Niels Christian Hvidt. When I googled his name I found that he had written another book in Danish with the lovely title, Miracles - Meetings between Heaven and Earth. It contains one fascinating chapter entitled, ?The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem? which describes an extraordinary phenomenon which I had never heard about. With good reason Orthodox Christians regard it as the greatest of miracles and see it as a continuous reminder of the Lord's resurrection.
Apparently, for fifteen hundred years or more the ?miracle of fire? has occurred annually on Easter Saturday night in the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. For instance, in 1106-07 Daniel a Russian abbot, wrote detailed description of the holy fire which he witnessed in the course of a pilgrimage to the Holy Places. Constantine the Great built the Holy Sepelchre in the middle of the fourth century. Since then it has been destroyed many times. The Crusaders constructed the building we see today. Around Jesus' tomb they erected a little chapel with two rooms, one in front of the tomb and then the tomb itself, which holds no more than four people. This room is the location of the miracle of fire.
Each year large crowd gather around the tomb. They include Christian Arabs, Greeks, and in recent years people who come from Eastern Europe and Russia. Nowadays the ceremony is broadcast live in many Christian Orthodox countries. Beginning at around 11:00 in the morning the Christian Arabs chant traditional hymns in a loud voice accompanied by the sound of drums and dancing. But at 1:00 pm the chants fade out, and there is a silence. Then the Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the sepulchre. Between 1981-2000 that role was fulfilled by Archbishop Diodorus. Before his death in 2000 he described what he had experienced on many occasions.
"After all the lights are extinguished, I bow down and enter the first chamber of the tomb. From here I find my way through the darkness to the inner room of the tomb where Christ was buried. Here, I kneel in holy fear in front of the place where our Lord lay after his death and where he rose again from the dead. Praying in the Holy Sepulchre in itself for me is always a very holy moment in a very holy place. It is from here that he rose again in glory and spread his light to the world. John the Evangelist writes in the first chapter of his gospel that Jesus is the light of the World. Kneeling in front of the place where he rose from the dead, we are brought within the immediate closeness of his glorious resurrection. Catholics and Protestants call this church "The Church of the Holy Sepulchre." We call it "The Church of the Resurrection." The resurrection of Christ for us Orthodox is the centre of our faith, as Christ has gained the final victory over death, not just his own death but the death of all those who will stay close to him.
"I believe it to be no coincidence that the Holy Fire comes in exactly this spot. In Matthew 28:3, the Gospel says that when Christ rose from the dead, an angel came, dressed in a fearful light. I believe that the intense light that enveloped the angel at the Lord's resurrection is the same light that appears miraculously every Easter Saturday. Christ wants to remind us that his resurrection is a reality and not just a myth; he really came to the world in order to offer the necessary sacrifice through his death and resurrection so that man could be re-united with his creator. "In the tomb, I say particular prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take on many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake - it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light.
This light behaves differently each year. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who are standing outside the tomb and look into it see the tomb filled with light. The light does not burn - I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than the normal fire that burns in an oil-lamp. "At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Thereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church."
There can be no doubt that the Christian faith rests on the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from death by The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. As St Paul said, ?I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms? (Eph 1:18-20). St Paul added, ?And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins? (1 Cor 15:14-17). While our faith is not based on the annual miracle of the holy fire, in these unbelieving times, it is certainly strengthened by it.
Three Amazing Eucharistic Miracles and the Real Presence
Pat Collins C.M.
Ten years after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Langdon Gilkey, a well known Protestant theologian, wrote a book entitled, Catholicism Confronts Modernity. In it he acknowledged that the Catholic Church was experiencing a transitional crisis. He said that one of the main causes was ?the dissolution of the understanding of the supernatural as the central religious category.? Rather than questioning this change, Gilkey proposed that Catholics should engage in a ?reinterpretation of the transcendent, the sacred, the divine ? the presence of God to men ? into worldly or naturalistic forms of modern experience rather than in the super-naturalistic forms of Medieval experience.? Sad to say, many Catholics have followed his advice. For example just before the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in June 2012, an Ipsos/MRBI poll found that 62% of Catholics saw the Eucharist as merely symbolizing the Body and Blood of Christ, while only 26% believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. That lack of faith is reflected in churches where there is no longer much silence. That can be true even during funeral and wedding masses when lots of unchurched people show up. Recently, however, I heard of three supernatural events, which have highlighted the fact that Jesus is really and truly present in the consecrated bread and wine.
In the eighth century a monk, who was a follower of St. Basil, had doubts about the real presence of Christ while he was offering Mass in a church in the Italian town of Lanciano. When he pronounced the words of consecration, the host was miraculously changed into physical flesh and the wine into physical blood which coagulated afterwards. A document from that times says, ?Frightened and confused by so great and so stupendous a miracle, he stood quite a while as if transported in a divine ecstasy; but finally, as fear yielded to the spiritual joy which filled his soul with a happy face, even though bathed with tears, having turned to the bystanders, he thus spoke to them: `O fortunate witnesses to whom the Blessed God, to confound my unbelief, has wished to reveal Himself in this Most Blessed Sacrament and to render Himself visible to our eyes. Come Brethren, and marvel at our God so close to us. Behold the Flesh and the Blood of our Most Beloved Christ.? These relics have been preserved ever since.
At the invitation of the Episcopal Conference of Italy Professor Linoni a former head of the Laboratory of Pathological Anatomy at the Hospital of Arezzo, was asked to analyze them scientifically. He extracted fragments with great care and then examined them. He presented his findings on March 4, 1971. His study confirmed that the flesh and blood were of human origin. The flesh was unequivocally cardiac tissue, and the blood was type AB. Speaking about the blood, the professor emphasized that "the blood group is the same as that of the man of the holy Shroud of Turin, and it has the characteristics of a man who was born and lived in the Middle East regions." In 1973, the Higher Council of the World Health Organization appointed a scientific commission to verify the Italian doctor's conclusions. The work was carried out over 15 months with a total of 500 examinations. The result of that research confirmed what had been stated and published by Dr. Linoni.
In 1263 a priest named Peter of Prague, stopped at Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He found it difficult to believe that Christ was actually present in the consecrated Host. While he was saying Mass in Bolseno, Italy, blood began to stream out of the host and onto the corporal at the moment of consecration. This was reported to and investigated by Pope Urban IV, who concluded that the miracle was real. The bloodstained linen is still exhibited at the cathedral in Orvieto. It is said that after this happened Pope Urban IV was prompted to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to compose a Mass and an Office honoring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ.
Now let us fast forward to the end of the 20th century. At 7 P.M. on August 18, 1996, Fr. Alejandro Pezet had said Mass in central Buenos Aires. As he was finishing distributing Holy Communion, a woman told him that she had found a discarded host at the back of the church. When Fr. Alejandro saw the soiled host he was unable to consume it, so he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle. When it dissolved he intended pouring the contents down the sacrarium in the sacristy. When he opened the tabernacle, on Monday, August 26, he saw to his amazement that the host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed bishop Jorge Bergoglio, who was the auxiliary Bishop at that time. He gave instructions that the Host should be photographed in a professional way. Afterwards the Host was returned to the tabernacle, and nothing was said about it. When it was discovered that the Host suffered no visible decomposition, bishop Bergoglio, who was now an archbishop, decided to have it scientifically analyzed.
On October 5, 1999, Dr. Ricardo Castanon-Gomez, a Bolivian scientist, took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. Since he did not wish to influence the investigation one way or another, he did not inform the team of scientists about its origin. One of these was Dr. Frederic Zugiba, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Zugiba testified that, ?the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.?
Two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero, witnessed these tests. Knowing where the sample had come from, they were dumbfounded by Dr. Zugiba?s findings. Mike Willesee asked the scientist how long the white blood cells would have remained alive if they had come from a piece of human tissue, which had been kept in water. Dr. Zugiba responded by saying that they would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes. Then the journalist told the doctor that the sample had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then for another three years in a container of distilled water; only then had it been taken for analysis. Dr. Zugiba was at a loss to account for this fact. He stated that there was no way of explaining the phenomenon scientifically. Only then did Mike Willesee inform Dr. Zugiba that the analyzed sample had in fact come from a consecrated host which had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugiba replied, ?How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science?a mystery totally beyond her competence.?
There is a striking similarity between the two miracles. The flesh in both instances came from a heart. The DNA in both is the same, as is the blood type. In both cases the flesh showed no evidence of preservatives of any kind. It is striking that on the very morning the Argentinean miracle occurred, Fr. Alejandro happened to base his prayer on Pope John Paul?s letter commemorating the 750th anniversary of the Feast of Corpus Christi, 28 May 1996. As a result of the miracle, Dr. Castanon-Gomez an atheist, and Mike Willesse who was unchurched, have both become devout Catholics. Furthermore, it is striking that all this happened in the very place where the future Pope Francis was living. Surely, God is demonstrating by means of these supernatural events, that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Not only are we being called to a livelier faith in his real presence, we are also being called to show a profound reverence for that presence. As St Paul said, ?A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself? (1 Cor 11:28-30).
This year I had the opportunity of attending a Greek Orthodox liturgy in the Cathedral in Kiev and when I was in the Solovak Republic I attended Mass which was celebrated by a Greek Catholic priest. Both were really beautiful But what was most striking where I was concerned was the great reverence of the people who attended. I remember thinking, how I wish the Catholics of Ireland could show this kind of reference during the Mass, and afterwards.